As horses get older, they often start to lose weight. This could be for a range of reasons, and it can be difficult to keep them at a healthy body weight. Let’s take a look at how to put weight on a senior horse.
Trying to put weight on an older horse can be very frustrating. As horses age, their nutritional needs change and they will lose weight easily. It is vital to monitor the weight of your older horse carefully and adapt their diet if they are under or overweight.
Why Is Putting Weight On An Old Horse Necessary?
When you have a geriatric or old horse, their nutritional needs change as the body ages. This is because of degenerative changes to various body systems.
These changes happen very slowly, and you may not notice that they are happening. But over time, your horse will become less able to process nutrients efficiently. He will also have different nutritional needs to a younger or adult horse.
Horses which are aged 20 years old or more are considered to be geriatric. However, these changes may start to occur at a younger age, so it is important to monitor your horse’s weight carefully throughout their lifetime. Being overweight or underweight can cause many health problems in horses of any age.
As a horse becomes older, there are three key factors that can alter their ability to put on weight:
- Dental Changes
As a horse ages, their teeth will become worn and may even fall out. This makes it difficult to chew fibrous food such as hay and grass. Food which is not chewed adequately is difficult to digest, causing the horse to lose weight.
- Digestion Changes
During the geriatric years, the body becomes less efficient at processing food. This means that the horse may be eating the same amount of food, but it gets fewer calories when it is digested.
- Age-Related Diseases
Older horses are more likely to develop age-related diseases which can cause weight loss. One of these is Cushing’s Disease, which causes a loss of muscle mass. Older horses may also become less mobile, reducing their ability to find food.
When To Start Putting Weight On An Older Horse
The best way to judge when to put weight on a senior horse is by assessing its body condition score.
This is a method which helps you to determine if your horse is the right weight. It does not give you the actual weight of your horse but assesses if they need to lose some weight or if you need to give some extra feed.
Body condition scoring works by comparing different parts of the horse’s body to a chart. The shape of each part is given a score, and the overall score is then added up to give a final figure. This figure tells you if your horse is underweight, overweight, or just right!
For example, as part of the body condition score assessment, you would look at your horse’s rump. In overweight horses, the rump will be apple-shaped, with a gulley down the spine. If your horse is underweight horse the rump will dip inwards, with spine protruding upwards.
It is completely normal for a horse’s weight to fluctuate through the seasons. In the wild, a horse will put on weight over the warm summer months and lose it again over the colder winter. So don’t panic if your older horse looks a little bit thinner towards the end of winter, as the spring grass should soon help him to put some weight on again.
How To Put Weight On A Senior Horse
If your elderly horse has a lower-body condition score, you will want to start thinking about putting a bit of extra weight on him. There are two factors to consider here – how much energy your horse uses, and how much he consumes.
One of the easiest ways to put weight on a senior horse is to cut down the amount of energy they use each day. Horses use a huge amount of energy keeping warm, so make sure your geriatric horse has plenty of rugs and blankets during the winter. Keep him inside during colder weather and provide a deep, comfy bed in the barn.
Cutting down the distance your horse must travel to find food is a good way to reduce their energy needs. Don’t expect your older horse to forage for grass on low-quality grazing land. Provide hay and feed stations around the paddock to make it easy for him to find food.
To increase your horse’s energy intake, you could just simply increase the amount of food you are giving him. This will work for many horses and may well be enough to help your old horse to put on weight.
If this is not working, then you need to look at higher-energy feeds to add more calories to your horse’s diet. This could include adding in oils, sugar beet, or alfalfa.
How To Put Weight On An Older Horse With Bad Teeth
When an elderly horse has bad or missing teeth, it will struggle to eat fibrous foods like hay and haylage. If this is the case for your horse, you will need to add in foods which are easier to chew and digest.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to give chopped hay, also called chaff, in large amounts. Dampen this with water to make it easier to chew and reduce the risk of choke. You can also feed a fiber-replacer mash or add vegetable oil or sugar beet to the feed.
So, as we’ve learned, keeping a senior horse at the right weight can be tricky. It is important to get the balance right, so your horse gets enough nutrition to maintain a healthy weight.
The key to success is to monitor your horse’s weight regularly and make small changes whenever your horse loses or puts on weight. Follow our guide to putting weight on an older horse to keep you on the right track!
Do you have any questions about how to put weight on a senior horse? Or maybe you’ve got a great suggestion for how to put weight on an older horse? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!