Olden Horses; Golden Horses

As the Baby Boomers are edging into and out of middle age, there is a push to learn more about the ills and problems of this generation. There is also the discovery that middle age and beyond doesn't necessarily mean slowing down. Today's adults are living longer, healthier, and more active lives than any generation before us; the same can be said of our equine companions. They have had better health care their entire lives, and thus are entering their golden years in better shape. They are more capable of not only competing longer, but of traveling with us as we expand our horizons. However, there isn't as much information on the aging horse as we would like. In years past, many 20-plus-year-old horses were merely pasture ornaments. Today, you might see horses of that age competing successfully at the upper levels in many disciplines. We think the topic is important enough to focus our cover story on it this month.

We know that repeated concussion wears away joints and that aging limits the flexibility of horse and human. So how do we combat these problems? How do we prevent and treat things such as colic, arthritis-induced wobbler syndrome, and Cushing's syndrome in the older horse? How do we expand the knowledge of veterinary medicine to include daily care of older horses whose immune systems are slowing? What changes are needed in vaccination schedules, deworming programs, and feeding to keep these horses in the best condition possible?

Experienced veterinarians will tell you that they are learning more each day about the needs and medical care of older horses simply because they are tending more of them. Ten years ago, you might have been hard-pressed to find a surgeon who wanted to anesthetize an older horse for colic (or any other) surgery. Today, we know that an older horse can survive the rigors of surgery and recovery.

We know the immune system of an older horse declines, so vaccination schedules must be amended. But what is optimum? Higher doses? More frequent boosters? Different vaccines developed specifically for older horses?

How about nutrition? We know some aging equines aren't getting as many nutrients from their feed as they did when younger. Does that mean we need more fat in their diets? More beet pulp and other fiber sources in complete diets rather than tough-to-chew hay? What about supplements for the coat, skin, immune system, and general health?

I think it behooves us to look to the future, when many of us will have more and more older horses under our care. In a recent survey, we found that nearly 57% of TheHorse.com users had horses older than 15. Since the demographics of people using our web site and e-newsletter mirrors that of the printed magazine, it would seem safe to say that most of you probably have one or more horses which fit this description now, or will in the near future.

Let's make sure when we are talking to our breed and discipline organizations, to our veterinarians, and to our friends, that we encourage them to make research on equine senior citizens a priority. There's no reason our horses can't have as much fun in their golden years as we will.

West Nile Virus

Texas for the first time has positive evidence of West Nile virus in the state (see page 15). Kentucky has its first equine case this year--nearly two months earlier than its first case last year. Florida has proven that the disease can become endemic in areas that are warm year-round. And the march of the disease westward is continuing.

This is a deadly disease--deadly for horses, humans, birds, and even some other mammals. It is carried by mosquitoes from birds. The more mosquitoes you have in your area, the more likely you are to have a problem with West Nile virus. There are several bird species that can be carriers.

So, the logical answer is to protect your horses, and yourself, by getting rid of mosquitoes. Rally your neighbors one Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon and have clean-up parties in your area. Get rid of standing water and mosquito breeding grounds. The life you save might be your own, or that of your horse.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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