It's believed that 1-year of a horse's life is equal to an average of 3-years of a human's.
This means that as I type (Oct'18), my connie Murphy is 76, Cookie's 54, MacAttack's 48 and Carmen's 36. No wonder Murf pulls a face when I hoik the saddle out ...
It's estimated that a quarter of the UK’s horse population, if not more, is older than 15 years of age, so compared to us humans, that’s a large proportion of horses over 45 (in human) years old, and I've got three of them.
The aging process brings with it some inevitable changes in horses. Like humans, horses are now generally living longer, with more active veteran horses than ever before, and with many horses still competing and showing at the age of 20 or older.
For the senior horse that struggles to maintain weight and condition, we'd all think that the obvious action is to increase calorie intake. However, this may not necessarily be the best route to take. Older horses are less able to chew, let alone digest, protein and fibre, although this could be from old verm damage in the gut rather than ageing alone. If teeth issues mean long fibre can't be chewed, the only nourishment they may be getting is from the feedbowl, so they need a fibre source that both teeth and gut can cope with, such as a high fibre mash feed and forage chaffed as a hay replacer.
The signs of ageing result in irreversible changes in a horse's body:
- Skin and soft tissue elasticity decreases - this causes the typical sunken back of an old horse.
- Teeth are constantly erupting and eventually grow out of the gums, with the grinding surfaces of the teeth becoming smoother and less efficient.
- The immune system becomes weaker and much less able to fight disease.
- Circulation, which delivers nutrients and oxygen to the horse, becomes less able.
- Liver and kidney problems become more common as a horse gets older, no longer functioning as they used to, nor supporting the immune system to help in fighting disease.
- And the inevitable - joints begin to stiffen.
It's also all too easy to be bedazzled by the glossy bags of senior feed formulas - if organ function is compromised, many of the 'senior' formulas could actually make matters worse. For example, many senior feeds have increased protein and fat, which are contraindicated for liver function, and some senior feeds contain higher phosphorous and calcium, which are contraindicated for kidney function.
Thankfully, nature has equipped us with an excellent range of herbs to keep the senior equine system working in harmony to maintain good health.