Your Aging Horse is Only as Old as He Feels

So, rather than gauging a horse’s age by years, Ralston recommends horse owners base an animal’s retirement and/or health care management on the horse’s physical fitness.

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Advances in medicine and health care have boosted the average human life span from 45 years in the early 1900s to 72 or more years in the 1990s. Parallel advances in veterinary medicine, and horse owners’ willingness to care for their horses beyond their utility, also have increased equine longevity. While most individuals are aware that humans are living longer, many people aren’t aware that horses are living longer, and that their owners have the power to extend their active years as well.

I write from experience. In 1985, I retired my Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred gelding at 19 expecting he would drop dead under me any day. Eleven years later, I’m still feeding the old hayburner. Had I known Jake, 30, was going to live this long, I would not have turned him out to pasture so soon. The mistake I made was thinking he was chronologically old instead of paying attention to his physical condition and peppy attitude. It has only been the last couple of years that he has begun to show the ravages of old age–hay belly, sunken back, protruding withers, a sprinkling of gray on the face, and sloppy eating habits.

"As with humans, chronological age does not always match the aging process," said Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, ACVN. "Although 60% of the horses I have studied over 20 years old required special care, they were still serviceably sound. Indeed, many of these horses were still rideable, or in the case of stallions and mares, used for breeding."

Although Ralston did not study these horses, several notable horses have enjoyed or are enjoying a long life: Quarter Horse greats Joe Moore (34), and Go Man Go (29), renowned Thoroughbreds Gallant Man (34) and Primonetta (35), and the popular Arabian stallions El Kumait and Nasik were 30 when they sired their last crops of foals. Ken Kopp, DVM, manager of horse feeds for Southern States Cooperative of Richmond, Va., said he knows of several horses in their late 30s and early 40s

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