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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
How Long Do Horses Live: 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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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!