Caring For & Competing
With Your
Equine Senior

​​What Makes A Horse An "Equine Senior"?

Juliet M. Getty, PhD Gives Us Some Answers . . . .

How has the classification of equine seniors (as a demographic) changed in the past 20 years?
 I don’t have a specific answer to this question. But, from my own experience from working with horse owners for more than 25 years, I have found that more than half of the owners have horses between 15 and 22 years of age. And at least a third have horses into their mid to late 20s, and are still riding them.
What has influenced these changes?
Over the past 15 years, there has been a surge of research on horses. Prior to that time, most nutritional inferences were made by extrapolating information from research done with laboratory animals. So, we now have a much more vast understanding of horse’s health in general, along with their nutritional requirements. My focus, as an equine nutritionist, has been to help horse owners understand the physiological requirement of having forage flow through the digestive tract at all times. Ailments such as colic, ulcers, laminitis, and early-onset PPID, can generally be avoided when the horse is allowed to self-regulate his forage intake. The resulting hormonal response to free-choice forage improves the horse’s body weight, behavior, and degree of inflammation, leading to better health and slowed aging.

​​How does numeric age figure into the biological age of a horse?​​
If we were to look strictly at chronological age, the accepted age relationship between horses and humans states that at beginning at birth, horses age approximately 6.5 years for every human year until the horse reaches 4 years of age. After that, horses age 2.5 years for every human year. For example, a 3-year-old horse would be equivalent to a 19.5-year-old person. By the time the horse is 15 years of age, his age would equate to 53.5 human years. And if he’s 22, well, that’s like a 71-year-old person. And if he makes it to 34 years of, he would be 101 years old in human-years.
​At what age do we consider a horse to be an equine senior?
Just as with people, horses age at varying rates. Genetics plays a significant role, but gene expression can be delayed if the horse is cared for all his life with proper nutrition, healthy activity, and reduced exposure to toxins, while living a low-stress life involving room to roam, companionship, and access for forage grazing. I’ve seen horses look and act “old” at 15 years of age, and others who are spry, bright-eyed, fully muscled, and energetic well into their late 20s/early 30s.
So rather than look at the number, look at the horse.

How does health of the animal play into the above?
Poor teeth, loss of muscle mass, inadequate digestion, respiratory and metabolic ailments, liver and kdney damage, joint deterioration, and reduced immune function can age a horse very quickly. The more we pay attention to these health conditions, the slower the horse will become “old.”  Some ways to do this include:
·         Regular dental checkups to remove any irritating points that may develop, as well as to check for gum disease or abscesses. Inadequate chewing is one of the main reasons for weight loss in aging horses. If the horse is having difficultly chewing, provide a moistened diet that still offers some texture and chew value but is easy to swallow. If the horse cannot eat hay, and pasture is not available, consider chopped hay products, soaked hay cubes, or soaked beet pulp.
·         Ensure that the protein content of the diet is of high quality. If hay is your only protein source, it will not provide enough amino acid variety (protein’s building blocks) to maintain and repair tissue. Muscle will be broken down to provide necessary amino acids if the diet is inadequate, in order to feed vital organs. To offer quality protein, simply include a variety of protein sources in the diet:
o   Variety of grasses
o   Legumes such as alfalfa
o   Whole foods such as ground flax, chia seeds, hempseeds, pea protein, and soy (limit soy for only for those horses with no inflammatory conditions or metabolic problems).
·         Saliva production declines with age, making moist meals helpful in preventing choke. Since saliva is a natural antacid, stomach acid may not be sufficiently neutralized, potentially leading to ulcers in the stomach or anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract. Be sure the hay is soft, and always available. And water needs to be close by.
·         Pay attention to worms and deworm appropriately. Over time, inadequate deworming can damage the digestive tract lining, reducing nutrient absorption.
·         If your horse is having trouble gaining weight, add a good pro/prebiotic. The horse cannot digest fiber on his own; he relies on the bacterial population in the hindgut to produce digestive enzymes to ferment fiber into an energy source.
·         Respiratory issues are more commonly seen in horses who are kept indoors. Fumes from urine and manure, as well as dust, can significantly impact breathing health.
·         As horse’s age, they are more inclined to develop equine Cushing’s disease (PPID). To reduce the risk, avoid feeding starchy/sweet feeds. Also, reduce inflammation and free radical formation by feeding supplements that are high in antioxidants. Physical and mental stress such as intense activity, extensive travel, isolation, and forage restriction also impact the inflammatory damage within the hypothalamic portion of the brain that leads to PPID.
·         Maintain a healthy weight and avoid insulin resistance though adequate opportunities to move along with a low starch/low sugar diet, and free-choice low sugar/low starch forage flowing through the digestive tract at all times.
·         The liver and kidneys can “wear out” over time. Have your veterinarian take regular blood tests to determine liver and kidney health. If these vital organs are at all compromised, the protein, and perhaps fat, content of the diet needs to be closely monitored.
·         Arthritis is common among aging horses. Be sure to include omega 3s in the diet to reduce inflammation, and extra vitamin C to assist with collagen production. Joint supplements may also be helpful.
·         Your horse may become more susceptible to infections as he ages, especially if he has PPID or is stressed. Fill in the nutritional gaps that naturally occur with hay-based diets, including a source of essential fatty acids (one that is high in omega 3s), offer quality protein so he can produce antibodies, and remove stressors from his life.



