NUTRITIONAL and management requirements change as horses and ponies age. It can be particularly hard for owners during winter months to ensure sufficient forage requirements are met and body weight is maintained.
For older horses in good health, providing a balanced diet with high quality forage is sufficient to meet their nutrient requirements. As they age, nutrient absorption will naturally begin to reduce, along with muscle wastage and dental issues, such as lack of teeth. These naturally occurring factors require some changes to management and diet, for example the use of a senior specific feed to support gut health and meet increased protein requirements.
Some older horses and ponies struggle with other contributing factors that can negatively impact their overall health and require some nutritional changes. Conditions such as laminitis, Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), weight loss, parasitic infections and poor dentition can be common for senior horses. Regular body condition scoring, routine dental treatment and worm egg counts are important when caring for senior horses.
What are the special requirements for some conditions?
– PPID or laminitic horses and ponies require a low sugar diet – this includes not only their hard feed, but also their forage sources. Avoid grazing if there is a risk of high sugar content in grass and steaming or soaking hay can reduce water soluble content of hay or haylage. Provide a low sugar and low starch hard feed, such as Bluegrass Re-Leve mix, Bluegrass Re-Solve cubes or Bluegrass Stamm 30 balancer as a low calorie option.
– Dental issues can mean that it is difficult for older horses to eat enough fibre to meet daily requirements. There are forage alternatives, with either short chopped forage or a mash-based feed. Bluegrass Better Beet or Bluegrass Turmash are both high fibre, low starch mashes that are a great addition to older horse diets.
– Supporting gut health is vital for older horses, as their ability to absorb nutrients and digest starch begins to decrease. Provide a balanced diet with higher bio-available nutrients, such as vitamin E and look at adding pro-biotics to the diet. Take a look at some products suitable for seniors as they might already contain these, such as Bluegrass Prime Conditioning mix, Bluegrass Stamm 30 Balancer and Bluegrass Better Beet.
Arthritis and stiff joints can be a big problem for older horses during winter, when turnout is limited. Try to ensure daily exercise is provided – this can be ridden, lunge work or in hand walking. Joint supplements can be expensive, but if sourced correctly, they will contain high levels of essential ingredients, such as Glucosamine or Chondroitin. Products containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as KER E03 oil or Flax oil contain EPA and DHA, a natural anti-inflammatory, with studies showing improvement for horses suffering from arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Bluegrass Turmash contains flax oil and turmeric, also known as a natural anti-inflammatory product and, as it is a mash, it is ideal for all types of senior horses.
For more information or advice on feeding older horses and ponies, contact the Bluegrass Horse Feed Nutritional Helpline, Tel: 028 3754 8276.