Caring for Older Horses: The Elmer Bandit Diet

After Elmer Bandit, a 37-year-old Half-Arabian, broke the record for lifetime competitive trail mileage in October 2008, we were flooded with questions about Elmer's care and, specifically, what fuels the fire that keeps him going. As it turns out, feeding Elmer requires careful consideration and a serious time commitment.

"Getting enough calories to Elmer challenges me," said his owner and rider, Mary Anna Wood of Independence, Mo.

She continually reevaluates his condition to see if changes are in order.

Each of Elmer's two daily meals usually consist of two gallons of water, four pounds of beet pulp shreds with molasses, four pounds of some type of equine pellet (Wood uses Equine Senior or Strategy), and the supplements ReStore or Revolution (by Biovance Technologies, Inc., of Omaha, Neb.). She mixes all of these ingredients together into an elaborate caloric soup before giving it to Elmer.

"I think Elmer likes the taste of anise, found in some pellets, but he has not exactly told me that," noted Wood.

Wood will add 1 to 1.5 pounds of alfalfa to Elmer's meals, depending on the weather, the horse's current workload, and his behavior.

She noted that Elmer is particularly fond of apples for dessert and snacks.

Elmer receives dental care at least once per year, but due to age-related dental conditions, he cannot grind food. Soaking all his food helps, but Elmer still requires between 50 and 90 minutes to eat.

Wood moves Elmer into a panel enclosure, separate from his pasture friends, for meals. Each morning, Wood gets up early, allowing two hours to feed Elmer, monitor his attitude and appetite, and make menu adjustments. She employs help to feed Elmer in the evenings.

Wood believes keeping Elmer on pasture has contributed to his longevity, and she compares life in a stall, at least for Elmer, to "solitary confinement."

"Whether this diet and schedule would work for other senior athletes or not is unknown," noted Wood. Elmer has gained weight over the past few years, which Wood said she feels is due to continual tweaking of his diet and feeding arrangements.

Read more about Elmer.

About the Author

Marsha Hayes

Marsha Hayes has been covering endurance, trail, and other equine topics since 2005. She believes every horse has a story.

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