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The major concern among farriers working with geriatric horses is normally whether their arthritic joints have made it difficult for them to hold their feet up long and high enough to be trimmed. But while you’re working under an equine senior citizen, it’s difficult not to notice when they begin to get ribby.
Older horses often struggle to maintain good condition, as a combination of dental problems and diminished digestive efficiency begin to take their toll. But there are ways to help a client’s older horse get more value from its food and maintain a sleek physique instead of a skeletal one. Designing a program to meet the special requirements of an aging horse is based on an understanding of the physiological — and psychological — changes going on throughout its system.
It’s often been observed that the best feed in the world will do a horse no good if it can’t digest it. So what’s stopping the older horse from extracting nutrients from its diet? Let’s start at the mouth and work back toward the tail.
First and foremost is the inevitable decline of the older horse’s dental health. As a horse ages, it gradually wears down the grinding surfaces of its teeth. While the teeth continue to grow, the wear and tear they receive often outstrips the replacement rate. In addition, incisors (vital to tearing off grass and forage in pasture) become more sloping over the years. As they verge on the horizontal…