Horses are now typically living longer. With improvements in knowledge, management and veterinary care horses can live to twenty or even thirty years of age. However, the senior horse can often be more susceptible to problems such as poor dentition due to missing or worn teeth, arthritis and metabolic conditions such as PPID.
For many of us, when we see our beloved veteran horses start to struggle with chewing hay and feed it can give cause for concern. However, this isn’t uncommon in older horses. Horses’ teeth continually erupt and are worn down as they chew, particularly on long stem forage such as hay and haylage. This combined with routine dental care helps to keep their teeth in good working order. However as horses get older their teeth gradually become more worn and can become less effective at chewing long stem forage. It can also lead to partially chewed food reaching further into their digestive tract which can cause blockages. Quidding is often seen in horses that are struggling to chew their hay or haylage. This is when the horse drops balls of partially chewed food from their mouth. Older horses can also be more susceptible to loosing teeth resulting in gaps or diastemas. These gaps, if not monitored can become packed with feed, leading to infections. Foul smelling breath can be an indicator of this.
Hay Replacers for veteran horses
When your veteran horse gets to this stage it is time to start looking at alternative sources of fibre for them. Horses are trickle feeders and designed to eat a minimum of 1.5% of their bodyweight as forage per day. If your horse can no longer easily manage to chew forage such as hay or haylage it is important to ensure that they still have a sufficient source of fibre in their diet.
Hay replacers are an ideal way to provide your horse with an easy to chew source of fibre when they can no longer chew hay. Hay replacers can either be in the form of a short, soft chop or a pellet which is soaked to form a mash. Soaked hay replacers or mashes are generally easier to chew than short chop fibres so if your horse has very few teeth left these would be a better option. The chew time is decreased with soaked mash feeds and so it can be advantageous to mix some short chop fibre into them if your horse is still able to manage it. Alternatively splitting into as many servings as possible, putting the mash into a shallow bucket or trough so that your horse can’t take large mouthfuls or placing obstacles that your horse has to eat around such as large flat stones can all help to increase the time it takes for your horse to eat. This will also help to reduce the chance of them going longer periods of time without any fibre in their gut. A soaked hay replacer is also beneficial for gut health in that it can help to increase your horse’s water intake; particularly advantageous for older horses or those that are reluctant to drink in cold weather.
Some hay replacers will have added nutritional extras such as pre and probiotic. This will help to nourish the microbial population in the hind gut and aid digestion; helping to ensure that your horse is getting the most out of the fibre that they are eating.
Vitamins and minerals can also be added to some hay replacer products. If you are using one with added vitamins and minerals care must be taken not to over feed as this could cause a dietary imbalance.
As horses are naturally foraging animals, offering them different sources of fibre or spreading it out in different places in their stable can help to mimic their natural grazing and foraging behaviour.
How Pure Feed can help:
Our Pure Meadow Mash is a high fibre, low sugar and starch micro-pellet that soaks to form a soft easy to chew mash. This makes it very easy to chew and ideal to use as a partial hay replacer for older horses or those that struggle to chew hay. Our Pure Meadow Mash contains added pre and probiotic to support digestion and a combination of 7 different herbs to help tempt even the fussiest of eaters.
Pure Meadow Mash soaks in as little as 5 minutes so your horse’s feed is always fresh. Add double the volume of water to feed, stir and leave for at least 5 minutes or until a soft mash is formed. Pure Meadow Mash contains no added vitamins and minerals so can be fed at a higher rate if being used as a partial hay replacer. Feed up to 1kg per 100kg bodyweight per day. This should be split into at least 3 but ideally as many servings as possible. As with any change in diet, Pure Meadow Mash should be introduced gradually and the amount fed increased over a period of at least 14 days. Feed should be weighed when dry and feeding rates based on the dry weight.
We recommend feeding a complete feed or balancer alongside to ensure that your horse is getting the daily nutrients that they require including vitamins and minerals. Older horses don’t always struggle to maintain their condition so it is important to always feed based on their requirements and body condition. View our feeds for veteran horses page for more information about complete feeds for older horses.
Contact the Pure Feed Nutritional Team
For advice on feeding your horse to help them stay calm and focused when ridden, or for more information about Pure Feed contact our friendly nutritional team. You can email [email protected] or call 01458 333 333. You can also request a free diet plan for your horse.