Horse Insurance For Older Horses
There’s no getting away from the odd creaky joint and dodgy tooth as our horses get older, but with the right approach our veterans can enjoy a healthy life in retirement.
Feeding the mature horse
Understanding a veteran’s needs can be a daunting and tireless project. Many feed companies have developed numerous different brands for veterans over the years, all claiming to help them keep their weight and condition. These claims often confuse owners as every veteran has different ailments and needs. There are also many products out there with elevated vitamins and minerals to help the older horse keep fit and healthy, but which one you choose depends on what exactly your veteran requires.
Those who do well at grass may only need a small high fibre feed. Others, such as Thoroughbreds, may stress and drop weight quickly, so you need to address them differently. Many people don’t realise it’s not only what you feed but how you feed it that matters. Your older horse’s teeth aren’t going to be the same as they used to be.
As they age continue to age, veteran horses often experience the same ailments as elderly humans do – most commonly stiffness and joint pain. It might come as a shock to hear that around 80% of veteran horses suffer from joint problems.
Signs of veteran joint pain or stiffness may include reluctance to move, a shorter choppier stride and, in more severe cases, lameness.
Feeding a veteran is very much dependent on the individual horse. It’s important not to over feed – around a quarter of veteran horses are overweight and this excess weight laces stress on their joints. Although an overweight horse won’t require large quantities of concentrate feed, research suggests that forage alone will not provide sufficient levels of nutrients.
By providing your veteran with a feed balancer you can ensure that vitamin and mineral requirements are met without the concern of weight. If you veteran is not overweight and requires additional calories to maintain condition, look to provide a concentrate feed specifically designed for veterans.
Keeping hooves healthy
As horses age it becomes more difficult for them to retain good condition and this can lead to poor hoof condition.
If a horse is in good overall condition then the feet will follow suit but this becomes harder as a horse gets older.
Sidebone and ringbone are more common in older horses who’ve perhaps had a tough and busy lifestyle with quite a lot of stress on their hooves. They require sympathetic farriery to ensure they don’t get worse. If a veteran horse isn’t being used so much, then consider taking his shoes off altogether or perhaps just keep the front ones on.
The only reason for having shoes is when the hoof is wearing down quicker than it can regenerate, so if you’re only doing light work with your horse he won’t necessarily need his shoes. Not having shoes saves the hooves from the stress of having nails hammered into them. It’s something to think about, but each case is different, so have a chat with your farrier before deciding.
If you do choose to go without shoes then your horse’s feet will need trimming every six to 10 weeks, depending on the condition and speed of hoof growth.
An important thing to remember is to handle veterans with care. You have to be sympathetic to the fact their joints may not be what they used to be. You should be aware they might be a bit stiff, particularly through their backs and their back so you have to be able to adapt the way you hold them and be careful not to make really sharp movements with their legs do everything gently and slowly.
As far as supplements are concerned it isn’t necessarily essential for all veterans to be on hoof supplements. Obviously biotin is great for all horses to improve hoof condition, but as long as your horse is getting all the vitamins and minerals he needs in general then his hooves should be okay.
Hoof oils are not always the best as these can suffocate the hoof but hoof moisturisers (particularly when the ground is so dry) are great for stopping the hoof from cracking!
All in all you just need to pay more attention to a veteran’s condition and be a little gentler than you would be with a younger horse.
Banishing dentist dramas
The veteran horse’s teeth need particular care and attention, especially at this time of year. As the winter draws in, most owners feed more hard feeds and horses tend to spend a lot more time in their stables munching hay from nets, which all plays havoc with their natural eating patterns.
It’s important to realise a veteran’s teeth tend to be much narrower than a younger horse’s teeth and they have gaps where food can get lodged and stuck, increasing the chance of an infection setting in and leading to a gum condition called gingivitis. The teeth are also much less stable as a horse gets older so this is also something to bear in mind when deciding what to feed and how much to soak their food.
When a horse stands in his stable, eating out of a haynet, his mouth isn’t going through the same saliva drainage process as it would when his head is down and grazing in the field.
Bearing all these things in mind, I suggest you should syringe their months out with water once a day, perhaps on a morning after they’ve had a whole night off the grass, to ensure there are no pieces of food lodged or a build-up of saliva. As well, use a tooth pick to try remove any trapped bits of food. I also suggest putting their hay on the floor if possible as this will replicate a more natural way of eating and allow their mouths to work properly. Make sure you get a good look in their mouth on a regular basis, just to make sure everything is as it should be.
Older horses are more susceptible to abscesses so it’s important to keep an eye out for anything unusual. Have a good feel around under the lower jaw for any lumps and bumps and check for any ocular or nasal discharge these are a sure sign something might not be right.
As with any horse, a veteran’s teeth should be checked every six to 12 months. Try to allow your veteran as much time out grazing as possible, as the silica in grass helps wear the teeth down naturally better than any other food. As well as this, eating in a field allows the horse’s mouth to drain properly, helping it stay healthy.
Keeping his mind active
As your horse ages, it’s not just his body you need to keep in shape – it’s also important to keep his mind healthy and active. Like older people, older horses need to feel safe and secure in their environment and a good routine is crucial. Some horses take to getting older and retiring from work really well. As long as they’re out in the field as much as possible and they’re fed and handled regularly , they seem to be able to accept a simpler and slower pace of life.
There are some horses, however, who won’t accept retirement and aren’t satisfied simply being turned out to grass. The best thing to do with these horses is to make sure you get them out as much as possible. If you can’t ride them then getting them out on regular walks out in-hand should help, perhaps with another horse, just to ensure they have a change of scenery and feel like they have a job to do.
If you can keep your older horse in light work then do so for as long as possible. When the time comes to stop riding, if he’s fit and healthy enough then perhaps do rope halter work with him or de-spooking exercises in the school, such as walking over poles and tarpaulin etc. Your aim should be to make sure his mind is kept as active as possible.
Massage for supple muscles
As horses get older, just like humans, they can become stiff and sore and I need a little more care and attention when it comes to their muscles.
Massaging your horse is a great way to help promote circulation, as he gets older and his muscles aren’t moving around as much we need to do the moving for them.
Massaging the muscles also helps to lubricate the joints think of it as an engine, if it’s not turned on and moving, the lubricant can’t reach all of the parts and that is why we need to try to replicate this process for our older horses.
Basic stretches such as carrot stretches are also great to help keep your older horse free from any knots or tension, but if you wish to do more advanced stretches with him, you should get advice from an expert. With massage you can’t go too wrong and if something is uncomfortable your horse will let you know, whereas with stretching, if not done properly, you could cause more harm than good.
Whether your older horse is in light work or no work at all, massage is a great technique to keep him feeling supple. It’s inevitable that his muscles are going to deteriorate as he gets older, but we can make the process as comfortable as possible.