“Welcome to the geriatric equine center!” my dad has said, jokingly, when I’ve come home to visit. It’s an accurate assessment—just about every animal on my parents’ farm is over 15, from the flashy father-and-son Miniature Horse duo, Chief and Sulli, to the mischievous Norwegian Fjord, Loki. In fact, for the past 20 years or so, there’s been at least one horse or pony on a special gruel, metabolic drug, or joint management program designed to promote health and comfort during his golden years.
Sulli (son, in the front), and Chief (sire, bringing up the rear), are my family's two senior Minis.
Photo: Travis Church/TheHorse.com
Why does my family--and the many of you--work so very hard to take care of these equine senior citizens? A lifetime of accumulated shared experiences and quintessential quirks make our older horses especially dear to us, motivating us to make multiple trips to the barn daily for “wardrobe changes” or supplement administration. There’s something about their steady presence in our continually fluctuating lives. They’ve carried us, quite literally, through different life phases. Simply, they’re family.
Icy Edge was our off-track Thoroughbred who lived to be 30. Note the melanoma at his throatlatch.
Photo: Sarah L. Church/TheHorse.com
And it seems like there are many more older horses in our barns, too. Twenty years ago, as an eager 4-H/Pony Clubber sharing facts and figures about horses with anyone who would listen, I would’ve estimated the life expectancy of the average horse to be his early 20s. Now I’m inclined to add a few more years to that.
In my family’s experience, for instance, Icy, my off-the-track-Thoroughbred-turned-eventer lived to be 30, ignoring predictions that his melanoma would end his life sooner. My pony Pacer, a retired barrel racer and Western Pleasure champion, pushed 40 before we elected to euthanize due to infirmities of old age.
Silky, my mom's senior Tennesee Walking Horse, has equine Cushing's disease.
Photo: Sarah L. Church/TheHorse.com
We keep our older horses fit and give them jobs to do, keeping their joints moving and their brains engaged; Mom says Silky, her Tennessee Walker (so far a survivor of an oral tumor, Cushing’s, and a mild case of laminitis), is noticeably happier and more interested in life when he is off the farm, on a trail, and exploring whatever it is out there he enjoys seeing.
See how happy Silky (on the right, with my mom piloting) looks when he's out on the trail? Here, he's pictured with Honey, my family's young Belgian/Quarter-Horse cross (my sister Sarah is aboard).
Photo: Steve Church/TheHorse.com
Erica, our news editor, events her 17-year-old Thoroughbred, Dorado, and always comes to the office armed with stories about his athleticism and antics.
We’re also applying better overall care. Our vets know a staggering amount about equine physiology; we’ve seen a growing number of studies conducted in older horses, and there are universities with entire research programs built around diseases primarily affecting senior equids. Also, information is more accessible than ever, so in addition to heeding the advice of trusted practitioners, responsible owners are reading up on providing better care throughout horses’ entire lives.
It’s inevitable: Happy, fit, healthy horses generally live longer, so there are more of them among us. For the June Senior Horse Special issue (I just adore the cover photo for this issue, by the way—props to Managing Editor Alex for finding it!) we pulled together several senior-centric articles to assist you as you care for these treasured family members. Preview the cover story and, if you’re not already a subscriber, get your single issue before they sell out or subscribe to the print or online editions! Here are some other June issue highlights:
- Sleep Patterns. Our horses have them, too. And while our animals are not operating heavy machinery, sleep deprivation can still prove to be a big problem for their health and welfare.
- Head Tack Mechanics. We focus on health in our magazine, and this was a unique opportunity to look at the science of bridles, reins, and martingales, and their biomechanical functions. Just yesterday I was watching a Grand Prix jumping event with an engineer who is not a horse person (interested in vectors and energy transfer and all types of stuff), and there were a variety of head-tack examples that I was able to explain the “actions” of better because I’d read this article.
- Body Condition. My take is that horse owner awareness about body condition has skyrocketed in the past eight to 10 years. On one hand, there seem to be more people (including animal cruelty investigators) informed and equipped to detect too-low body condition scores. I also see more diligent owners recognizing that they might be keeping their horses a wee bit too rotund, which can also be harmful to these animals’ health. There’s a great piece on assessing body condition, detecting potential problems, and adjusting diet accordingly. And that reminds me: We have a newly redesigned Body Condition Score reference poster that you can get from our TheHorse.com Gear Store in several different sizes.
I hope you pick up a copy of our June issue. Please share some of the ways you used its messages, whether for caring for your senior equids or their younger stablemates.