As our horses and ponies reach their senior years their lifestyle requirements will start to change. This will include adjusting their feed, adapting exercise routines and, should they have health issues, making major changes to maintain their health. 


With a more sedate lifestyle and possible health issues comes the need to adapt the feed to suit the type of ridden work the horse is doing or maybe you have decided to retire your companion from being ridden altogether. 

The different types of feed and supplements on the market are just mind-boggling, but for the retired senior equine or those with metabolic issues, low sugar/starch and high fibre is a good starting point.

For some elderly horses, the only hard feeds they can manage to eat are those that can be soaked and then fed as a soft mash. These are invaluable for keeping weight on and providing warmth in the colder months.

Haynets are undeniably convenient to use and they slow down the time a set amount of hay is consumed. They do, however, cause aches and pains and postural changes in the back, shoulder, neck, poll and jaw areas. Horses tend to favour eating from them on the same side and often stand for hours, tilting their heads to pull out a few strands of hay. The small hole haynets are even more restrictive than the large hole variety.                                                                    I

If you have to use haynets to slow down hay consumption or reduce waste then try and also feed some hay loose on the ground or in a large trug bucket under the haynet to allow the horse to intermittently stretch down. 

If grazing is limited then you can handpick dandelion leaves, plantain, chickweed, cleavers or hawthorn, or look at adding a quality herbal blend if the wild ingredients aren’t available. 

Foot care

If your horse or pony is no longer in ridden work and their hooves are of good quality then it would be worth considering and talking to your farrier about removing the shoes, either all-round or just the hinds.                                                                                                                        

Arthritic horses can really struggle in the process of being shod, especially with the hind feet as they must lift and flex their hocks, stifles and hip joints while balancing on three, possibly equally arthritic legs. 


Regular dental checks from a vet or equine dental technician are important to monitor the health of the teeth and gums. It is very common for elderly horses to lose their teeth and also for grass, hay and feed to become impacted in any gaps that remain. Tooth problems can present as “quidding” which means they are not chewing their food properly and dropping most of it on the floor. There may be weight loss, an unpleasant smell from the mouth and they may become head shy when putting the headcollar or bridle on.

For horses that are very dentally challenged, it will be necessary to offer soft, soaked feed that does not require chewing. There are a number of hay replacement products on the market that need to be soaked, are an excellent form of fibre and are designed to partly or solely replace hay. This is particularly useful over the winter months to keep weight on. 


As horses reach their mid-teens and twenties their immunity levels can naturally drop and they become more susceptible to carrying a worm burden. Often, after many years of clear faecal worm counts, they will suddenly have a positive for a parasite including pinworm, tapeworm or redworm. If they live in a herd, you may find that all the other horses have a clear result and just the very young and the old come back testing positive for worms.

It is important to have a worming and or testing programme in place and to frequently remove droppings from the paddocks to reduce the level of infestation.                                         

There are several herbal preparations on the market which help create an environment in the gut which is unpalatable to intestinal parasites.                                                                                                               

Regular faecal worm counts should also be used to ensure your chosen product is working effectively for your individual horse. 

Health issues affecting the older equine

There are a couple of metabolic conditions that commonly affect equines as they reach their teenage years. They have different causes but require similar management. 

Pituitary Pars Intermedia (PPID) also known as equine Cushing’s disease is caused by a disfunction of a small area at the base of the brain resulting in a disruption of the normal hormonal balance.                                                                                                                                     

Fat deposits along the crest

The most commonly seen signs are delayed shedding of the winter coat or a long curly coat in the latter stages, patchy sweating, and fat deposits on the neck crest, over the top of the eyes, around the shoulders and base of the tail. 

Blood tests are taken to confirm Cushing’s that measure Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone (ACTH) which is at higher levels if Cushing’s is present. 

Horses with cushings are more predisposed to laminitis, recurrent infections, and internal parasites. 

Some horses respond well to herbal supplements that support the hormones and others will require medication to stabilise their condition.  

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is similar to diabetes and horses suffering from this condition are usually overweight.                                                                                                                   

Body fat produces its own hormones, which reduce the horse’s response to insulin.                                  

Laminitis is a side effect of EMS and requires careful lifestyle management to control the disease. 

