Horses have relatively long life spans, often living into the 30's, and many horses have productive careers into their 20's.
In many disciplines nowadays, horses are not considered to be in their prime until their teenage years, with many still competing at the very top of their sport into their late teens.
However, as with animals and people alike, additional care may be required as time goes on to keep the horse as healthy as possible in its senior years.
Arthritis in senior horses
Most senior horses gradually develop joint stiffness and arthritis. You may notice a shorter stride and reduced flexibility, especially if being stabled for periods of time.
Appropriate exercise, good management and veterinary advice can help reduce the degree to which it inhabits the horse.
Many say allowing your horse to be mobile is a natural aid to reduce stiffness. Horses are designed to always be on the move, so if you have an older horse who seems to pull out of the stable a little stiff, if possible, leave a stiff horse out either in their paddocks or a ménage so they are able to keep moving.
There are also many feed supplements available to help reduce stiffness and aid joint repair, so consider putting your horse on a feed supplement.
Keeping warm and shelter
Although we like to think of our horses all tucked up nice in a deep bed in their stable (just like humans), horses need exercise all year round. For an ageing horse being left out could be more beneficial for them, providing they are managed correctly, to reduce stiffness and help their metabolism work well.
In the winter, horses can still do perfectly well left out, it's what they were designed to do! If the weather is cold, providing they have plenty of food and water they will do just fine. If it's horrendous British wet weather then you can rug them up well to keep them warm and the wet off their backs; provide them with a shelter with food and water which will enable them to survive just as well.
Teeth are vital for effective digestion and health. As horses age, their teeth become worn which can effect the horses ability to graze effectively, especially on short grass.
They should have their teeth seen by an equine dentist every 6-12months, and if you know your horses teeth have worn, ensure he is getting plenty of good grazing. If you are unable to do this, you may need to add additional forage, such as hay, soaked, to increase its palatability and fed from the ground.
There are also feeds especially designed for older horses that can be soaked to make them easier to eat.
Unfortunately horses become more susceptible to laminitis as they become older, and it's all too common in our native breeds.
One reason is the increased likelihood of a tumour developing on the pituitary gland, leading to Cushings disease.
Letting your horse or pony become too fat can increase his chances of developing laminitis, and once a horse has developed it, it will always be more susceptible and extra care will be needed.
Beware of the grass when it is most dangerous with sugars, ie, spring and autumn.
And if your horse has hard lump fat deposits on the neck or rump and shoulders, consult a vet and reduce their grazing.
If your horse develops a thick curly coat, which does not shed in the summer, this could be a sign of Cushings disease and you should consult veterinary advice.
If your horse is fit and able, keep them in easy work for exercise to help keep them active and healthy.
Ridden work for your senior horse
It is widely considered that continuing the right level of exercise is best for horses as it is for people!
Notice your horses ability and enthusiasm for its job, and if he's still happy in his work, continue enjoying your time together.