- Keep older horses moving. A regular program of low-level exercise is better than occasional strenuous rides or drives. Hand-walking ensures that reluctant movers will cover some ground every day instead of dozing in the shade for long hours.
- Watch ground conditions. Spread sand, kitty litter, or used bedding material on icy or frozen ground to prevent slipping. To keep mud at bay, install geotextiles or gravel pads near run-in sheds, gates, and water sources.
- Feed to maintain a good weight. Obesity stresses the joints, increasing discomfort and stiffness and making the horse more reluctant to move. Base the older horse's diet on forage, and consider using a ration balancer pellet instead of grain to provide vitamins and minerals.
- Don't let older horses get too thin. While an obese horse may have trouble moving, a very thin horse may be unable to stay warm in cooler seasons. Consider offering a high-quality forage; add fat to the diet to boost caloric intake; serve several small grain meals throughout the day; and have the horse's teeth checked.
- Maximize turnout. Pastured horses move more than stalled equines, and turning an older horse out with congenial companions will encourage gentle exercise. Watch to be sure a younger or dominant horse is not chasing the older one or preventing access to water and hay. For older horses that can't tolerate cold-weather turnout, use a blanket or let the horse move around in an indoor arena for several hours each day.
- Bed stalls for comfort. If the horse spends some time in the barn, use rubber mats or deep bedding. Fill any depressions to keep the stall floor level.
- Consider the use of a joint supplement. These preparations seem to have little effect on some horses but work well on others; if you haven't been impressed with their use in the past, try them again with your older horse. Check with an equine nutritionist to learn more about the various products that are available and their methods of action. Ask a veterinarian whether anti-inflammatory medications or joint injections would help your older horse.
- Don't neglect routine care. Even though your retired horse may not be working or traveling regularly, he still needs basic health maintenance like yearly vaccinations, an occasional dental exam, trimming of hooves about every six weeks, and periodic wellness checks by a veterinarian. Ask whether the older horse needs to have bloodwork or other diagnostic tests done. Seeing the horse every day, you may miss gradual changes in body weight or other health indicators that a veterinarian will notice on semi-annual visits.
American Farriers Journal is the “hands-on” magazine for professional farriers, equine veterinarians and horse care product and service buyers.