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Senior Horses

Horses can still have a lot of joie de vivre even when they are very old. A prerequisite for this is species-appropriate husbandry, balanced feeding, and good health management. As we get older, more and more physical problems creep in.

For many owners, horses have long since ceased to be farm or work animals, but family members. The four-legged friends, therefore, receive particularly loving care when they get old. And that is also necessary. Because it is no different with horses than with humans: the older one gets, the more the physical ailments increase. 

Horse seniors are particularly affected by teeth problems, colic, arthrosis, and visual impairment. It is important to recognize and treat these diseases in good time. 

A lot emanates from the teeth

A panel of experts made it clear that the life expectancy of a horse often depends on the condition of the teeth. In the wild, like elephants, horses starve to death when their teeth wear out. In human care, on the other hand, regular visits to the horse dentist help. However, the speakers emphasized that horses want and should be busy eating for as long as possible during the day. The longer they eat, the more they chew and the more saliva they produce. This is an important requirement for good digestion. However, if horses can no longer absorb sufficient energy in the pasture, their owners or stable owners should separate them from the herd several times a day,

Another problem that occurs more frequently in older horses is colic. They are often triggered by an obstruction in the small intestine, which is usually caused by a benign fat tumor. There is usually no other option than to operate. Another reason for colic is that older horses grind the feed less well because the bit is usually very worn. In addition, their entire digestive system shuts down as they age.  

When is a horse old?

A rule of thumb for young horses is that one year of life is approximately 3.5 human years. This formula changes with age. Experts assume that for horses over the age of 20, one year of life is only three human years. Based on the age records, the factor would have to change even more as people get older.

Social contacts are indispensable

Osteoarthritis is also common in old age. It is progressive damage to the articular cartilage and underlying bones. The affected horses suffer from chronic pain. The causes can be excessive stress, wear and tear from many years of the sporting activity, and a genetic component. Osteoarthritis is not curable, but treatment with medication, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, or controlled exercise training promises to relieve pain and improve joint function.

Time and again, age-related retinal diseases are mentioned in horses. According to horse specialist Sabine Heüveldop, these are usually late effects of previous illnesses that lead to visual impairments. In her guide “Old Horses” she writes that the main cause is untreated or incorrectly treated equine recurrent uveitis; better known as moon blindness. This is probably due to a genetically determined inflammatory process in the eye.

If the structures of the eye are not too severely damaged, a blind eye can remain. This does not change the loss of sight but allows a pain-free life. In some cases, however, surgical intervention is unavoidable. If blindness occurs, measures must be taken to ensure that the affected horses do not injure themselves. Special masks, which are available in different versions, offer protection.

But not only the treatment and prevention of ailments is elementary for horse seniors. Age-appropriate housing and employment are also important factors. Basically, even an elderly four-legged friend needs company. Boxing or paddock keeping is therefore only an option if the horses are out in the fields during the day, can give in to their urge to move, and have social contacts. Then a box or paddock can even be a welcome retreat and resting place.

Youth is good for horses

An open stable is usually the best option. But it also harbors dangers, for example when muddy areas freeze in winter and mutate into mogul slopes. We, therefore, recommend a sanded run, which also offers older horses a sure-footed surface.

Although there are large individual differences in the physical fitness of older horses, it can happen that some seniors are no longer suitable for trail rides. Then you need to look for alternative jobs. One possibility is youth care. Especially when horses have the patience of an angel, they like to be brushed, led, and stroked by children. Walks can also be beneficial, or classic groundwork in hand, with special exercises for older horses. 

No question: The care of senior horses is intensive. But the effort is worth it if you want to give your beloved family member a life full of joy even after retirement.

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