Keeping Your Old Horse Feeling Young

Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin A-275


By Jessica Jahiel

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A Good Life for a Horse’s Golden Years.

The aging of horses in your care is inevitable and, in fact, you may prefer to work with older horses to take advantage of their experience and patience in teaching young riders. But what can your expect of an older horse? Does he have special needs? Is he capable of carrying a workload, or should he be allowed to retire?  How do you keep him healthy and happy?

Jessica Jahiel answers these questions and more, covering such vital topics as proper feeding, general care, and the importance of regular exercise and companionship, all of which result in an excellent quality-of-life for your older horse.  With her practical, expert advise, your aging horse will remain your trusty, trusting steed for years to come. 


Purchasing an Older Horse

So long as the veterinarian performing the prepurchase examination assures you that the older horse in which you’re interested is sound and healthy, you can be a little more generous when evaluating him than you would be if you were evaluating a four-year-old. For example, X rays of an older horse may show lumps, bumps, and arthritic and navicular changes, which may be entirely acceptable for an experienced equine athlete in his teens. In fact, it is virtually impossible to find a horse eight years old or older that doesn’t exhibit some arthritic changes. Heed the advice of your veterinarian. If the damage isn’t major and the horse is comfortable and able to perform reliably, all should be well.

Patience Comes with Age

Older horses can be wonderful, patient teachers for beginning riders of any age. They may require more careful management as they age, but the benefits of starting with an older horse far outweigh any drawbacks.

Maintaining an Older Horse

Whether you are just beginning to look after an older horse or are continuing to look after a horse that is growing old in your care, you will find that maintaining an older horse generally is a combination of business as usual (shoeing and vaccination schedules, for example) and coping with change. Recognizing and dealing appropriately with the various changes that occur as your horse ages will help you give him a good life well into his golden years.

As horses get older, they chew less efficiently, make less saliva, and digest their food less effectively. Like older humans, older horses are more prone to injury and require more time to heal. They need more deliberate exercise, with generous warm-ups and cool-downs, and perhaps a lighter workload. They also may require special care, feeds, or medications. All of these issues can be well managed by a caring owner — you.

Recognizing the Signs of Aging

If you see your horse every day, you may not notice the subtle changes in his condition that take place over many months and years. Stand back and take a long, objective look. It might be helpful to imagine that you’re seeing your horse for the first time.

Is your horse increasingly slow to shed his winter coat, keeping it long after younger horses have shed theirs?

Is your horse’s coat rough and dull in winter, summer, or both?

Does your horse’s coat seem to be longer than usual and full of curly hairs?

Although such changes are not directly associated with old age, they are signs of hormonal imbalances, which affect a horse’s ability to digest, absorb, and utilize nutrients and also can cause a failure to shed and chronic laminitis (founder). Often, these imbalances can be corrected if an observant owner enlists the help of an equine veterinarian.

Feeding an Older Horse

The challenge of feeding older horses is providing them with what they need in a form that they can use. Some dietary changes are easy to make. For example, if licking salt from a block becomes difficult for an older horse, you might opt to provide him with loose salt instead. Generally speaking, an older horse requires more nutrients. Because a horse’s chewing and digestion becomes less efficient and less effective with age, you’ll need to provide your older horse with a higher level of digestible protein, more fat, and more vitamins and minerals. But before you begin to make adjustments to your horse’s diet, it’s important for you to know what you are feeding him today.

Know Your Horse’s Feed

To determine what you are feeding your horse right now, begin by asking yourself a few questions:

How much hay does my horse get at each feeding?

How much grain or other concentrates does my horse get at each feeding?

Then ask yourself how you know this. Do you measure by weight or by flake and coffee can? Measuring rations by weight is the easiest way to know precisely how much you are feeding. If you don’t already have one, an inexpensive scale is a wise investment and can help you feed your horse more effectively.


On Sale
Aug 15, 2001
Page Count
32 pages

Jessica Jahiel

Jessica Jahiel

About the Author

Jessica Jahiel is an internationally renowned lecturer, clinician, and award-winning author who answers equine-related questions in her online newsletter, Horse-Sense. She also responds to questions about horse behavior, riding matters, and anything else readers want to discuss in Horse & Rider, Equus, and Dressage Today, as well as in her best-selling books The Horse Behavior Problem Solver and The Rider’s Problem Solver. Jahiel lives in Illinois.

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