Poll Recap: Older Horse Care Concerns

Of the 739 respondents, 197 (27%) said maintaining weight was their biggest concern for their older horses.

Photo: iStock

As our beloved equids age, they often experience health issues ranging from minor concerns to problems that require immediate and continued management. What’s your biggest concern for your older horse?

We posed this question to our readers in last week’s online poll. More than 700 people responded and we’ve tallied the results!

Of the 739 respondents, 197 (27%) said maintaining weight is their biggest concern for their older horses, and 197 individuals (27%) are most concerned about osteoarthritis and other lamenesses. Another 152 people (21%) said diseases such as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, also known as equine Cushing's disease), equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), and insulin resistance (IR) are their biggest older horse care concerns, and 107 respondents (14%) are concerned about keeping their older horse active and moving. Some 43 respondents (6%) have other concerns for their senior horses, and the remaining 43 respondents (6%) said they do not own an older horse.

Photo: TheHorse.com

Additionally, more than 85 people commented about their older horse care concerns:

Several people said their biggest concern is maintaining their aged equid's weight, whether they tend to get too skinny or could stand to shed some pounds:

  • “Definitely keeping weight on my 29-year-old mare. It just became a problem in the last two years.”
  • “I voted for osteoarthritis, but maintaining weight for my 27-year-old Thoroughbred is a big concern, also.”
  • “For my 25-year-old OTTB, it's maintaining weight.”
  • “Maintaining weight as well as managing arthritis.”
  • “Until this year it was osteoarthritis, now, at 30, it is keeping his weight up.”
  • “At 27 she is still sound but loses too much weight in late winter. It's hard to get her enough protein.”
  • “Keeping him from getting too overweight.”
  • “Planning a diet to prevent an IR horse from gaining too much weight.”
  • “Maintaining weight over topline and ribs.”
  • “I have the world's hardest keeper. She is a rescue and costs 4times more to feed than my other horse. I love her anyway.”
  • “Maintaining weight is a close second, but I feel like I have more ability to influence that.”
  • “He's 34 and loses weight in hot weather.”

Some said dental issues are their primary concern:

  • “Dental health and maintaining the ability to eat effectively.”
  • “Dental health is so essential to good health.”
  • “Will he lose the ability to chew his food, grass, or hay? His teeth are wearing.”
  • “Dental issues, problems with choke (oesophageal blockage), and the need for suitable forage replacer.”
  • “The condition of their teeth and digestion issues.”
  • “My biggest concern is my horse’s teeth.”
  • “Teeth on two 29-year-old Minis.”

Others said keeping horses active and sound is a concern:

  • “All of them are concerns, but he's accident-prone so keeping him sound is Priority One.”
  • “She has high ringbone, but is doing well with supplements and meds.”
  • “Keeping him moving comfortably.”
  • “Joint comfort.”
  • “Managing arthritis and a subluxated pastern.”
  • “Keeping them active and strong enough to get up and down easily.”
  • “Both of my mares are 18 years old, so keeping them active is important.”
  • “Managing lameness issues.”
  • “We have a rescue and most older horses have arthritis and lameness issues and can't be ridden.”
  • “Swelling and loss of range of motion in stifle.”
  • “My 30-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse mare has navicular and arthritis that is controlled.”

A few people were concerned about diseases or health conditions in their older horses:

  • “My 23-year-old mare has allergies and was just diagnosed with PPID and is on the medication.”
  • “I have two with PPID and IR. Worry about feet issue. One horse has few teeth so weight issues with him.”
  • “He has PPID, gets pergolide, and is doing well. PPID will get him eventually.”
  • “She has PPID and EMS.”
  • “Concern of insulin resistance and future PPID. Keeping up on IR diet and balancing hay.”

Many respondents listed other older horse care concerns:  

  • “Keeping her healthy and free of aches and pains are my main concerns.”
  • “Combination of things, maintain weight, arthritis, and keeping him active. Still trail riding at 30!”
  • “Melanomas”
  • “Keeping them sound but also avoiding colic.”
  • “I also worry about dry skin and dry paddocks and things that aggravate respiratory issues.”
  • “Arthritis and problems occurring along with: pain, anorexia, loss of activity/movement.”
  • “Weight, but also how comfortable they are: with cold, arthritis, Cushing’s (in my case) etc.”
  • “Melanoma in an older grey gelding.”
  • “Melanoma, gray mare with enlarging tumors in mouth and sinus, and very large pituitary tumor”
  • “Possible recurring laminitis. Overweight coming off hard winter, kept in more than usual.”
  • “Knowing when it will be time to let him go. He has cancer and is under vet care.”
  • “Very nervous. He will stop eating if buddy is not near.”
  • “Not knowing the horse's history from birth makes it a challenge.”
  • “How to prepare an EMS horse (now sound) with recent ‘winter laminitis’ for their upcoming winter.”
  • “All of the above plus difficulties in catching, carrying, and foaling with our older broodmares.”
  • “Keeping her safe from younger, more aggressive herd mates”
  • “Biggest concern is keeping his feed consistent, he cannot eat any long-stemmed hay.”
  • “Choking on unsoaked food. He's always hungry and eats well especially what he's not supposed to.”
  • “Controlling her COPD (heaves) so she can still have a good life and I can still ride some.”
  • “Maintaining respiratory health.”

And others left general comments:

  • “I lost my last elderly (30+) horse a couple of years ago. Current horse is 12 but will be old someday!”
  • “Quality of life is key.”
  • “There is no 'biggest' concern. Most older horses have several of these concerns at once.”
  • “I have a 31-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter mare in great general health but missing some teeth.”
  • “I am very thankful that I have no problems with my 28-year-old gelding.”
  • “They have better chance of coping with arthritis if they're kept fit and active.”
  • “Weight, lameness, and diseases are my top three worries with seniors”
  • “Being active is what keeps them feeling young and happy.”
  • “Finn is 30. I hand walk him every morning for an hour or more, plenty of turnout; he is stabled with a run.”

You can learn about caring for senior horses, helping older horses gain weight before winter, feeding the senior horse, keeping the aging horse comfortable, feeding old horses with PPID, IR, or metabolic disease, managing the older equine athlete, and more at TheHorse.com! You can also find older horse care resources by visiting our Older Horse Care Concerns and Feeding Older Horses subtopics, and the Old Horses: Better With Age blog.

This week, we want to know: do you pull your horses' shoes for the winter? Tell us why or why not, and share your experiences at TheHorse.com/polls

The results of our weekly polls are published in The Horse Health E-Newsletter, which offers news on diseases, veterinary research, health events, and in-depth articles on common equine health conditions and what you can do to recognize, avoid, or treat them. Sign up for our e-newsletters on our homepage and look for a new poll on TheHorse.com.

About the Author

Jennifer Whittle, TheHorse.com Web Producer

Jennifer Whittle, TheHorse.com Web Producer, is a lifelong horse owner who competes with her Appaloosas in Western performance events. She is a University of Kentucky graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in Community Communications and Leadership Development, and master's degree in Career, Technical, and Leadership Education. She currently lives on a small farm in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

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