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Riders with horses in their 20's +... what tips would you want someone with an aging horse (in work) to know?

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  • Riders with horses in their 20's +... what tips would you want someone with an aging horse (in work) to know?

    My guy is 21 and I am admittedly uneducated in senior horse care. I'd like to hear any advice you have. And specifically, what changes have you made? What temperature is now too hot or too cold to ride your older horses? Any product must haves, or medical tests you think should be requested regularly for seniors that vets may not always remember to do in a busy barn? Thanks!

  • #2
    I don't own a senior horse, but I have worked with, ridden, and cared for senior horses. The biggest thing, IMO, is movement. Keep them moving. I often ride with a friend that has an older mare and turnout with daily exercise have kept her in good condition. Lots of walking on the trails too. Slow warm-ups and cool downs. I've always given older horses much longer to warm up. It's not uncommon for them to have arthritis in various locations so again, movement is good and will help battle stiffness.

    Diet should be monitored as their calorie intake my need to increase and keep a close eye on teeth.

    I cannot think of any medical tests needed. When it comes to temperature, we're more apt to blanket older horses sooner as we don't want them to get cold and stiff or expend extra calories since some aren't such easy keepers, but it still is an individual thing as with any horse. Some handle working in the cold or heat fine, some have certain thresholds, use your best judgement.

    Some will trudge on throughout their 20's, some are ready for retirement at 21, so again, just have to look at the horse infront of you. I've seen some 20 year olds look 28 and some 28 year olds look 19.


    • #3
      Have one now 27, one 20, and one 18. Have had numerous ones in the past all go into their old age with dignity.

      Good quality soft food (soaked beet pulp and alfalfa cubes) for the aging teeth. It puts less stress on them. Warmth (stall/shed or blankets) in the winter and cool places to escape the heat and insects in the summer. MSM for the old age aches and pains. Being able to eat in peace and quiet without conflicts from other horses- meaning give the old timer its own private place for meals and hay.

      Grass, as long as the horse can tolerate it, is the best food for keeping weight on and giving a soft quality coat.

      Back off on the type of work and competition that you'd expect from a younger horse. The older horse has time-worn limbs and muscles and ligaments that will fail under too much stress. They need more recovery time from any hard work.

      No medical tests unless your eye tells you something is NQR. There are all kinds of medical interventions for old age, or you can go the natural route (ie: clipping Cushings coats rather than giving Pergalide). Use your best judgement, but try not to go overboard.


      • #4
        Originally posted by gothedistance View Post
        No medical tests unless your eye tells you something is NQR. There are all kinds of medical interventions for old age, or you can go the natural route (ie: clipping Cushings coats rather than giving Pergalide). Use your best judgement, but try not to go overboard.
        Going the "natural route" for Cushings is setting your horse up for an early death. And a lot of pain and suffering along the way that can be helped with pergolide (Prascend). I would not recommend anyone go the natural route for Cushings unless under extreme circumstances. Might want to read up on what happens if not treated - no there is no cure - you have to manage the symptoms as best you can.
        "When a horse greets you with a nicker & regards you with a large & liquid eye, the question of where you want to be & what you want to do has been answered." CANTER New England


        • #5
          Currently enjoying my 24 year old.

          Pretty much what has been said above. It's individual, so do what's needed for the horse in front of you. Plenty of turnout so he can keep moving around, but also good protection from the weather. I may turn out a bit later or bring in a bit earlier if the weather is particularly wet, cold, or windy or the flies are particularly bad. But it is a fine balance, I don't want him stalled too much either.

          Best nutrition you can give him, be that ration balancers, senior feed if needed, plenty of NSC hay, other meds/supplements (such as chasteberry/pergolide, etc). Mine is eating a bit more slowly these days. I do give some morning hay in their stalls before turnout and he gets extra at night. His buddy is a chow hound and, although not a bully, can take the lions share of the joint hay piles. By giving some hay in their stalls I can better make sure they each get what is appropriate without them having to tussle over it. Keep an appropriate weight so as not to stress joints and also to manage his IR.

