Feeding your older horse or pony

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by Katie Wiliams

As horses and ponies age, their nutritional requirements change and this needs to be taken into account when choosing a feeding program for your older horse.

To promote good health a regular worming programme is important and teeth should be checked and rasped, at least once a year, by your vet or a reputable horse dentist.

Horses age at different rates so where some horses will be struggling with their weight and have dental problems in their late teens, others will still be going strong into their mid-twenties and more! Just because a horse is old doesn’t mean that it is essential to provide a veteran feed, but if your horse is showing signs of old age, it’s time to reassess their ration.

The changing nutritional requirements of an older horse

Your veteran’s diet needs to take into consideration the possibility of reduced digestion and absorption efficiency. A higher protein intake is usually needed but remember that the quality of the protein is just as important as quantity. Alfalfa and full-fat soya are rich in lysine and methionine; essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), which have to be supplied in the diet. Supplying optimum levels of quality protein will reduce the likelihood of muscle wastage, especially along the horse’s topline.

Fibre feed for Seniors

BII 6956One of the biggest concerns as horses and ponies age, is maintaining weight and condition. All horses and ponies should ideally receive at least 1.5% of their bodyweight as fibre each day to promote healthy digestive function. It is therefore not surprising that the fibre or forage part of the diet will undoubtedly have the largest impact on your horse or pony's overall condition.

Using good quality hay, haylage or hay replacers becomes more important for older horses and ponies, not only for maintaining condition but also for respiratory health. There is some evidence to suggest that horses and ponies become susceptible to respiratory allergies including RAO (formerly known as COPD) as they age.

If your horse has dental problems, which make chewing hay difficult, consider trying haylage or feeding a short chop alternative, such as Dengie Hi-Fi Senior.

Hi-Fi Senior consists of a blend of high temperature dried grasses and alfalfa, providing a similar calorie and protein level to top quality hay. It can be fed as a full or partial hay-replacer that is easier for the horse to chew.

Research suggests that providing a choice of multiple forages, for example a net of hay and a large bucket or two of Dengie Hi-Fi Senior, will help to provide occupation and an enhanced environment for stabled horses. It is also likely to encourage them to eat a greater total volume of fibre, which is beneficial for gut health.

It's vital to ensure that fibre intake is adequate. If your horse finds chewing short chop difficult you may need to use a feed, which can be soaked to form a mash such as Dengie Alfa-Beet or Alfalfa Pellets.

Ensure your older horse maintains heat with plenty of fibre

Horses and ponies use a lot of energy (calories) keeping warm in the winter and older animals can often lose condition if additional energy isn't provided in the diet. A rug and overnight stable are of great benefit to older horses and ponies, especially those with a less hardy disposition such as Thoroughbreds. Give your horse or pony some extra 'central heating' by including plenty of fibre in his diet in the form of hay and Dengie Fibre Feeds. Fermentation of fibre by the bacteria in your horse's hindgut creates heat, which will help to keep him warm from the inside.

Supplements to aid your horse’s digestion

Did you know that without the aid of bacteria your horse would be unable to utilise fibre? The horse's hindgut basically functions like a large fermenting tank, full of a dynamic population of bacteria that digest fibre. They produce energy and other nutrients, which can be utilised by the horse. For this relationship to work efficiently the hindgut needs to be kept 'hospitable' for the beneficial bacteria.

There are several types of digestive enhancers available including yeast cultures and prebiotics, which are designed to promote a healthy environment in the horse's digestive system.

Which supplement should you use?

Yeast cultures have been shown to improve the activity of hind-gut bacteria, making fibre digestion more efficient. Yeast is an ideal, economic additive for maintaining gut health and will help older horses get more out of the forage they eat. For horses who have a specific digestive problem such as loose droppings or for those who consistently struggle to maintain their weight, feeding a more comprehensive supplement may be advisable. Dengie Digestive Health Plus contains yeast and prebiotics designed to aid the digestive system in a number of different ways.

  • Brewers yeast provides the nutrients that fibre-digesting bacteria present in the digestive tract require to function efficiently.
  • Yea-Sacc1026 is a live yeast culture which research has shown improves fibre digestion.
  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) pre-biotics provide an exclusive food source for the beneficial microflora in the hindgut.

nv digestive plusThe combined effect has been scientifically proven during trials at Writtle College to increase the efficiency of the digestive system and help to reduce the likelihood of digestive disturbances occurring.

Dengie Digestive Health Plus can be fed as a short course at a concentrated level during times of stress such as worming, travelling, diet change and during antibiotic therapy. Alternatively it may be used long-term for poor do-er's.

As horses age, there is an increased risk of illness, in particular Cushing's Syndrome and liver disease. In these circumstances or for more specific advice please contact the Dengie Feedline on 0845 345 5115.

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