With advances in veterinary medicine and more knowledge, horses like humans are now living longer. Many horses and ponies that have had good welfare throughout their lives, are now remaining healthy and active well in to their 20’s and 30’s. Taking care of elderly horses and ponies takes a lot of time and expense, especially if they have other health issues or their dental health deteriorates.
 
 
Challenges and Legal Responsibilities Of Owners And Keepers
 

When taking care of elderly horses and ponies, it can be a real challenge to ensure they have the appropriate amount of forage and fibre for their size and weight. If they require forage replacers it can also be challenging to avoid long periods of time between feeds and eating. This is especially true when feeding slops rather than short chops, because they can eat them so quickly. Section 9 of the animal welfare act places a duty of care on owners and keepers to ensure the needs of an animal they are responsible for are met to the extent required by good practice. For the purposes of this Act an animals need shall be taken to include –

 
a) It’s need for a suitable environment
b) It’s need for a suitable diet
c) It’s need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
d) Any need it has to be housed with or apart from other animals, and
e) It’s need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
 
Horses and Ponies Natural Diet 

Horses and ponies are natural grazers and have evolved to eat for 18 hours a day in the wild. They would also cover anything from five miles right up to as far as thirty-four miles in a day depending on the number of water sources and quality of grazing available. Their digestive system has evolved to cope with a fibre-based diet. A horse’s natural diet includes a variety of grasses of several types and age, in addition they will seek out herbs and few weeds. Some elderly ponies can manage to chew grass, but not manage hay, meaning winter can be a challenging time, especially for those owners and keepers with limited availability of land to put aside adequate grazing for winter. A horse or pony should not go any longer than 4 hours without eating. As our equine friends advance in age and their dental health deteriorates, it is our legal and moral responsibility as owners and keepers to ensure their changing dietary needs are met.

Being old does not always mean a pony will be thin, although it is likely that they may lose muscle tone and change shape, if they are otherwise healthy and receive the correct amount of forage/fibre for their size then their weight and body condition will also be within healthy range.

Case Study
 
 
Sam is a 34 year old pony pictured above, he now needs complete forage replacement. This is due to having very little teeth. To meet all of Sam’s nutritional needs, we have to feed him a complete forage replacer, and feed balancer all year round. Sam lived in his excellent, responsible Guardian home for many years, he was loved and very well cared for. Sadly as his dental health deteriorated he wasn’t maintaining his weight as well. It became apparent during 2021 that he needed extra feeds throughout the day. His Guardian worked long shifts in the NHS and wasn’t able to give him the extra forage replacement feeds whilst in work. In the autumn of 2021 she made the very difficult and responsible decision to return him back to the Trust. His Guardian had hoped he would end his days with her, but as the temperatures began to drop, so did his body condition.
 
On his return we had Sam’s blood tested to double check that there weren’t any underlying causes for his weight loss. Fortunately for Sam he has no health issues other than his poor dentition due to old age. We slowly introduced his feeds and built them up so that he was receiving 2.5% of his body weight in dry matter spread over 8 feeds a day. His daily diet is made up of Top Spec feed balancer, sugarbeet, Top Spec Ulsa Kind, soaked fibre nuts, Alfa A, senior chaff, soaked grass nuts and linseed mash.
 
There is 6 weeks between the photos of Sam above. We are pleased at the time of writing that he now has a good body condition score. Now that he is a good weight, we’ve been able to reduce his feed to maintain his condition. He also has more energy and occasionally creates some mischief. He can catch you off guard by barging out of his stable in the morning or trotting around the farm like he is on a mission.
 
Lluest Horse and Pony Trust are always happy to give owners support and advice. You can find a short info graphic on caring for older horses and ponies here.