I worry about my older horse in the winter. What should I watch for?

Seasonal weather changes may have an overall stress effect on the older horse. It is important to be attentive to these changes and minimize their effect on the older horse if possible. Some suggestions include:


  • Increase amount of high-quality feeds(especially energy content to maintain heat)
  • Provide shelter horses can tolerate an incredible amount of cold so long as they can get in out of the wind and stay dry
  • Blanket if necessary, some shivering is normal but if it persists check the horse's temperature. If the temp is less than 99.0 F., the horse may be developing hypothermia
  • Provide ice-free or warmed water
  • Watch for aggravation of arthritic conditions


  • Avoid dusty enclosed areas
  • Fly masks to minimize insect irritation, an open shelter will provide shade, good ventilation and many species of flies will not attach under a roof
  • Clean, fresh water
  • Free access to electrolytes
  • Shelter from cold, windy rain

Do older horses need any special care?

Yes. Older horses in their late teens and early twenties begin experiencing unique problems and "special needs". They show particular signs of aging and a reduced level of activity. Most horses age gracefully, as do people, but they do require additional nutritional and health care considerations.

University research and clinical experience has revealed a variety of problems associated with the older horse. These include dental concerns, allergic respiratory disease, declining body condition/hair coat, aging bones/joints, anemia, metabolic/hormonal imbalances, susceptibility to infectious diseases, and reduced digestive efficiency (by as much as 20%).

It will require special care and proper nutrition to maintain optimal health of your older horse. It is important to develop a well-planned management program that includes regular dental and hoof care. This program should be tailored to the age, physical condition, and general health of your horse. Call us with specific concerns about your geriatric horse, and we'll help you with the best plan.

What routine maintenance does an older horse require?

Annual preventive veterinary medical care should be incorporated into a complete program of older horse care. The program should include:

  • Routine deworming and vaccination program
  • Dental checkup at least once a year
  • Yearly examination for muscle or skeletal problems
  • Yearly blood profile for anemia and organ function
  • Quick attention to illness or injury

My old horse is getting the same amount of feed as my other horses and yet seems to be losing weight.

Nutrition and poor digestion are a major concern to the older horse. High quality feed or feeds specifically designed for the older horse are necessary to meet requirements. Some management areas that may be of concern to minimize digestive disorders may be

  • Feed older horses more often (3-4 times/day) and seperate them from other horses if possible. Sometimes the older horse simply needs more time to finish his food before his pasture mates decide it is time for him to share. 
  • Change diets gradually
  • Feed pelleted, extruded or mash rations if dental problems exist
  • Increase feed as needs arise winter, disease, exercise, etc.
  • High quality pasture and hay

Many older horses suffer respiratory problems that can contribute to weight loss or failure to gain weight. These problems can be reduced by:

  • Providing adequate ventilation in stalls and barns
  • Avoiding dusty moldy feeds-Identifying and minimizing exposure to allergens (pasture, pollens, dust)
  • Contacting your veterinarian to determine the cause of the problem (infection, allergic, chronic obstructive disease)

I see a lot of older horses with arthritis, what can I do to help my old guy stay sound?

Lameness and the inability to move around comfortably is a definite concern in older horses. This can be caused by general "wear and tear", hoof conditions, nutritional/metabolic concerns, environment or deteriorating health. Some suggestions which may minimize lameness are: 

  • Avoid overweight animals (puts added stress on bones, tendons, ligaments, and may predispose to laminitis)
  • Provide moderate, regular, forced exercise on good footing
  • Provide routine farrier care
  • Provide diet with adequate protein, energy, and mineral

What tips do you have for caring for my old horse?

10 Tips for Caring for the Older Horse

Because of advances in nutrition, management and health care, horses are living longer, more useful lives. It’s not uncommon to find horses and ponies living well into their 20s and 30s. While genetics play a role in determining life span, you too, can have an impact.
You may think that turning your old-timer out to pasture is the kindest form of retirement. But horses are individuals. Some enjoy being idle; others prefer to be a part of the action. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the horse. Proper nutrition, care and exercise will help the animal thrive. Follow these guidelines to develop a total management plan for your older horse:

1. Observe your horse on a regular basis. Watch for changes in body condition, behavior and attitude. Address problems, even seemingly minor ones, right away.
2. Feed a high quality diet. Avoid dusty and moldy feeds.
3. Feed your older horse away from younger, more aggressive ones so it won’t have to compete for feed.
4. Feed at more frequent intervals so as not to upset the digestive system. Two-three times daily is best.
5. Provide plenty of fresh, clean, tepid water. Excessively cold water reduces consumption which can lead to colic and other problems.
6. Adjust and balance rations to maintain proper body conditions. A good rule of thumb is to be
able to feel the ribs but not see them.
7. Provide adequate, appropriate exercise to maintain muscle tone, flexibility and mobility.
8. Groom your horse frequently to promote circulation and skin health.
9. Be aware that older horses are prone to tumors. Look for any unusual lumps or growths from head to tail as well as beneath the tail (especially on gray horses).
10. Schedule routine checkups with your equine veterinarian. Call immediately if you suspect a problem.

A quick response to ailments, injuries or a decline in fitness can keep your older horse from having a serious or prolonged setback. That means less worry for you and a better quality of life for your old friend.

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