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

            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.”

New Year's Resolutions For The Senior Horse Owner

Current News From the Horse Industry . . .

Thoroughbred Makeover Trainer Applications Increase by 38 Percent
by Retired Racehorse Project | Jan 17, 2018 |
     Organizers of the Thoroughbred Makeover saw a 38 percent increase in the number of trainers who applied for the 2018 competition, now in its fourth year in its current format at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. The application period ran from Dec. 1 to Jan. 15.
     The Thoroughbred Makeover is a training competition featuring recently-retired racing Thoroughbreds competing in 10 different disciplines. Their riders must submit an application to the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), which organizes the competition, outlining their experience and competitive records. Trainers can be professionals, amateurs or juniors, and the Thoroughbreds they select to compete will all be of similar experience, having a maximum of 10 months of retraining by the time the competition takes place Oct. 4-7.
     “We continue to be astounded by the exponential growth of the Thoroughbred Makeover,” said Kirsten Green, RRP’s director of operations. “We will evaluate applications according to the criteria set forth in our rules and hope to accept as many applicants as possible, while still maintaining the quality of horsemanship. We won't rule out an additional day of competition if necessary!”
     RRP’s selection committee will evaluate the applications based on the need for adequate representation within each discipline; the need for representation by professionals, amateurs, and juniors; geographic diversity; affiliation with institutions that are committed RRP’s mission; and evidence that the trainer is committed RRP’s mission. Accepted trainers will be announced Feb. 1, and trainers have until Aug. 1 to select the horses they intend to compete. Many of the horses competing will also be for sale.
     The group received 812 applications, representing 40 states and the District of Columbia, plus three Canadian provinces. Professionals make up 45 percent of the field of applicants; 42 percent are amateurs and 13 percent are juniors. Ninety-two trainers applied to bring two horses.
     “These numbers tell us that our strategy is working,” said RRP President Steuart Pittman. “We have more good trainers using their talents to secure the futures of these horses. They are doing this without any subsidy. They are the heroes.”
     In 2017, RRP accepted 578 trainers. Due to the nature of training green horses and the amount of time between the application and the competition itself, a certain number of scratches are expected. Three hundred and five horses competed at the 2017 event.
     The Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium also features clinics and educational opportunities, in addition to the Makeover Horse Sale.

Thoroughbred Makeover links:

Recap of the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover:
  • 578 trainers were accepted to compete during the initial application process, and 509 horses were registered.
  • 305 horses actually made it to Kentucky to compete, coming from 38 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
  • The most-raced horse in the competition had 85 starts. The highest money-earner had career winnings of almost $1.2 million.
  • Total number of horses in each discipline: barrels, 18; competitive trail, 64; dressage, 78; eventing, 90; field hunter, 30; freestyle, 38; polo, 11; show hunter, 84; show jumper, 75; working ranch, 12. (A horse can compete in up to two disciplines.)
  • 100 horses were entered in the Makeover Sale, with 22 horses being confirmed as sold within a month of the competition. The highest price paid for a Makeover horse was $21,000; the average price was $8,800.
  • More than 115 volunteers helped staff the competition.
  • 72 companies were Makeover sponsors.
  • 71 vendors took part in the vendor fair.
  • Over 1200 ticketed spectators watched the Finale.
  • The Finale livestream had more than 7,200 viewers, and 62,000 viewers watched on Facebook Live.
  • 899 votes were cast for America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.
Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) works to facilitate placement of Thoroughbred ex-racehorses in second careers by increasing demand for them in the marketplace and inspiring equestrians to provide the training that secures their futures. RRP offers online directories, educational resources, and publishes Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine.

​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
​Our 2018 Senior Horse Symposium Sponsors
  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