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Issue #4 October 3, 2004

 This month we are doing an issue on the Horse. Not just the everyday horse most of us think of, but of one that gets forgotten; the elderly horse.
Most people who go out to purchase one of the wonderful creatures do not think down the line after years of service about what is going to happen to this animal when he retires. The article that is to follow was written for just that reason and was written by Snow, who is our Moderator for the Horse Category on our Forum Board. It's free to join, and all you have to do is register a user name and password.
 
Caring for the Elderly Equine 
 
 When caring for an elderly horse here are a few questions to consider: What is the exact age of your horse? What have you been using your horse for? If you are getting one that is older, what was the horse used for before you purchased it? Have you spoken to a vet; do they say your horse needs to retire? Has a vet talked to you about their health?
Some people put the elderly horse in a pasture and just forget them. I feel this is a dishonor to the horse that has been your friend and companion and has been there for you and given you many hours of pleasure. If you are considering the thought of putting the horse to pasture, ask yourself how much time will you be spend with the horse compared to now?
This can make a difference with the horse also, although you may not realize it. Some older horses that are stable and calm make great companion horses for younger horses that need a bit of a quiet steady friend to reassure them. Of course you would have to make sure they are compatible in a field together. This is just an idea but also another thought as your horse would still be providing a service and still feels needed perhaps by helping out with some youngsters.
 
Some jobs would be:
  • Baby-sitting foals is a job that an older mare can perform and still feel useful.
  • A retired gelding will have also a good effect on babies..
  • Using a gelding as a field mate for a stallion, or as a neighbor is a useful purpose for a retired horse.

Are you retiring this horse, or just not riding it as much because you have a younger horse that is taking more of your time? If you have a younger horse and your older horse still has some life in it but just you don’t have the time, why not consider looking for a child or someone just starting out in riding that needs a stable quiet mount. At least this way you can keep control of your older horse and it will get light work with your supervision.

One other thing to ask has your horse been taken in to retirement yet? What I am trying to ask you is have you slowly gone from riding the way you once did to slowly backing off a bit at a time. If you just go from riding the horse all of the time to nothing and do not slowly decrease, this is going to really leave your horse not only with some psychological damage but a broken hurt heart, and wondering what they did to deserve where they are placed now especially if you should suddenly fall absent from their lives and not be as attentive as you once were. I am just trying to give you some examples so you can weigh them in the course of whatever decision you make. Having been through this myself and seen some other people go through this with their horses, these are things you really need to consider thinking about. I recall one mare that got forgotten in her stall when her young rider was more interested in her new horse. The forgotten horse actually got mean and tried to bite and attack people because she had been left in a stall forgotten.

See I knew this horse and the history behind this horse and this was not the personality of the horse at all, only since she had become forgotten did she turn mean. When the time came to retire my guy I allowed him to basically become my friend and lawn mower. Although in doing this he STILL HAD THE BEST CARE. Just because you allow a horse to become retired does not mean you neglect them at all. He had the best hay I could find, a stall if he needed to get in out of the weather. Grain, vitamins appropriate for his age. The fact he was not being worked was taken into consideration with the type of grain that would be best for him, Vet care several times a year to update and keep all shots current. A Farrier that still came out about every 6 to 8 weeks to see to his hoofs. He also had Dental care done twice a year. Even retired horses still need a clean stall, or shelter of some type. Hoof care as needed every 6 to 8 weeks, dental care (floating teeth) at least twice a yr is very important. In an older horse it really can make a difference in what they can chew or not and if they cannot consume their food correctly this will play a large part in their weight. Seen by the vet at least twice a year for shots and if an emergency came up, make sure all worming is kept up to date.

There is a HUGE gape between a 15 to 18 year old, and a 20 to 30 year old as the dietary needs are a bit different. What kind of quality hay are you feeding? Are they getting enough? If the quality of the hay is not good it is not going to provide the best nutrients and as a horse gets older the digestive system might not work as efficiently as it used to. So the better the hay quality the better it is for your mare.

How many flakes do you feed the horse, is it only one?? Maybe the horse needs 2 to 4 flakes to help them with maintaining a decent weight. Do not forget as they get older like this the weight distribution is going to change some. The belly will have more of the weight and the top line will loose some of its muscle.

Do you feed her by herself or free feed with the foals present? Maybe the horse may need their own little space to eat where other horses will not distract them, or disturb, or take their hay from them.

The other thing is oats; for an older horse there are much better products for the elderly for then oats. To me straight oats is for the working horse not the retired one, a retired cannot burn off oats as well as a working horse can. You need something to give a more balanced diet over all.

Here is one that I fed my guy when he was no longer rideable http://www.mannapro.com/

Beet pulp is another thing you could consider to feed and once the horse gets some weight on then level off a bit. Another feed to look in to is http://special.equisearch.com/seniorhorse/purina.htm

This is good feed for a horse in their late teens and getting light work (This is what I was feeding mine when he was getting still some real light work.) The nutrients are going to make a difference here as far as their health goes. On top of the grain you also need vitamins, corn oil (for the coat) plus something called Gain Weight to add to the grain on a daily basis if the horse if having problems maintaining a decent weight. Super gain weight I have used a few times in the past with decent results it is put out by http://www.horseguard.com

You may wish to consult your vet as to what kind of a senior diet is best for the horse at this age and what you should be feeding.

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