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Nutrition Tips for Senior Horses

Older horses have unique nutritional needs. Here’s how to design a feeding plan accordingly.

By Alli Kelley | September 30, 2016

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Senior Horse Eating Hay

As your horse ages, his nutritional needs will change. Providing your senior horse with the right nutrition is key in helping him stay healthy and happy for as long as possible.

Horses become less efficient at utilizing feed as they get older. The are a few reasons for this, and the first one is their teeth! Senior horses will obviously have more wear on their teeth than younger horses, which can make it difficult to consume the same feeds a younger horse would and get the same amount of energy out of them.

Feeding hay that is higher in important nutrients like protein is a great way to get your senior horse more nutrients in the same amount of feed. An example of this would be feeding alfalfa hay instead of grass hay. Another way to increase the amount of nutrients your senior horse is receiving from hay is by feeding higher quality hay. For example, alfalfa hay with smaller stems and more leaves is considered a high quality hay. Make sure you make any feed changes gradually.

Senior horses with more severe dental issues can still struggle to consume enough hay to meet their nutritional needs. Soaked hay cubes provide easy-to-chew forage for horses with dental problems. Additionally, feed supplements or mashes can be another great way to get your senior horse the nutrients they need in a form that is easier to consume.

Senior Horse Eating Hay

If you do decide your senior horse needs a feed supplement or mash, it is important to feed one specifically formulated for senior horses. Just like our nutritional needs change as we age, a senior horse’s nutritional needs are going to be different than a young horse’s nutritional needs. For example, older horses actually need increased levels of amino acids in their diet compared with younger horses.

As horses age, their digestive systems become less efficient at absorbing nutrients and their bodies in general become less efficient at utilizing what is absorbed. This is why supplemental senior feeds and mashes can be a good option for older horses. They provide an efficient way to get a high amount of nutrients to your senior horse regularly, ensuring you’re meeting their nutritional needs.

As winter approaches, it is particularly important to re-evaluate your senior horse’s nutrition program and his body condition. The cold weather can be much more difficult for an older horse to deal with compared with a younger horse.

I often recommend getting senior horses just slightly over their ideal weight before winter. That way if they do start to struggle in the colder weather, you have a small buffer available while you figure out what diet changes need to happen to keep your horse at a healthy weight. Getting a senior horse back into the right body condition often takes longer than it does for a younger horse.

Nutrition for senior horses can be more involved than nutrition for a younger horse, but once you figure out your horse’s needs, it shouldn’t be hard to keep him healthy and happy!

Alli Kelley is the author of the blog, Longbourn Farm where she tells entertaining stories about country living while making sure her readers get all the important information they need for taking care of their horses and properties. She earned a BS in animal, dairy, and veterinary science and a MS in animal nutrition. Her education and experience give her a qualified and unique teaching style whether she is talking horses, land, or food. You can follow Alli on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.

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