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Race Horses Live How Long? You May Be Surprised!

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When I recently watched a horse work at the training center, I realized that most of the racehorses in training are incredibly young. This made me think about their lifespan and how long they’re likely to live, so I decided to do some research to find out.

The average lifespan of racehorses is 27 years, which is the same as most horses. There are many factors that contribute to how long horses live, such as genetics, diet, and living conditions. Just like humans, some horses live long, healthy lives while others die young.

The lifespan of a racehorse isn’t any different than that of other athletic riding horses. The same factors and considerations used to determine the average horse’s lifespan are also used for a racehorse.

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Today’s running horse is much more likely to outlive his predecessor. Many factors contribute to the increased lifespan of horses, including better nutrition and advances in veterinary medicine. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that affect a horse’s lifespan.

Picture of a horse running

Genetics plays a role in a horse’s life expectancy.

Genetics is a major factor in determining your horse’s health and life expectancy. The better the genes, the longer it will likely live. Traits such as hair color, eye color, and risk for the disease are passed (“inherited”) from parents to their offspring.

Large draft breeds typically have a shorter lifespan than lightweight breeds, and breeds with high instances of inbreeding also live shorter lives. The Friesian horse breed is a good example of this; their average lifespan is only 16 years.

What factors affect a horse’s lifespan?

Some horse lives longer than others, is it all genetics, or is there other factors that play a role?

A healthy diet can add years to a horse’s life.

The kind and amount of food prescribed for the horse. Depending on the horse’s needs, their diet may need to be adjusted. The food fed to a horse is his life support system.

A horse must be fed according to his needs. Food is fuel for a horse; if the horse is a young athletic horse in training, he will need more fuel, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients.

However, if the horse has retired from the track and turned out in the pasture, he will not need as much fuel. Keep an eye on your horse, and if you are feeding good quality hay and some feed and the horse is maintaining his weight and energy, then his dietary needs have likely been met.

Ensuring a horse has essential nutrients increases its lifespan.

An adequate supply of essential nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) enhances health and prevents malnutrition or disease. As horses age, their nutritional needs will change; being aware of this will help to keep a horse healthy.

A horse maintained with good nutrients throughout his life will have a much longer and more enjoyable life than a nutrient-deprived horse.

Horses without exercise have shorter lives.

Exercise is necessary for the overall health of a horse. Not just physically but also emotionally. An isolated horse gets depressed and is physically stymied.

Turn-out time is one of the most important things to ensure a healthy horse. Free movement outside a stall or small pasture assists in muscle development and helps prevent arthritis in the joints. More pasture time leads to better health.

Wellness check-ups extend a horse’s life.

Regular veterinary examination, preventive medical treatment for disease, and overall healthcare for the horse will help extend a horse’s life.

Parasite control and teeth maintenance are critical to the health of a horse. The inability to properly chew foods can result in malnutrition, weight loss, and colic. 

Picture of a two-year-old horse; it should have plenty of good years to live.
Two year old stallion

What you can expect as your horse ages.

Horses over the age of 15 years represent a significant proportion of the equine population. It is essential to their well-being to recognize the diseases that affect them and the steps we can take to care for our aging friends.

The following are some of the common diseases horses contract when they get older:

Intestinal lipoma

An intestinal lipoma is a fatty tumor that sometimes leads to strangulation colic, a condition that is often fatal in older horses. The mean age of horses with strangulation lipomas is over 19 years old; as horses age, their risks of lipoma increase significantly.

Cardiovascular health

Cardiovascular issues become more prevalent in aging horses because, with time, the walls of the heart valves thicken, and the valves may fail to close correctly. This failure allows blood to leak through the valves, which causes the heart to work harder.

When the heart has to compensate for the leaky valve, the horse’s heart wears down, and cardiac efficiency is compromised. The condition is evident in the horse’s increased resting heart caused by its body’s attempt to maintain blood pressure.

Cardiac diseases, such as a leaky valve, can be fatal in some cases but assuredly affect a horse’s performance ability, and the horse may be unsafe to ride. 

Picture of a 12-year-old paint horse. She still does well.
12-year-old paint mare.

Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID)

Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID) is the disease most commonly associated with old age in a horse. It is often referred to as equine Cushing’s disease.

Horses of any age can develop this disease; however, older horses are more at risk. This incurable but treatable disorder of the pituitary gland’s pars intermedia is characterized by excessive hair coats, delayed shedding, muscle wasting, abnormal fat distribution, laminitis, recurrent infections, and more. 

PPID is a common disease in older horses; however, the pathology and progression of PPID are not well known. The most reliable way to diagnose the disease is through recognition of the clinical characteristics the horse displays and blood tests.

The most effective treatment is to improve the horse’s overall health care, including body clipping, dentistry, and nutrition. If the condition worsens, some drugs are available to treat the symptoms of PPID.

