Monday, July 11, 2011

Oldies but Goodies

I hear it over and over and over again: “It’s skinny because it’s old!”
Nothing infuriates me more than hearing that as an excuse for why someone’s horse is thin. There is NO excuse for ANY horse to be skinny, short of them having a serious illness and being under the supervision of a vet who believes the horse will recover from said illness.

Most of the time, the only reason an older horse may be thin is because they have horrible teeth. For my non-horsey readers: horse teeth aren’t like our own teeth; they need to be filed down every once in a while (“floated”) so that they have a level chewing surface to properly break down their food for digestion. It’s a simple enough solution and works for most older horses, who will begin picking up their weight almost immediately without any change in diet.

If having their teeth floated doesn’t work to the extent one would hope, the next step would be to put them on a Senior-type feed, which is specially formulated for older horses. Their bodies can use more of the feed and digest the pellets much better than coarse sweet feeds.

Just giving them the means to eat or have something they can digest will let maybe 90% of those skinny horses re-gain their weight and look like they’re eight years old again.

If the horse is unable to gain weight with having 24/7 access to good pasture and/or hay, and getting several square meals a day, you need to seriously re-evaluate the horse’s condition with your vet. If it is not within your means to keep a horse in healthy weight, you need to re-evaluate why you are keeping the horse. If the horse has some medical condition that is incurable and is only going to get worse and the horse already looks like a starvation case, you should seriously consider euthanizing the horse. I will never criticize someone for humanely euthanizing a sickly horse they don't have the means to rehabilitate.


A decent number of horses who come through the Rescue are what some consider to be “old.” It’s amazing how different the opinions of horsemen/women are when it comes to age. Some believe anything over the age of 10 is old! Heck, if that were true, ¾ of our whole farm are on death’s doorstep! What becomes a somewhat more blurry line is as a horse passes 15 years of age. If a horse is treated appropriately in their early years (i.e. proper nutrition for growth, not being ridden until growth plates close, good conditioning, etc.), there’s no reason they should be getting creaky or stiff at the age of 15. However, usually by this point it becomes apparent if a horse wasn’t given the right kind of care earlier in its life. They may be sore, they may take longer to warm up for riding, or they may be completely unsound before they even reach the age of 10 (as is the case for some horses who are bred for looks, not longevity). If a horse receives the proper care, 15 is a prime age. There are many Olympic-level horses who are hitting their prime in their late teens and compete well into their twenties! For disciplines such as Dressage, it takes a very long time to master such difficult maneuvers as are required in the Olympics. One would be hard-pressed to find any horse competing seriously at that level less than 12 years old.

Why am I discussing such a topic? There are several horses in our care and up for adoption who are at least 20 years old and of sound mind and body who refuse to be ready to retire! We certainly believe they are ready for retirement, but the point is that someone, early in their lives, cared enough for them to make sure they lasted a long time. It is disheartening that someone could put so much effort into ensuring their longevity, but so little into ensuring the horse has a home for life. Does that make sense? Someone raises the horse to be sturdy and last long enough to get as much profit as they can out of it, then as soon as the horse shows signs of slowing down or aging, they dump it. So much care went into creating and developing the horse, but they don’t care how the horse meets its end.

When we rescued Noel, she was so thin that you could see every bone in her body through her winter coat- and believe me, she was one fuzzy mare (where she had hair, at least… extensive rain rot was just one of her worries at the time). Noel is such an incredibly affectionate mare, and at 35+, she is a rare find! Most horses that old would be tottering around their fields with the aid of umpteen different supplements. Not Noel! She has a ton of spunk, and requires only one joint supplement to keep the creaks away. Looking at her today, it’s hard to believe that at several points, we were about to make that last phone call to the vet. She’s a fighter! Noel is somewhat broke to ride, but due to her age she can only do very short pony rides. We can only hope she can find as good a home as she deserves (padded velvet stall, room service, daily massages, etc.).

Noel before rehabilitation:

Noel today:

Wherever you find Noel in her pasture, you will find Echo right along with her! Echo, a 20-year-old Belgian mare, was recently returned to us in very poor condition. Never did we expect these two to pair up! Echo was not only severely emaciated, she also had an injury to her right hind hoof that was just left to heal on its own… which it didn’t completely. All of her feet had been untouched for at least a year, and it is going to take at least that long to get her hooves back in proper condition. She is putting weight back on very well, and spends every minute hanging out with Noel.

Echo when she arrived:

Echo's bad hoof pre- and post-first trim:

(I can't seem to find a decent recent photo of her condition... Noel is hogging the camera in all of them, LOL)

Also up for adoption are Stalin and Meadow. Aged 20 and 19 respectively, they were adopted out together early last year, but were returned a few months later with an extreme phobia of having their feet handled. Having our fantastic farrier work with them has allowed them to overcome their fears, and they both now stand quietly for him. They are both broke to ride, and Meadow even competes on the local barrel racing circuit! A fantastic trail horse, Meadow is perfect for the beginner adult rider.



All of these horses are fantastic, and it is such an incredible shame that if we hadn’t intervened at some point in their lives, they would most certainly be dead, be it by starvation or a cruel ending in a slaughterhouse.

Any horse that works hard for people deserves nothing less than being pampered for the rest of their days. Wouldn’t you like to have a chance to enjoy a comfortable retirement after putting in your own due time?


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