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Feeding the Old Horse

Having an older horse can be a stressful time when you see your old friend fade. However, today, horses can live happily until very old, some well after the age of 30. Hopefully this article will help you and your old spouse find the right care.

According to the NRC and veterinary bodies, horses are considered geriatric at the age of 20. Generally, horses are considered senior horses of 15-16 years. In fact, many horse food manufacturers provide feed ingredients specifically for horses 16 and over. Whether it's true or not is debatable. Some horses seem to be older, others later. The horse will be of different ages depending on the lifestyle and therefore it would be wrong to mark all 16 year old horses. However, over the next 20 years, horses have been labeled as geriatric as their bodies and organs have begun to decline significantly.

As a rule of thumb, when a horse is 15 or 16, one needs to pay more attention to his condition to keep it healthy and consistent. From the age of 20, 2-3 (Australian body size 0-5) should be maintained.

The most common problem with a senior horse

Feeding an old horse can be a challenge because many factors play an important role in the absorption of food.


The most common issue related to teeth. As a horse ages, teeth will wear out, some may fall, some may rot and chew food may be affected, resulting in improper absorption of food and nutrients.

Common signs for bad teeth are:

  • Slow to chew, inability to properly masticate

  • Feeds fall from the horse's mouth - the horse seems to be a mess at meal time and kind of dribbling

  • Whole foods that contain dirt such as cereals and long stems

  • Bad breath due to tooth decay

  • Thick nasal discharge, usually on the one hand, may occur if the tooth has not been treated and has been infected

  • The tendency to choke

  • More susceptible to colic. According to a study by Auburn University conducted in the mid-90s, infectious colic has a ratio of 88% in older horses compared to 29% in younger horses. Of the 104 horses over 17 years of age, one of the major causes is dental disease (as well as poor weeds and tumors).

    During the same period, another study was conducted in Texas (USA) over 12 months to identify dietary and management factors associated with colic in horses. The results show that horses 10 years of age or older who are still in training are at a higher risk of being neglected all the time. Other factors include recent changes in diet, hay type, weather conditions, housing and worm attacks. Further studies confirm similar results in 2000/2001, in which 364 horses were examined for 12 months in the United States of Texas. In summary, changes in diet (dry grass, cereals or concentrated) as well as feeding more than 2.7 kg of grains, feeding on round balls, and reducing access to grasslands contribute to high risk of colic.


As seen above, worm attacks are a major issue. This also applies to all horses, young and old. If the horse rides a parasite, its feed absorption will be reduced. We must follow the worm regime 6 to 8 weeks.

Horses filled with parasites are at greater risk of developing colic and difficulty in losing weight. If a horse has received a consistent worm program throughout its life, it is less likely to have colic and is more likely to have a long and healthy life.

Poor digestion

In the horse age, the digestive system seems to be less effective at breaking down food because the horse may have reduced salivary and esophagus functions. Although calcium absorption does not appear to be drastically affected, fiber intake and phosphorus decrease with age. The latter is more prominent in horses with tumors.

When horses are depleted of nutrients, their immune system's ability to fight disease also decreases, exposing them to high risk of not only becoming sick, but also not being able to recover easily.

The horse is then exposed to loss of body weight and weight.


Arthritic conditions are painful and can block horses from walking and grazing.

Another disease

Horses that develop pituitary and thyroid tumors may have reduced insulin response and become sugar and starch intolerance. The same applies to founders often associated with pituitary tumors.

Horses with kidney and liver disease also require a special diet. Should kidney problems, pulp and pulp beep should be avoided because of its high calcium content. In the case of liver and liver disease, high protein and high fat diet should be avoided.

How to look after a right horse

It is important that the old horse be comfortable and enjoy his retirement.

The tooth should be inspected every 6 months and the full veterinarian should be checked every 6 to 12 months. A full blood test is inexpensive and will help you understand how to take care of your old friend. It will show you a lot of abnormalities and your veterinarian will be able to help you get the right treatment.

If arthritis, in addition to medication to make the horse more comfortable, many natural therapies can help as well. Acupuncture, homeopathy, shiatsu, acupressure, aromatherapy and clay therapy are a few. Devil's Claw can act as a natural anti-inflammatory from giving phenybutazone (Bute) but should not be given if stomach ulcer is present, in case of diabetes and heart disease. French green clay used as a tissue to the diseased area can provide great relief.

Old horses are often bullied by young people at mealtimes. One must make sure that the right horse can eat safely and all its food.

For better digestion, take small amounts 2 or 3 times a day.

Good shelter is important for older horses as it is more sensitive to climate change.

