Nutrition support for senior horses

August 2, 2022
Aging horses require diets higher in fat and fiber to maintain performance. CHS animal nutrition consultant, Crystal White, shares tips to help senior horses thrive.

As horses age, their nutrition and basic health needs change. Crystal White, an animal nutrition consultant with CHS, says horse owners can use management strategies to ensure senior horses get the nutrients they need to thrive.

Adapting nutritional programs for senior horses

How can you tell when it’s time to adjust your horse’s diet? White says there are several ways to evaluate a horse’s development from adult to senior. While the most obvious approach is observing the horse’s chronologic age, she says horse owners should also consider a horse’s physical function and age group to make care decisions and determine if it needs a special diet.  

 “As horses age, their bodies change. That includes their teeth, metabolism, joints and – especially important for nutrition – their hindgut. Their ability to ferment fiber in the small intestine decreases with age, making it harder for them to digest protein. Senior horses also tend to have lower body condition scores and lose muscle mass as they age.”

White says horse owners should focus on providing diets tailored to senior horses’ needs. That includes a high-quality, digestible feed high in fat and fiber that can help support the animal’s overall health.  To maintain a horse’s weight as it gets older, consider adding a high-quality fat source to the diet, such as rice bran, White says, to help improve body condition scores and maintain weight.

What to feed when hay supply is limited

Securing quality hay to support a senior horse’s diet has been made difficult by drought conditions across the country. “Because 95% of a horse’s diet is long-stem fiber, drought conditions will affect the feeding program,” says White. “Horse owners can use a high-quality digestible shredded or pelleted fiber source, such as alfalfa, to supplement the diet if they can’t get high-quality hay.”

Keep aging horses healthy

A horse’s overall performance will depend on many variables, including genetics, management, health, environment and nutrition. White says a holistic management approach is needed as animals age to support their well-being. “Ensure horses get their teeth floated regularly to support healthy eating habits. An effective deworming program can help prevent health issues in aging horses. Finally, have your animals evaluated regularly and maintain basic care regimens, like periodic foot trims,” says White.