Just like people, senior horses face growing challenges as they age; stiff joints and hoof issues are common as horses enter their twilight years.
For tasks that used to be easy in their youth, such as when the farrier asked them to hold up their legs for a hoof inspection, their geriatric legs now say otherwise; like us, they could benefit from slowly limbering up their joints with some mild exercise beforehand.
Equine Guelph has declared the Senior Horse Challenge its ‘Tool of the Month’ for November. The online tool provides information on caring for our seniors and highlights new resources on senior hoof care, featuring a video interview with a certified journeyman farrier, Sean Elliott, on shoeing and hoof issues in senior horses.
Elliott walks horse owners through several important points:
- What are the priorities for prevention of hoof issues in the senior; how important is it to keep them moving/outside?
- Do you have any good stretches that can be done prior to shoeing?
- Can owners space out farrier appointments for senior horses? Does the senior hoof grow slower?
- Can most senior horses go barefoot when they cease to be in a riding program?
- What are the most common issues you see when trimming or shoeing the senior horse?
- What do you do for a laminitic horse?
- Have you ever spotted a metabolic disorder before the horse owner?
- What do you want senior horse owners to know?
Elliott is quick to point out laminitis is a loaded question and a highly expansive topic. “Each case is individual,” he says. “It is important to work with a veterinarian to identify the underlying cause and refer to radiographs to come up with the best strategies.”
He also pointed out that the term ‘easy keeper’ is a bit of a misnomer. It is often these horses, that are at a higher risk for developing laminitis secondary to metabolic disorders (such as insulin resistance).
Older horses are prone to disorders such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, formerly known as Cushing’s), dental issues and gut motility issues.
Dr Doug Myers, DVM, from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, a sponsor of the Senior Horse Challenge tool, says studies show one-third of laminitis cases are linked to PPID. “The best rule of thumb is when you see symptoms of laminitis, talk to your veterinarian about testing for PPID,” Myers says.
The saying, “you’re only as old as you feel”, certainly applies to horses. Some horses may be considered elderly at 15, while others are still actively ridden at 25. The senior horse’s exercise regime should be carefully considered in order to encourage mobility for health without putting undue stress on old injuries or areas of particular weakness. A suitable and consistent exercise plan, with a nice long warm-up and cool down phase, can also be very beneficial for reducing stiffness. The senior horse that spends its time in the paddock rather than a stall has more opportunity to keep joints moving.
Work with your veterinarian to decide what level of activity is suitable for your horse. Routine veterinary check-ups are important whether the senior horse is being ridden or not.