In cold weather, if a horse receives it, the carpet will warm it and will help save its energy.

Keep fresh water clean at all times.

Vitamin C can help the horse's immune system. Vitamin C can be found naturally in Rosehip. 1 to 2 tablespoons a day in food.

Vitamin B groups in the form of Brewer's Yeast may be beneficial, especially in the case of kidney and liver disease. It will also help with digestion. Up to 100 g / day.

Sweet foods should be avoided, especially in sugar founders and horses. These include molasses, honey and sweet desserts.

If there is no liver dysfunction, adding vegetable oil can help keep your body healthy. Up to 2 cups a day, introduced slowly over a period of 3 weeks. Coconut oil is a rich source of lauric acid, a source of disease against monolaurin fatty acids derivatives. Canola oil cooled is also an excellent oil for horses. It contains about 10% omega 3 fatty acids, 20% omega 6 fatty acids and omega 9 fatty acids. Omega-3s and 6 are essential for normal functioning of all tissues and for vision, heart, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Both these fatty acids need to be balanced and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be around 2: 1, provided by Canola oil cooled. Coconut oil can be given in smaller quantities than Canola such as 25-100ml. Canola can supply up to 2 cups of oil a day. When providing a high-fat diet to a horse, one must monitor the horse's decline to see if their consistency is normal. If the stool becomes too lost like "cow patches", it reduces oil and / or protein content. Too much protein can be seen in the urine because it is thick, smelly and difficult to digest.

Avoid starch foods for better digestion, especially if the horse has a tendency to bind or the founder.

Because digestion is not optimal at this age, avoid cereals. Compacted grains are much safer and have shown good results with geriatric horses. Feed manufacturers provide extruded / micronized cereals as well as feed products specifically for the right horse.

Herbs that can help with intestinal ulceration are Marshmallow, Meadowsweet, Liquorice and Slippery Elm Bark. A handful of Marshmallow and Meadowsweet once a day can help with intestinal ulcer, inflammation and irritation. Liquorice should be used with caution as it is lazy and should not be used if the horse is thick or has loose steel. It cannot be used long term either and only 1 teaspoon daily for up to 3 months. Elm Bark is good for thickening with a dose of 1 to 2 tablespoons a day.

You can provide good quality protein (12-16%, 8-10% if kidney disease is present) in the form of fatty soy foods or a stable copra diet. Copra dishes like CoolStance provide 20% crude protein while soy-rich foods like Soygize (HyFeed) contain 39% protein, so only a small quantity is required. In the absence of liver and kidney disease, good lucerne nutrition can be added in small quantities for protein.

Because the horse may have bad teeth, it provides its food as a soft mash for easier chewing and good quality chaff. Hay may be too hard to chew or a horse may choke on it, so the straw may need to be softened to soften it, or chop like chaff. It is a good practice to keep the straw from getting dusty. To do this, John Kohnke recommends putting straw in a hessian bag and letting it soak in water for up to 1 hour. Remove the bag and let it hang to drain the water.

Always provide dry grass at ground level. If the straw is in the suspended straw too high, there is a higher risk of choking. The horse, naturally, grasps his head and his digestive system is adapted to this practice. Having a head meal overcomes physiology and causes problems.

As we have in the dust chapter, the pallets need to be constant to eliminate dust. Dust really damages the horse's lungs. Supported horses should also have a dust-free environment.

And of course, always seek veterinary advice, even if it seems like nothing! It's better than sorry

You can find more information about feeding your horse at


Siciliano PD. "Nutrition and geriatric horse nutrition", Veterinary Clinic in North America. Ecological practice, 2002, p491-508

Cohen ND, Gibbs PG, Woods AM. "Diet and other management factors related to colic in horses", Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1999, p53-60

Dr. J. Kohnke, Dr. Frank Kelleher, Dr. Penny Trevor-Jones. "Eating horses in Australia, a guide for horse owners and managers", Publication of RIRDC No. 99/49, 1999

D. G. Pugh, DVM, MS, ACT Diplomate, ACVN Diplomate. "Eat a Geriatric Horse", Auburn University of Veterinary Medical College, Auburn University, 2002

Dr John Konhke. "Eat the right horse", Fact sheet

Pete G. Gibbs, G. D. Potter, W.L. Scrutchfield, M.T. Martin. "Horses, Seniors & Geriatrics: Their Management, Care and Use", Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University System, 2005

Victoria Ferguson "Practical Horse Herbs", Horse For Course, 2002

Catherine Bird's "Natural Healthy Horse", The Lyons Press, 2005


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