Caring For Your Senior Horse


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Caring For Your Senior Horse

Morgan Murphy

Tips for looking after your senior horse

With advances in veterinary medicine, nutrition and health care extending our horses’ lives, owners are being presented with new challenges in caring for the older horse.  Horses used to be considered senior above the age of nine; however, this is now classed as a prime age and we would not consider a horse a true senior until he reached his mid to late teens. So, whether your horse is nine or nineteen, with careful planning and continued care you can help him maintain his vitality for many years to come.

Signs of ageing

There are visible physical changes that appear as the horse ages, for example you may start to notice grey hairs appearing around his eyes, ears and muzzle.  Muscle tone and structure begin to deteriorate and may become noticeable as topline declines: muscle around the hindquarters may slant and the back can dip.  Most of these signs of ageing will not affect the horse but it is wise to keep a regular note of changes in case there are sudden developments which may alert owners to underlying health issues. 

Ageing is, of course, a natural, irreversible process but, with the correct nutrition and care, it is possible to minimise its impact on your horse. Here we have pieced together some helpful tips, focusing on the key areas of daily horse care, to keep your horse in tip-top shape during his later life.


  • As your horse ages his digestive system becomes less efficient. Gastric motility can reduce, together with digestion time. This can lead to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies if the horse is not receiving the correct ratio of nutrients.  Investing in a good quality senior feed from a reputable manufacturer will ensure that he not only receives the correct balance of nutrients but that they are provided in an easily digestible form.
  • For horses who struggle to eat a bulky feed, the addition of soya, corn or linseed oil can aid condition and increase his energy levels. Furthermore, these foods improve the coat’s sheen and can assist in combating joint issues.
  • Forage is still the most important element of the horse’s diet, even in his senior years. However, if the horse has dental or digestion difficulties try soaking or steaming the hay overnight before feeding, or supplement his diet with dried grass. This helps mobilise the digestive system and ensures proper passage of food through the body, reducing the chances of colic, choke and other digestive issues occurring.
  • Many elderly horses lose or damage teeth and therefore regular checks from the dentist are vital. Spilling feed as he chews (an act known as “quidding”) can indicate dental pain so it is important to observe your horse eating. For horses who are missing teeth and finding it difficult to chew, soaking their feed in hot water to form a mash or adding heavily soaked and saturated sugar beet can reduce the amount of mastication required before swallowing.
  • The senses decline as the horse ages and so you may notice your once easy-going horse has become a fussy feeder, owing to a perceived change in how his feed smells and tastes. Offer samples of different feeds to see what appeals to your horse or invigorate his taste buds with the addition of molasses, apple juice or cider vinegar, all of which increase palatability of feeds. Remember that, as with younger horses, any dietary changes should be made slowly over a period of 4-6 days to ensure intestinal bacteria have time to adjust.



Caring for a senior horse can require adaptations to management methods including blankets in Winter*


  • Where ridden exercise is possible, extra care should be taken during warm up and cool down and it is advisable to double the time you would have taken during the horse’s younger years.  Substituting jumping or fast work for longer, leisurely rides is ideal for maintaining joint integrity, muscle tone and digestive motility.
  • If your horse can no longer be ridden, time in the paddock where he can move freely is highly beneficial. Not only is time outside the stall great for his circulation, joints and respiratory system, it significantly benefits his mental wellbeing.
  • Ensure that fly control around your horse’s stall and pasture is properly maintained. Flies are a pest to any horse but our older four-legged friends often rest for longer periods and, with flies landing on them, they are more susceptible to irritation. Invest in Spalding Fly Predators before the fly season starts: these fantastic fly predators get rid of pest flies naturally – ensuring your horse is both fly and chemical free.
  • Many senior horses suffer with arthritis. Although this condition is not reversible, there are ways to make the horse more comfortable. The addition of supplements such as chondroitin or glucosamine to his diet can help support the joint cartilage and reduce some of the discomfort.  Helping your horse maintain an even temperature in his legs can also mitigate the effects of arthritis, so the provision of cooling boots or ice packs in hot weather and stable wraps/boots in cold weather can drastically improve signs of joint discomfort.



  • Regular dental checks are vital throughout your horse’s life but as he ages it is recommended to conduct these checks on a six-monthly basis. This helps to avoid sharp points forming on the teeth which cause pain and prevent proper chewing. Symptoms of dental health difficulties include feed dropping from the mouth and the presence of undigested grains in the droppings.
  • All horses love to be groomed. In addition to promoting the bond between horse and carer and making the horse feel good, grooming increases circulation, improves general wellbeing and enhances coat health.  Keeping the coat clean, parasite free and in good condition not only makes your horse look and feel better, it also helps maintain healthy skin underneath. Moreover, regular grooming of older horses provides an opportunity to check their body thoroughly for lumps and bumps that might indicate an underlying condition, early detection of which may be vital to the horse’s recovery.
  • Finally, remember to consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns for your horse’s health. Vaccines and thorough check-ups should be booked on an annual basis but for any worries between these visits do not hesitate to contact your veterinary practice.

For more tips on horse care check back here on soon!

*Photo: Bigstock Images
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