Five Tips For Caring For Your Older Horse
By Diane Samson
Heâ€™s been your equine partner for years now. Youâ€™ve perhaps ridden in shows, through trails or even relocated across the country with your horse. Youâ€™ve been friends a long time, and it may be hard to admit, but youâ€™ve noticed your horse is slowing down.
Donâ€™t lose heart. Just like with people, advances in health care and nutrition are helping horses live longer, more productive lives, well into their senior years. But older horses do take a little extra care. Hereâ€™s a few ways to keep your aging buddy doing his best.
1. Give him light, consistent work. Your horse may not be able to keep up a workout routine for competitions, but heâ€™s probably not ready to retire either. Keep him at a reasonable fitness level and heâ€™ll feel and perform like a younger horse. The worst thing to do is let him get out of shape and then ride him hard some weekend when he hasnâ€™t been ridden for months. Thatâ€™s not fair to him and may spell trouble for you later.
2. Make sure your horse has regular vet check-ups. Donâ€™t neglect the vet check-up even if your horse isnâ€™t around many other horses anymore. Keep him up-to-date on vaccinations, like any horse, and make sure your vet begins looking for signs of arthritis or soundness issues. Sometimes cortisone shots given early can not only provide relief for aching joints, but can prevent further inflammation and stiffness later on.
Continued deworming is also important for the older horse. Horses more than 20 years old may have intestinal scarring from worm damage that occurred before modern larvicidal dewormers were available.
Have your veterinarian check your horseâ€™s teeth at least once a year. The older a horse gets, the more likely his teeth will be worn into sharp points. They may even be wearing out completely.
3. Consider a senior feed. Older horses do not absorb as many nutrients from their food as younger horses. Couple that with worn-out, missing or damaged teeth, and many older horses have difficulty keeping weight on, especially through the winter months. Several senior feeds on the market today offer alfalfa-based pellets that are easy for older horses to chew, swallow and digest.
Many times older horses choose to eat very little hay. The senior feed is designed to cover all roughage requirements for the horse as well as provide the ideal vitamin and mineral balance for the older horse. Also, donâ€™t feed your senior buddy with a younger, more aggressive horse. You want to make sure he doesnâ€™t have to fight for his fair share.
4. Consider feed supplements. If youâ€™ve never used a feed supplement, now may be the time. Talk to your veterinarian about what kind of supplement might be best for your horse. Biotin is great for hooves and coat. Other supplements can help with energy. Of course, glucosiamine is the standard supplement to keep joints healthy and lubricated.
5. Give him attention. Itâ€™s easy to forget about a horse you canâ€™t use as much anymore, but if you canâ€™t use him, maybe you should loan his services to someone who can. Many older, experienced show horses are great lesson horses. He could give a neighborâ€™s child a few lessons a week or stand still while you teach children how to properly groom a horse. He might be a great mount for a beginner rider, or an adult who doesnâ€™t want any surprises. You could still take him on the occasional leisurely ride. Just donâ€™t leave him untouched in a stall for days. At the very least, give him a buddy and plenty of turnout time.
It may take a little extra time and money to care for your older horse, but when you think back to all the years heâ€™s given, youâ€™ll probably agree heâ€™s worth it. With the proper care, many horses are living sound, productive lives well into their 20s.
Diane Samson is a writer with The Lieurance Group, a freelance writers cooperative in Kansas City, Missouri. Samson can provide writing, reporting and editing services for magazines, newspapers, corporate communications and especially animal publications. Find out more about her writing services at http://www.lieurancegroup.blogspot.com. or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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