Horse & Hound offers expert advice on how to keep an active veteran irish Sport Horse in perfect condition this winter

Horse: Benjamin, 24-year-old 15.2hh Irish Sport Horse

Feeding issue: veteran, starting to lose a little weight and can be lethargic

Owner’s thoughts: “Ben is still perfectly sound and enjoys outings, but just doesn’t have the joie de vivre he used to, and I don’t want him to lose any more weight this winter.”

Work schedule: has evented at grassroots level, will be hunting a couple of times a month during the winter along with regular hacking and flatwork.

Current diet: 2.5kg low-energy mix, a few soaked oats, 1½ mugs of a feed balancer, 1kg dried grass chaff, sugar beet, mineral and vitamin supplement, fed three times daily.

Suggested feed programme: If your older horse is losing weight and lacking energy this would suggest its time to replace the standard low-energy mix with a specialised veteran ration. These are designed to fulfill the requirements of the older horse. Replace the low-energy mix slowly across a week and, if necessary, increase to 3kg a day when winter sets in.

Continue with the feed balancer if you feel it helps. Check it contains live yeast, probiotics and prebiotics, which may not be present in the concentrate.

Also continue feeding the dried grass chaff, as long as your old boy’s teeth are up to the job, and sugar beet is a fantastic feed for older horses, as it contains a good source of digestible fibre.

You should not need the mineral and vitamin supplement, as the concentrate and balancer will also be well supplemented.

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Getting older

The transition to old age will vary from horse to horse. Once a horse starts to show his years, owners should modify all aspects of management and feeding. Changing to a specialised veteran feed will be worth the extra cost. Like humans, older horses require certain additions to their diet.

Check the bag for some or all of these ingredients:

  • Quality protein, providing essential amino acids, in particular lysine, methionine and threonine. Veteran rations should contain soya, the most complete digestible vegetable protein source available, containing excellent levels of these amino acids.
  • Essential fatty acids such as linolenic and linolenic acid, omegas 3 and 6. If necessary, these can be fed separately at a level of three tablespoons a day. They will control inflammatory reactions such as arthritis, but they are also useful in the function of the eyes, brain and hormones.
  • CoQ10 is a popular human supplement transposing into veteran rations. It is a powerful antioxidant, mopping up free radicals, aiding oxygenation of the cells and improving energy levels. Levels of up to 500mg a day are recommended.
  • Antioxidants. After years of exposure to toxins, radiation, pollutions, and hard work, the body systems will be compromised, including the gut’s reduced ability to assimilate nutrients. Choose a veteran ration containing a pack of potent antioxidants, for example, the B-vitamins, vitamins C, E, A and D, minerals such as copper, zinc, selenium, calcium, cobalt and manganese

H&H (12 October, ’06)