How Long Do Horses Live?

How long do horses live? Sometimes horses are only with us for a few years and sometimes they are with us a lifetime.  Horses’ lifespans vary greatly and are dependent on many different factors. From ponies to drafts, different horses have characteristics that impact their longevity.  And, as their caretakers, the ways that we care for our horses also impacts the length of their lives. In this article, I will be discussing how long horses live and factors that may contribute to equine longevity.

How Long Do Horses Live?
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Average Lifespan Of A Horse

On average, horses live to be 25-30 years old.  That being said, many horses will live to be older than 35, and many horses won’t live to be 25.  Personally, I have known beloved school horses to live into their 40’s, as well as athletic jumper prospects that have tragically not made it into the double digits.  

The difference between these examples, of course, is the cause of the horse’s death.  The horses I have known that have lived into their 40’s died of old age. They were preserved and cared for extremely well, and they never had any serious health issues.  They were given supplements and wet feed for their aging teeth (the ones they still had), and they were fully retired from all riding and work.

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Sadly, not all horses get to enjoy their golden years and die far too soon.  Horses can get sick, just like people can; horses can have cancer, and they can have blood diseases.  They can also get into tragic and unpreventable accidents. Sometimes these accidents happen while the horse is being ridden, sometimes they happen out in the field.  But, sickness and tragedy prevent some horses from living out their lives fully.

Given this broad range, we come to an average of about 25-30 years for a horse’s lifespan.  Many different factors and characteristics will determine a specific horse’s estimated lifespan; these include breed, care, workload, feed, and genetics.

How Long Do Horses Live: Breeds and Age

In terms of lifespan, horses are somewhat similar to dogs; the smaller ones tend to live longer than the bigger ones.  With dogs, breeds like terriers and chihuahuas tend to live longer than breeds like labradors or shepards. With horses, pony breeds such as Shetlands and Welsh Ponies tend to live longer than larger breeds such as warmbloods and drafts. Certain breeds tend to live longer than others.

While breeding is not the only factor that contributes to a horse’s lifespan, statistics do show that it definitely contributes.  For example, two of the oldest horses recorded include Orchid, an Arabian cross who lived to be 50 years old and Rosie, a donkey who lived to be 54 years old.

Factors that Influence A Horse Lifespan

Just like in human lifespans, there are many external factors that impact equine longevity.  There are many factors outside of our control, but we, as horse owners, can also pay heed to these external factors, so that we can ensure that our equine partners are happy and healthy for as long as possible.

Care

The most important of these factors is care.  Care is an extremely broad category, and can vary depending on the discipline a horse is involved in, the conditions a horse lives in, and many other factors.  

Care involves frequency of vet checkups, use of turnout spaces and stall time or basic attention to a horse’s wellness and condition.  It can also be as simple as grooming and regular social interactions.

Factors that Influence A Horse Lifespan

Making sure a horse is cared for properly can ensure many things in regard to longevity.  To show a few examples, regular interactions with a horse will allow its caretakers to notice when something is wrong and therefore treat it efficiently.  Proper turnout and stall time will keep a horse’s circulatory system as well as muscles and joints comfortable.  

The examples could continue, but the point here is that careful attention to a horse’s condition (i.e.- “care) can increase a horse’s happy, healthy state.

Workload

A horse’s lifetime of work can also contribute to its lifespan.  There are many, many factors that must be considered when analyzing a horse’s workload.  Some of these include- how old was the horse when it was broke? How long has it been working in a certain discipline? What age was it when it was involved in that discipline? How frequently was it worked? Was it involved in competition and, if so, how rigorous and often did competitions occur?

The questions could continue, but what is important is that a horse’s owner has a firm grasp of what the horse has done in the past, and what is the best course of action for the horse’s future.  

For example, my horse is an off-the-track Thoroughbred.  He raced until he was 7 years old, which is longer than most Thoroughbreds. I started riding him when he was 11.  Between when he was 7-11, he had sat and a field and been ridden a handful of times.  

Before I started re-training him, I had my vet do an exam of his joints in order to make sure he was fit to jump.  Thankfully, he was, and he now has a new career as a jumper. But, I was aware of his history and knew that his past career could have negatively impacted his physical ability to start a new career.

How Long Do Horses Live: Workload

Being proactive about understanding your horse’s past workloads and careers can help you best prepare for his future well-being.  Taking precautions and gaining knowledge can help prevent unnecessary injuries that could impact a horse’s lifespan.

Genetics

Genetics is an external factor, but not one that we can do much about.  Similar to people, certain equine diseases and conditions are hereditary, meaning that horses can inherit them from their parents or grandparents.  

An example of this is hoof wall separation disease (HWSD).  This disease is passed from parents to foals and can cause severe deterioration of a horse’s hooves.  All the hoof strengthening pastes and supplements in the world cannot prevent a horse from having this disease.

But, understanding your horse’s genetic history can help you prepare for situations like this.  For example, sometimes HWSD doesn’t impact a horse until later in life. So, an understanding that a horse may have a limited career and may need to be retired once the condition is in full force can help the owner best care for the horse through all stages of life.

How Long Do Horses Live: Diet Quality

A horse’s diet has a huge impact on its longevity, and, thankfully, it is something that we can impact.  A healthy diet is one of the key factors to a healthy, happy horse.  Ensuring that your horse has access to the right kinds of foods, in the right amounts can significantly impact your horses’ lifespan.