Dr. Getty frequently lectures on equine nutrition, and is the author of Feed Your Horse Like A Horse and Aging Horse (see our Product Review page for a review of her book).  She is the owner of Getty Equine  Nutrition LLC.  Her popular Spotlight on Equine Nutrition covers numerous feeding and equine nutritional topics.  She can be reached at  Visit her website by clicking on the URL below.

      Welcome to Equine Seniors
We are devoted to the care of equine seniors . . .including their continued use as viable show horses through proper management and conditioning for their current discipline and/or repurposing for a new discipline

Our First Ever Senior Horse Symposium
was a big success . . . . . look here for stories from the event next week . . . . 

     The first ever Senior Horse Symposium is being held March 21 at the Van Buren Conference Center in Lawrence, MI.  Dr. Richard K. Balsbaugh, an equine nutrition expert for ADM Feeds, gave the keynote presentation - covering senior horse nutrition and troubleshooting common feeding problems with older horses.
         Balsbaugh, who has an Animal Science degree from Purdue University, and a Masters and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, has been involved in the livestock /specialty animal industry for 35 years.  Thirty of these years have been with ADM / MoorMan Manufacturing Company. He has been involved in updating ADM’s equine Forage First feed products and helped to develop several new equine top dress supplements. 
       Dr. Balsbaugh’s focus was on providing high-quality, research-supported nutritional products for horses of all life stages and performance levels by “doing what’s right for the horse”. 
     Dr. Jessica Balsis, a DVM with Two by Two Animal Hospital in Berrien Springs, MI, blacksmith Paul Tucker, and equine massage therapist Christy LaPorte led a panel discussion on “Keeping The Senior Horse Mobile”.
     Balsis, who has a special interest in equine lameness, graduated from Michigan State University with her DVM in 2008.  She also teaches a pre-veterinary course at Andrews University and is very active showing her champion Morgan horses.
     Paul Tucker is the owner of Tucker’s Farrier Service of Cassopolis, MI. He specializes in corrective shoeing – including Navicular and Laminitis work. 

      LaPorte, who owns CJs Bodywork Therapy for Equines & Canines in Niles, MI, regulalry holds equine massage therapy clinics throughout southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana,
     “Showing & Competing With An Equine Senior Horse” was  led by Karen Waite and Laurie Cerny.  It coveed the maintenance of senior show horses as well as strategies to stay competitive with during the show season. 
      Waite is an equine Extension specialist at Michigan State University and teaches and advises equine students in the MSU Department of Animal Science.  In her role with Michigan State University Extension she coordinates the Adult Equine Extension Program and is the Director of Leadership Development for My Horse University.  She also oversees the Youth Equine Extension program. She teaches variety of equine courses and is faculty advisor to the MSU Equestrian team and Horsemen’s Association.  Waite  also oversees the Michigan 4-H PEP Program, for riders with disabilities.  She is the past president of the American Youth Horse Council, President of the Michigan Quarter Horse Association and is a carded judge with the ABRA, and POAC. Waite has a Bachelor’s Degrees in Education and Animal Science, and a Master’s Degree in Animal Science with a nutrition emphasis, as well as a Doctoral degree in Sports Psychology with an emphasis on equestrian sport and activity.  
       Cerny has successfully competed with several senior horses.  She currently shows a 17-year-old mare in American Ranch Horse Association (ARHA), American Buckskin Registry Association (ABRA), and International Buckskin Horse Association (IBHA) approved shows.  She has won multiple year-end class and division championships. The pair has also competed at both the ARHA and IBHA world shows for the past two years and earned several Top Five and Top Ten honors there.


Dr. Rick Balsbaugh

Dr. Jessica Balsis

Download Powerpoint Presentation of Competing With A Senior Horse

Paul Tucker

Christy LaPorte

Thank You To Our Symposium Sponsors



Getting Your Senior Horse Ready For Spring

           Starting Slow Is Key to Getting Your Senior Horse Back In Shape for Spring . . . 
           Having the winter off can make any horse flabby and out-of-shape.  However, for the senior horse, a long, hard winter can really set them back in regards to their muscle tone and endurance, according to Laurie Cerny, editor of  
          “This has been one of those years that between long stretches of sub-zero weather and heavy snow storms many of us have had to stop working our horses,” Cerny said.  “We don’t have an indoor arena and had to stop any exercise (other than daily turnout) in early December.  We’ve had a few melts in January that gave us a couple of days with good footing so we could do some exercising, but that’s been about it.”

​          Cerny, who will start back in April showing an 18-year-old mare, figures it will take at least six weeks to get her senior horse back into competitive condition.  “This has been the case for the past few winters - when pretty much from December to March we couldn’t do much with the horses because of the weather and bad footing.”
           The big thing Cerny has learned with her senior horses is to start them back slow. 
“I’ve learned that it’s best to do nothing too fast or too tight for at least two weeks,” she said.  “Especially with a senior horse that likely has arthritis and some hock and knee issues, the last thing you want to do is work them hard and do a lot of tight turns like three-sixties.”
            Once the weather breaks Cerny will start by hand walking and trotting her mare several times a day.  She’ll gradually add ground poles and cone work to the regimen to help with agility.  Last, she’ll add backing and some turns in either direction.
            “I’ll wait about ten days before I even think about lunging my mare.  I’ve had her have a meltdown or two when she’s feeling frisky in the spring, causing her to tear around for a couple minutes on the line.  She ends up paying for it later by coming up a sore, which sets our conditioning regimen back a couple days.” 
            Cerny still prefers working her mare on a lunge line over free working in a round pen.  “With a halter and line on them – especially if you’re using a rope halter, you can get them stopped fairly quickly if they start to really buck or cut a rug.  I know many professional horse trainers would disagree with me and would advise letting your horse continue until you got their mind back.  But I prefer to do what's right for me and my horse at the time.  And with a senior horse I would rather prevent an injury; it's my better to be safe than sorry mindset .”
          It can be several weeks of hand walking and mild lunging (mostly at the walk and trot and only a couple minutes in each direction), before Cerny even thinks about riding.        
         “Last year because I was still competing with my mare in halter classes, and I had put on about 20 pounds over the winter, I decided to not ride her until she was in shape and I had dropped some weight myself,” Cerny said.  “It really made a difference in her not getting sore in the back and hips, and in keeping her topline nice and high.”
            Waiting and taking it slow is hard to do and can be a little frustrating - especially if you’re pinched for time.  However, Cerny says for her mare it has been key to keeping her sound and competitive in her golden years.
            “When she continues to be at the top of her class and divisions, and she’s not sore, and she is always eager to see me and to be exercised, I know I’m doing my job as a senior horse owner.”

