Equine nutritionist Fiona Watkins gives her advice on the nutritional challenges faced by senior horses:
In general terms, older horses typically require the following:
Highly nutritional and tasty rations
The most common feeding issue for veteran equines is weight loss, and in most cases, this is due to poor dental function. Dietary fibre should be supplemented as most adult horses obtain the majority of their nutrients from hay or grass. Elderly horses have reduced digestive efficiency therefore all feeds should also be highly digestible.
Higher levels of good quality protein
An average working horse requires about 10% protein in their diet. The older horse requires between 12-14% in order to maintain muscle and body condition. Older horses can often have reduced absorptive ability so having a good essential amino acid profile is equally important.
Higher levels of phosphorus
Phosphorus retention is reduced in a veteran horse, mainly through a reduction in fibre digestion.
Many older horses are also prone to laminitis (an inflammatory condition affecting the foot) and Cushing’s Disease which can cause muscle wastage, increased thirst and lethargy. Fiona suggests that horses suffering from either condition should receive a high fibre, low starch and sugar diet and it is important to regularly monitor their body condition.