Let’s start with “the right kinds of foods.”  This is obviously going to vary from horse to horse. Different feeds have different impacts on horses; some feeds are meant to help horses gain weight, some to help horses lose weight, some to help prevent conditions such as ulcers or colic, and so on.  

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If your horse is a hard keeper or is prone to ulcers, catering to those needs with relevant feed types can help prevent unnecessary health issues and conditions that can, in turn, impact longevity.

Proper Amount of Food

Next to consider is the proper amount of food.  An overweight horse can have health issues that contribute to longevity, and an underweight horse can have health issues that can contribute to longevity. Making sure that your horse is a healthy weight and is receiving the proper amount of food can increase his chances of a long happy life.

Additional elements to a horse’s diet that can be considered are supplements.  Supplements typically go into a horse’s grain or oats and can be compared to vitamins for people.  We take vitamins to help with certain issues or symptoms we may experience day-to-day. The same concept applies to a horse’s supplements.

There are supplements that serve many different purposes in a horse’s life.  For example, there are hoof supplements, joint supplements, ulcer-prevention supplements, coat health supplements, calming supplements, and many more.  While there are no “lifespan supplements,” the supplements listed can positively contribute to a horse’s well-being. This, in turn, can positively affect lifespan and longevity.

How Long Do Horses Live: Diet

Do Horses Grieve When One Dies?

Growing up I started with owning two but later turned to, anyways. Casey was my first horse, and Sheena my first show horse. They lived together for over 5 years. Shenna moved to Pebble Beach with my friend and she lived there for about 4-5 years, while Casey stayed home with me. During the goodbye, it was heartbreaking to hear them calling for one another but they were both fine shortly after. Five years later Shenna comes home, she has barely hit the driveway in the trailer and Casey starts to run and call for her, she started calling back, and I couldn’t get her out of the trailer fast enough. I put her in the paddock with him, nuzzled and nickered, it was by far the sweetest thing I have seen to this day. 

In 2008, Shenna started with her feet hurting her more causing her so much pain. She was very reluctant to stand. So on October 1st 2008 we decided that putting her down was the best thing for her. 

The Grief

Before October 1st Casey still had this youthful look and was thought to still be in his teens although he was in his late 20s. His strawberry roan coat was shiny, his eyes were bright, and he was happy, and he also kept a solid watch over Sheena when she was laying do to keep her safe. The days following Sheena’s death it was if Casey aged overnight. The brightness in his eyes faded so fast, and his coat was more and more grey and dull by the day. 

On October 15 2008 he died in my arms in the round pen at our family ranch. He was heartbroken over Shenna’s death. He knew she wasn’t just going away to a place he knew she was gone forever and I don’t think he could live without her. 

All of the horses on the ranch showed off beat behaviors when they passed as they did with all of the other horse’s death. Some of the horses were more affected by a horse passing than another. So I may not be able to back it by science but I have seen it first hand and horses to grieve, they know when things hurt, and they understand death too. 

Conclusion

The average horse lives between 25-30 years.  Some horses exceed this span, and some don’t make it that long.  Sometimes accidents happen, and sometimes horses surprise us. But, you can expect your equine friend to be around for about a third of your lifetime. 

 As horse owners, the best things we can do to ensure our horses live out all of their years happy and healthy is to keep watchful care over them and to stay informed about their lifestyles and past experiences.  I hope this article helped you better understand the equine lifespan and how it could be relevant to you and your horse. If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences!

FAQs

How Long Do Mini Horses Live?

The average lifespan of a miniature horse is anywhere from 25 - 35 years, and in some minis like the one called Angel live until the age of 50. Mini horses are generally very hardy for their small size and oftentimes live longer than larger breeds. Mini horses can live up to a third longer than a regular-sized horse.

How Long Do Quarter Horses Live?

The average lifespan of an American Quarter Horse is between 25 - 35 years of age but some can live even longer. As a result of medical advancements and veterinary care, many Quarter Horses live longer than the breed average.
Size, genetics, and how they have cared are all factors that impact the length a horse will live. A horse named Chief is the oldest Quarter Horse on record, turning 57 in 2017.

Do Horses Die of Old Age?

Old age can be a cause of death in senior horses but it is certainly not the most common. Health, environment, breed, and other parts of their genetic makeup all play a part in the longevity of the horse.
Senior horses are living to ages much higher than before and will also bring on additional responsibilities to properly care for their older bodies that may not be able to consume and process foods as they used to. With your veterinarian's suggestions a nutritional plan can be created to suit the needs of your horse and help them live longer than before.

Can Horses Sense Death?

For centuries horse trainers and many other equine professionals agreed that horses recognize the smell of death.
Death also can have a huge impact on horses, the same as how people would feel. There have not been many studies done that pertain to loss or the grieving process in horses. Some say that a horse may show signs similar to separation anxiety like separating two horses that have spent a significant amount of time living together. As I mentioned, studies on grief are not done often so I will quickly share my personal experience with death in horses and how they grieve.

What Is The Number One Cause Of Death In Horses?

Without question, colic is the top medical issue that is the cause of death in horses today. Cushing's disease, cancerous tumors, neurological disorders, lameness, and laminitis are the other top causes of death in senior horses at present time.