There’s something special about the relationship you have with your senior horse, a partnership that’s endured years, tears, ups, and downs. You probably know your horse better than you know your best friend While he may seem like the same old horse, his needs may change as he ages. Even if your senior has weathered previous winters without trouble, these tips can help you ensure he’s getting the care he needs and deserves.
How Old is a Senior?
We’ve all heard the saying “you’re only as old as you feel.” Turns out it’s as true for our horses as it is for us. While some horses may be starting to slow down at 15, others are still fresh and frisky well into their 20s. No matter what your horse’s chronological age, if he’s starting to show signs of aging such as stiffness, difficulty maintaining weight, or decreased immune response, it’s time to start thinking of him as a senior.
Fortunately, senior horse care has advanced significantly in recent years. Just because your horse is getting older doesn’t mean you need to “put him out to pasture.” You can keep your golden oldie going strong with smart care and management, including the right supplements.
It’s important to monitor your senior’s teeth all year-round, but in winter it is especially critical. If he can’t chew properly, he’s not going to receive the full benefit of the feed you’re providing. That means wasted calories, wasted nutrients, and a horse whose diet isn’t meeting his needs.
Speaking of diets, now is a great time to re-evaluate your horse’s program, ideally with the help of your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist. His nutritional needs may change as he ages, so a feeding program that worked five years ago might not meet his needs now. As with any horse, the basis of your senior’s diet should be high quality forage. Hindgut fermentation of long-stem forage is your horse’s primary heat source in the colder months, so a steady supply of quality hay is critical.
Ground conditions change daily throughout the winter, from warm and wet to frozen solid. These fluctuations can wreak havoc on your horse’s hooves, so monitor his feet and work closely with your farrier to keep his toes in tip-top shape.
Skin & Coat Health
Senior horses’ tend to be more susceptible to skin infections and other problems caused by harsh winter conditions. Older horses also have a lowered ability to regulate their body temperature, and therefore may need additional blanketing and protection from the elements to keep them warm and cozy.
Years of travelling, training, and competing can really take a toll on your horse’s joints, but luckily there are steps you can take to help. A joint supplement tailored to the specific needs of your senior horse can help keep him comfortable. Look for ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and HA for joint tissue health and MSM, devil’s claw, and yucca to support a healthy inflammatory response and help keep him moving freely.
Many senior horses may drop weight and lose muscle tone over the winter, so it’s important to monitor your horse’s body condition score. To make sure you have an accurate picture of his weight, remove his blanket regularly and work your fingers through his coat to feel the fat cover across his ribs, withers, behind his shoulder, over his back, and his tail head, in addition to his neck. If your senior is losing weight, talk to your veterinarian about possible causes. If everything checks out, consider adding a supplement with healthy fats and amino acids to support a healthy weight, as well as prebiotics, probiotics, and enzymes for proper digestion. Want to learn more about body condition scoring? Visit SmartPak.com/BodyConditionQuiz
As they age, seniors’ immune function starts to lose efficiency and efficacy, which means your horse may be more prone to illness or slower to heal from injury. For these reasons, it is especially important to have your vet examine and vaccinate your senior once or twice annually, to help protect and keep him healthy. Additionally, having your vet out regularly allows him or her to keep a close eye on your horse and monitor for common senior conditions such as Cushing’s. You may also want to consider adding a supplement to maintain a healthy immune system. Look for antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and grape seed extract, which help support normal immune function.
Many horses decrease their water intake during colder months, due to cold, icy water. But adequate water consumption is key to temperature regulation, many metabolic functions, and is also essential for proper digestion. Make sure your senior has 24/7 access to fresh, water that is unfrozen. Try hanging a heated bucket in your senior’s stall and consider adding salt to encourage him to drink.
Selecting Your Senior’s Supplements
Want help selecting supplements for your senior? Ask the Wizard! Just tell the SmartPak Supplement Wizard a bit about your horse and you’ll get a customized recommendation based on his or her individual needs: SmartPak.com/Wizard. But don’t forget, it’s important to check with your veterinarian before making any changes to your senior’s diet.
Conquer the Cold
Wintertime can be challenging for senior horses, but by giving your senior the right care and support, you can help ensure he has everything he needs to brave the cold weather.
From the feed room to the tack room, SmartPak offers innovative solutions to help riders take great care of their horses. SmartPak was founded in 1999 with the introduction of the patented SmartPak supplement feeding system. The revolutionary, daily dose SmartPaks are custom-made for your horse, individually labeled and sealed for freshness. With the success of this simple and convenient feeding system, SmartPak has continued to expand its offering of quality products, including its own line of more than 55 supplement formulas called SmartSupplements, and a wide variety of tack, equipment, and supplies. The company has grown rapidly each year and is now the largest retailer of equestrian products in the United States. SmartPak’s success has been powered by a passion for delivering an unbeatable customer experience, and the company has been recognized with a Bizrate Circle of Excellence award as well as an “Elite” rating from STELLAService. A nine-time Inc. 500/5000 honoree, SmartPak is the only equine company ever named to the Inc. 500 list.