Saturday, December 30, 2017

Old Horses

2018 is finally here!

I always seem to do better on even numbered years. I'm hopeful this year will be great for all of my horse loving friends out there as well. The Economy seems to be doing well, the stock market is going up, people are going to be able to purchase homes or maybe even some acreage. The hit to the horse purchasing market may relax a little bit too, hopefully making the number of first time owners rise.

This post is for those first time owners that perhaps have gotten an older horse to begin with. It could also be for owners whose first time- soul, heart, forever horses are now going into their teens ( or older). As usual I am choosing this subject because it is one close to my own heart. This time it is because I have an owner in my barn that is pretty clueless.

A pretty little mare came into the barn about three months ago,the owner says she is about 30. She ( the owner who I will call Emma- cuz Emma was also Clueless) thought the horse was 'a little on the thin side.' She was thinking she would have to put her down soon.

The horse was a walking skeleton. She had been turned out with 50 other horses in very steep pastures. Of course she was the bottom of the pecking order when the hay was thrown in at the gate once a day ( if that).  Emma  finally decided to bring the horses in for the winter. We asked that she bring in a vet to check the horse. She kept putting it off. We noticed that the horse was quidding. Then the poor mare had a choke episode. The owner didn't think it was all that bad- but after much insisting, Emma had the Vet out. Guess what? Horse had very few teeth left. Now that mare is fed a good 8 lbs of soaked pellets, beet pulp and Senior twice a day. She has regained her weight and her strength. She may live another 3-5 years if she stays with us.

To my way of thinking, putting an older horse out in steep, eaten down pastures and only feeding them once a day is akin to putting your mother in a very bad nursing home. Of course if you have a nice rolling, pasture, with a few other horses- that would be the perfect scenario. Unfortunately here in my little corner of the world, flat acres are almost impossible to find or afford.

There are a few basics to caring for the older, senior horse. I myself am now a 'senior' and I can relate to some of these issues myself! As long as your horse is healthy there is no reason not to ride them.

According to The Horse 20% of horses in the USA as over 20 years old. I can remember when a horse that had reached the ripe old age of 17 was considered old. Equines these days have the luxury of better health care, dental care and nutrition that come pre formulated. Of course most aren't being ridden hard either- another reason for longevity.

Here are my tips on keeping your Senior horse in good shape. And yes, I know age is not a disease!

1. First and foremost feed good quality, leafy forage if your horse can still chew hay. Quidding is when your horse eats the forage, but spits out large masses of un-chewed feed. Most often that is caused by a dental problem such as missing or loose teeth. Look for senior feeds to give your horse instead. It may take a bit more time to soak his mash, but the results are miraculous. Even older horses with perfect teeth will benefit from the Senior feeds that can provide vitamins and minerals that an older body just does not produce any longer. Just be sure you are feeding the correct amounts( check the bag- it's usually spelled out there pretty well). As a general rule horses should eat about 2% of their weight twice a day. (Or about 12-15 lbs of forage split into two or three feedings). Again, it depends on how hard your horse is worked, if he is a pasture pet, or just walked... use your heads people!

2. Have your horses teeth checked yearly for such problems. Even if you aren't riding your horse, their teeth still will grow and be ground down by the chewing actions. Hooks, points, waves, missing and loose teeth can all be addressed by a - and I can't stress this enough- a REPUTABLE EQUINE DENTIST OR VET. I have seen what some un- qualified dental ' tooth fairies" have done to older horses. (((SHUDDER)))! This is one area where you do NOT want to cheap out. Work an extra job- deliver newspapers, sell your firearms or shoes- but get those teeth done if you want your horse to have a long happy life.

3. Don't over feed your horse ( WHAT? Is there such a thing?) An obese horse has a hard time with joint pain, arthritis, cushings and other diseases. Figure what your horses optimum weight should be for his breed and height and work toward that goal.

4. Here is where a lot of people might disagree with me- and that is your right, cuz this is  'Merica- Keep your older horse sheltered or blanketed. A horse keeps warm is a few ways- shivering ( not a dirty word) is one way. A young healthy horse will use a lot of energy shivering to keep warm- think how the reserves of an older horse will be compromised by the same action. Why make them go through that? If your horse has good weight, has a bit of shelter to keep the wind from getting under his coat, if he isn't in a freezing pasture, and you can bring him in or monitor his temps- then by all means - don't blanket. If he has any issues- blanket. I love a good cozy blanket when the weather gets nasty, don't you? Technology has made some incredible fabrics- waterproof, windproof and colorful. Give your horse that technology in his waning days. He's earned it.

5. On the other hand- do not put your old guy out in pasture with a thin cotton sheet, or a non waterproof windproof blanket. Having the damp or wet fabric against his skin stops his own natural ability to keep warm.

6. Maintain regular Vet checks. Your Vet will know what signs of old age might be becoming an issue for your oldster. And having your Vet do regular checks on your horse will ensure you will be able to do the right thing when it comes to the Final Goodbye. In other words, hopefully your horse will have lived out his life to its maximum capacity and you can rest easy knowing that you did everything you were capable of doing before your equine friend crossed that Rainbow Bridge. And really- isn't that what it is all about?