Horses are excellent animals to have as pets. These animals are helpful, reliable, and a joy to have. Like all living things, horses age. As horses age, they will not be able to perform specific tasks and duties they once did in their younger years. Here are the facts you need to know about horses and their aging process.

As your horse ages, you will notice a variety of changes in their performance and other areas. Each horse is different, which means they will age differently. In general, a horse becomes too old to ride when they are between 18 and 20 years old. By the time your horse reaches 20 years old in human years, the horse will be 60 years of age in horse years.

When your horse begins to age beyond their prime years, you need to make specific changes and accommodations to ensure their golden years are the best. Pay attention to your horse’s:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Appearance
  • Joints

Considering these four factors will help you decide on the activities, tasks, and duties, your horse is capable of performing and their limits. Other considerations you need to make when you are deciding whether or not your horse is too old to ride, include:

  • Amount of work
  • Body condition
  • Rider weight
  • Age-related issues

Here is more information regarding the changes in your horse as it ages and how you can care for them through the aging journey.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself As Your Horse Ages

1. How Is Your Horse’s Performance?

As your horse ages, you will notice their performance starting to decline. Your horse may be behind on its lead changes, or you may see your horse is struggling to keep up with other horses during certain activities.

If you’re concerned about an underlying cause to your horse’s decline in energy and ability to keep up, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. If the vet finds nothing wrong, it’s likely aging is the culprit, and it’s time to make a few changes.

2. Is Your Horse Lame?

If your horse has sustained a chronic high-suspensory-ligament injury or been diagnosed with navicular-bone degeneration, knowing these factors will help you determine if your horse is fit for riding or qualified to participate in specific activities.

If your horse has health issues or has sustained injuries, these are factors that will be the determining factor on how well your horse will be able to perform different activities and tasks. Even with the proper medication and management of certain illnesses and injuries, as time progresses, lameness will become more challenging to manage.

If your horse is 15 years of age or older, it has reached its golden years, and lameness is a sign it’s time to refrain from a variety of activities and chores.

3. Does Your Horse Maintain Weight and Condition?

Is your senior horse gaining and maintaining weight properly? A horse that is 20 years of age or older should be happy, shiny, and fat. You may notice your horse is beginning to look skinny, and increasing his food may not seem to resolve the problem.

Before you increase your horse’s food intake, make sure your senior horse is on a senior diet. Stress could be causing your horse to lose or gain too much weight. If you notice your horse is experiencing difficulty maintaining its weight, you may want to consider reducing different activities and chores that demand a lot of energy.

4. Does Your Horse Have Multiple Health Concerns?

Chronic diseases can quicken the aging process of a horse. If your horse has been diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions, such as Cushing’s disease or kidney failure, you may notice your horse is aging rapidly and experiencing a variety of challenges and difficulties.  

Depending on the disease your horse has, there may be a variety of exercises and activities they should avoid.

5. Is Your Horse Happy?

One way you can determine if your horse is still up for performing and completing certain chores and activities is their behavior. If your horse is happy, he will greet you with excitement and a nicker when you approach the stall.

If your horse is unhappy, they may be grumpy and act as if they don’t want to be bothered. If you have a miserable, grumpy horse, he may turn away from you or pin his ears. Your horse may also resist your commands or swish his tail to let you know that he’s not interested in being bothered.

Signs of Aging in a Horse

Appearance

A lot of factors and features regarding your horse will change as they age. Your horse’s appearance is likely the first thing you will notice. As your horse gets older, you might notice a dip in the horse’s back and sinking of the saddle area. Your horse will lose muscle mass, and the withers and back will become skinny and bony.

Teeth

As your horse ages, you will notice a difference in your horse’s teeth, especially the molars. Your horse’s teeth push in an upward angle from the root. You will notice your horse’s incisors starting to angle forward, which gives them a senior-like appearance. Your horse must receive annual or biannual dental exams to detect and often prevent different dental issues.

Vision and Hearing

Hearing loss due to aging is rare in horses. When a horse loses its hearing, it’s usually due to a neurologic condition. As far as your horse’s vision is concerned, senior and young horses can experience issues with their vision.

One common cause of vision loss in horses is due to uveitis, commonly known as moon blindness. Although it’s not common, Cushing’s disease can be a contributing factor to vision loss in horses.

Joints

If your horse has had an active career, he will likely develop arthritis. As your horse endures its senior years, arthritis can evolve into osteoarthritis. As your horse ages, your horse may have difficulty holding their feet in place for shoeing or trimming due to severe pain and stiffness. Arthritis can occur in any part of your horse’s body, including the legs and neck.

GI Tract

If your horse is having issues maintaining its weight, the GI tract may be part of the problem. As your horse gets older, their GI tract becomes less efficient, which makes maintaining weight difficult.

Most horse owners believe switching their horse to a senior diet will help with maintaining the horse’s weight, but sometimes, a diet change is not enough.

As your horse gets older, their teeth are not as good as they once were, which means, when the horse eats, their food is not chewed well, which makes proper digestion difficult. Your horse may develop chronic diarrhea.

Tips to Help Your Horse Age Gracefully

Make Sure You Have Adequate Feed

As an older horse, he will not be able to chew his food and break it down enough for proper digestion due to his teeth not being as healthy as they once were.

With the horse not being as strong as they once were, it will take him longer to eat. If you have multiple horses in a pasture, feed your senior horse separately. Give your senior horse hay in different places to give him better access to what he needs. Access to hay is essential for intestinal function.

Hydration

Proper hydration is vital for your horse’s overall health. You may be familiar with the pinch test (turgor test), but this test may be unreliable in senior horses. To ensure your horse remains hydrated throughout the day, check the inside of his mouth and make sure it’s moist. If the inside of your horse’s mouth is dry, this is an indication they are not drinking enough water.

Provide Adequate Shelter

Your horse requires protection from the elements, such as rain, wind, sun, and snow. During the colder months, your horse will need a blanket. In harsh weather conditions, make sure your horse has a fan in a properly ventilated area to rest and remain cool. You can also hose him down to keep him cool.

Vaccinate Your Horse with Care

Older horses have weaker immune systems than younger horses, but they both can suffer from the same diseases. A less than perfect functioning immune system makes your horse somewhat resistant to vaccines.

Dysfunctions within the immune system make your horse more susceptible to a severe reaction to vaccines. To minimize a horse’s risk of infection, reduce their content with other horses.

With proper care, your horse can live a long, rewarding life, but they will age and require special attention. Use these tips and other information to help you and your horse live happily ever after with tons of fond memories.