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 –
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.