Older Horses Might Not be Ready to Retire

"Old Billy," an English draft horse, was the longest living horse when he died at age 62, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Although most horse owners know their hoofed friends probably will not make it into the record books for longevity, geriatric horses can live a happy and fulfilling life.

Jill Eyles, DVM, is an equine surgery intern at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. "I would consider most horses geriatric by 20," she said.

"Old" is a relative term depending upon the use of the horse. For example, racehorses are old by age five or six, but for a hunter-jumper that is still young.

Just as with humans, there is no age at which retirement should be mandatory. "Regular exercise is the best thing for horses that are sound enough to do so," advised Eyles. Pay attention to how your horse feels when exercised. If he still has the ability and the heart to canter you around, then don't let his age make you say "whoa!"

Although horses do not share many of the aesthetic aging concerns that humans do, there is one universal problem. "Arthritis is very common in older horses," Eyles noted. Although we cannot give our 1,200-pound equine friends a walker or a wheelchair, we can ease their pain with good management practices and certain medications.

For minor arthritis, medications can be injected into the muscle or joint space. Also, the more the horse can move around, the healthier its joints will be. "Keeping a horse out in a paddock or pasture is better than keeping them in a stall," Eyles noted.

Owners often wonder when and if they need to feed a senior diet. But as long as a horse can still chew well, high-quality roughage should be offered. As for switching to a specific senior diet, Eyles explained that, "older horses with dental concerns and those who can no longer maintain a healthy body weight on roughage should be transitioned to a senior feed."

One of the most common reasons for weight loss in horses is because a horse's teeth either become extremely worn down or a tooth falls out and the opposing one overgrows. Routine dental care from your veterinarian is extremely important, especially as your horse ages.

As always, contact your veterinarian for additional information.--Ashley Mitek

About the Author

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Learn more about the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at vetmed.illinois.edu.

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