At what age can my horse be classed a senior? Well, there is no black & white answer as with improved management and better nutrition horses are living heathy active lives well into their twenties. Traditionally horses were classed as veterans at fifteen but nowadays many competition horses don’t reach their peak until their teens. However, with age the digestive system does become less efficient. Therefore, for some older horse’s nutritional and management changes need to be made to ensure they maintain an ideal body condition.
Forage is a vital part of any equine diets, and without proper amounts, problems can occur in the digestive tract. Ideally seniors should be offered Ad-Lib high quality forage however, dental problems can make intake of sufficient forage challenging. Older horses appear to do better on fresh green grass even if they have lost some molars because grass is easily chewed and digested. The cycle of many older horses is to pick up weight during the spring & summer when the grass is growing and lose weight in the winter when the grass is dormant. Problems tend to happen when an older horse is asked to obtain its forage from hay only. A good additional forage source is grass/hay cubes which are available in grass/alfalfa mixes, the forage is chopped and then compressed into a cube, so some of the work of chewing is already done for the horse. If hay cubes are still too hard for the senior, then soaking them with water will soften the cubes. Bluegrass Better Beet or Turmash are excellent additional fibre sources as they are high in fibre and low in starch making them ideal for supporting digestive health and acting as partial forage replacers.
What feed best suits a senior?
As seniors have a reduced nutrient efficiency it’s vital to provide a feed that contains high quality proteins, vitamins and minerals that provide a fully balanced diet. Like people, horses age at different rates and there is no 'correct' age at which a specific 'senior feed' needs to be introduced. The most suitable dietary management will depend on the individual's clinical and/ or metabolic status and ability to maintain condition. Not all senior horses are prone to losing weight and for some reduced activity with a decrease in workload paired with an increase in turnout time could result in weight gain. Therefore, for these good doing seniors’ feeding high-quality forage and a balancer such as Stamm 30 will provide them with everything they need.
For those struggling to maintain condition it’s vital that we provide a conditioning feed suited to their individual needs. For horses that don’t suffer with metabolic issues a high calorie conditioning feed such as Cool N Condition Cubes, Prime Conditioning Mix or Prep 14, can be fed. These feeds are fully balanced and contain high levels of calories which is ideal as older horses tend to have a reduced appetite therefore with these feeds, they get more calories per bite. However, for horses that suffer with metabolic conditions it is vital to offer a low starch feed that increases condition through the addition of oils and supper fibres such as Re-Leve or Re-Solve.
Apart from maintaining condition we also want to support joint health; with age many horses begin to stiffen or develop osteoarthritis therefore offering feeds containing flax oil rich in Omega Fatty Acids can prove beneficial to help reduce joint pain/inflammation. Turmash not only acts as a good additional calorie source it also helps to support joint health as it contains high levels of Flax oil and also contains Turmeric known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Remember the most suitable feed may not always say 'senior' on the bag. To ensure your golden oldie is receiving the most appropriate diet speak to one of our nutritionists for more advice.