Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

If your aging equid can’t or won’t eat hay, don’t worry: there are several other fiber options available.
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Older horse grazing
Old horses often have dental issues or lose teeth that make it difficult to successfully chew and swallow the forage that contains the fiber that’s so important to both their digestive health and weight maintenance ability. | Photo: iStock

Raise your hand if you’ve heard the following statement before (or, as all of us here at The Horse have, more times that we can remember): Forage should be the basis of all horses’ diets.

Feeding hay, one of the most common forms of forage horses consume, is all well and good for most younger to middle-aged horses, but it can be slightly trickier when it comes to our senior citizens. As I’m sure many of you have experienced, older horses often develop dental issues or lose teeth, making it difficult for them to successfully chew and swallow the forage that contains the fiber that’s so important to both their digestive health and weight maintenance ability. And, especially going into winter, that latter factor is important.

And damaged dentition isn’t the only reason you might need to seek out another fiber option for your aging horse: Some older equids just get pickier with time

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

20 Responses

  1. My 33 year old Arab gelding has only a few teeth left and cannot chew hay so he gets a low-carb complete senior feed(he had a metabolic issue) with beet pulp for added fiber as well as supplements for digestive health/PPID/senior vitamins. He also gets Equioxx and Legend once a month….it is expensive to keep him looking good and acting frisky but so worth it. He also gets a little alfalfa at night. He loves it…can’t eat the stems but eats the leaves and keeps him busy

  2. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    Good article.  Confirms what I’ve been doing for my horses.  My 33 year old gelding gets equine senior grain with beet pulp (2x day) then alfalfa/timothy cubes soaked in water (2x day).  He’s doing very well on this regimen.  Starte

  3. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    I have a rescue horse with no top teeth front or back, he does great on Nutrena Safe Choice Equine Senior Feed.  He lives in a 4 acre pasture, and "grazes" as a natural behavior, but he just makes little wads and spits them out.  I

  4. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    I care for 13 seniors, the oldest being 35. 5 horses need  supplemental feed year round in addition to full-time forage/hay to thrive and 2 need extra feed only in winter. These horses are on a variety of feeding plans to suit their needs and the

  5. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    It’s good to read that hay cubes are a viable option for senior horses. My horse is unfortunately aging, and we’re looking into hay alternatives. He seems to love alfalfa cubes in particular. I’ll be keeping this article in mind as we proceed with tran

  6. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    I had to start playing around with Romeo’s feed when he hit his early 30s.  In his 20s he would get fat on any hay with ease and wasn’t particularly finicky.  Now that he is in his early 30s he won’t eat coastal hay, only good quality alfalfa

  7. Revisiting What’s ‘Old’ for a Horse

    If you asked 10 owners or equestrians what they consider "old" for a horse and why, you’d get 10 different answers. When do you deem a horse a senior?

  8. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    Help with this one!  Old grade gelding – maybe an arab cross but was auction horse so not sure of age and vet guesses over 25 years.  He was seriously losing weight and lethargic by end of summer.  Had vet out to do dental work but vet f

  9. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    Older horses do well if you put a treat in their stall that they have to work hard to get. It keeps them intertwined while also giving them a treat

  10. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    Older horses do well if you put a treat in their stall that they have to work hard to get. It keeps them intertwined while also giving them a treat

  11. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    I have 2 Arabian mares in their 20s that are not able/willing to consume as much hay as my other horses in winter.  To keep them from dropping weight, I switch them from Purina Strategy to Purina Equine Senior in late fall.  I still feed them

  12. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    My 20 year old thoroughbred has been a cribber all her life. Right now she doesn’t have  any issues with hay but, boy, are her teeth short! When I got her 10 years ago I was told three things by her previous owner- don’t cross tie her (and after p

  13. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    My 25 yo QH ‘s upper molers are down to the gum. He has been on complete feed for a year and a half. He does well, however, have had to move him 2x due to barn owners deciding on their own to feed him their own grain mix even though I was buying the co

  14. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    My almost 30 yr old Morgan mare has all her teeth but they have flat surfaces. I feed her Safe Starch and Lucerne Farms High Fiber Gold which are both chopped grass hay. In addition, she get one block of Hydration hay in which her meds are hidden. Also

  15. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    I have a 29 year old quarterhorse mare with very little dentition.  Last spring she was loosing weight and was getting very picky about what she would eat.  Due to having very little tooth surface, she was quidding her hay.  I tried ever

  16. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    My 24 yo qh gelding was nearly toothless, so we fed him a gruel of 3 lbs beet pulp , soaked, 3 lbs sr feed and 3 lbs ground grass hay. Twice per day, for a total of 18 lbs of feed daily. Lots and lots of management to do this, but he kept weight on thi

  17. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    I had 3 geriatrics – 35 and 2, 28 yr olds.  I am down to 1 now as I have sadly had to euthanize the 35 yr old and one of the 28 yr olds over the past year and a half.  I had them all on a mix of timothy/alfalfa hay cubes and pellets.  Th

  18. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    I have an almost 32 year old thoroughbred who is retired and has smooth bottom teeth.  He eats mush that consists of 1/3 Masterfeeds Golden Years, 1/3 alfalfa-timothy hay cubes and 1/3 beet pulp pellets.  He also gets 6 ounces of ground flax

  19. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    My almost 33 yr old gelding has lost all his molars over the past few years.  At each visit by the equine dentist (semi-annual) and the vet (annual), I asked if we needed to change anything about his feed yet.  However, I knew the time had co

  20. re: Senior Can’t (or Won’t) Eat Hay? No Problem

    Whiskey Jack (19, retired pacer) does well ob a complete feed, and no hay.  He has free roam of an acre that is mostly dry grass, and some other browsing foliage, except for natural grasses in spring.  He wont touch it as a gruel, or with veg

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