Veterans Winter Guide - Keeping Your Older Horse Healthy Over Winter
Owning an older horse or pony can be very rewarding! They are usually (but not always!) more sensible, have seen life. If still actively working or competing, they know their job, and get on with it!
Traditionally, a horse or pony was recognized as a veteran at just 15 years of age. These days, many horses do not reach their competitive peak until their mid-teens. Countless horses and ponies are still active well into their twenties and even thirties!
So age really is just a number. It's important to assess the individual horse when deciding whether getting older. Whether this means a change in management and feeding is required to keep your veteran horse or pony happy and healthy.
A small amount of weight loss over the winter months may be acceptable.
It's important to avoid a significant loss in an older horse, whatever the cause. Weekly use of a weigh tape can help provide an objective assessment. Do remember to remove rugs daily, and check body condition. Extra calories and a small amount of extra protein may be required. If teeth are still in good condition, extra forage and extra oil, such as Equine America Supreme Omega Oil is often the best way to provide additional calories. Especially in horses and ponies with metabolic conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Cushings, where diets must be kept low in starch and sugar. Unmolassed sugar beet and low sugar chaffs can be used as well as good quality hay or haylage. A small amount of cooked linseed will provide extra protein. Some veteran cubes or mixes are also low in sugar and starch, with extra protein already added.
Ensure adequate minerals and vitamins are provided, to help maintain health and well being, and if not provided in a fortified feed, add Equine America Everyday Vitamins and Minerals to support general health.
If required, appropriate rugging can help maintain body temperature, but do remove and replace at least daily.
The fermentation of forage in the horse’s gut is the best way for him to produce heat – from the inside out, so ensure plenty of good quality forage is available.
Even with adequate forage, older horses and ponies may struggle to maintain their body temperature, so ensure suitable shelter is provided, and if necessary suitable rugs.
Check that the older horse or pony is not being bullied by field companions, and perhaps not receiving their fair share of forage, feeds or even water in the paddock.
Teeth problems can result in significant weight loss as well as major discomfort and pain – either because the horse cannot grasp his forage effectively, or cannot chew properly, meaning the feed is not digested effectively, and weight loss ensues. Losing teeth can result in gaps appearing, which can trap food and become infected. If horses are struggling to chew long fibre such as hay or haylage, it may be necessary to source hay replacers, such as soaked high fibre nuts or specialist chaffs and mashes. Dental inspections, either by a qualified and register equine dentist, or a vet, may need to become more frequent for older horses, to ensure comfort and efficiency in this vital first stage of digestion.
Being overweight is also undesirable for an older horse, and may occur as a result of reduced activity, perhaps because of an old injury, or a younger horse is taking more of the owner’s time. Weigh forage, and restrict if necessary, but never below 1.5% of body weight unless under veterinary or nutritionist’s supervision. Reduce calories from other feeds and replace with lower calorie versions. Re-balance to ensure mineral and vitamins are supplied if required, using Everyday Vitamins and Minerals.
Decreased mobility and stiffness
Wear and tear and inflammation in joints and muscles from years of work, or perhaps previous injuries, can take their toll on older horses, resulting in stiffness, and sometimes even pain and lameness.
Natural, plant-based anti-inflammatory products such as the Buteless Range will provide support and relief to horses and ponies. Those with higher levels of wear and tear, or those still in work may benefit from Buteless Super Strength Powder or the highly potent EA Nutra Buteless High Strength Liquid. Those in lighter work may find that Buteless Original Powder will be sufficient.
Where cartilage wear and tear or historical injuries are present, consider providing the nutritional building blocks to support repair from Cortaflex Super Fenn or Cortaflex Regular, both available in powder or liquid form.
If you know that glucosamine-based supplements work for your horse or pony, Glucosamine HCl 12,000, or the more powerful Glucosamine 12:10, which not only contains a full 12,000mg glucosamine, but also 10,000mg MSM, Hyaluronic acid, and Green Lipped Mussel, a natural source of chondroitin.
Turmeric provides many benefits for older horses, containing powerful antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory compounds. Turmeric Xtra provides high quality turmeric, on a palatable linseed base, which also provides vital omega 3 fatty acids.
Do remember that arthritis can occur in the joints of the head and neck as well as the limbs and back, which can make eating from the ground or even pulling from a hay net painful. If this is the case, try raising the feed bucket slightly or using a manger, and try to find ways to feed forage at a comfortable height – perhaps using safely secured larger buckets.
Compromised Immune System
Older horses and ponies may not be able to fight infections or heal as efficiently as they did in their youth and may benefit from supplemental levels of key antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E to support the immune system. Vitamin C 2000 and Vitamin E and Selenium are both designed to be safely fed with most typical fortified feed regimes, to provide extra support for the immune system.
In addition, a course of natural, plant-based support from Emune Liquid with Echinacea will help older horses and ponies to fight off infections, such as mud fever, and as well as a course of Emune Liquid, topical applications of Fungatrol Cream can help soothe damaged skin.
Increased time in the stable over the Winter months can also present respiratory challenges to the older horse or pony, as they are subjected to higher levels of dust and spores from bedding and hay. Coff-Less Powder and Airways Powder or Liquid will provide natural support from Eucalyptus, Menthol, and other plant extracts, to help keep lungs and airways clear.
Metabolic or Endocrine disorders
Although younger horses can suffer from Cushings Disease (or Pars Pituitary Intermedia Dysfunction or PPID), or Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) with insulin resistance (IR). These conditions are typically seen in order horses and ponies, and may result in additional or associated problems such as laminitis. If your horse or pony exhibits any of the classic symptoms such as long curly coats (which don’t shed well in the spring) with full or patchy sweating, laminitis, unexplained changes in bodyweight and altered fat distribution (with fat deposits appearing on the crest, over the croup and around the eyes), increased appetite and increased drinking with very wet beds, it is important that you contact your vet to arrange tests to check whether the horse does indeed have Cushings, or another metabolic dysfunction.
Typically these horses will need to be managed in the same way as a laminitic, with low sugar and starch diets, plus mineral and vitamin supplementation, but they may also require medication. If they suffer rapid weight loss, they may need additional amino acids, and recent research and anecdotal evidence suggests that chasteberry and cinnamon (which contains a mineral called chromium which is involved in glucose regulation) may be beneficial. Supplements such as Cushins Pellets can help provide nutritional support for horses and ponies with Cushings Disease.
Not all older horses and ponies will require management or feeding changes, but careful assessment of each individual older horse or pony is important, to decide where additional nutritional support may be beneficial, to enable them to continue to enjoy a long, happy, comfortable and active life.