Make sure to leave your tips or sagas of caring for your senior horse in the comments below!
If you’re not active on my Facebook page, you may not have seen my recent posts when we (my parents and I) picked up my childhood horse. I had an incredibly, stout, “cow-horse” to learn to ride on when I was a kid, maybe 8/9 through the beginning years of middle school. He was the best sort, that looked after me when I rode out with no supervision, no helmet, but lots of bravery. Fast-forward to last week, I found him, so my parents and I drove across Alabama to pick he and his pony buddy up to take back to my parents farm.
I am overwhelmingly fortunate that my retired ponies have a soft haven to land on when their competition careers are over. But, many of these horses need more than just a soft paddock to land on when they reach their senior years. I have no formal education on equestrian nutrition nor am I a veterinarian. Always consult with your vet FIRST. But, here are some of the measures I’ve taken for my senior boys (and girls).
Grain: Both my young horses and older horses go on a Senior Grain. These have a moderate fat %, limited sugar and starch, and high fiber. I particularly look at the sugar and starch content, and am very hesitant to increase grains unless necessary. In a dream scenario I would prefer to feed unlimited high-quality forage, and a minimum grain just to give the necessary vitamins and minerals. Polo is on a senior feed and chopped alfalfa with each meal. It’s important to regularly check that he’s not dropping his grain or having difficulty consuming the grain. He licks his bucket dry, but it’s not always a bad idea to soak the grain before which would soften the meal, making it easier for the horse to consume.
Winter Weather: All horses should have access to shelter, and I like to follow SmartPak’s blanketing guide. There are lots of theories on blanketing, but one thing of note is your senior horse may not be as active as your spritely young horse. Historically, I’ve found that my older horses may need a blanket heavier or than my younger horses that live on 24/7 turnout. Again, I almost follow the “clipped” horse’s blanket guide for my senior horses. I NEVER want my horse sweating under a blanket, oftentimes just by placing a hand under the blanket will give you a good judge. I want my hand to feel slightly warm.
Turn-Out: When my horses go on “retirement” they transition into a 24/7 turnout. Even my Burger, who spent his life competing in the upper-level of eventing , transitioned really well to this. I do think it’s better for their bodies to live out. I believe that allowing them to move day and evening will keep their joints more limber and circulation regular.
Old Horse Vibes: For those nervous, maybe devastated by some news that their horse’s competition career is over, or worried about how to care for their older horse, it’s actually a really, really incredible opportunity. There is something really special about having your old man mozy around with his grown out mane, bringing him extra treats, and giving him the opportunity to find a safe haven. When Burger retired from his torn suspensory, at 16, he went home and became our pony stallion’s buddy. He was the only one grumpy enough not to get picked on and provide a companion. It was special to go back home, groom him for an hour, and then take him on a long walk. (I think your older horse brings out the young horse-crazy girl in us.)
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