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Riding Into the Sunset: Nutrition for Your Older Horse

From trail rides to parades, working cattle, barrel-racing, and calf-roping, you and your horse have been together through it all. Your horse has been your faithful companion and friend, and deserves the best care. With advances in medical treatment and diet, horses, just like people, are living longer more productive lives. But as they age, horse’s requirements change. Teeth wear down, digestion can be compromised, and musculature declines. Cushings Disease or a weakened immune system can cause problems. It is important to note that there is no set age at which your horse becomes a “senior citizen.” Even though horses are considered “old” at twenty or so, any and all of these problems can develop earlier or later in a horse’s life, so let your horse be your guide when assessing whether dietary changes may be necessary. With proper care and feeding, aging horses can live healthy lives into their late twenties and even thirties.

With worn or absent teeth, older horses are often unable to get the long fiber necessary in their diets. It may look like your horse still has his teeth, but uneven wear patterns, gaps between teeth, or fractured teeth can prevent proper chewing. Also, research has shown that a senior horse’s digestive system might be equivalent to that of a younger horse that has had its entire left colon removed! So even with a perfect set of chompers, an aging horse may be unable to utilize fiber efficiently, leading to decreased energy and weight loss. For these horses, a complete feed containing high quality sources of long fiber is essential. Good sources are beet pulp shreds and soybean hulls. The feed should have a crude fiber percentage above 15%. It is also helpful to have feed that can be soaked into a mash for ease of consumption and to prevent choke.

Added vitamins are also beneficial to your aging friend. An older horse requires more vitamin C and B-vitamins, but produces them less efficiently. They need more phosphorus and calcium in the proper ratio. Also, supplementation of the amino acids threonine and lysine has been shown to improve the declining musculature of the aging horse. Since senior horses immune systems may be weakening, Vitamin E can be helpful in boosting immunity. Vitamin E is also important for maintaining healthy skin, hair, and hooves. These are important ingredients to look for in a feed for your equine companion. A very important addition to an aging horse’s diet is glucosamine. This amino acid works to support joint elasticity and healing. It is also used to treat equine arthritis. Adding glucosamine to your horse’s diet can help prevent joint pain, and may enable your elder companion to remain active much longer.

The protein and fat content of the diet are also very important. Older horses cannot process protein as efficiently as they once did, so choose a feed with at least 14% protein, instead of the 10-12% younger horses need. Excellent sources of this protein are distillers dried grains and soybean meal. Additional fat helps the horse maintain its weight and condition, because it is easy to consume and digest. A feed containing at least 7-8% fat is essential. Feeding additional calories in the form of fats prevents the problems of founder and colic associated with adding calories in the form of grains. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fats, and are also a beneficial part of the senior horse’s program. Joints that are stiff or arthritic can cause pain and immobility. Omega 3 has been shown to improve the condition of connective tissues, and may help your horse stay active without the addition of pain medications. Look for ingredients such as flaxseed and vegetable oils to supply this helpful nutrient.

Lakeland Feeds Super Senior Feed contains all the important fiber, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and Omega 3s your elder horse needs, and can be made into a mash with water if your senior citizen has dental problems. The addition of molasses and vegetable oil makes this feed especially tasty, ensuring that your horse will love to eat it! The older horse has often spent its entire life serving as your companion, entertainment, or dependable laborer. Choosing the proper feed is one way to reward your horse for a job well done. We can help you determine the proper ration for your horse at any age, from birth through their golden years. If you have questions about your horse’s nutritional needs just give us a call. We have knowledgeable staff on hand to help.