Looking after older horses during the winter can be a bit of a challenge. While giving a youngster the winter off when weather and daylight hours don’t permit you to ride regularly may be good idea, giving a senior horse time off over the winter requires a bit more thought! For one thing, it is much harder to bring a senior horse back into work after a long period of time off, so if you are wanting to get out and about in the spring, your horse may not be fit enough to cope.
Helping to keep veterans sound and mobile is key to their well being, and just as with humans suffering from muscle or joint degeneration, cold weather can exacerbate age-related joint issues for your horse. Regular moderate exercise will help to keep your horse mobile, and is much better for them than not riding for five days then expecting them to hack out for hours at the weekend! Routine exercise will also help to keep chunkier veteran horses at a correct weight, which reduces pressure on compromised joints. You may not think any of this applies to your senior equine, but remember that joint problems will often come on so gradually that as an owner, you may not notice it, in fact, one study showed that less than half of owners recognised that their horses had impaired movement!
Aging horses often find uneven or difficult terrain even more of a problem than younger horses- meaning that frozen ground, ice, snow, and mud can all pose an issue. Plan before you ride to ensure you are choosing a hack with good footing, or exercise on a surface if conditions are not ideal.
As well as joint problems, older horses are more prone to limbs filling than younger horses, which can make leg flexion more difficult. This is especially common if your horse is stabled more than usual, so make use of any suitable turnout, horse walkers, and consider walking in hand to help relieve this. If the fluid is only in one leg, or does not disperse with light exercise it may point to a more serious cause, and you should consulting your vet.
Lack of mobility is not just limited to the legs either- problems in the neck and back are also common, and in some cases may make eating from the floor more difficult- use haynets placed where the horse doesn’t need to stretch up or down to eat rather than feeding off the ground and consider using a hanging bucket/ manger for hard feed, to help to avoid your horse having to reach to the ground to eat. Other stable management- such as using rubber mats to help give the horse traction to get up/down, and having a deep bed can also make your horse more comfortable.
If you think your horse is feeling a bit less agile than usual this winter, please give us a call on freephone 0800 585525, or visit www.feedmark.com and use our online chat facility and our dedicated team will be delighted to help you.