Changes should include a weight loss regime, high fibre but low sugar and starch diet, soaked hay to reduce sugar levels, restricted grazing, and suitable exercise to reduce and maintain a healthy weight. 


Arthritis is an inevitable condition that will affect us all to varying degrees as we age. 

Keeping our horses at an ideal weight will make a big difference to how they cope with changes to their joints and generally becoming less mobile. 

There are so many joint supplements available to buy and these generally contain glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, Boswellia and herbal mixes that include curcumin, devils claw etc. 

I have found the homeopathic remedy Arnica, and Arnica combined with Ruta grav and Rhus tox, useful additions to the first aid kit. 

Providing shelter, the use of well-fitting turn out rugs in very wet and cold weather, rubber matting and adequate bedding in field shelters and stables will also help ease aches and pains in the colder months. 

For horses that are still in ridden work, it is essential that they are given adequate time in walk, either under saddle or worked from the ground, before moving onto faster paces. This allows time for the muscles to warm up and the joints to become more flexible. 

Fantasia, a retired elderly Highland Pony who had Cushing’s, arthritis & bad teeth. She had several meals a day of soaked soft feed, vitamins, a herbal supplement & homeopathic remedies when needed


Adapting the exercise routine of the senior horse or pony will be necessary due to mobility, postural changes or health issues.

As horses age, their muscle tone decreases and their posture isn’t as good as it once was. You will find that they have a more defined dip in the backs and their abdomen sags. This will affect the fit of the saddle so an experienced saddle fitter may need to adjust the saddle and advise on any suitable saddle pads that may help give more support in the area. 

In hand groundwork on the flat or over ground poles is a useful way to keep seniors at a reasonable level of fitness and help with mobility. Working on long lines is much more suitable than going round in endless circles on the lunge and is such a valuable skill to learn if it’s something you have never tried. 

Turnout is valuable to senior horses, allowing them the freedom to stretch, roll, browse, eat grass, weeds and hedgerows and to socialise with their friends. All great for their mobility, gut health and emotional wellbeing. 

If turn out is in a herd of mixed ages, it is important that your senior is paired with a suitable companion as over zealous, playful youngsters can cause stress and potential injury to an older equine. 


Equine massage can be very beneficial to older horses and a good way to pick up on any  compensatory posture changes and stiffness in joints. Incorporating manual lymphatic drainage techniques into the routine will help to alleviate any swelling in the lower limbs which can sometimes occur when horses are standing in a stable for longer periods over the winter months. 

If your horse is very elderly, then the treatment should be planned accordingly. This would mean lighter massage strokes and more gentle techniques to provide comfort and aid in reducing aches and pains associated with old age. 

Tellington Touch is a lovely therapy and the use of the body wraps while working the horse in hand over ground poles can be really useful for providing mental stimulation and improving mobility and proprioception should there be any muscle atrophy or weakness.  

Gently applied abdominal lifts and pelvic tilts are an effective way to help improve posture. Many horses as they age will develop a markedly dipped back and give the impression of a low-slung belly. Although it will never revert back to the strength of their younger days, correctly applied abdominal lifts and pelvic tilts will certainly help to lift the abdomen and in turn free any tightness in the back.  

Ask your equine massage therapist or physiotherapist to show you a few simple techniques or stretches to suit your horse that you can carry out in-between treatments. 

Links to treatments mentioned and other blogs of interest

Visit the Modalities section on the website for more information about the treatments outlined above and how to find a practitioner or vet:

  • Equine massage
  • Physiotherapy
  • T Touch
  • Homeopathy
  • Herbs

For similar blogs see the following:

Caroline Hearn, MICHT, Dip. ICAT

Caroline is a Member of IAAT, the International Association of Animal Therapists. She is a sports, remedial and holistic massage therapist qualified to treat canine, equine, and human patients. Caroline has a lifelong obsession with dogs, a passion for holistic healthcare and natural nutrition, and a love for foraging in the countryside; all of which lead her to form the company Hedgerow Hounds which makes veterinary-approved nutritive herbal blends for dogs and other natural healthcare products. She has recently developed Hedgerow Horse.

Caroline also writes regularly for the holistic magazine Edition Dog and covers subjects such as raw feeding, canine therapies and the progress of the herbal sensory garden she created for her dogs.

Links for more information:

Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website