Caring for Older Horses


Getting old is a part of life – a part of life that we all hope we will one day experience (it’s better than the alternative as they say!). When we as humans reach our golden years we know it’s time to take is easy; retire … live life with perhaps a few more creature comforts than we have previously allowed ourselves. So what do you do when your older horse reaches this point in their life?

Here at Chapman Valley Horse Riding our resident retiree is Maggie. She is 32 years old and whilst she is still a young filly on the inside, her age is beginning to show. The hardest time on Maggie and other elderly horses is winter, when conditions turn cold and often wet and the pasture grasses decrease in nutritional value.

Check your horse’s teeth

The first thing to consider when addressing an elderly horse’s nutrition is their teeth. Horses need regular dentist check-ups just as humans do, but in later years you will need to step up this dental care. Years of chewing up grass and grains can create sharp points on teeth, extra wear or even lost teeth. Research qualified horse dentists in your area and ask around for who other people use. An excellent place to look is the Equine Dental Association of Australia. If your Dentist finds that your horse is missing teeth it is very important that you do not feed your horse hay – as this can ball up in the gaps where your horse has lost their teeth and become a choking hazard. Provide chaff instead.


After having your horse’s teeth assessed the next thing to address is their nutrition. Generally speaking an elderly horse usually has more trouble digesting and absorbing their food. They will quite often loose condition especially when the weather turns bad. Without getting into the technicalities too much you must ensure your horse’s diet has adequate levels of fat and fibre available to the horse. This goes for both underweight and overweight horses as although most horses will loose condition some will go the other way – and begin to pile the kilos on. This can be cause by many factors, but most likely is due to the decrease of activity; less running around in the paddock and perhaps a lighter work-load.

Quite often your local produce store will have a specially formulated mix for older horses, so ask them for assistance in choosing a mixture. We use Golden Years for Maggie.

Keep those legs moving!

It may be tempting to simply leave your horse in their paddock or stall to let them enjoy their retired time, but it is very important to keep them active, both physically and mentally. As much as we would all love to laze around all day and do nothing, you can imagine it would eventually become boring and our bodies probably wouldn’t respond the best!

Arthritis is the most common cause of physical stress in the older horse, but exercise is actually beneficial to stiff or swollen joints. Taking your horse for a led walk or lunging can greatly help in alleviating their discomfort. There are also many products on the market which are designed to help with arthritis, but it can be a challenge in itself to find the right one. Speak to someone you know and trust who has had experience in treating arthritis about which products they would recommend. Your farrier or vet should be able to advise you on the best treatment practices.

Every horse is an individual

Unfortunately we can never know what a horse is truly thinking or feeling, so we can only do our best to help them through their later years. Keep in mind that every horse is different, and there is no textbook lesson in which you can follow for every horse. In working with your farrier, equine dentist and vet you can monitor how your horse is responding to certain feeds and treatments to ensure your horse is happy and healthy.

Remember all the things your four-legged friend has done for you over the years, and re-pay them for all those hours of happily carrying you around. We all deserve to be spoilt at times!

This is a re-post from our old blog. Our beloved Maggie peacefully passed away in December 2015 and is sorely missed! RIP old girl xx

Jess on Maggie

Here’s Jess Chapman (owner of CVHR) on Maggie – many years ago!