GERIATRIC HORSE CARE
At some point in our horse-owning careers most of us have to contend with the management of an aged equine. Your horse's twilight years should be a time of contentment and happiness for both of you, and there are a few things you should consider.
The common belief held that it is normal for older horses to look malnourished is simply incorrect. As with any other species, being underweight is a symptom of malnourishment. To aid your older horse's nutrition ensure they have a rich diet. There are many feeds on the market specifically targeted towards the geriatric patient, gumnuts is an example. A discussion with your vet may provide good advice on what may suit your horse's individual needs. As a rough guide, 1 to 1.5% of their ideal bodyweight in feed should be provided. A weight tape may aid you in deciding whether to maintain, increase or decrease rations.
Keeping up your horse's annual dental exam is vital for good digestion and resulting condition. Pathology such as loosening teeth can plague the older equine and make eating incredibly painful, if not impossible, so their dental checkup is paramount to detecting a problem early. A horse's teeth grow more slowly as they age, making routine dental care very important when they are younger also. This may correct abnormalities whilst the teeth are growing fast enough to do so, so that you a presented with less of a problem later on.
Older horses may be a bit slower and therefore lower down the pecking order in herd dynamics. Be aware of this and if it applies to your old friend, feed them separately to the rest to ensure they get their full meal. Ideally feed them smaller meals 2 to 3 times a day for better digestive health.
Grooming often is not only a great way to help maintain your older equine's coat, but it also help skin circulation. Another benefit of daily grooming is it gets to to have a thorough checkover for any abnormalities. Older horses are prone to tumours, and by going over them you may also pickup a tender spot and then be able to seek your vet's advice early. Remember to go over the not-so-visible spots, such as under the tail, under the jaw, and in the groin region. Especially keep an eye on your male horse's penis, when it is relaxed, to see if anything on it looks suspect. Dr Dave does a thorough penis exam and clean at evey male horse's dental exam so keep this in mind. Grey and appaloosa horses are sadly particularyl prone to lesions.
To aid a healthy horse keep up their worming regime. Don't be afraid to alternate different types of wormers over the year to ensure you're covering all bases. Most wormers recommend use every 6 to 8 weeks. Faecal egg counts can be performed when the horse is due to be wormed to assess the need for worming.
Your older equine certainly should not miss out on regular foot care just because they are in retirement. Have your farrier come out every 6 weeks, or as they reccommend.
All horses should have their annual tetanus/strangles vaccine and Hendra vaccine.
If your horse has not been vaccinated for Hendra virus, it will require two initial vaccinations administered three to six weeks apart, followed by a booster at 6 months, followed by annual boosters. If your horse has not been previously vaccinated for tetanus and strangles it will require an initial 3 vaccinations, 2 weeks apart, followed by annual boosters.
Preferably a full-grassed paddock over a patchy one, with adequate shelter and fresh clean water (avoid putting under trees, due to Hendra risk). Pick manure every 2 to 3 days to help avoid worm infestation.
Arthritis commonly affects older horses, especially those that have had an active riding career. Your vet can prescribe a treatment plan to keep your equine comfortable in their twilight years. There is a link below to our article on arthritis, please read for a healthy understanding of the topic.
Ailments which are more likely to affect the older horse: