Last Updated on March 11, 2022 by Allison Price
Your 20-year old gelding is beginning to look more senior. He has more bounce and sway to his steps, but he doesn’t seem as active. Horses don’t tend to become more senile or physically frail than humans, unless they have a medical condition. However, there are certain changes that happen as they age. These changes can occur sooner in horses than others, depending on a variety of factors including genetics.
Tia Nelson, a veterinarian and horse owner near Helena Montana, stated that many horses aged 18-25 years old might be considered older horses, but may not need special care. Some horses begin to age as young as 15, while others don’t appear old until their 20s.
Nelson said, “My first horse was 27 years of age and she would still happily buck off!” Horses are just like people. Some people seem old at 60, while others don’t appear to be that old at 80. People can’t believe my husband is 71 years old.
Horses age at different rates than humans.
She said, “It’s definitely genetic, because some breeds last longer than others and there are families in every breed that live for longer.”
This could be due to their ability to keep their teeth clean or if they have trouble keeping them clean. Each horse is unique and cannot be compared to their calendar age.
Old age signs include the horse’s back swaying due to weakening the supraspinous ligament supporting the back. The tendons may also become weaker, which can cause the fetlock to drop towards the ground, particularly in the hind legs.
You may also notice more gray hairs, especially around the eyes, a droopy lower lip, sunken and stiffer joints. The pain of arthritis can make it difficult for horses to move around or to do athletic activities. It is important to monitor your horse’s health and condition. Some horses may have more serious problems than others.
Nelson stated, “My goal for older horses is that they live well, are healthy, and robust, until they are no longer a lingering downhill slide.”
Horses tend to remain relatively healthy and active through old age. However, horses often decline faster than humans, who often experience slower decline. With good care, we may be able to delay the inevitable decline of an older horse.
Nelson said, “When the horse is in pain and you cannot do anything to help them, the kindest thing to do is to euthanasia.” Ask your veterinarian for assistance if you find it difficult to make the decision.
Sometimes, the horse may be able continue with regular care. This could include horses with poor teeth or horses with metabolic issues that require special care and medication.
Nelson said that it could come down to the amount of time, energy, and money needed to address a particular issue. If you are a good friend of the horse, you might have a feeling about the time the horse should die (if the horse’s quality of life is declining). Sometimes your intuitions can be quite accurate.