Ben turns 28 this year. Which in human year’s is about 80 years old. With the average life expectancy of a thoroughbred horse being 25-28 it’s no huge surprise that despite having always been a real ‘good-doer’, he is starting to get a little more tricky to keep in good nick.
At the end of 2017, I moved Ben to a yard nearer to home. He was there for about a year and last September, he got a really nasty abscess in his foot. When the vet came to treat him she was really concerned about his condition and I think she thought he was nearing the end.
With such a hot summer, we’d had barely any grazing and he had gradually lost weight and was looking really poor.
Although some people suggested I should think about ‘putting him out of his misery’, I wasn’t ready to give up on him. I’ve owned him since he was five and I was 14. If he was ready to go, I’d have known.
So instead operation Get Ben Fat commenced. And It worked. So much so that the vet was visibly shocked when she came back two weeks later. I thought I’d share what worked for us in the hope it might help some other owners of oldies out there…
Grass, grass and more grass
It’s not always possible, I know, but grass really is the best way to get weight on. It’s what horses were designed to eat after all. We were lucky enough to have a jump/ sick paddock which had loads of lush green grass and even after a week out there, you could see a big difference in Ben’s condition overall. I’ve also been known to walk Ben out in hand to find grass verges to fill his tummy with. If you can find grass, do whatever you can to get your veteran horse on it.
Get rid of worms
We do a regular worm count so that we don’t put unnecessary chemicals into our horses. A work burden will have a big impact on condition, especially in an older horse. So before you start any other regime, it’s worth either working or doing a worm count. We use Westgate Labs.
Get a health check
It’s well worth eliminating any underlying ailments that may be causing the weight loss too. We had some bloods done as the vet had a suspicion of Cushing’s disease. You can go to http://www.talkaboutlaminitis.co.uk/ to get a code for a free test for Cushing’s.
As horses get older, their teeth can cause some problems too, which can I turn cause weight loss if they can’t chew very well. So get your vet or dentist to check their teeth regularly too.
Use a targeted veteran horse feed
It’s worth asking your feed merchant for advice about what is best for your veteran horse. Most of them have a pretty good knowledge about what works for different settings and horses. We use Veteran Vitality from Allen and Paige, which has worked really well for us and a few other oldies on our yard. I also added some Barley Rings when Ben was really poor as they are good for getting weight on quickly. That’s what’s worked for us, but it’s been a case of trial and error to get it right, so it’s worth trying a few out until you get it right for your four legged friend.
It’s also worth checking you have the right haynet if you use one. I was using a small hole haylage net because Ben used to be a real gannet with his hay so it slowed him down. He had stopped eating as much hay as he used to so I swapped to a bet with larger holes and it made a real difference. Whether he couldn’t be bothered, or he was struggling with less teeth, I don’t know, but he’s eating much more now.
Remove any stress
I ended up moving Ben back to his old yard last October. In the new yard, he had been in a big herd. As is nature’s way, the older horses get picked on and he was being really bullied when the grass ran out in the summer. And he was miserable. He was always grazing on his own and spent most of his time running away. He’s now out with one other chap who’s even older than him and they have a real bromance going on. The yard itself is quiet and calm too. He’s chilled out, relaxed and happy and it’s made such a huge difference to his wellbeing.
As they get older, just in the same way as humans, horses seem to thrive in a quiet, relaxed environment, so it’s worth trying to find a yard to match their stage of life if you can.
I’d love to hear your top tips for keeping old horses healthy and in good condition.