Poles and cones are a great way​ ​to work on your senior horse's agility before you start to lunge or ride them this spring

Here are some additional tips . . . 

  • ​Find out what vaccines you really need for you senior horse.  If you horse does not leave the property - chances are you just need the basics like influenza, West Nile, Tetnus & Rabies.  Split up when you give vaccines and where - this will help reduce muscle soreness.  Givig Banamine prior to vaccinations will also help
  • ​When reseting horses for the summer (if they have been shod over the winter with snow/rim pads and caulkshoes, or borium,rreset at least 2-3 weeks prior to your first show, etc.  This will allow for you horse to get used to it's new shoeing regimen.
  • ​Schedule a chiropractic and/or massage therapy session(s) for your horse.  Making sure they are properly aligned and working out muscle knots will do wonders in helping them get back into their exercise regimen.
  • ​Have their teeth checked/floated.  Senior horses develop sharp points more quickly than their younger peers.  They may also have a tooth or two that needs to be pulled.​                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               additional great information at

Goals For The New Year For The Senior Horse Owner

            The New Year means marks a birthday for all horses.  For young horses being older is generally a welcomed thing and usually doesn’t require any lifestyle changes, but for the senior horse one more year can be a big deal.
             “Things like mobility, body condition, and digestion can really change in twelve months, especially for the super senior horse that is over 21,” says Laurie Cerny, editor of
            For this reason Cerny says owners need to resolve to honestly assess their senior horses in two main areas:  feed requirements and exercise/usability. They should also resolve to embrace moderation in the related assessed outcomes.
“When it comes to feed and supplements you can’t expect your horse will need and/or eat the same way they did at 15- now that they’re older,” she said.  “In my experience with our older senior horses they get pickier with their hay.  They also tend to sift supplements or NSAIDs from their grain rations.”
            For this reason Cerny feeds her super senior horses her most palatable hay.  For first cutting this means hay that has been cut earlier and has finer stems, and second cutting that is virtually weed free – both of which reduces waste and ensures it’s being consumed.  She also feeds smaller rations several times a day.  Depending on body condition, her harder to keep seniors are fed a senior feed, which is also fed in smaller rations 2-3 times a day.
           “Because supplements are so expensive (and all of our senior horses are on a good joint and hoof supplement), unless the animal has an insulin issue, I pick one that has molasses or alfalfa added for palatability,” Cerny says.
           For owners, who are still showing their older senior horses or actively trail riding, objectively looking at what they plan to ask their horses to do in the New Year is key.
           “Maybe instead of going on 10- mile trail ride every weekend you might do 2-3 mile rides several times a week.  “Older horses, like older people, generally cannot be weekend warriors and then be sound the rest of the week,” Cerny says.
           With show horses, this might mean cutting back the number of classes (especially performance classes) shown in a day or weekend.  It might also mean going to fewer weekend shows – where you have to haul your horse several hours.  Showing closer to home might be a better option because it requires shorter periods of time in the trailer (hauling in general is hard on older horses and especially tough for horses with hock issues).
           It’s also good to think about the stress you’ll be putting on an older horse during the upcoming show season. 
          Cerny, who shows a senior horse, brought her mare home for six days last summer in between two world shows that were held at the same facility.  She says, “Everyone asked why I didn’t lay over at the facility.  Even though I could have stayed there between shows I felt it was best to let my horse have the time back at home where she could be turned out and has a 12’x 24’ stall to sleep in.”
         Later in the season she also decided to not attend a regional show because there was only a couple hour turnaround from when she could haul-in for the show and when the classes started. 
         Cerny says, “For an older horse rest is crucial when you’ve hauled them a ways.  You can’t expect them to come of the trailer and turn around and go in the show pen.  They need at least one night to rest, and then to be properly warmed up, if you want them to perform well.”
         Finally, the best resolution is to strive for moderation as it’s the secret to keeping an older senior horse in good body condition and sound. Cerny adds, “Keep doing what you did last year with your horse - just moderate it depending on how their mobility and their eating habits have changed.”

