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

                            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:

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.

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 her Articles & Resource Information ​​
Competing With Your Equine Senior
      Many compeitiors 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.
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