With terms like senior, veteran, aged and golden oldie used regularly whether it’s describing a show class, an insurance policy or certain feed and supplements it begs the question ‘when does a horse become old?’
Officially age can be measured in three ways: Chronological age which is simply the horse’s age in years, this can give you some information on how your horse may be aging but it can also be misleading. It used to be the case that horses were considered “aged” at 15 years. However, often horses and ponies of 15 years of age work normally and show no outward signs of old age until well into their twenties.
Physiological age uses biological markers of aging, such as measuring the effectiveness of the immune system and is perhaps is the most accurate way to measure aging but this whole area is still being in its infancy.
Another way to look at age is demographically; the age at which 25% of the overall population is over, for example for horses in the UK in 1999 this was 15 years old, however nowadays this is likely to be closer to 20.
Whichever way we look at age one thing is for sure it’s highly individual with most owners using a combination of actual age in years and physiological age to ‘judge’ if their individual horse has moved into their ‘senior’ years.
How much work a horse has done in his/her lifetime, their health status, how well they have been managed in terms of veterinary care, worming and nutrition, their breed and genetics all play a role in aging. Ponies for example do tend to live longer, more productive lives with many a family pony transporting their 5th or 6th young owner around the lanes after 30 year’s service! Thoroughbreds may show more obvious signs of aging particularly loss of muscle tone and more difficulty holding weight through the winter but it is highly individual so there are no hard and fast rules.
The main take home message in determining when and if to change your horse’s management and feeding is to keep a close eye on the subtle signs that your horse may need a little more specialist care, some common signs to look out for include:
- General signs of stiffness, perhaps when coming out of the stable in the morning or perhaps they are finding school work more difficult.
- It may be getting harder to maintain their ideal body weight, whether this be excessive weight gain or difficultly in maintaining condition, particularly over the winter months.
- Loss of molar teeth which will affect the chewing and grinding of food, especially long fibre.
- Elongated front teeth (incisors), which may be seen as difficulty in biting off grass.
- Deepened hollows over the eyes.
- Dropping or swaying of the back, may be seen as lack of topline.
- Greying of the coat particularly over the eyes.
- Increase in general infections, especially skin conditions such as mud fever.
If you see any of these signs it may be time to review your feeding, but the right choice for your horse may not necessarily be a feed overtly labelled as ‘senior’ which is why we have developed our ‘Senior Friendly’ logo to help you identify feeds in our wider range that are ideally suited to senior horses. For example if you are looking for a feed for a laminitis prone senior horse consider SPILLERS Happy Hoof or SPILLERS Happy Hoof Molasses Free, for those with dental issues but hold their weight well look no further than SPILLERS Speedy-Mash Fibre or for a low energy cube consider SPILLERS High Fibre Cubes.
Alongside these ‘Senior Friendly’ options we have a new ‘For Seniors’ range which include our newly launched SPILLERS Senior Complete Care Mix and SPILLERS Senior Super Mash. Both these senior ranges have been independently approved by Nicola Jarvis, Head Vet at Redwings Horse Sanctuary to give you the extra reassurance you need to make sure your senior horse is completely cared for.
For more information on feeding your senior horse please call the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626.