From Sport to Senior: Your Horse’s Changing Nutritional Needs

As your horse gets older and you show or compete less, their nutritional needs will vary. At this point, your horse’s feeding program largely depends on their level of activity, age, metabolism, and quality and quantity of hay and pasture. Here, we'll go through two different stages and provide feeding recommendations for your aging equine athlete.

Stage One - Reduced Activity

The first stage is when your horse is 15 to 20 years old, and the show or competition schedule has been reduced or early-stage retirement is now in effect. Reduced activity means lower energy requirements, and the amount of grain or concentrate required should be less to maintain a desired body condition score. If you can maintain good body condition with just a few pounds per day of feed besides hay and/or pasture grazing, consider providing a diet balancer.

A diet balancer is designed to provide required nutrients at a much lower feeding rate than a conventional horse feed. The recommended minimum feeding rate for a conventional horse feed is usually 0.5% body weight per day or 5 pounds daily for a 1,000-lb horse. Diet balancers have an increased concentration of amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and additives and have a recommended minimum feeding rate of only 0.1% body weight per day or 1 pound daily for a 1,000-lb horse.

You may already have a horse that is an easy keeper and only requires a few pounds of diet balancer, or you only need to provide a few pounds of additional feed with a diet balancer on a daily basis. Many horses are fed with only a diet balancer or a diet balancer/conventional feed combination due to a thrifty metabolism or when plenty of hay or pasture is provided to meet energy requirements. We carry several products which can be fed alone or with forage (hay and pasture). They're formulated with concentrated levels of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to provide all required nutrients to the horse for maintenance and integrity of muscle, coat, and hoof condition as well as optimal support of immune and digestive health.

Stage Two - Retirement

The second stage is when your horse is fully retired or only lightly ridden, usually around 20 to 25 years of age. You observe weight loss when your horse is fed hay and grain. Upon further observation, you notice quidding of hay (partially chewed pieces of hay dropped to the ground) and slavering of grain (feed dropped to the ground or feed container). This is due to poor dental condition when the molars are now so shallow that they can no longer erupt enough to provide an efficient cutting or shearing function for the horse to effectively chew and swallow their feed. Tooth loss can also occur at this age, and this also reduces the ability of the horse to chew and ingest their feed effectively, especially for poor-quality hay.

For older horses in this second stage needing weight gain, feeding recommendations are to switch to a senior horse feed and higher quality hay or a chopped, cubed, or pelleted hay. Soaked alfalfa cubes make a great forage source for the older horse, as they are readily consumed and are a great source of calories and digestible fiber. And a highly fortified and high-fat senior feed can provide additional calories for the older horse needing weight gain. Choose a senior feed with a controlled carbohydrate content and low guaranteed levels of starch and sugar for additional feeding safety. Again, we have several products that meet these requirements. Providing one of these senior feeds along with a processed forage such as alfalfa or grass hay cubes can be used to easily maintain weight for older horses with poor dental issues.

Utilize these two stages as your horse transitions from an active show or competition career to retirement to maintain optimum health and longevity. And for more information or personalized recommendations on your own feeding program, be sure to call or stop by and chat with one of our nutritional experts. If we don't know the answer, we're happy to connect you with people who do.


NOTE: This post is adapted (with permission) from content proudly brought to you by our partners at Nutrena and Cargill Animal Nutrition. The original article appears here.

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