I often get asked "Donna at what point is my horse old and when do I need to give a veteran feed?". It is interesting that more often than not this conversation creeps in during the winter months, probably because this is when most horses tend to drop a little weight.
The 'magic number' that people tend to start investigating and thinking more about it seems to be from my experience 16. You will find however that there are many horses of this age and older competing at the highest level, including the Olympics who may not feel their age. A great example of this in the Dressage competition of Rio Olympics 2016 was Parzival age 19 ridden by Adelinde Cornelissen and Chablis also 19 ridden by Valentina Truppa.
The truth is that horses just like humans age at different rates and may need extra nutritional support earlier or later than their stable mates. Some tactics to help you decide if now might be time is to look at the following: -
1. Check the teeth. Is he able to chew his feed properly (both hard feed and forage). Check that he is not 'quidding' (losing semi chewed food from the side of the mouth). If he is it may also be necessary to consider a hay replacer too depending on the severity.
2. Check his condition. Is he maintaining his weight nicely? As previously stated many horses will drop weight slightly during the colder months, however if you are noticing a real difference or sudden loss of condition this needs to be addressed. Speak to your vet in the first instance to rule out any other possible factors.
3. Is he bright and alert? Such a simple thing to look for, but keep an eye out for any changes in behaviour or temperament.
4. Is he still coping with his work? Is he moving freely and coping well with the work asked of him? Or are you finding he is stiffer and finding it harder to keep up with what you are asking of him? Perhaps he now takes longer to warm up. Again try and keep tabs on what normal is for him.
It is important to remember that not all older horses or ponies will struggle to hold weight. Some would benefit from the extra vitamins and minerals found in a standard 'veteran' feed, but without the added calories. These days a number of manufacturers have recognised this and produce a low calorie veteran feed or balancer as an alternative which is great news! Some even have added extras such as glucosamine to support joint mobility. However even in these instances many of them come in mix format and are simply too high in starch for say a laminitic or PPID sufferer (formerly known as cushings disease). In these cases feeding a high fibre, low starch diet is paramount.
The best advice would be to know your horses 'norm'. Have an experienced nutritionist check the diet at least once a year to assess your horse and to check the diet is fully balanced for his life stage and exercise requirements taking into account any clinical considerations. To book a visit this winter please contact me directly on +44 (0)7901 337826 or firstname.lastname@example.org