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Supplements and Feeds for Senior Horses

I run barrels and ride a 14yr. old mare, she will be 15 next month. Should I put her on any certain supplements or a senior feed? All she gets now is a 12-4 pellet feed. She is doing ok right now, but does have days where she acts stiff or sore in her hind legs. – CG

Dear CG,
Unfortunately, there is no consensus among experts about what constitutes a “senior” horse—some say 15 years, some say 20. Most agree, however, that it is not based on chronological age but on physiological age. That is, the age at which physiological functions like digestive efficiency and immune status begin to decline. Therefore, you and your veterinarian must work together to determine if your mare is aging well (looks and acts like a horse under 10) or aging poorly (looks and acts like a horse over 20). A horse that is “showing its age” may have a poor quality hair coat, reduced activity and muscle loss especially over the topline.
If this describes your horse, then it may be time to gradually switch to a commercial senior feed, which has high-quality, easy-to-digest protein, increased amounts of certain nutrients (like B vitamins and Vitamin C), and reduced amounts of other nutrients like phosphorus. Some owners like to add direct-fed microbials (probiotics) to their senior horse’s diet to help maintain normal intestinal function. Of course, high-quality hay is still an important part of your horse’s ration, as long as she can safely chew it. As horses get into their teens and twenties, I generally recommend increasing the frequency of dental examinations to twice a year instead of just once, to catch problems earlier.
And while a horse her age in her line of work certainly may be experiencing “wear and tear” of her joints, there may be other reasons for her to be stiff and sore in the hind. I recommend you have your veterinarian examine her and provide you with an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan that may include an oral joint supplement as well as prescription medications and specific management suggestions.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

Posted in Ask the Vet, Nutrition

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6 comments on “Supplements and Feeds for Senior Horses
  1. Victoria Bailey says:

    I have a soon to be sixteen year old Arabian that is worked everyday and gets three quarts of Purina senior feed with free choice grass/hay. She is a good weight but is starting to lose a bit of her topline and her joints (leg) will pop sometimes. I was wondering what supplement you would recommended to help keep her healthy since she is getting older.

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Victoria, it’s great that you’re continuing to evaluate your horses needs as she ages. Because you’re starting to see some changes in her appearance, I would encourage you to loop your veterinarian in on the conversation and consider reevaluating her diet. I’ve included a couple additional blog articles below which are excellent tools. You may find that there are some dietary adjustments you could make to help support her overall condition, including healthy muscle across the topline. You could also consider a supplement that provides quality protein in the form of specific amino acids like lysine, methionine, and threonine, designed to support healthy muscle development. – Dr. Lydia Gray

      Is Your Horse’s Diet Coming Up Short

  2. Kathey Tonnacliff says:

    I have a TB gelding that is 33+ years old and in amazing condition. I’ve used SmartPaks since we first got him and I know they have contributed to his good health!

  3. Doug says:

    I hVE A 25 YEAR OLD ARABIAN AND SHE IS STARTIING TO LOSE WEIGHT where her ribs are showing I feed her alfalfa and she grazes in a field how can I put weight back on her

  4. Terri DelVicario says:

    I am truly sorry, but I need to stop my order of Ultra Calm. After using it for several months, it has not changed one thing on my mares behavior. I thank all those who have been involved in my horses experience with Smartpakequine. If it should come up again that I need assistance with something , I will not hesitate to restart my service again. That so south to all the folks at Smartpackequine!!! : ) < 3

  5. Debbie Fowler says:

    I have a 29yr old quarter horse made that I cannot get ANY at on her. I’m getting very concerned because she frequently urinates & now seems to be having episodes of tying up & even though she’s drinking 20-30gallons of water a day she’s sunk in& it seems her hind qtr muscles are “Wasting Away”! Any Suggestions, Please Advise Me!

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