Tuesday, 2 October 2012

16 years young...

"I'm as young as I feel"

We all want to do the best for our horses as they get older, but when is the ‘right time’ to move to a senior feed? In truth, there is no definitive answer as like people, horse’s age at different rates.  In the past horses at 16 were sometimes described as ‘veterans’ however nowadays with suitable management many horses continue to live healthy and active lives well into their twenties or even thirties! 

Not all horses struggle to maintain condition as they get older, so it is important to choose feeds containing an appropriate level of energy (energy = calories). For those able to maintain weight well on forage alone, a balancer specifically formulated to meet the needs of senior horses, is the ideal way to ensure optimum nutrition without excess calories.

With age and previous worm damage, digestion and absorption of nutrients may be less efficient. A high fibre diet is essential for maintaining digestive health and constant access to water helps to prevent impaction colic. Some horses may also benefit from additional digestive support in the form of pro/ prebiotics. Feeds high in antioxidants, particularly vitamins C and E, provide respiratory and immune support.

Quality protein is important for helping to maintain muscle tone and topline but again, protein digestion may be less efficient in older horses. As a guide, look for feeds containing 12-14% protein (for compounds feeds – balancers will be higher than this). Stiffness and arthritis (to varying degrees), are common in older horses and some may benefit from feeds or supplements containing additives such as glucosamine.

Teeth can become a problem for many older horses and should be checked regularly (every six months). If not addressed, difficulties in chewing can lead to conditions such as choke, colic and weight loss. Look for mixes containing smaller pellets or where necessary, feeds/ cubes that can be soaked to make a mash. Remember that this may need to include a full replacer, either in the form of soaked cubes or short chopped fibre feeds.

Horses and ponies with Cushing’s disease need the same, careful nutritional management as a laminitic; regardless of whether or not they are on medication or have previously suffered from laminitis. In practise, this means providing a diet that is high in fibre and low in starch (found in cereals), sugar and fructans (found in grass). If your senior horse has Cushing’s, or is prone to conditions such as colic or tying up; avoid mixes and seek advice from a nutritionist. Remember that the most suitable diet may include feeds that do not say ‘senior’ on the bag.

Whilst the ageing process is inevitable, nutrition can play an important role in supporting senior horses whether they are in work or enjoying retirement. How many years ‘young’ is your horse?