Older horses can always do with a little more TLC, especially when the temperature drops during the colder months. Vet Nicky Jarvis shares her advice on vitality for veterans.
1. Do weekly health checks
“If you have an older horse, you should do regular physical conditioning and score checks,” says Nicky. “The sooner you detect a decline in his condition, the better. Every day you should bring him back from the field, remove his mat, groom him and watch him walk on a firm surface to check that he is healthy.
2. Check his teeth
“Older horses often have gaps between their teeth, which makes it easier to wedge food in,” says Nicky. “Crushing hay also becomes more difficult as their enamel ridges wear down and the surface of the teeth becomes smooth.”
If you are unsure of the condition of your horse’s teeth, make an appointment with your veterinarian or a qualified equine dental technician.
3. Work more fiber
“You should feed your older horse hay for as long as he can handle it,” says Nicky. “However, if he has trouble chewing it, it puts him at risk of choking or colic and you need to get him fiber in a different way.”
Ideally, your forage source should be grass or hay, but chopped fiber or pelleted fiber also works.
4. Reduce sugar content
“People tend to give their older horses extra feeds, such as conditioning mixes and grains to help them maintain their weight, which is great, but some can be high in sugar and starch, which which is not ideal for horses prone to Cushing or laminitis.” Nicky said. Foods have different sugar contents, so look at the nutrition information on the bag to find out.
Unmolassed sugar beet that has been soaked will be low in starch and sugar. It will also help improve your horse’s ability to digest high fiber feed.
5. Add oil
“Vegetable, soy and cod liver oils are great because they’re high in energy,” says Nicky. “But the oils should be introduced slowly over a period of two to three weeks. If you add a lot of oil all at once, your horse will likely retaliate by spitting out its food.
Speak to your vet or equine nutritionist about how much oil to feed, as vitamin E may be needed as an antioxidant.
Meet the expert: Nicky Jarvis is the head of veterinary care at Redwings Horse Sanctuary.
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