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Caring For Older Horses

More and more horses and ponies are living for longer and becoming geriatrics (defined as aged 20 years and over). As a horse ages it is important to monitor for certain health problems which are commonly seen in an ageing population.

Dental problems– These are common and may manifest as difficulty with the bit, reduced appetite, weight loss or headshaking. Six monthly dental checks are recommended for horses over 15 years old. Milbourn Equine can check teeth as part of the health check at your horse’s annual vaccination and we are happy to perform any dental work required.

Lameness – Low grade lameness is to be expected as osteoarthritis sets in; this is often put down to ‘stiffness’. Most of these conditions can be improved with treatment after the lameness is localised to a particular joint or area.

PPID/Cushings – Older horses (especially ponies) commonly develop PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) also known as Equine Cushing’s disease. The clinical signs include a curly coat, recurrent laminitis, a ‘pot bellied’ appearance, lethargy and recurrent infections. This condition is treatable once it has been definitively diagnosed with a blood test. More information can be found at www.talkaboutlaminitis.co.uk.

Condition– Many older horses struggle to maintain their condition, especially over the winter months. If weight loss is sudden or dramatic we will investigate to rule out concurrent disease. However often a change in diet is all that is necessary. Horses become less efficient at extracting nutrients from their feed as they age. It is important to maintain fibre content even if the horse is struggling to eat hay or haylage. A hay replacement diet can be created with chaff, sugar beet and soaked pony nuts. We can advise you or put you in touch with nutritionist if you feel your horse would benefit from a dietary change.
Older horses and ponies struggle more with extremes of weather than their younger friends. However they generally benefit from the low grade exercise that turnout provides and would stiffen up if kept indoors for long periods. Therefore we recommend that they remain turned out but with the benefit of good rugs and a field shelter, in all but the most extreme weather conditions.

This time of year you should also be on the lookout for Mud Fever and Colic in horses of any age.

Mud Fever– Is a condition of the skin on the lower legs which typically occurs during wet weather in horses who are turned out. It is a bacterial infection caused by a particular bacteria called Dermatophilus which live within the mud. As with many things, prevention is better than cure! Removing mud from the horse’s legs is important. The best way to remove mud is to allow the legs to dry and then to brush the mud away with a dandy brush. An oil based barrier cream such as Vaseline can be applied to legs before turn out. Checking your horse’s legs on a daily basis can allow you to intervene and instigate treatment of mud fever at the first sign.

Colic-At this time of year colic signs are common, especially when there is snow on the ground and the horses are suddenly exposed to a dramatic change in management. Prevention is not always possible however trying to keep the horses management similar regardless of weather conditions helps. Making a gradual change to hay or haylage in the autumn and maintaining the horse on the same brand or batch of long stem forage is helpful.  If snow curtails your exercise plans be sure to reduce the hard food that you are providing to the horse, continuing on high levels of hard feed when the horse is doing no exercise will often lead to tying up.
Don’t forget Worming! – Every horse should receive a larvicidal dose of roundwormer such as moxidectin in the late autumn/early winter. Most other wormers will not kill encysted roundworms and therefore the horse can colic as a result of encysted larvae despite having received a wormer. Please contact us for advice. Our Equine Healthcare Plan includes our worming programme as standard.

Make sure your horse is in tip top condition this winter. Winter Healthchecks – Only £97.50 inc VAT

2 thoughts on “Caring For Older Horses”

  1. My ancient miniature Shetland is losing a bit of condition. At present he is on two small meals of Veteran Vitality and Equal amounts of middlings, soaked and a few carrots, apples chopped small. He has no back teeth. I have not seen him eat hay this winter . Your advice of sugar beet, haylage and soaked nuts sounds interesting. Is it better than he is having now?

    • Hi Jill If your horse cannot chew the hay due to having no teeth than they would be better off eating food that does not require the same amount of chewing to break down the cellulose in the hay. Sugar beet and soaked nuts are perfect as these are very high fibre which is very important to both keep the horse feeling ‘full’ as well as a vital source of calories, but do not require chewing! Therefore, in any horse with no teeth we advise feeding lots of high fibre foods that can be soaked. Hope that helps!

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