Teeth and gum issues

Dental issues in geriatric horses create a myriad of problems. Horses’ teeth have a finite length. Various factors, such as genetics, dental management, and type of diet, play a part in the rate teeth are worn. 

As horses age, their teeth naturally wear down and fall out. As this condition advances, the horse gets to the point it can no longer chew, which leads to malnutrition and possible death. Additionally, older horses struggle to maintain weight during periods of extreme cold, even when fed appropriate diets.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is common among aging gray horses. This can lead to tumors in numerous areas of the body, including the anus. If this happens, it could result in stool blockage. Equine cancer is not limited to skin diseases. It also affects other organs and can be fatal.

Musculoskeletal Issues,

Musculoskeletal Issues, these conditions usually manifest from a combination of arthritis and soft tissue diseases such as tendonitis or desmitis (tendon or ligament inflammation, respectively).

Racehorses and other horse that has been used for athletic purposes are prone to developing arthritis as they age; this can progress to the point it interferes with a horse’s day-to-day function. To prevent small problems from evolving into significant issues, have your horse seen regularly by a veterinarian and farrier.

Age-related deaths

The causes of death of most horses are not very dissimilar to the cause of death of humans. It is the sum of one or more gradually worsening conditions.

According to a study of deceased horses 15 years old and up from the University of Kentucky’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the causes of death for most geriatric horses were disorders of the digestive system and of the cardiovascular system.

About half the cardiovascular cases were caused by a uterine artery rupture, which is considered one of the possible complications for broodmares 15 years of age and up. Most digestive issues likely manifest as colic, which is still the most common cause of death for all horses.

Picture of a thoroughbred stallion.
Two year old colt

How long does a horse live before he is considered old?

We recently watched our friend compete in team roping on an eighteen-year-old Quarter horse; that horse would be considered ancient in horseracing. Thinking about the ages of his horse made me wonder what most people consider an old horse.

In the United States, most horse owners consider a horse to have reached old age status at 20. In Europe and Australia, a horse is considered to have reached old age at 15 years of age.

Over the last decade, people in the United States have become more attached to their horses than their forebearers. Even racehorse owners have begun to bond more with their horses, which ultimately results in better long-term care for aging horses.

Horses are living longer today. 

The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) periodically surveys horse owners, industry stakeholders, and government officials to gain an overview of the horse industry based on responses from farm owners with more than five horses.

In its 1998 study, the NAHMS program unit found that 7.5% of U.S. horses were 20 or older, while in 2015, it found that 11.4% of U.S. horses were 20 or older. Of that 11.4%, 1.5% were 30 or older.

Picture of a chesnut baby horse.
Weanling filly

Horse to human age comparison chart.

Below is an interesting chart that compares horse ages to human equivalent ages. This is based on research completed in 2003 as published by Equine Resources International and referenced in the Spruce Pet.

Stage of lifeHuman ageStage of life


Infancy, Babyhood, Toddlerhood, 


Adolescence / Puberty,
3Three Year Old18
Four Year Old
Young Adult
Physical Maturity

Middle Aged
25%-/+ five years is an average lifespan.
Extreme Old Age


As with humans, age is just a number. Some horses at the age of 15 will begin to show symptoms associated with aging, while other horses will look at the picture of health at 30 years old.

Horse breed lifespans differ.

It seems the smaller the horse, the longer the life. It is not uncommon for a pony or miniature horse to live into their mid 30’s and the riding horse to start showing his age in his mid 20’s, while draft horses have the shortest life span.

Below is a chart of some of the different horse breeds with their corresponding lifespan.

Type of horseLifespan
Wild horses 15 years
Domestic horses 25 – 33 years
Arabian horses30 years
Thoroughbred horses 25 – 35 years
Paint Horses30 -31 years
Mini Horses25 – 35 years

How old is the oldest horse?

When I was researching information on horse lifespans, I read a lot about horses that lived exceptionally long lives; this made me curious to know what is the oldest horse that has ever lived.

Sixty-two years old is the record for the oldest horse. The horse’s name was Old Billy. It is believed that he was born sometime in 1760 in Woolston, Lancashire, England. 

Old Billy was owned by Mersey and Irwell Navigation and spent his life working as a barge horse, dragging barges in the canals from the shore.

Below is a YouTube video that covers the life expectancy of some common horse breeds.


 At what age do racehorses retire?

Most racehorses retire by the time they reach seven. However, others continue racing successfully past that time. Horses can keep running until they are no longer competitive; horses have no specific retirement age.

What happens to race horses when they are too old to race?

When racehorses retire, they typically are retrained for other equine events such as showjumping, pleasure riding, or dressage. Mares are often turned out and used for breeding.

What happens to horses after they die?

Most horses are buried after they die; however, some are cremated, and others are brought to a landfill. If you’re unsure what to do, consult a veterinarian before making decisions on how best to handle your horse’s passing.