Many horses and ponies can live into their 20s or 30s with good health care and play important roles including being trustworthy mounts for new riders, children and riders with special needs and being companions for other horses or their owners. As horses age, their health needs change; therefore, you should change your care to meet your senior horse’s developing needs.
Work with your veterinarian to make a proactive plan for your senior horse. Detect problems early by scheduling annual or semiannual physical exams. The exam should include:
• A dental check.
• Weight tape and body condition score.
• Soundness check.
• Vaccine planning.
Additionally, routine blood screening and urine tests can detect more subtle signs of age-related internal organ problems. You and your veterinarian can then use all of these exam findings to plan health care and nutrition for the next 6 to 12 months.
Gray horses often develop lumps, or melanomas, under the skin. Monitor these for size during each exam. If you detect cancer early, local treatment is often successful. Check white skin in areas with little or no hair coat for reddened or raised spots. These areas include around the:
If you still ride your senior horse or pony, check their saddle fit. Senior horses often have less back muscle, and can be more prone to saddle sores. In addition to saddle fit, make sure your senior horse has a high quality diet. Most major feed companies make “senior” diets. These are often pelleted, easy to chew and have more energy than other concentrates.
Palatability may vary between brands, so if your horse doesn’t like one, try another. Always follow feed instructions carefully and make sure the horse gets enough vitamins and minerals.
Horses need regular feet trimming throughout their lives. Good hoof balance promotes even weight bearing and less stress on the joints. Joint friendly supplements like glucosamine with chondroitin sulfate may help some arthritic horses. Some horses may need a low dose of anti-inflammatory drugs such as phenylbutazone to keep them comfortable. Daily light exercise or turn-out, as well as longer warm-up and cool down, will also help maintain the horse’s usefulness.