During the past century, the human life span has more than doubled. Living to an old age has come to mean surviving well into the 80s, 90s, and even past 100 years. Our increased longevity is attributable to better nutrition and medical advances, as well as to increased knowledge of how to keep ourselves in good mental and physical health. As our longevity has increased, so has that of the horse, and of other companion animals. Advances in all aspects of veterinary medicine can be attributed to the great growth in research, increasing the knowledge base in areas such as equine nutrition, exercise physiology, and treatment of disease. It is no longer rare for horses to live to 30 years of age, and some even to 40.
All living things deserve quality of life as well as quantity. If a horse is to be content into his advanced years, he needs to be given the opportunity to keep his body and mind active. Older horses have proven that, given the chance, they often can hold their own with their younger counterparts. The Thoroughbred John Henry raced competitively during his ninth year. The renowned Thoroughbred stallion Mr. Prospector is actively breeding at age 28.
If you have an older horse in your care, do not assume that he will be fine functioning as a pasture ornament. His mental and physical health will depend on attention and activity. Bring him into the barn on a regular basis for grooming and interaction with you. Carefully run your hands over every part of his body, feeling for areas of heat, swelling, or tension. If his haircoat is thick and long, this will take extra concentration (see related article on Cushing’s Disease in The Horse of February 1997).