SUCCEED® Blog:

Where #SeriousHorsePeople come to better understand digestive health in horses and its impact and management.

Monday Myth #46: Senior Horses Are Skinny

8855386810_4b48a13c63_kWe’ve all seen swaybacked, rough-coated horses with bony top lines and hints of ribs showing despite plenty of feed. Open that horse’s mouth and chances are you’ll find it’s a senior citizen. And there’s no doubt about it: older horses are harder keepers than horses in their prime. But it’s a myth that all senior horses are skinny. Older horses just require different care.

Why Senior Horses are Often Skinny

It’s true: horses’ bodies (like our own!) tend to be less efficient as they age. That might be a relief for the owners of roly-poly breeds who have struggled to keep their horses at a moderate number on the Henneke body conditioning scale. But for the owners of hard-keeping horses, advanced age presents more serious problems for the horse’s digestive health.

Seniority affects the ability of horses to get nutrition in the following ways:

  • Stiff joints or limited mobility impact the ability to graze and hydrate as needed.
  • Dental problems, including tooth loss, especially the cheek teeth or molars used to grind feed into small bits, can cause inefficient digestion of food.
  • Intestinal villi, the fingerlike projections that absorb nutrients in a horse’s digestive tract don’t work as well as the horse ages.
  • Senior horses may also be turned out into a back pasture after retirement, where they may not get the attention they need to maintain health.

All of these issues can contribute to the stereotype that all senior horses are skinny. But older horses don’t have to be too thin.

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Keeping Your Senior Horse at a Healthy Weight

Providing enough feed to a senior horse with limited mobility can be challenging. All horses’ digestive systems are designed to work best using forage as fuel — and if a senior horse can’t ingest enough on a daily basis, it’s up to the owner to help him compensate.

If a horse has limited mobility:

  • Put him in a pasture with plenty of high-quality forage so he doesn’t have to work overly hard to graze.
  • To help him get plenty of roughage supplement with hay, chopped beet pulp or soaked chopped hay (called chaff).
  • Consider feeding a small amount of senior feed to ensure an easily digested balance of nutrients. Look for one with a base made of dehydrated beet pulp or other fibrous materials.

For dental issues:

  • Start by having your equine dentist check your horse’s mouth at least a couple times each year and float your horse’s teeth to smooth out rough edges as needed.
  • Feed chaff, which is easier for an older horse to eat and also produces additional saliva. Saliva helps offset the continual production of acid in the stomach for better digestion.

Practice good management:

  • Even if a horse is effectively “retired” and turned out to pasture, be sure you’re checking on him daily to be sure he’s not lame, being bullied away from shared feed by others in the herd or otherwise having his health compromised. It goes without saying that he needs constant access to shelter and fresh, clean water.
  • Keep parasites under control by regularly monitoring your horse’s fecal egg counts, treating as needed, and maintaining a clean environment to avoid putting undo stress on his system via a parasite infection.

Make it easier for horses to absorb nutrients:

  • While it’s difficult to rehabilitate the villi that line the digestive tract and absorb nutrients, feed your horse an appropriately balanced diet can help ensure he has access to the nutrients he needs. Feeding SUCCEED once a day can also help.

Why to Feed SUCCEED to Senior Horses

Some of the challenges of managing senior horses — like dental care, providing fresh water and shelter or parasite control — come down to practicing good animal husbandry. Other senior horse management challenges, such as what you feed him and how, directly relate to nutrition. SUCCEED can be a powerful tool when it comes to helping your horse absorb as much nutrition as possible from his feed.

The ingredients in SUCCEED support nutrient absorption by helping your horse digest processed feeds in the small intestine. They also support a healthy hindgut and encourage the growth of intestinal villi, support immune cells in the lining of the gut, and help lubricate the GI tract lining. The oat oil in SUCCEED is also full of fat molecules called polar lipids that can help strengthen intestinal tissue in the gut and help provide a conduit for getting nutrients into the bloodstream. All of these beneficial factors add up to help your senior horse become more efficient at processing — and using — his feed to its best advantage.

Senior Horses Don’t Have to Be Skinny

While it’s true that there are a lot of too-thin senior horses out there, just because your horse is getting up there in years doesn’t mean he has to look painfully thin or have a rough coat. So it’s a myth that senior horses are skinny — so long as you take good care of them. Feeding SUCCEED to your senior horse once a day can help, as can proper animal husbandry and the attention your older horse deserves as he enjoys all of the other benefits of retirement.

Photo by hyper7pro licensed via CC2.0. 

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SUCCEED Digestive Conditioning Program is a nutritional approach to managing the horse’s digestive health, including the stomach and the hindgut. Learn More

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