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Guide to Feeding Old Horses: Tips for Senior Horse Care

Published on: April 15, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Watching your horse get older can be tough. As horses age, their dietary needs change, and it’s crucial to adjust their meals to keep them healthy and lively. If you’ve noticed your old horse isn’t as healthy or energetic as before, you’re not alone. Many horse owners face this, and handling these changes carefully is important.

In this article, we’ll examine what older horses need from their diet, discuss important nutrients, and give you tips on how to tweak your horse’s feeding to keep them healthy as they age. Let’s find out how to best feed your senior horse to support their health and well-being.

Picture of an older horse in a pasture.
A senior horse in a pasture.

Understanding the Aging Horse

As horses grow older, their bodies change in many ways. These changes can affect how well they digest food and use nutrients. Older horses often have a slow metabolism, meaning they burn energy slower.

Their digestive system may also become less efficient. This can make it harder for them to absorb all the nutrients they need from their food. Another common issue in aging horses is dental wear.

As horses age, their teeth can become worn down, or they may even lose some teeth. This makes it difficult for them to chew their food properly, which can lead to further problems with digestion.

Because of these changes, older horses might need a different diet to meet their changing nutritional needs. It’s important to watch for signs that your horse might not be digesting their food well, like changes in their weight or the condition of their manure. If you notice these signs, it might be time to adjust their diet.

Picture of an old horse laying down. Feeding old horses correctly is important.
This old horse is not feeling too good.

Essential Nutrients for Elderly Horses

Older horses have specific dietary needs to stay healthy. Here’s a breakdown of some key nutrients they need:

Proteins: As horses age, their bodies become less efficient at processing protein. It’s important to provide proteins that are easy for them to digest. This helps them maintain muscle mass and overall strength.

Fats: Older horses can benefit from a higher-fat diet. Fats are a good energy source and can be easier on their digestive system than more traditional energy sources like carbohydrates.

Fibers: Good quality fiber (like beet pulp or hay cubes) acts like a broom for your horse’s digestive system, sweeping through and helping to keep everything moving smoothly.

Vitamins and Minerals: Senior horses need vitamins and minerals in forms that are easy for their bodies to absorb. For instance, they might need more calcium to support their bones or vitamin C to boost their immune system. Adjusting these in their diet can help address the common signs of aging and prevent deficiencies.

Ensuring your elderly horse receives these nutrients in the right amounts can play a big part in maintaining their health and vitality as they age.

Simple Diet Changes for Feeding Old Horses

As horses get older, their dietary needs change. Here’s how I adjust meals to keep them healthy and happy, based on my own experiences:

  • Soaked Oats: Older horses sometimes struggle with hard grains. Soaking oats softens them, making them easier to chew and digest. This simple change has helped my horses feel more energetic and enjoy their meals.
  • More Fats: Aging horses might not get enough energy from their usual food. Adding more fats, like rice bran or flaxseed, helps keep their weight stable and improves their coat shine.
  • Better Fiber: Rough hay can be tough on older horses. I switch to softer, high-quality fiber sources like beet pulp or senior-specific feeds that are easier for them to handle.
  • Regular Diet Checks: I keep an eye on my horses and adjust their diets as needed. If they start to lose weight or seem less lively, I make small changes to help them get back on track.

When feeding old horses, remember each one is different, so it’s important to watch how they respond and tweak their diets accordingly.

Picture of two old horses relaxing under a shade tree.
Old horses relaxing under a shade tree.

Common Dietary Adjustments

As your horse ages, their energy needs might decrease, but their need for a balanced diet remains. Here are some practical tips on feeding old horses:

1. Adjust Caloric Intake: If your horse is less active than they used to be, they may not need as many calories. However, it’s important to maintain nutritional balance.

You can reduce the grain amount and slightly increase fat content, as fats are a denser energy source and easier to digest.

2. Frequent, Small Meals: Instead of two large meals, feed your old horse smaller amounts more frequently. This can help their digestion and ensure they get the necessary nutrients without overloading their digestive system.

3. Monitor Weight and Muscle Condition: Watch your horse’s weight and body condition closely. If you notice that they’re losing weight, tweak their diet. Adding high-quality senior feeds designed for older horses can help maintain muscle mass and overall health.

4. Easy-to-Chew Options: Older horses sometimes find it tough to chew because their teeth wear down. Giving them soft foods like soaked hay cubes or beet pulp makes it easier for them to eat enough fiber.

Picture of a healthy old horse.
This horse has a healthy, shiny, coat.

