Physiology of Equine Aging

Rutgers researchers have gained a better understanding of how horses’ bodies change as they age. Here’s what we know.
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We’ve all known and loved that special senior horse—the seasoned teacher, the care-taker, or the ruler of the barn. And while aged equines are common today—approximately 11.4% of the U.S. horse population is more than 20 years old—this wasn’t always the case. Advances in research, veterinary care, and nutrition have all aided in giving horses a chance at longer, healthier lives.

For example, we knew little about aging horses’ physiology until the early 1990s. That’s when Karyn Malinowski, PhD, professor and director of the Rutgers University Equine Science Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and colleagues began their research on the topic. Since then, they’ve made crucial discoveries.

Malinowski shared some of the most important findings from over the years at the 2017 Annual Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference, held April 6 in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Exercise is Important

Scientists generally agree that horses typically begin to show physiological signs of aging by 20 years. With age, their aerobic capacity declines and they can develop arthritis, insulin resistance, and changes in body composition and immune function. But exercise and training can actually attenuate many of these age-related declines, improve body condition, and decrease insulin resistance

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Written by:

Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, is an equine nutritionist based on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied equine exercise physiology and nutrition. Liburt is a member of the Equine Science Society.

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