Help Your Senior Horse Weather the Winter
There’s something special about the relationship you have with your senior horse. That partnership that’s endured years, tears, ups, and downs. You probably know your horse better than you know your best friend.
While he may seem like the same old horse, his needs are changing as he ages. Cold weather can be especially challenging for senior horses, so it’s important to make sure he’s getting the care and support he needs even if he’s weathered previous winters without any trouble.
How old is a senior?
We all know the saying “you’re only as old as you feel.” Turns out it’s as true for our horses as it is for us. While some horses may be starting to slow down at 15, others are still fresh and frisky well into their 20s. No matter what your horse’s chronological age, if he’s starting to show signs of aging such as stiffness, difficulty maintaining weight, or decreased immune response, it’s time to start thinking of him as a senior.
Fortunately, senior horse care has advanced significantly in recent years. Just because your horse is getting older doesn’t mean you need to “put him out to pasture.” You can keep your golden oldie going strong with smart care and good nutrition, including the right supplements.
One of the best ways to help your senior start winter off right is by making sure he’s at a healthy weight from the start. Experts recommend that senior horses get two physical exams each year, so your horse’s fall physical is a great time to ask your veterinarian to show you how to evaluate his body condition. Once you know his body condition score, you can consider whether you need to make any adjustments to his diet now.
It’s also important to monitor your horse’s teeth. If your horse can’t chew properly, he’s not going to receive the full benefit of the food you’re providing. That means wasted calories and wasted nutrients, and a horse whose diet isn’t meeting his needs. Every horse needs an annual dental exam, and seniors may need one twice a year. Schedule a dental exam now to ensure that your horse’s teeth are in top shape when winter comes.
Next, be sure to evaluate your horse’s serving of forage. As with any horse, he should be eating 1-2% of his body weight in roughage every day, so weigh a serving of his hay to ensure that you’re supplying enough to meet his daily forage requirements. When evaluating your horse’s daily serving of hay, keep in mind that horses burn more calories in the winter staying warm. Your horse’s body ferments roughage in the hindgut, which creates heat that helps keep him warm from the inside. Even if he’s getting 1–2% of his body weight in forage already, an increase in hay may be warranted to make up for what he’s using to maintain his core temperature. This is especially true for older horses because they lose digestive efficiency as they age, so your senior may not be able to digest and utilize his hay as well as he used to.
Finally, consider whether you’re going to blanket your horse this year. Even if you didn’t blanket him when he was younger, it may be a smart choice to start now that he’s a senior since older horses may have more trouble regulating their body temperature. Some older horses can benefit from the warmth and protection from the elements that blankets provide. Just don’t forget to remove the blankets for regular inspection of your horse’s skin and body condition, and to give him a good grooming!
Consider supplemental support
Many senior horses may benefit from the daily, ongoing support that supplements provide, especially during the winter months. The following are popular areas of support to consider for your senior.
Years of traveling, training, and competing can really take a toll on joints, and some horse owners find that their horses experience stiffness and discomfort during colder weather. Making sure your horse moves every day is one of the best ways to ward off stiffness, but adding a supplement like SmartFlex® Senior Pellets may also help support joint health and ease the discomfort associated with aging.
Your senior horse’s immune system may not work as well as it used to. A healthy immune system is necessary for your horse to withstand stress in the environment, and a less efficient immune system means that seniors may be at risk. To make sure your horse’s immune system is ready to take on the stress of winter, consider adding an immune supplement to his program. Supplements like SmartImmune™ Pellets provide potent antioxidants and other ingredients to help support healthy immune function.
If your senior struggles to maintain adequate weight throughout the winter, talk to your veterinarian to make sure there’s not an underlying medical issue. If he still needs extra support after you’ve ruled out health issues and evaluated his diet, you may want to try adding a weight gain supplement. For a comprehensive approach to weight gain, consider SmartGain™. This formula provides a cool source of calories from healthy fats, amino acids for lean muscle development, and key ingredients for digestive health to help your horse maintain a healthy body condition. Additionally, a supplement that provides daily digestive support, like SmartDigest® Ultra, is a smart way to help ensure your senior is able to fully digest and utilize all his feed.
Go forth and conquer the cold
By using these tips together with the expert advice of your veterinarian and barn manager, you can ensure you’re providing your senior horse with the support he needs to stay happy and healthy all winter long.