As horses and ponies get older their nutritional requirements will change both in its composition and the way in which it is presented. Charlotte Stanley BVSc MRCVS explains more.
Feeding for Digestibility
It is recommended that 1.5% of the fibre intake of the horse should equate to 1.5% of its ideal bodyweight. This is usually provided as long fibre i.e. either hay (dry or soaked) or haylage.
As dental problems in the aged horse are rife this can make chewing these long fibres quite difficult. Where dental problems have been identified, short fibre sources may be much more appropriate as less chewing is required.
In these cases grass or buckets of grass replacement (chop, readigrass, alfalfa, fibre mashes etc.) would be suitable. Feeding your horse longer fibre than it is able to digest may lead to complications such as impaction colic.
Maintaining the Muscular System
Higher protein content is also required in the form of essential amino acids. Supplying adequate protein levels helps to maintain the horse or pony’s topline and aid cell renewal into the retirement years, slowing the rate of muscle wastage.
Hay is generally poor in protein compared to haylage and alfalfa, which are much better. Where an additional top up is required commercial conditioning cubes, mixes and mashes are readily available.
Supporting the Skeletal System
As your horse and pony gets older it is likely that it will develop osteoarthritis in some of its joints. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage that lines the bones within the joint capsule is degraded, exposing the subchondral causing long term, chronic pain.
Joint supplementation can be added to maintain mobility and joint comfort in the ageing horse. There are three active components in most joint supplements, which help to encourage healthy cartilage:
- Glucosamine is the core building block of cartilage
- Chondroitin helps slow down the breakdown of cartilage
- Hyaluronic Acid is the major component of synovial fluid which lubricates the joints
There are numerous joint supplements available on the market – all of which have varying concentrations of these active ingredients. At our Markeaton practice we stock: NAF Superflex Senior, Nutraquin, NAF Glucosamine with MSM, to name a few.
Feeding for Weight
A common misconception is that older horses/ponies need to be fed more. What is more important is that (as with the rest of their life) we feed according to their body condition score BCS and measure food out based on their ideal weight, which may not be the same as their actual weight.
Older overweight ponies can be predisposed to medical conditions such as laminitis and specific types of colic. Overweight veterans should adopt a restrictive diet, just the same as their younger counterparts.
We recommend a dry matter intake of 1.5% ideal bodyweight in those horses/ponies who need to lose weight. For example, a horse with ideal bodyweight of 500kg would be allowed 7.5kg of hay per day. To ensure that they are still receiving adequate vitamins, minerals and where appropriate, supplements and medications, a senior balancer can be used.