A horse is classed as a veteran horse once he’s over 15 years old – but that doesn’t automatically mean he’s ready for his pipe and slippers, metaphorically speaking! Many go on to enjoy active and healthy lives well into their 20s. Veteran showing classes are hugely popular, and it’s hard to imagine some of the beautiful, impeccably turned-out entrants are even in double figures yet!
Like humans, horses are living longer than ever, which may be attributed to improved diet, better medicine, and a deeper understanding of equine science. But ageing is unavoidable, and the signs include stiffness, reduced muscle definition, a thicker coat, grey hairs, and dental problems. Cushings’ disease, a condition that causes horses to suffer repeat laminitis, and is characterised by a thick, curly coat, is also common among older horses.
As your horse gets older, you may need to think about lightening his workload, or managing his diet differently. Older horses are prone to losing weight because the digestive system becomes less efficient; there are veteran mixes and cubes designed to meet these needs on the market. He will also benefit from a high fibre diet, and the adage ‘little and often’ when it comes to feeding remains true.
Six monthly dental checks are also important, as a horse’s teeth stop growing at around 20 years old, and gaps can begin to appear. Older horses may also lose the ability to grind their food, and will need to be fed a hay replacer, such as soaked cubes. However, with good management, your veteran horse should be with you for many more happy years.
Sadly, the owner of every veteran horse needs to prepare themselves for the day when they will inevitably have to say their final farewell. Knowing when to bring an old horse’s life to an end isn’t always easy, but equine euthanasia is something that all owners should think about in advance. Having a plan in place will help make this emotional and difficult decision that bit easier, whether it is an emergency or not.