Your four-legged friend may be at the age where his competition career is a thing of the past but that shouldn’t mean he can’t enjoy life in the slow lane. Here are three tweaks you can make to his care to ensure age really is just a number.
Balance his diet
Making sure your older horse gets all the nutrients he needs, as well as enough forage to keep his gut moving, is essential. Horses can spend up to 16 – 18 hours a day grazing and the more fibre in your horse’s diet, the easier he’ll find it to digest and get the right nutrients. If he spends his days outside, he’ll cope fine, but if he’s stabled, he’ll need high-fibre foods that are easy to digest.
As your horse ages, you’ll need to move over to the more complete feeds that are designed to be fed without the added forage. A lot of owners start giving their horse joint supplements when a problem shows itself, but the real key is prevention. Start giving your horse joint supplements in his late teenage years.
Joint supplements may help with stiffness and flexibility. Check with your vet which product will benefit your horse most.
Keep him moving
As we get older, we struggle with moving around and your horse is exactly the same. But just because your horse is slowing down, doesn’t mean he can’t have fun.
He may not be on the competition circuit, or up for long endurance escapades, but you should still be doing things with him (providing he’s happy doing them of course).
When it comes to exercise, watch for a change in your horse’s attitude. Does he still want to go out? Does he come back like he used to? Is he struggling on one rein and not the other? Is he okay the day after exercise? Is he showing any avoidance behaviors like grumpiness. You should be asking yourself these questions every time you ride.
You may not keep your advanced dressage horse doing dressage but you may do something else at the lower levels.
The expectations you have of your horse have to change as he ages. Listen to him and scale your back his exercise program where you feel it’s necessary. The rule of thumb is that you should continue to exercise your horse but accommodate his age and ailments.
Adapt his grooming
Your horse’s hair probably won’t look and feel the same as it did when he was in his teens and often his coat doesn’t come out as you’d expect it to when the seasons change, particularly if he has Cushing’s.
Horses will get sweat patches as the coat grows back at different thickness levels when they age. It can help to clip your horse so he can stay cool if he struggles to shed his coat.
Foot care is another point that needs attention. An older horse is more likely to be unshod, so monitor general hoof growth.
Get your horse’s feet trimmed regularly by your farrier and make sure he keeps any excess frog under control to combat thrush in the winter.
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