Winter is always a difficult period for older horses. They lose weight quickly and are sometimes a bit stiff. As an owner, you don’t want your horse to get too thin. That is why it is wise to start with measurements on time. After all, it is much more difficult to get an older horse fatter again once it has lost weight. We give you nine top tips for keeping your older horse on weight this winter.
The exact age at which a horse falls into the ‘golden oldie’ category differs per animal. In general, you can say that you have to pay attention from about 15 years. But some horses do not show the first signs of aging until after the age of 20 and ponies sometimes take much longer before they become a little old.
Why older horses lose weight
There are several reasons why older horses are often difficult to maintain weight:
- Food absorption is less efficient
- Less ability to chew
- The muscle breakdown is faster and the protein requirement is higher
- The horse is less able to keep itself warm
- Dental problems
Tip 1: Dental check-up
In any case, make sure that your older horse is regularly checked by the dentist to avoid problems. Many older horses can no longer chew very well, which means that the roughage is processed and digested less efficiently. Chewing (with a lot of saliva) is an important first step in the digestion process. If that does not go well, the absorption of hay and other roughage is also less good.
Tip 2: Check for worms
Has your horse been dewormed recently? Or has it been a while? A worm infestation can lead to weight loss. Have the manure checked and, if necessary, treat your horse with the correct wormer. For each type of worms you need a different worm syringe. Your vet can inform you further. Do not give a preventive worm cure, only after a fertilizer control. Also pay attention to sand in the manure. Too much sand in the intestines can also cause weight loss and a poor absorption of nutrients.
Tip 3: Extra roughage for heat production
A horse needs roughage to produce heat. This takes place during the digestion of the roughage fibers in the colon. If your horse loses weight quickly in cold weather, it is a good idea to make sure that extra roughage is available. This must be good for your horse to eat and absorb. See next tip.
Tip 4: Look at other types of roughage as a supplement
In addition to hay or hay silage, it may be wise to give your horse a somewhat more easily absorbable form of roughage, especially if his teeth are no longer optimal. There are several types of complementary roughage on the market that you must soak, such as beet pulp, esparcette and fiber nuggets. You have to soak these in water. They are therefore relatively easy to absorb and contain a lot of fiber. That produces a lot of heat in the colon. Grass chunks and alfalfa (chunks), for example, can also be a good addition, whether or not soaked. When feeding alfalfa, make sure that the calcium – magnesium – phosphorus ratio does not become too skewed, alfalfa contains a relatively large amount of calcium. See also tip 6.
Tip 5 – Get enough protein and essential amino acids
An older horse can usually use a little more protein and essential amino acids than a younger horse. Proteins and amino acids are the building blocks of muscle tissue and due to poorer absorption and faster muscle breakdown, the need increases as a horse gets older. Special senior food usually contains more protein and amino acids. But you can also release these nutrients, for example in the form of pea protein and a supplement of the three main amino acids: lysine, methionine and threonine.
Tip 6 – Monitor the intake of vitamins and minerals
Not only proteins, but also many vitamins and minerals are slightly less well absorbed by horses that age. You can remedy this by giving special food for seniors, with the help of a vitamin pellet or with separate supplements. Older horses often have a higher need for zinc and selenium and are more likely to be deficient in B and K vitamins. It is important that the best ratio between the minerals calcium – magnesium – phosphorus is slightly different for older horses than for younger animals. Vitamin C is also a point of attention. Horses produce vitamin C in the body themselves, but this is no longer so easy in the body of an older horse. In a food especially for seniors, all these vitamin and mineral needs are usually taken into account.
Tip 7 – Put a blanket on your horse
A fairly easy way to support your horse is to put a blanket on him. He then has to “work” less hard to stay warm and not all the nutrition he gets is used to keep his body warm. You also prevent your horse from “burning” its muscle mass in order to stay on temperature.
Tip 8 – Keep your horse moving
Many seniors suffer from joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and often intensive driving will no longer be possible. However, keep your older horse moving. Free movement is very important anyway, so put the horse outside in the paddock or pasture. Depending on the age and condition of your horse, groundwork, walking or gentle rides can also make for a fitter and happier horse. Of course, keep an eye on whether you are not asking too much. If your horse is getting very stiff, painful or losing more weight, you may be doing too much.
Tip 9 – Useful supplements for older horses
Various supplements are interesting to support older horses. Vitamin E is good for the muscles, for example. Cannabidol can be a good support to help your horse move with joint complaints. Adding a little healthy fats to the feed can also help keep your horse weight. Salmon oil is a good source for this, for an older horse you can dose it slightly higher than for a younger animal.