Senior Care: Equine Edition

How many of you have senior horses? My first horse was around 22 yrs old when I got him, and we spent seven wonderful years together trail riding and participating in 4-H. Our biggest event was barrels. I loved all of the contesting patterns and so did Murphy. Even in our last year of running, at 29 Murph always gave it his all. Although nursing school forced us to part ways, he returned to his previous girl who spent the next five years with him. Just recently, Murph passed away at the old age of 34. 

I remember when my dad first started warming up to the idea of me getting a horse. He insisted I was going to get an older horse. I specifically recall him stating that I needed something over the age of 12. Why 12? I have no idea…regardless I threw a fit! Twelve year old Alli didn’t actually know a thing about horses, but 12 sounded super old and slow. How funny is it that I ended up with a 22 yr old that was able to barrel race competitively?? Ever since then, I have a special place in my heart for “old” horses. 

Speaking of “old”, Cash is currently 24 yrs old. I am adamant that my senior horse is just as good, if not better than most young horses! He’s been there, done that, and NOTHING bothers him! Now, not all senior horses are wise and unbothered, but there’s usually a better chance that an older horse will be a little more level-headed. I love the reaction I get from people when I reveal Cash’s age. People are so surprised! 

I will always advocate for someone to adopt/rescue/purchase an older horse. Sure, some of those sweet seniors do need some special care. However, that alone should never be a reason to overlook a perfectly good horse! 

I have been fortunate to have overall pretty healthy senior horses throughout my life. Until Cash’s recent EPM diagnosis, he’s been a pretty easy keeper. Like most senior horses, Cash had a poor topline when I purchased him. Many people believe this is normal for the aging process. Although some muscle loss can be normal, even seniors should not have sunken in toplines! This is a misconception that allows owners to use age as an excuse for improper care. Horses are built to naturally maintain good toplines with proper nutrition and exercise. If your horse is getting both of these things and still has a poor topline, talk with your veterinarian for other possible causes. 

Cash is currently on Buckeye’s senior balancer that I order through Chewy.com. I chose this feed because of it’s high crude protein level of 32%. It’s also full of important vitamins and minerals that are needed in a horse’s diet. Protein is extremely important to topline development. Before EPM, the balancer helped his topline return fairly quickly. One tip with balancers is to read and follow the feeding label. Overfeeding with that level of protein can have harmful effects. When I first started Cash on the balancer, I did not understand the importance of feeding per the label. Cash was getting WAY to much protein, causing him to urinate excessively. His stall was always wet. Luckily, changing his feed amount was an easy fix. 

Another misconception about building topline is that exercise alone is the answer. While exercise is extremely important, you can’t build a house without the bricks. What do I mean by this? Topline cannot develop on exercise alone. Your horse needs the proper protein to build that topline. 

Along with selecting a senior specific feed, I also have Cash on a couple supplements. Most of these supplements can be purchased at your local Tractor Supply! I don’t buy the cheapest there is, but I like to find an affordable, happy medium. Currently, he is on DuMOR’s FLEXMOR+ joint supplement. Not all seniors require joint supplements, but my chiropractor recommended starting one over the winter since Cash was a bit stiff. He is also on Bute-Less, an anti-inflammatory supplement containing Devil’s Claw. He was started on this after straining his back during a trailer incident involving the butt bar. I had planned on stopping it some time ago, but I think it has helped with managing some of the EPM symptoms. He has also been a bit cinchy the last month or so, so I added Fastrack and aloe to his diet to treat and prevent stomach ulcers. Fastrack is comparable to an over the counter probiotic for humans. It helps restore and maintain normal flora in the gut. I purchased my Fastrack from Milan Center Feed and Grain, a local feed store. The aloe you can get just about anywhere; Walmart, Meijer, etc. The last supplement I have Cash on is Equithrive Vitamin E pellets by SmartPak. EPM causes central nervous system damage, and vitamin E supports restoration of muscle function and innervation. The first tub of Equithrive I ordered came to me damaged. I called SmartPak and the customer service rep, Alyssa, was extremely helpful and professional. She apologized for the damaged item and immediately had a replacement sent to my home, free of charge. I was extremely impressed and plan to try other SmartPak items in the future!

Although that all probably sounds like a lot, I’m fortunate that senior feed and a few supplements is all Cash needs to stay healthy. There are many senior equines that require much more. Personally, I believe in spending a little (or a lot) extra to keep my best friend feeling good. The important takeaway in all of this is that senior horses are not obsolete! With the right care, you can enjoy many great years with your senior horse. Consult the equine professionals (vet, farrier, chiropractor) in your life to determine what will best help your horse without breaking the bank!

Aloe Vera at Walmart

DuMOR FLEXMOR+ at TSC

Bute-Less at TSC

Equithrive Vitamin E from SmartPak

Buckeye Senior Balancer from Chewy

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