Without doubt today horses and ponies are living longer and into a ripe old age with many looking fit and well into their 30s.
Thanks to expert nutrition knowledge, advancements in the veterinary world and technological improvements horses and ponies are being ridden and competed for longer than ever before.
Dependent upon breed, size, level of care and welfare, horses and ponies will show signs of aging at varying levels and degrees, and it is really down to the owner’s knowledge and experience at what point they class them as a veteran.
When looking at feeding the older horse and pony quality forage is key and should be the most important part of their diet ensuring the very best digestive health.
As horses and ponies become older they can start to struggle with chewing fibre and this needs to be taken into consideration.
Look for short fibre chops or pelleted fibre that can be soaked and made into a mash as well as soluble fibres such as unmolassed beet pulp.
All of these are much easier to chew and digest while helping to add calories that are essential for the older equine and which may be lost through less efficient chewing and digestion.
A common theme with veterans that can be seen in many is weight loss and owners need to be vigilant for any dramatic changes in condition.
With this in mind many veteran specific feeds, are higher in calories in order to help them gain weight and maintain a good all round covering.
Those horses and ponies that have been good-doers all their lives will often maintain weight easily and there may be cases where a veteran feed that is lower in calories will suit them better.
For older horses and ponies that are in regular work and require more condition, these can benefit from controlled levels of starch in their feed as this will add calories.
However it is important that the cereals are micronized for optimum digestibility as this is very important for older equines to receive everything they can from their feed.
Veteran feeds should always be low in sugar and starch to help prevent the occurrence of laminitis or colic.
It is important as an owner to do everything you can to keep such conditions at bay in the first place otherwise long term management to control the ailments will have to be considered.
As with humans, protein supply to veteran horses and ponies is also key as muscle wastage and loss can become an issue, and the ability to digest protein becomes more difficult in advancing years.
A feed with a protein level of 12 to 14% will ensure their needs are met whatever the activity undertaken.
Ensuring your older horse or pony has access to water 24 hours a day goes without saying and similarly feeds that can be soaked are very beneficial in helping them with water intake and hydration.
By using warm water this releases flavours from the feed which will also help in cases of fussy feeders who may need a little more encouragement to eat.
A top tip is to add tasty apples to your horse or ponies water to encourage them to drink and keep their hydration in good health.
Assisting with your horse and ponies digestion is important as they get older and this can be helped with yeast cultures in the diet to enhance fibre fermentation in the hindgut.
It may be worth considering a visit from your equine dentist every six months and also look at body condition scoring, as well as the use of a weigh tape, as these are useful when monitoring the condition of your veteran.
We all understand that with age there is an increased occurrence of medical issues, which can be made worse by the horse’s diet.
A horse with liver problems will require a low protein diet as this will help to reduce any strain placed on an already damaged organ.
For overall health and wellbeing it is key that any veterinary issues are taken into account so that the diet fits the requirements of the whole horse and not just when looking at issues in relation to their age.
Consult your vet for veterinary advice & contact the British Horse Feeds team for feed advice.
Read more about our feeds here.