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Feeding the Mature Horse


      After horses reach the age of 10, some other nutritional care and requirements need to be considered.  The average horse can live up to 30 or more years.  The geriatric horse is usually one that is over 20 years old.  The oldest horse has lived to 46 years of age (and 30 for cattle, 27 for pigs, 20 for sheep and 18 for goats). 

     The type of hay that you feed your mature horse depends upon the quality of hay.  We recommend good grass hay with no weeds or dust.  An adult horse only needs hay for maintenance; up to 15-25# of hay a day.  Good grass hay contains 8% protein, 0.30% calcium and 0.20% phosphorus; all that is needed for mature horses.  Alfalfa is a good hay, but has more protein than is required.  The protein supplements are not normally needed for mature horses, and they can do more harm than good.  Feed at least 1/2 the ration as hay, or 16# minimum per 1000# horse.  Sudan and oat type hays are not advised for horses.   The mature type horse feeds are also good products.  When feeding cubes to horses never feed the cubes with a diameter greater than 0.75”.  We prefer 0.5” size or less pellets for older horses, to help prevent choke.  If feeding beet pulp, we recommend that you soak this product before feeding; shards will soak up water faster than pellets, yet both are adequate.  One can feed up to 3″ total a day of beet pulp, and if you feed more routinely please consult with us about other nutrients to supplement.  Grain should be fed at a moderate rate.  It is best to feed mostly hay to prevent grain overloads, laminitis, etc.  Hay also helps prevent boredom.  Oats ferment slower than corn, which is why oats or barley are usually recommended.  Never routinely feed over 5# of grain per feeding to a horse.  When starting an older horse on grain, always begin with .5# a day, slowly increasing only .25# a day maximum.  Split up the rations into 2-3 feeding a day, especially concentrates.  Cracked corn can be fed, but not usually over 1/3 of the feeding in physically active horses.  Whole corn is not advised at all, as some types of colic can be associated with whole corn.  Although up to 1/3 of the diet can be silage, we don’t advise this for horses.  The mold in silage and low quality hays contribute to emphysema and other medical problems.  Any horse over 10 years old who coughs during exercise or 2-3x a day should be examine for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also called COPD, heaves and/or emphysema. 

     Clean water and the brown mineralized salt block should always be available.  Horses are companion animals that like to have daily attention with grooming, exercise and T.L.C.  If your horse is drinking more than 10 gallons of water a day, we recommend that you collect a urine sample and bring into to the clinic.  If you notice dark colored urine anytime, a sample should be collected ASAP.  After the urinalysis tests are done we should schedule a senior exam and blood tests.  A horse with a thick crest on his neck should also have a glucose, thyroid and other tests performed. 

     If your older horse is periodically coughing or breathing faster than normal (>20 times/minute) then take his temperature, call us for advice and also drop by a fresh fecal exam.  There are many treatments and causes for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heaves in horses.

     Weight loss can be due to a variety of problems in the older horse.  When group feeding horses, observe if the older horse is being pushed away from his share of the rations.  Pelleted feeds can help the older horses maintain his weight.  Instead of giving grain you may add 1/4 cup of corn oil to his ration twice a day.  If the teeth are in good shape, he should be dewormed 3-4+ times a year and hay provided free choice.  If he is still loosing weight then a medical exam and blood tests are recommended.  We recommend that you obtain a 10′ tape measure and each fall or spring measure the girth of your horse at an area a little behind his withers; record this measurement. 

     A horse that does not shed out normally may have a hormonal problem, which we can test for and treat if the problem is a hypothyroid and/or adrenal problem.  If any horse is drinking more than 15 gallons of water a day, per 1,000# body weight, please call the veterinarian.  An older horse loosing their teeth for no reason should also be considered a candidate for the Cushing’s blood tests.  Every couple of years we recommend a PCV/TP and blood glucose test on geriatric horses that are either diagnosed and/or may appear to have a low thyroid and/or Cushing’s like conditions.  Besides routine blood tests we do recommend urine testing for all older patients, including horses, every few years.


For reference, the daily requirements for a 1100# mature horse is:

Crude Protein = 1.4# (650 grams) a day             

TDN = 8.1# a day

Energy = 16,000 calories for maintenance

Calcium = 20 grams                      Phosphorus = 15 grams

Vitamin A = 13,200 I.U.*                   Vitamin D = 3,300 I.U.

Magnesium = 7.5 grams                   Copper = 82 milligrams

Zinc = 328 milligrams                   Iron = 328 milligrams

Selenium = 0.82 milligrams              Potassium = 25 grams

Sodium = 8.2 grams


*  Dietary beta carotene is actually the nutrient needed for vitamin A.      

The above requirements are normally met with good quality hay.  The B and K vitamins are normally manufactured in the horse’s own intestinal tract.