Feeding Your Older Horse Or Pony

As horses and ponies age, their nutritional requirements could change and this needs to be taken into account when choosing a feeding program or choosing the best senior horse supplements. To promote good health, a regular worming programme is important, and teeth should be checked regularly by your vet or a reputable horse dentist.

This guide looks at how to feed your senior horse, depending on their specific requirements. Remember, it might not be that your horse needs a full new diet, you might just need to make some tweaks to ensure you are feeding the best senior horse supplements and feeds that are most appropriate for your horse.

At What Age Is A Horse Considered A Senior?

Horses age at different rates, although as a general rule they are considered a senior at 15. As veterinary science continues to improve and we become more aware about nutrition, the age we consider horse as senior is changing, 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! This means it’s hard to determine exactly when a horse can be considered a senior.

If your senior horse is still in good health, then as with a horse of any age simply choose a ration that is most suited to their bodyweight or workload. If your senior horse has some geriatric or age associated issues such as PPID or poor dentition then their ration will need some special attention.

Adapting Feeds For Senior Horses Nutritional Requirements

The efficiency of digestion and the ability to absorb nutrients may decline with age and therefore it is important to supply the veteran with easily digestible feeds and good quality nutrition especially if they struggle to maintain weight. Protein is one nutrient the receives lots of attention when it comes to maintaining top line and muscle mass in the senior horse. Remember that the quality of the protein is just as important as quantity. Alfalfa and full-fat soya are rich in lysine and methionine; these are essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), which have to be supplied in the diet and in conjunction with exercise are important for maintaining top-line.

Fibre Feeds For Senior Horses

One 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 of 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 or 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 that can be soaked to form a mash such as Dengie Alfa-Beet or Grass Pellets.

Keep Your Horse Warm 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.

Best Senior Horse Supplements

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.

Yeast cultures have been shown to improve the activity of hind-gut bacteria, making fibre digestion more efficient. Yeast is one of the best senior horse supplements as it is economic and ideal 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, the best senior horse supplements will be more comprehensive. Supplements that contain a combination of live yeast and prebiotics will aid the digestive system in a number of different ways.

  • Live yeast has been shown to improve fibre digestion – the yeast start to break down the fibre molecules which helps the fibre digesting bacteria in the gut
  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) pre-biotics provide an exclusive food source for the beneficial microflora in the hindgut.
  • Mann-oligosaccharides (MOS) latch on to harmful species of bacteria and stop them becoming established in the gut.

Digestive supplements 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-ers.

As horses age, there is an increased risk of illness, in particular PPID and liver disease. In these circumstances or for more specific advice please contact the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188. We can be on hand to talk through the best senior horse supplements, feeds and rations for your horses’ specific requirements.