Horses are living longer these days as a result of improved medical care, a better understanding of equine care generally and the fact that most horses are not required to undertake heavy work. Horses can live for 30 years and more but their needs change as they age. Older horses require the appropriate care and management to remain comfortable and can suffer from a variety of age-related conditions.
A degenerative inflammatory disease, osteoarthritis is painful. The condition cannot be reversed but the pain can be addressed and the disease managed. Providing the horse with a clean and dry area to lie down is important. Like people, horses sometimes need to take the weight off their feet. It is also crucial to provide regular foot care to ensure that the horse is balanced and comfortable. Horses with osteoarthritis should be exercised regularly and their weight managed to reduce the stress on their joints. Allow as much paddock turnout as you can for horses with arthritis. Horses that are allowed to keep moving at their own pace, will generally experience less osteoarthritis-associated pain than those which are kept in stalls and forced to stand still. Good management should alleviate the pain, but it might be necessary to ask your vet to prescribe medication to reduce any inflammation.
A horse's teeth will continually erupt or grow throughout their life. But sometimes in older animals, the teeth actually reach the end of their growth. if this happens, the horse might experience dental issues including missing teeth, broken teeth, sharp points, or worn-down teeth. These problems could prevent the horse from chewing properly and so they may not absorb sufficient nutrients. Elderly horses should receive a dental examination, every six months. It is also wise to look out for weight loss, odours from the mouth and quidding (packing food in the cheeks) as these are all signs of dental problems.
Older horses which are carrying either too much or too little weight could struggle to fight off infections and will be vulnerable to a variety of health issues. According to the nine-point Henneke BCS scale, a horse that is an ideal weight is around a 5 out of 9. Here, the horse's ribs can be felt but not seen. An older horse's diet will encompass palatable, readily digestible, and easy-to-chew food along with a constant supply of clean water. Pastures probably won't provide enough energy for them and so elderly horses need to be supplemented with a forage or a grain feed formulated for seniors.
The winter months
Older horses may need blanketing on colder days, even when other horses do not, whether they are stabled or turned out. They could find it more difficult than younger animals to retain body heat, especially if they are also struggling to maintain the correct weight. A dental check before temperatures drop is a good idea and will ensure that the horse is able to chew and therefore to receive sufficient energy from its diet to keep warm.