​Winterizing Your Senior Horse

 For anyone who owns an equine senior horse you should take some extra effort now to make sure your mare or gelding is winter ready.

Here are some tips:

​In addition to these tips please be mindful of the changes in your pastures in the fall.  Sugar levels in grasses go up once the night temperture falls below 40 degrees.  This can create a problem for horses that are Insulin Resistance/Cushing's.  Read more about this  by clicking on our Articles & Resource Information​​Page
1.  Check teeth.  If your horse has been on pasture (which is more palatable) you may not notice signs of tooth problems like picking though hay for softer stems, and wadding of hay that's been chewed.  
2.  Make sure your horse's feet are in good shape for ice and snow.  This means staying on top of your blacksmithing and adding protective measures like rim pads and Borium of your horse remains shod over the winter.
3.  Protection from the elements.  In addition to having adequate physical shelter like a run-in during the day and a stall at night, your equine senior may need to be blanketed.  If your horse is on the thin side going into the winter - blanketing will help him.her conserve their body heat.  For horses with Cushing's Disease (that grow an abnormally long hair coat) a waterproof blanket will help to keep their coat from becoming soaked from rain or heavy snow . . . . . as it won't dry out as well as a horse with a normal coat.  Consider using a fly mask in the winter, too.  It will help keep your senior horse's eyes from watering on days when it's really windy and will also help protect them from the harsh sun's glare on fresh snow.
4.  Provide a warm water source.  Like people, horses teeth become more sensitive with age.  Now imaging drinking water that's barely 32 degrees!  If you don't have water heaters, at least add warm water to your horse's drinking water several times during the day.  The most common cause of colic in the winter is from lack of water cosumption.
5. Measure you horse now so you can tell if it loses or gains too much weight over the winter - because it is so hard to tell once a horse has a winter coat . . . .  Even trying to use a blanket . . . that fit in the summer . . . . to determine weight loss or gain doesn't work as a horse may have just lost muscle tone.  Use a fabric measuring tape to take a measurement around the widest part of the neck and also around the barrel of your horse.  Write these measurements down somewhere in your barn, and re-measure your horse every couple of weeks.
Competing With Your Equine Senior
      Many competitors have found themselves at a crossroads: do I buy a younger horse, or do I continue with my aging equine.  Unfortunatley the show industry is weighted toward competing with a younger horse.  In fact, over the years it has become the norm for horses in junior pleasure classes to barely be two years old. 
       And while we have "aged" classes for halter and "senior" classes for pleasure - you would be hard pressed to find horses much older then eight in the ring.  The good news is that competing with an older horse can be done and done successfully. 
      It might take a little closer management of your horse and a little more expense with nutrition, vet care, and blackmsithing - but when you consider the cost to replace your horse (at least $10,000 for animals competing on A circuits
it might be worth the effort to buck the norm.

See a wonderful roundup of active senior horses by clicking on the button below
Read More

Bees Molly Dolleo won an AQHA Championship in halter at age 16 and continued to be in the top ten in her state's AQHA association in halter until she was retired at age 19.

​Senior Horse Nutrition

The following companies carry equine senior feeds.
Please go to their websites for more details about their products
Triple Crown
Manna Pro  

Read More About Equine Senior Feeds
Click Here to learn more about Care & Feeding Equine Seniors In The Winter
  1. 20%
    of the U.S. Horse Population is over age 15
  2. 62
    Age of oldest horse on record
  3. Falabella
    Breed of Horse With Most Longevity
Click Here
To Read Stories Of Horses 30+ and Older

Saying Goodbye To Your Senior Horse

​None of us like to think about the end of life for our equine senior.  However, if your own one, chances are you will face that day in the future. 

I have been through it several times and can tell you that at least having a plan for the end of their life, and for their body once their gone, makes it a little easier.  To learn more click here . . .
Click Here To Read Equine Senior Memorials
Click Here To Read More