How to Prevent Colic in Older Horses
Veteran horses are prone to colic and other digestive issues and so their diet may need to be modified to meet their needs. Here we'll take a look at the different elements in the equine diet and other things to consider as your horse goes into their more senior years.
The Importance of Fibre
Fibre should be the foundation of any equine diet but it can be difficult for veteran horses to consume enough fibre. This is because their teeth may be worn or missing, reducing their ability to chew long-stem fibre like hay. Unmolassed short 'chops' are an excellent option for them as, when soaked, this fibre feed is easy to eat. The feed can be soaked in warm water in the winter to provide a warming treat for your horse. You can also buy hay alternatives such as
Most older horses benefit from a higher level of protein in their diet. This is important for the repair and maintenance of the body’s tissues. Look for feeds containing soya bean and/or linseed meal and grass. Both are great sources of protein. But be careful because, if your horse has been diagnosed with a liver of kidney condition, they will need a low protein diet.
Vitamins and Minerals
A balanced diet is essential for a veteran horse and so the right amount of vitamins and minerals must feature. A formulated bagged feed is an easy way to provide essential nutrients and should be fed to your horse in the amounts recommended by the manufacturer.
Monitor and Meet Energy Requirements
An older horse may require extra energy from its diet in order to maintain weight and retain sufficient energy for exercise and work. Most veteran feeds are high in calories to address this issue. But your horse may prove to be a good doer and will then require a lower calorie feed. You should monitor their weight regularly and make the appropriate adjustments. Careful monitoring is particularly crucial in the winter when rugs and a longer coat can obscure weight loss.
Always provide access to clean water. Dehydration impacts performance and puts your horse at greater risk of colic. If your horse is reluctant to drink enough, look for ways to add water to their diet such as soaking feeds and try adding flavour in the shape of fruit juice to encourage them to drink more.
Your horse may be or may become a fussy eater. You might have to flavour their food to keep them eating sufficient calories. This can be done with herbs like mint and fenugreek which horses often enjoy. Sometimes simply soaking feed in warm water can make it more appealing.
Pre- and Probiotics
Older horses can suffer from reduced digestive function making it harder for them to absorb the nutrients they need. Pre- and probiotics can help to restore function by improving the number of good bacteria in the gut.
Every horse is an individual and so will have unique dietary requirements in order to remain in optimum condition. Their needs will also change across time and so you will have to monitor their condition and adjust their diet as they age.
If you require help with your horse's diet please consult your vet or equine nutritionist. Remember if a change in diet is required this should be done gradually.