Optimize your old horse’s feeding plan

Here are 3 surprisingly simple ways to make sure your old horse gets the nutrition he needs.

Your horse’s nutritional needs are not likely to change much as he ages, unless his activity level or health status do. But it’s still important to pay attention to the basics. Horses of any age need ready access to clean fresh water and salt—either free choice or a block—you’ll also need to keep a close eye out for weight losses or gains, changes in condition and other signs that a dietary adjustment is needed. Of course, you’ll want to consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist before making any major changes in your horse’s diet, but in the meantime here are three feed options that can help keep aging horses in good condition.

Feed options to help older horses

Consult with your veterinarian before making changes to your older horse's feed regimen.
You’ll want to consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist before making any major changes in your horse’s diet. (Adobe Stock)

1. Easy-to-chew forages. The importance of forage in a horse’s diet doesn’t change as he ages, but his ability to chew coarse, fibrous hay or pasture grasses might. He may do better with a softer, more digestible mix. To determine whether your hay is difficult for your horse to chew, do a “grab test”: Pick up a fistful. Hay that feels soft in your hand is probably fairly digestible. If, however, you feel stems jabbing your palm, it may be time to reconsider what you’re feeding your older horse.

If your horse isn’t susceptible to choke, good-quality grass mix hay is a good choice. Chopped forages may also be beneficial, but some of those may not be digestible enough. Soaking hay or chopped hays will make it easier to swallow.

If a horse is unable to eat hay, it’s probably time to switch to a complete senior feed, which incorporates forage into a pellet or cube. As always, consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist before making significant changes in your horse’s ration.

2. Higher calorie concentrates. If your veterinarian determines that your horse needs more calories, adding or increasing a concentrate may help. Rations specially formulated for senior horses are often a good choice. Discuss your options with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist.

3. Supplements. If your horse has trouble digesting his feed, adding a vitamin and mineral supplement to his ration may help. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. In addition, your horse may benefit from supplements formulated to aid the digestive process itself. If a horse’s liver function is normal, one option is to top-dress his feed with two to four ounces of brewer’s yeast and up to one cup of vegetable oil daily. 

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