Feed For Older Horses & Ponies in Winter

The winter months mean management changes for many horses and ponies. Those in their “senior years” may sometimes need a little extra support to ensure they emerge from winter full of the joys of spring! Whether you have a “20 going on 2 year-old”, or an aged veteran with poor dentition, we are here to help with diet management strategies and solutions for feed for older horses that can help you to see them safely through this winter.

You’re only as old as you feel!

Improved knowledge, veterinary care and nutrition mean that horses and ponies are living much longer and our perception of what defines an old horse has changed. Although many senior mixes and cubes are available, not every senior horse or pony needs them, especially those that hold their weight well. If you are feeding less than the recommended quantities of a veteran mix it will mean that your older horse is missing out on essential vitamins and minerals. To counter these shortfalls, adding a supplement or balancer to top up on essential nutrients is advisable. The older horse with any age associated health issues, including poor dentition or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID formerly known as Cushing’s), will need a little more support.

Feed For Older Horses That Are Stabled

Stabling over the winter months is not always the most “comfortable” situation for the older horse. Confinement to a smaller space may result in stiffer joints and poor ventilation in the stable may result in respiratory problems, which is a common problem for older horses and ponies. Dengie Performance+ Balancer contains added glucosamine for joint support and a prebiotic for digestive support as well as a broad-spectrum of vitamins and minerals to provide a balanced feed for older horses.

Senior-Specific Problems

Poor dentitionweight loss, PPID (formerly known as Cushing’s disease) and laminitis are just some of the problems that a veteran horse may face. In practice, this means that they require a more specialised ration all year round, but for those with poor teeth the winter months can be particularly challenging as the reliance on conserved, long stem forage increases. Monitoring bodyweight and condition by regular use of a weigh tape and body condition scoring is good practice for any horse owner, but it is especially important for those with veterans. This will provide plenty of opportunity to alter the feed for older horses before weight gain or any changes progress too far.

What feeds are best for senior horses with poor dentition?

As horses age their teeth can become worn and loose, a problem that is usually first noticed when a horse drops partially chewed feed from its mouth which is termed “quidding”. Horses that quid, long stem forage like hay or haylage can be problematic due to poor digestion resulting in further complications, such as colic. Feed for older horses and their ration should be adjusted to avoid these complications.

As a 500kg horse can eat around 6-8kg or more of forage in the winter months alongside grazing, it is not surprising that as soon as they start to struggle with forage, they may lose weight.

It is vital to remember that a horse needs fibre to maintain digestive health and fibre intake should still equate to at least 1.5% of bodyweight; a 500kg horse would therefore require 7.5kg of a fibre-based feed per day. When horses can no longer manage long stem forage the next step is to try a short chop hay replacer product, such as Dengie Hi-Fi Senior or Dengie Pure Grass. These are short chop alternatives to long stem forage and are much easier to chew. Simply treat them like a haynet in a bucket.

Another option for feed for older horses with poor dentition is to soak food to a mash or gruel consistency. Adding Dengie’s Alfa-Beet or Grass Pellets to a hay replacer ration is an ideal way of softening it as well as providing extra calories for those horses that need to gain weight. Dengie Alfa-Beet combines alfalfa and unmolassed sugar beet with a convenient 15-minute hot soak or 2 hour cold soak. A combination of Alfa-Beet, Grass Pellets and a High Fibre Cube can be the best senior horse feed options or for those who can’t even manage to chew short chop fibres any more.

Weight Management

Just because a horse is old it does not necessarily mean that they are going to be thin. However, if your veteran does start to lose weight it is important to ascertain the reason why and not just to put it down to “old age”. Run through a checklist including dental check, vet check and worming check to identify any problems. Also check your horse’s diet; in particular, are they eating as much hay as they used to? It may be time to consider moving onto a more senior specific or higher energy feed.

Remember to proceed with caution as many senior mixes are not ideal for veterans that have problems like laminitis or PPID, both of which require a low sugar and starch diet. Alfa-A Oil is Dengie’s highest calorie fibre feed and has a calorie level equivalent to a conditioning mix or cube but without the high starch levels. This makes Alfa-A Oil a suitable feed for older horses that need to gain weight but require a low sugar/starch ration.  It can also be fed alongside Dengie Alfa-Beet if extra condition is needed.

PPID and Laminitis Care in Older Horse Diets

The dietary management of a horse or pony with Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID, formerly known as Cushing’s Disease) should be based on a low sugar and starch diet, just as for horses prone to laminitis. Unfortunately, one of the main problems associated with the PPID is that horses tend to be more prone to laminitis as a result of the hormonal balance changes. This may mean that you may be doing everything right with regard to their diet and yet laminitis still occurs.

Feeding according to weight and dental condition is also an additional consideration for horses and ponies with PPID and laminitis. For those that maintain weight easily, a low calorie, low sugar and starch product, like Dengie Hi-Fi Lite or Hi-Fi Molasses Free, is suitable. For those that struggle to maintain weight Dengie Alfa-A Oil, Alfa-A Molasses Free and Alfa-Beet are all suitable feeds.

For more information or nutritional advice on feed for older horses, contact the experts at Dengie on 01621 841188, today!