Supplements and Their Benefits

Supplements can be essential for aging horses, particularly in alleviating joint discomfort and enhancing digestion:

  • Glucosamine: Like the padding in a pair of shoes, glucosamine provides support and cushioning to horse joints, helping to absorb impacts.
  • Chondroitin: Working hand in hand with glucosamine, chondroitin acts as the moisturizer that keeps the padding supple and resilient, ensuring it remains flexible and shock-absorbent.
  • MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane): Similar to oil in an engine, MSM lubricates the joints, reducing friction and preventing wear and tear.

For digestion, probiotics act as diligent workers in a factory, breaking down food efficiently, much like how stomach enzymes aid humans in digesting meals swiftly and effectively.

When introducing supplements, start with small amounts and gradually increase to the recommended dose, monitoring your horse’s response. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to evaluate the supplements’ effectiveness and make any necessary adjustments to the diet.

Remember, supplements are beneficial but should always complement a well-balanced diet and be administered under veterinary guidance.

Picture of a horse eating grain from a bucket.
Eating grain from a bucket.

Monitoring and Adjusting the Diet of Old Horses

As your horse ages, it’s crucial to regularly monitor their health to ensure their diet remains appropriate for their changing needs. Below is a comprehensive checklist that can help you track key health indicators:

Monitoring Signs for Elderly Horses: A Checklist

  1. Weight and Body Condition:
    • Regular Weight Checks: Use a weight tape biweekly to monitor your horse’s weight. Look for any sudden loss or gain.
    • Body Scoring: Perform a body condition scoring once a month to assess fat deposits and muscle mass.
  2. Coat Health:
    • Sheen and Texture: A healthy horse’s coat should be shiny and smooth. Dullness or roughness can indicate poor nutrition or health.
    • Dandruff or Skin Flakes: Regularly check for signs of skin irritation or excessive flakiness, which can indicate dietary deficiencies.
  3. Energy Levels:
    • Daily Activity Monitoring: Note any changes in the horse’s usual activity levels. Decreases in energy or reluctance to move are important signs.
    • Response to Exercise: Observe how your horse responds to regular exercise. Signs of fatigue or stiffness post-exercise can indicate health issues.
  4. Eating Behavior:
    • Eating Patterns: Monitor how much and how quickly your horse eats. Changes can signal dental problems or digestive issues.
    • Chewing Efficiency: Watch how your horse chews. Difficulty chewing or dropping food can signify dental wear or pain.
  5. Manure and Digestion:
    • Manure Inspection: Regularly check the consistency and quantity of manure. Changes can indicate problems with digestion or absorption.
    • Digestive Sounds: Listen to gut sounds; a decrease or increase can indicate digestive disruptions.
  6. Psychological Well-being:
    • Mood Changes: Keep an eye on mood swings or signs of depression, which can affect appetite and overall health.
    • Interaction with Others: Changes in how your horse interacts with other horses or people can indicate discomfort or illness.
  7. Use of a Health Diary:
    • Maintaining a Record: Keep a daily health diary to track all the above aspects. This historical data can be invaluable during veterinary visits and help adjust the diet and care routines more effectively.

This approach ensures you are proactive in monitoring your elderly horse’s health and gives you the information necessary to make informed decisions during veterinary visits.

Picture of a group of horses eating.
Horses sharing a meal from a trough.


What supplements are essential for an old horse?

Supplements like joint support, probiotics, and vitamins tailored for aging horses can help maintain their health.

How often should I adjust my old horse’s diet?

You should your old horse’s diet whenever you notice changes in their health, weight, or activity levels. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian can also help determine if any dietary adjustments are needed.

Can diet changes improve my old horse’s energy?

Proper diet adjustments can significantly enhance an elderly horse’s energy and overall well-being.

What should I feed my old horse to maintain weight?

To keep weight on your old horse, focus on easily digestible fibers, adequate proteins, and possibly higher fat content. In addition, check with an equine nutritionist.

Why is dental care important for elderly horses?

Regular dental care ensures your horse can chew properly, which is crucial for digestion and nutrient absorption.

Conclusion: Guide to Feeding Old Horses

Ensuring you’re feeding old horses correctly is key to maintaining their health and well-being as they age. It’s a good idea to work with experts like equine nutritionists and veterinarians to make sure your horse gets what it needs.

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Recommended Equine Health Authorities

  1. American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP): Visit AAEP
  2. The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA): Visit BEVA
  3. Equine Research Foundation: Visit Equine Research Foundation
  4. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science: Visit Journal of Equine Veterinary Science
  5. International Society for Equitation Science (ISES): Visit ISES
  6. The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care: Visit The Horse
  7. Equus Magazine: Visit Equus Magazine
  8. Merck Veterinary Manual (Equine Section): Visit Merck Veterinary Manual
  9. Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS): Visit RCVS
  10. American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): Visit AVMA