Last Updated on September 27, 2021
Do you have a young horse that behaves like an old man? Or a geriatric pony that leaps around like a youngster? It can be handy to know how old a horse is for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a look at how to tell how old a horse is.
Trying to tell the age of a horse can be very frustrating. Many horses have a passport that tells you the year they were born, but how do you know this is accurate? You might have many reasons for wanting to know a horse’s age, and we’ve got everything you need to know right here!
Why Would You Need To Know A Horse’s Age?
It is important that we can tell how old a horse is for a variety of reasons. The first of these is that it is just nice to know how old our equine friend is!
We also need to know a horse’s age so we can look after it appropriately. Young and older horses have very different nutritional and care needs compared to adult horses.
The age of a horse also helps us to decide how much work and exercise that horse is capable of doing. Young horses can easily be injured if they are asked to run too fast or jump too high. Older horses may be becoming physically weaker and will need their exercise regime reducing.
When buying a horse, it is important to check the age of the horse. Some unscrupulous sellers may try to say that a horse is younger or older than it really is. If you know how to tell how old a horse is then you can check for yourself that they are telling the truth!
How Easy Is It To Tell A Horse’s Age?
Luckily, in modern times it has become much more commonplace for horses to be issued with a passport and microchip at birth. In fact, in some countries such as the UK, this is now mandatory. This means that there is a permanent record of the date of birth of the horse, and it is easy to tell the horse’s age from this.
However, there are still plenty of horses without a passport or microchip, particularly older equines. Also, some horse passports were issued several years after the horse was born, meaning the date of birth cannot be verified. In these cases, the age in the passport is often just a guess, and the horse may be younger or older.
So, what do we do if we have a horse with an inaccurate passport or no passport at all? Is it easy to tell a horse’s age using any other method?
The most accurate way to tell a horse’s age is by looking at its teeth. It might sound a bit odd, but this is a tried and tested method which has been used for centuries! Let’s take a look at how aging a horse by its teeth works.
How Can You Tell How Old A Horse Is?
When assessing the age of a horse by its teeth, the normal place to start is by looking at the incisors. These are the sharp teeth at the front of the mouth, used for grabbing and tearing off grass and hay.
To look at the incisors, you will need to hold an arm around the horse’s nose, and gently pull the lower lip downwards. This will help you to get a good look at the horse’s lower incisors.
Dental Float Rasp Adjustable Straight Angled Doubled Veterinary Horse Instruments
If you have never done this before, make sure that you ask a more experienced horseperson to show you. Your horse may not like having his mouth looked at, so take care not to get bitten or headbutted. As always, you should be wearing a safety hat and gloves when handling a horse.
There are three things to look at when estimating the age of a horse by its teeth:
When a horse is young, it will lose its baby teeth, also known as deciduous teeth, over a few years. These will be replaced by erupting permanent teeth, also known as secondary teeth.
As these teeth tend to erupt at similar times in most horses, we can tell the age of a younger horse by whether they have erupted or not.
Up to the age of 11 years, the surface of a horse’s incisors will be a neat, rounded oval shape. As time goes by the shape of these will change, firstly to a triangular shape and then a rectangular shape.
For this, you need to look at the biting surface of the tooth. In the center of the tooth is a cup, which wears down over the years. If your horse has a clear cup shape to his incisors then he is quite young.
Over time, the surface of the incisors will wear away as the horse grinds its food. This causes the up to get smaller and eventually disappear. At this point, an enamel spot will be visible on the surface of the incisor – this normally happens by about 8 years of age.
As time goes by, the incisors will be worn down even further. The enamel spot will wear away, revealing something called the dental star. This first appears as a line, and will gradually change to a large, round spot.
A horse dental expert will be able to look at all these features, and use them to make an educated guess of the age of the horse. They will often use a horse dental chart to record key features, which can then be referred back to at the next dental check.
Because aging a horse by its teeth is one of those skills that is easier to learn by watching, here is a great video that explains how to tell how old a horse is!
So, as we’ve learned, finding out how old a horse is can be tricky. If you are lucky, your horse will have had a passport issued at birth, giving you a permanent and verifiable record of his age.
If not, the only other way to tell the age of a horse is by looking at its teeth. This is quite a difficult skill to learn, and it is easy to get it wrong. An experienced horse person will be able to give a fairly accurate guess of the age of a horse by assessing the teeth.
Do you have any questions about how to tell how old a horse is? Or maybe you’ve got a great suggestion for how to check the age of a horse? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then wenton to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE