When we think of older horses, the frequent concerns are around weight loss, joint health, and poor teeth. But not every senior struggles with these and many older horses can maintain their weight easily (or too easily) into their advancing years.

Black horse with a white line down the centre of its face, stood in a field.

Making sure your horse maintains a healthy body weight/ condition is a key part of supporting their overall heath regardless of their age.

If your senior horse is prone to weight gain and needs to slim down the following weight loss tips for horses might help…

Forage

The first of our horse weight loss tips is to feed at least 1.5% of current bodyweight (dry matter) as forage per day. On average, this equates to approximately 9kg of hay (11kg if you intend to soak it - see tip 2) or 10-12kg haylage (fresh weight) for a 500kg horse without grazing. If you don’t know how much your horse weighs, or he has access to grazing, counting droppings may be a more practical way of monitoring intake. Initially we recommend aiming to reduce the number of droppings by a third if trying to encourage weight loss but never by more than half.

A grazing muzzle might be an effective way of restricting grass intake, provided the grass is long enough to be accessed through the base of muzzle. Speak to a nutritionist for more advice on how to use a grazing muzzle safely.

Consider feeding soaked hay

Another of our horse weight loss tips is soaking their hay. This helps to reduce the sugar content and of course, less sugar means less calories! Due to the loss of nutrients (and therefore dry matter) into the water, each haynet will also contain less ‘hay’ and more water post soaking. As a guide, increase the amount of hay you soak by approximately 20% to compensate. Although haylage is not automatically higher in calories, it shouldn’t be soaked.

Gut bacteria

The horse’s hindgut is home to trillions of tiny microbes including bacteria, protozoa, viruses and fungi which play an essential role in fibre digestion and helping to regulate the immune system. Research in healthy horses found that ageing led to a reduction in the diversity of hindgut microbes. Which may make some older horses more sensitive to changes in diet. Make all dietary changes gradually and consider choosing low calorie feeds such as Supple & Senior Balancer which contains pre and probiotics to support a healthy population of ‘good’ bacteria.

Joint health

We all get a little stiffer as we age, and joint health is often high on the list of priorities for owners of senior horses and ponies. Excess weight gain and obesity places excess strain on joints. Supple & Senior Balancer is the ideal option for those able to maintain weight easily on forage alone. In addition to vitamins, minerals and amino acids to balance a forage-based diet, it contains added functional ingredients such as glucosamine and MSM to help support joint health.

Dental concerns

Dental issues are one of the more well-known signs of aging and include lost or worn teeth, diastemas (gaps between the teeth), inflamed gums and even arthritis of the jaw. Most cubes or pellets can be soaked to make a mash but quick-soaking feeds such as SPEEDY-MASH Fibre may be a more convenient option. The increase in volume after soaking makes mashes ideal for good doers and helps to bulk out the bucket. 

For more advice on feeding senior horses prone to weight gain contact the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626 or helpline.horsecare@effem.com