Veteran horse health during winter is a balancing act. For veteran horses or ponies, winter can be tough and presents owners with a challenge to ensure that they come through to spring in good condition.
Horses and particularly ponies, can live active lives well into their twenties and beyond, defying the age bracket where traditionally we would have classed them as a veteran.
As they age at different rates, feeding, exercise and general management regime may then differ for each case. For example, some will need their level of exercise reduced to help ease arthritic joints, whilst others will carry on competing.
Dentistry in the veteran horse
One of the biggest factors facing veteran horses and ponies is deteriorating dentition, which has a knock-on effect on body condition as they find it increasingly difficult to chew long forage. For this reason, your horse or pony must be seen regularly by a qualified equine dentist.
Horses whose teeth have been regularly looked after by a qualified equine dentist throughout their lives tend to fair better in later years.
Horses’ teeth are primarily designed for the tearing and chewing of fibrous material, such as hay and grass. Over time they become worn away at the surface, making it difficult to chew effectively. Efficient digestion and fermentation of fibre are very dependent on the effectiveness of the molars and cheek teeth.
If your horse drops its food (quidding), or suffers from choke this could be an indication of dental problems.
Keep an eye on your horse’s droppings, as loose droppings could be a sign that they are not getting sufficient fibre, which could be due to their inability to chew properly.
Condition of the veteran horse
Thick coats and winter rugs can hide a multitude of sins, so in winter, it is important to take even more time and look even closer, as weight loss can be hidden under a winter coat.
Remove rugs daily and run your hands over your horse’s body, checking for areas where the rug may have rubbed and also to keep an eye on body condition.
Consistent body scoring will help you keep on top and will pick up on a decline in overall condition at the earliest opportunity. Body scoring can include images, which can be stored on your phone in a particular folder. While you may expect some muscle loss due to longer periods in the stable, a lack of ridden work and age, the horse should not look undernourished or have any bones protruding, such as the pelvis, ribs, shoulder and spine. If you’re unsure, seek advice from a vet or nutritionist.
Feeding ad-lib forage, that is weighed will help make sure your horse has constant access to the correct amount needed based on their requirements.
Joints of the veteran horse
For most horses and ponies, winter will mean spending more time indoors, so to help ease stiff joints, it is important to ensure they are allowed the freedom to move about as much as possible. If daily turnout is not possible, walk them out in hand a couple of times a day.
Although horses and ponies of all ages can be affected by common problems associated with winter, as horses age their immune system declines, making it harder for their body to heal and fight infection, so prevention is definitely much better than the cure.