All horses need adequate nutrition and a balance of proper nutrients, and this is especially true in older horses that may have dental issues or less ability to absorb nutrients due to less efficient digestion.
As Tia Nelson, a veterinarian who also owns horses near Helena, Montana, pointed out, nutrition affects many aspects of horse care and health, including body condition, the immune system, and whether the horse can stay active and fit for his job. Nutrition for the older horse may involve special feeds and supplements; in addition, it’s important to ensure the feed is something the horse can readily eat if he has dental issues. What you feed him may also vary depending on whether or not he has endocrine problems.
All aspects of care are interrelated. “I use the analogy of a spider’s web; no one part is isolated from the rest. It’s all connected; what happens on one side of it affects the whole web. You need to pay attention to nutrition and body condition and watch for endocrine issues and metabolic problems that are common in older horses,” she said.
“Most of the issues we see with older horses are interconnected and overlap. If all of the issues and aspects of older horse care are paid attention to and addressed, you will have better results long-term in keeping that horse healthy than if you focus mainly on just one or two aspects and ignore the others,” Nelson said.
There are many good senior feeds that are easier for a horse to eat if his teeth are bad, and these feeds also contain a good balance of nutrients for the older horse. “Some of them contain things like glucosamine to help support joint health. My 34-year-old mare gets an equine senior feed plus a complete feed, and it is all watered down into a mash because she loves her food and if she eats too fast, she chokes. Thus, she gets most of her calories in kind of a ‘milkshake,’ though she also still eats hay and pasture grass and does well with that,” said Nelson.