Caring for your O.A.P – Old Age Pony

Growing old. It happens to all of us and the ageing process is no different for your horse than it is for us. Now that your beloved companion is getting on you may be working him less than you used to or may be turning him out full time for a happy and long retirement. To keep your horse in tip top condition please keep on reading to see the main areas which you may not have focused on before as much as you will need to from now on…

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Teeth

One of the most common effects of ageing in horses is a decrease in the quality of their teeth. If his teeth aren’t in good nick then most likely nor will be his stomach, coat or general condition. Missing, excessively worn or painful teether may cause a number of problems from weight loss (well you aren’t going to eat very much if it hurts to chew are you), gastric ulcers (less chewing means less saliva production) to reduced nutrient intake (due to the inability to grind fibre effectively).

To ensure his pearly whites are fit for purpose make sure you book regular dental checks at least once a year and keep an eye out for any tooth decay or gum infections.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Unless he’s old, in which case check his teeth annually

Weight

If your old chap seems to be struggling to maintain his weight it is a good idea to use a body conditioning scoring chart. This is useful in establishing whether he has simply less muscle tone from not being ridden anymore or whether he is losing body condition. Check his condition over the withers, shoulder, tail, head and rib area. You don’t want to accidentally over feed and cause Laminitis.

It is extremely important for your elderly horse to get enough fibre in his diet. If he is finding difficult to chew his feed or haylage this will lead to progressive weight loss. If this is the case then fibre must then be provided in a pre-ground form such as high fibre cubes soaked and mixed with alfalfa which can be used as hay replacer. It is even more important to maintain good levels of fibre intake in winter as fibre digestion provides internal warmth.

Mobility

After years of galloping around the countryside and generally being a horse it is understandable that he may become a little stiff and achey. There are a number of things that you can do to help ease this.

Giving him a good massage and groom will help promote the healing process of any damaged tissues, not to mention it will be extremely relaxing and enjoyable for him. Who doesn’t love a bit of TLC?

Exercise helps to slow the ageing process so turning him out as much as possible will help to prevent achey joints. The more he moves about the less he will suffer from muscle wastage, stiffness and poor circulation.

Feeding from the ground is also very important in ensuring he stretches his neck and will help to maintain his spinal flexibility and overall health.

Keep a general eye out as the older guy or gal is more likely to suffer from the following: colic, Cushing’s disease, Laminitis & EMS. If in doubt get your vet to come by a do a quick test.

Obviously all horses and ponies require our care and attention at any age but now it will become especially important. Hopefully your lovely chap or chappess doesn’t require any medical attention and simply grows old with grace. To help them, simple things such as making sure he is rugged appropriately to keep him warm or stabling hi during the cold wet weather, along with aforementioned appropriate nutrition and management should see him through OK.

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