Caring for Senior horses – A FormaHoof Horse Care Guide
Supporting a 4-legged friend in older age can be a challenging task, but it is doable and it’s our responsibility as horse owners to continue to care for them when they need it most. Whilst some horses have the luck in their genes and can simply retire in a field with basic hoof care and nutrition, others may need additional care to age gracefully.
Regardless of whether your horse has been your sporting or leisure partner, we all aim for a lifelong healthy and happy horse and this should also apply to the stage where you may not or only occasionally ride your retired friend. It’s important therefore to keep your eyes open for common health issues that may impact on aging horses.
How can I support my aging horse with nutrition?
MSc Lisa Elliott has many years of experience caring for senior horses and has used her nutritional education to go to extra mile for FormaHoof followers ands sum up nutritional tips and tricks for owners of senior horses.
“There is no exact threshold for when a horse is officially ‘old’, but if they are showing signs of age, such as a change in condition, then it may be time to consider a more tailored feeding regime:”
Fibre and the Microbiome
Forage should always form the foundation of the diet as it supplies essential fibre. Fibre is broken down by billions of hindgut microbes, collectively known as the Hindgut Microbiome, and the better the quality of the forage the better it will be broken down, providing extra energy for work and condition. Haylage, short chops, and highly digestible fibres such as unmolassed beet which are easily broken down are perfect for older horses who have dropped weight. Digestible fibres and short chops are also ideal for those who struggle with chewing forage such as hay.
A healthy microbiome is not only vital for fibre digestion but also supports immunity, which is important for older horses, particularly those with PPID or ‘Cushing’s. The hindgut microbiome thrives on varied fibre, so a variety of different fibre sources is ideal.
Certain microbes within the hindgut microbiome help support gut lining health and integrity, which is vital as horses age. Again, they can be promoted through a variety of forage, along with feeds such as unmolassed beet or linseed meal which contain highly digestible fibre to support these beneficial microbes.
Yeasts are proven to help promote beneficial microbes and improve fibre digestibility, so feeding a good supplement or balancer containing these will not only support the hindgut microbiome but help your veteran get the most out of their fibre for improved condition.
Oil contains three times more energy than cereals and is a useful calorie source for older horses prone to dropping weight. Linseed is an excellent source of oil and is also rich in anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids to help keep older joints healthy and supple. Linseed is also known to boost the immune system, which is great for veteran horses who may have decreased immunity.
Research has indicated that older horses can have a lower rate of muscle protein production and need improved quality protein for muscle maintenance and repair. Amino acids provide the building blocks for making good-quality protein. Linseed and soya have an excellent amino acid profile, so look for feeds containing these to help facilitate muscle protein production. A good supplement or balancer containing the essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine is also ideal.
Insulin sensitivity decreases as horses get older, potentially resulting in metabolic problems with higher levels of cereals. However, working older horses can still benefit from controlled levels of cereal starch in their diet for additional energy. Cereals such as oats offer better digestibility, but to prevent metabolic conditions and digestive upset, feed should ideally contain less than 20% starch.
Older horses are normally more prone to impaction colic and dehydration, so ensuring access to fresh, clean water will help to reduce this risk. Feeding daily salt to encourage drinking, alongside wet mashes, is ideal to help optimise water intake.
Vitamins and minerals
Micronutrients are essential to support the health of your older horse, including antioxidants such as vitamin E to help offset the effects of age and boost immunity. A good balancer, or recommended levels of a fortified compound feed is the best way to deliver your veteran’s micronutrient needs.
Alongside good nutrition, regular dental care is essential for older horses, and some may need dentist visits every 6 months. Additionally, Body Condition Scoring (BCS) and regular use of a weigh tape is beneficial to help monitor your veteran’s condition.
Are you looking for nutritional consultation or support with a tailored diet plan for your horse?
Hoof Care for Senior Horses
After all these years of joy and many years of riding, please remember that your horse’s hooves still grow and need to be trimmed when they get older, even when retired to the field. Horses should always be checked on a daily base to ensure their health and welfare.
Older horses may show less hoof growth than younger horses, however a good and frequent trim supports your horse’s wellbeing and good health.
Professional farriers and trimmers will adjust to the horse’s individual needs. Back problems or osteoarthritis can make it harder to trim the feet, so the timeframe for the work to be carried out should be adjusted as needed and the professional should always be made aware of any stiffness or other problems the horse may show.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for aging horses to pick up some of the common equine disease such as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction/PPID (formerly known as Equine Cushing’s Disease) or laminitis, all of which need special care.
How can FormaHoof support senior horses?
FormaHoof can support your senior with comfortable support and allows your horse to receive 24/7 protection, without the need to pick out feet or worry about a rock bruising the sole or frog.
Studies of horse populations suggest that 15%-30% of horses and ponies 15 years of age and older are affected by laminitis and the disease (source) is still one of the most fatal diseases for horses.
The benefits for horses suffering from PPID or/and laminitis are scientifically high, as FormaHoof can support horses throughout their journey:
A final thought from farrier and FormaHoof Expert Aletia Reilingh:
FormaHoof is my absolute go-to solution for older horses that need help due to age-related changes and metabolic issues that impact the hoof. It’s simple and non-invasive to apply, the results are often immediate- relief and comfort.
Our horses mean the world to us, they give us everything over the years and we try to comfort them as much as we can during their active times, shouldn’t it be the same for them in their retirement? I say YES!
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The FCA course in the FormaHoof Academy is set to give equine podiatry professionals the option of adding certified high-quality FormaHoof services to their business. Nevertheless, the course is open to everyone and owners can gain helpful insights in the usage of FormaHoof and learn with their trusted farrier, trimmer or vet, how to get started.