I have a confession: It wasn't long ago that I was in rocky relationship with senior horse feeds. Yes, it had worked well for a horse I rode that was recovering from some pretty serious gastrointestinal issues, and it helped the aging horses at the lesson barn I worked at maintain a fairly decent weight. But it had also never blown me away in person by a transforming a skinny senior to a robust old horse. Basically, it was fine, but I was never eager to feed it.
I've made peace with senior feed, as Dorado has flourished since making the switch.
Photo: Erica Larson
But when I finally did give it a chance, it kind of let me down. Several years ago, we decided to switch Taz, then in his mid-20s, from having a feed designed for adult horses added to a portion of soaked beet pulp to a senior mix. He'd started to lose just a little tone over his topline and rib cage, so we decided to change things up to see if it'd help.
Unfortunately, it made no difference in his body condition or weight. He didn't lose any, but he didn't gain any either. So, we switched him back to the slightly less expensive adult horse feed, increased his portion size of both grain (well-within the manufacturer's recommended feeding rates) and beet pulp slightly, and, voila…his weight increased.
A quick caveat: Because it's important to increase a horse's forage intake before increasing his concentrate intake when adding weight, I should mention that Taz lived outside in grass-filled pastures with his friend Jessie except for the small amount of time he came inside to eat each morning and night. While we could have put additional hay outside for them, neither would have eaten it in favor of the grass. And while we did increase Taz's hay ration in his stall at each feeding, he ended up just pounding on his door, wanting to go outside, rather than eating the hay. So a beet pulp and grain increase was our next option, which did the trick.
After that experience with Taz, I was reluctant to even think of changing Dorado to a feed designed for senior horses for several reasons. First, he's late-teens-going-on-5. He has no idea how old he is, so why should I treat him like a senior if he doesn't know he's one? Second, he's still got great teeth and has no problems chewing whatever we put in front of him. And third, he was maintaining his weight perfectly fine on his diet of adult horse grain, beet pulp, hay, and some limited pasture. Why would I try to fix what wasn't broken?
Last fall, I was chatting with Dorado's nutritionist about his hot temperament as of late, and she did a little research into his diet. Turns out his adult horse grain had extremely high sugar and starch levels, which might have been contributing to his fizzy nature. She recommended adjusting to something with lower such levels, and, since winter was approaching, a product with a higher fat content to help Dorado maintain his weight through the cold spell.
Sounds good to me, I said. What product do you recommend?
And then she recommended a senior horse feed.
Well, I thought, if anyone is going to convince me to try a senior feed, it's this nutritionist. She knows a heck of a lot more about feeding than I do, and she hasn't steered me wrong thus far. So we gave it a shot. And I'm thrilled that we did.
The difference in Dorado's attitude under saddle was impressive after switching feeds, and his veterinarian raved about his condition and shiny coat all winter and early spring. Yes, my grain bill is a tad higher each month, but it's worth every penny to see my now-18-year-old horse still bouncing around like a much younger version of himself and working under saddle in a good frame of mind.
Yes, I've made my peace with senior feed. You could almost say it's my (and Dorado's) better half.
If your older horses eat grain, what kind? When did you make the switch to senior feed, and why? I'd love to hear your experiences.