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Older horse care

It is vital to monitor a number of issues in older horses, including health conditions and feeding habits.

Cathy Erickson loves to interact with her horse, Jesse, on her Adel, Iowa, acreage, and Jesse enjoys the attention. Just seeing her approach causes his ears to perk up. He's a great horse, strong in stature and calm in temperament. He even still enjoys going on long, exerting trail rides.

It's hard to believe Jesse is 25 years old. Many people at 25 are in the prime of their life, but for horses, 25 is equivalent to over 60 human years. And just like humans, as horses get older, they begin to need a little extra care. Jesse appreciates the impeccable attention from Erickson that keeps him going strong.

Check the teeth first

With better veterinary medicine and nutrition, horses today are living much longer than they have in the past, and it's not uncommon for a horse to live to be 30 years old. A 12-year-old horse is considered to be in its prime, so it is vital to monitor a number of issues in older horses, including health conditions and feeding habits. For example, as horses grow older, their teeth elongate and shift.

"A lot of older horses have dental problems," says Erickson. "Sometimes their teeth deteriorate to the point where they can't graze properly or chew hay." So what can you do to make their eating easier? "If your horse is dropping partially chewed food out of its mouth, you should have its teeth checked. Older horses may need to have their grain processed into pellets, which are easier to chew, or give them hay that is chopped. If your horse is missing any teeth, pellets and hay cubes can be soaked in water first."

"Consult your veterinarian to figure out the best treatment," she says. "Your older horse should have its teeth checked twice a year." In addition to checking the mouth, they will provide necessary vaccinations and look for signs of diseases common to older horses, such as Cushing's syndrome.

Stretch before exercising

As horses age, they develop swayback, an excessive dip in the center of the back. That doesn't mean they can't be ridden. Erickson credits exercise as the key to keeping an older horse young. Additionally, stretching out its legs and back will help to provide free mobility, unhindered by tight, sore muscles.

One of the best ways to care for your older horse is to keep up on the new developments in senior horse care, Erickson says. "Stay educated, read equine magazines, stay current on senior feed advancements and see your vet twice a year." Tips like these are bound to make your older horse as happy and healthy as Jesse.

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