          Keep up on dental and vet care so small issues don't become big. It's harder for them to recover as they get older. On dental care, my dentist recommends hand floating as much as possible to avoid taking off excess tooth surface. Power float only when truly needed. There is sometimes not much tooth left in these oldies and when it's gone, it's gone.

          We're still riding several times a week, just not as hard, long, or often. He still loves the work and his favorite gait is canter. I do longer warm-ups and cool down, more stretching, and frequent walk breaks between the more aerobic stuff. Still keep the walk good and active though. It is good, low impact exercise. I may give him an extra day in between rides if he seems to need it or look a bit tired. I'm also more careful of how much I push him when it is hot or we get a warm spell like we just had and he already has his winter coat. Try not to stress his system as he doesn't thermoregulate quite as well as in his younger days.

          You know your hoarse best. Do what he needs and enjoy each other.


          • #6
            My vet always runs blood work before any sedating procedure to make sure kidney function, etc., is in good shape.

            Oldsters also need a quality protein source (along with other nutrients) - their systems aren't as efficient at processing nutrition out of the diet as a younger horse.

            Keep an eye on their dental condition. Physically, they'll tell you - pay attention. My old guy could no longer do what I considered an 'ordinary' trail ride. The hills were just too much for him.

            Make sure you check their eyes - mine had a cataract develop that eventually caused him to be blind in one eye.


            • #7
              Two things from me who has kept four horses until each departed to a greener pasture in the sky due to age related issues: EVERYONE will tell you about "a horse that was still [roping, reining, hunting, jumping] until it was 46 years old." That is more than annoying to me ---that seems to imply that some horse owners [me] just aren't doing enough to keep their old fellows and old ladies well and functional. The most comforting words I heard about aged horses were from a respected trainer and repeated by an elderly horseman --"every day past 20 years old is a gift".

              From my point of view, the best thing I did for my favorite most awesome horse in the world, was buy another horse when he turned 19. It took two years before the new horse could fill the job the first horse did --but has probably extended the first horse's usable life and life in general and my enjoyment of my horses. The great horse became the backup to the some-day-great horse. Nothing like less stress to make a horse live longer!

              But maybe a second horse isn't possible --in that case what I do with my senior population (I have 3 over 20 now) --research feed --I use ADM and call the 800 number for suggestions about once a year ---ADM is a feed company that does a lot of research in horse nutrition. My vet (who owns 60 horses) uses them exclusively, but will suggest calling them when I have specific questions. I do feed supplements ---I give Pevicox every other day to the elderly population, and daily Lubrisyn --vet said he's not sure it works --but won't hurt ---and recently I added SmartPaks senior supplement to my second-fiddle horse whom I still ride daily (walk/trot 35-40 min). The SmartPak Senior Supplement is total overkill on the glucosomine (Lubrysin is already 100%), but it has some herbal stuff in it that might help. Or as my vet says, "Your horse will ride better because your wallet will be lighter.")

              Other than that, I have 20 acres of pasture (great pasture, well maintained) and run in sheds --horses are out 24/7 except to eat. I do blanket my oldest horse (28 years old) because he's a thin skinned OTTB who shivers in the cold. The others are QH from ND who grow coats like buffalo.

              Research, read, talk to your vet --and try to take suggestions from other horse owners with a grain of salt --everyone swears by something --Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, Calf Manna, Beat Pulp --etc ----whatever you decide --the fact that you care and want your horse to do well will extend his/her life.


              • #8
                I have a blood panel done on my older horses, even if they don't have any known issues at the time. Then I have a baseline for future tests if needed. And I do fecals more often to check for worms.
                "Dogs give and give and give. Cats are the gift that keeps on grifting." —Bradley Trevor Greive


                • #9
                  Senior horses still in work are less able to comfortably tolerate confinement. Arthritis is a when-not-if part of growing older, so lots of free movement over good footing will go a long way in keeping them comfortable.

                  As others have mentioned, they are also less tolerant of extreme heat and cold, so fans, mistings, and generous blanketing practices can help them too.

                  They lose weight more quickly and are slower to regain weight and condition, so legging up a senior horse takes patience and lots of walking.

                  Soaked foods are not only easier to eat, but get more water into them too.
                  Disclaimer: My mom told me that people might look at my name and think I had an addiction other than horses. I don't; his name was Bravado.


                  • #10
                    Ample turn out. Try to limit the amount a senior is stalled - as others have mentioned.

                    keep an eye on dietary considerations. Their teeth may need special care, they may require special accommodations with feed to ensure their needs are being met.

                    I found that my one major senior experience was more heat sensitive as he aged. Anything over 80 was too hot for riding (lots of early AM or late PM rides, days off in summer). He was fine with super cold temperatures but did require longer and longer warm ups as time went on (in every ride but especially in cold weather).

                    keeping them in work helped the ones I know maintain soundness. They lost fitness faster as seniors than when they were younger, and it took longer to build back up so there was lots of long slow low pressure work if they were having to come back into work after time off for some reason. Conservative timelines with fitting up is never a bad idea, especially for the seniors.

                    their shape may change (weight, muscle, fitness, skeletal changes) so being aware of saddle fit is another big one.


                    • #11
                      My 25-year-old is really still the same horse he was ten years ago. He used to stock up a bit when stalled, but a few years back I took out the partition between stalls, so his stall is 12 x 24, and he no longer stocks up at all. So he does get some good walking in, in that stall. I was actually pretty surprised how well that worked out. My workouts with him have changed, though, of course. I really only ride him for 30 minutes. !0 minutes walking, 10 minutes at W/T with a short canter, and then another 10 minutes of walking. He's happy to work, and of my three horses, he is the one who walks with purpose to and from the paddock, with gusto. Love that boy. (He's the horse in my avatar.)
                      My hopeful road to the 2021 RRP TB Makeover:


                      • #12
                        Not really. Movement is good. The more gentle walking, the happier the horse. 24/7 turnout and an hour hack every day is awesome, but anything is better than nothing. I pull blood once a year, and make sure the older ones get their teeth checked twice a year and any time I notice a problem. Test for Cushings if you suspect it.

                        I also get a bit more free with the drugs once they reach a certain age. If bute/banamine/previcox/dex will make the days he has left better, I don't worry so much about potential side effects or consequences.


                        • #13
                          My older horses have all been extremely healthy into their 20's. They have all been able to hold excellent condition on excellent quality hay and minimal grain. I never did much different in terms of their care, but I did make sure that they had access to being out 24/7 to come and go as they please.

                          I also had a set up where they could have a separate double sized stall with access to their own extra large paddock ( shared fence line with the other horses) if for some reason they needed to eat in peace.

                          For mine just keeping them moving through riding and 24/7 turnout seemed to be the best. I did not blanket either. They didn't need it and they were happier without.


                          • #14
                            If your horse is in in good shape now, I would suggest getting a baseline test for Cushings. I don't think fall is the best time to do this, but talk to your vet about when is. You don't have to wait until they start staying wooly. I second the movement/warmth in the winter. The old fogeys are less tolerant of extremes.

                            My guy made it to 34 and I rode him until the mid-20's. He had one spring where he kept his winter coat, but I think that was because that winter he had actually had his first cold. Luckily his winter coat was pretty minimal. His Cushings test came back a little high, but he WOULD.NOT consume pergolide without a big fuss. In subsequent years, he shed out like normal. When I re-tested him before I put him down, his levels had gone down back to normal. Tells me that there was something NQR that one spring.


                            • #15
                              EOTRH: Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis

                              Google it and look at the symptoms. We have an oldster who was diagnosed with this and looking back, he had probably had it for a while. He got his teeth pulled and he is so much happier. Happier in his stall, eats better, gained weight and is keeping it etc. We feel badly that we didn't recognize that he had the problem sooner.