Caring for Senior Horses

Childhood Dreams to Adult Responsibility

I remember the first time I met Copper, as a completely horse-crazy pre-teen. He was this sassy little four-year old that came as a package deal to a far more seasoned horse. My first thought for Copper was “no way, not MY horse”.

After several years on the farm, I was tasked with continuing his training to help family, and soon discovered an honest and willing partner. We both just needed time to mature and to realize what a cool team we could make! Who would have thought the horse I didn’t want as a kid, would become the horse I would never sell?

We had shown Dressage for years, dabbled in several other disciplines (to be honest we weren’t amazing in any of them, be he was always willing to let me try it out) and found our way to many fun trails. Not bad for a little Quarter Horse!

Cherokee was my “step-up” horse that came into my life about the same time I realized Copper and I were pretty good teammates. Life changes had us part ways for nearly ten years, but in February of 2019, he came back to me to live out his years. While he is twenty-four years young, he’s not the spry teenager he once was.

The dreaded grey horse – surprisingly, Dream Scout “Cherokee” isn’t THAT hard to keep clean! He once had a dark grey mane and tail with deep dapples – now he’s almost completely light grey!

Both of these horses played a pivotal role in my childhood, shaping me into the Equestrian I am today. It is both an honor and a privilege to care for them as they continue aging into their senior years.

Easing Into the Older Years

I have been able to watch Copper as he ages. It hasn’t been sudden or abrupt – it has been gradual changes through the years. It was in the moments of hearing clicking joints, feeling him take longer to warm up, and noticing he doesn’t keep muscle tone over the winter like he used to, that I learned I needed to adjust with him.

Cherokee’s changes were a little bit harder for me to experience. When came back into my care, he needed improvement. I immediately worked on bringing him back to his former shine, which included dental care, complete nutrition and building his fitness. I discovered along the way, that senior health care can be improved dramatically with a few key factors.

Mobility

All horses need to be able to stretch out, not just seniors. Older horses might be a little slower out of the stall, but to keep them in great health, the need that fresh air and movement! The mantra “use is or lose it” applies here. While I don’t ride intense workouts like I used to, I try to keep Copper and Cherokee in motion daily from turnout in their winter paddock, as well as turnout in a large field for them to run, hand grazing or riding. It’s harder to accomplish in the rainy season – but it truly helps their body and mind.

What a difference Mega-Flx has made – I like that it’s extremely palatable, both horses eat it eagerly.

I help combat the joint discomfort by feeding Spectra’s Mega-Flx to both horses to help with their joints and mobility. Mega-Flx helps reduce inflammation and provides key amino acids, MSM and HA.

Blanketing and Coat Growth

A heated topic among equestrians  is often whether or not to blanket. With blanketing, there is no “one size fits all” method. Some older horses grow glorious coats, while others may need the additional help to maintain their weight and not use up their calories trying to stay warm. This year has been a disaster for coat growth – our temperatures have been so unpredictable and unseasonably warm, so neither Copper nor Cherokee grew a heavy coat. While they are in excellent weight, I don’t feel comfortable letting them go out “naked” on really cold, windy or heavy rainfall/snowfall days. They are turned out for twelve hours a day, without a run-in, so they usually need an extra layer of protection.

The Country Pride 1680D Rainier Heavyweight Turnout Blanket is perfect for the occasional blizzard in Northeast Ohio! I have four blankets of varying insulation per horse so I can rotate depending on the weather – always pay attention, especially if the weather changes often!

I use a rain sheet for the chilly days and light rain when I need just a protective shell (usually anything with rain under 45°F). I go for a midweight like the Arctic Breeze when I need some warmth (usually days between 20°-30°F) and a heavyweight turnout blanket for really cold and wet days (under 20°). The forecast always plays an important role each morning, determining if they need a blanket, sheet, or can go au naturale!

Nutrition

One of the most important factors for keeping a senior horse healthy, is their ability to eat and utilize their food. First and foremost, teeth should be checked regularly. While I check their mouths often, I also schedule a dental float with my veterinarian annually to keep them in tip top shape.

I first soak alfalfa cubes (I usually refill the bucket after the prior feeding and let it soak overnight/during the day), add beet pulp, weigh their grain, then finally top dress with their supplements. I soak the entire bucket in hot water for a couple of minutes – then feed. They love their grain mashes!

I provide 24/7 access to quality hay, but Cherokee has started quidding more frequently (chewing up hay bits then spitting them out) as he loses more teeth. To supply him with the calories he loses from quidding, I have added soaked alfalfa cubes and beet pulp to his morning and evening rations. Both horses are fed Buckeye Nutrition grain for a complete diet. Copper eats Gro N Win in the Spring/Summer months and transitions to Safe N Easy in the colder months for extra nutritional support. Cherokee has maintained beautifully on EQ8 Senior; he used to have loose stool, but the probiotics along with added beet pulp has balanced him out! 

I have recently added dac E Natural to help with muscle support and topline for Cherokee and dac Oil to both of their diets for the Omega 3 benefits. I’m already seeing some filling in Cherokee’s hindquarters – I can’t wait to see more improvement!

Final Words

It sometimes takes trial and error to find the perfect combination for your senior- but that’s okay! Start with the basics, and go from there. Just remember to be kind and forgiving as they slow down – they deserve the same dignity now as they were given in their youth.

Written by Marketing Associate, Cassie Huprich

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