Thanks to better nutrition and specialized veterinarian care, our horse companions are living longer than their predecessors. The average lifespan of a horse is 25-30 years, although some may even reach 40 years old. The standard age for a “senior” horse is 15. With proper care, even an older horse can enjoy good health and thrive.
Some compassionate horse owners may not have the knowledge or resources for their geriatric equines, so they turn to us for help. For three generations, our family has owned and managed a successful ranch for older horses. We provide boarding and permanent retirement placement. Twenty years ago, we also established a horse rescue and adoption program in our area, as well as an equine therapy clinic. Every day that we work with these beautiful animals is a blessing and an adventure.
Health Considerations For Aging Equines
As you know, senior horses have specific needs that go beyond normal equine care. Just like us, their bodies get older and they experience more health problems. Adopting a mature horse is not always an easy job, and it is not cheap. However, the relationship you cultivate with these magnificent creatures makes your labor of love well worth it.
Because of senior nutritional needs, they require a diet that is tailored by an equine nutritionist. They also need constant attention for their aging hooves, and medical intervention for arthritis and other common maladies of older equines. If your four-footed friend is approaching his golden years, be sure that your vet has experience with seniors. You may consider adding an equine geriatric specialist to your horse’s medical team.
As horses age, they often develop dental problems. Caring for your horse’s teeth is essential at any age, because it affects his overall health. While many vets have experience in equine dental care, your senior horse may require services of a dedicated equine dentist. The more information you have, the better you can care for your friend.
Your Senior Horse’s Teeth
Did you know that you can estimate a horse’s age by looking at her teeth? Although it is not 100% fool-proof, a vet can examine a horse’s teeth and give a reasonably close estimation. Baby foals lose their “milk” teeth by the time they are three years old. These are replaced by permanent teeth.
As your horse matures, natural grooves in his teeth (called Galvayne’s grooves) wear down in noticeable intervals. Our resident vet often uses this method when the age of a newly-rescued animal is unknown.
One of our favorite equine borders is a gentle mare, her name is Tilly….
Three years ago, our neighbor Kyle adopted her from a rescue ranch in South Dakota. This poor animal had been neglected to the point of starvation, and the ranch saved her from impending death. Our neighbor Kyle and his family adopted her, and brought her back to our area. Kyle doctors with the same vet we do, and he often brings Tilly to our ranch to board while they go on vacation.
As with many severely neglected horses, Tilly’s teeth weren’t in good shape. So, Kyle and his family have learned a lot of fascinating facts about equine dental care.
A horse’s teeth continue to grow as he/she ages…..
Those in the wild have enough roughage and particles in their food to keep their teeth from growing sharp edges. Throughout the life of a domestic horse, an equine dentist must file her teeth annually to prevent these dental problems. This procedure is called floating, and it is especially important for senior horses.
Make a habit of checking your equine companion’s mouth and teeth periodically. Look for broken or missing teeth, and any signs of infection in his teeth or gums. Your horse cannot tell you that he is having dental pain, so pay attention to signs such as excessive drooling, head-tossing, and food dripping from the mouth. Dental problems may lead to loss of appetite and unhealthy weight loss. Be especially aware of these signs in older animals.
Since most senior horses have missing and worn-down teeth, equine nutritionists recommend diets formulated for their needs. Many senior products blend grain, hay, vitamins, and any other supplements the vet recommends. All these are ground into pellets that will comfortably dissolve in your horse’s mouth. Minimal or no chewing is required. Even elderly horses that have lost all their teeth can get adequate nutrition with these pellets. Consult your vet and equine nutritionist for the specifics of your horse’s dietary needs.
With individualized care plans, senior horses like Tilly can expect a few more fruitful years. As horse owners, we have the ultimate responsibility for our companion’s well-being. No longer are aged horses destined for the “glue factory”.
Many of the horses we board or rescue are well into their senior years. It is inspiring to see these graceful animals playing with younger ones in the herd. When you manage your horse’s health care properly, such as dental issues, she will reward you with years of love and companionship.