Feed & Nutrition

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With today’s medical advances, research, and improved management, horses are living longer and longer lives. In the past, most horses were considered old when they reached their late teens. These days, it’s not uncommon for horses to live into their late 20s or even into their 30s, allowing us to spend plenty of quality time with our elder equine friends. Proper management is key to ensuring that the older horse is happy and comfortable throughout his golden years.

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Horses have an extraordinarily large digestive system — compared to humans they have more than double the length if you were to place them side-by-side, start to finish! This long path for food digestion is packed with twists and turns (and the inability to vomit), so it’s easy to see how digestive upsets can occur in our equine partners. Below is a quick overview to give you a better understanding of how we can feed to our horses’ needs while keeping in mind how they evolved.

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Each horse is an individual and will have their own specific nutritional needs. With that in mind, there are several categories into which seniors can be divided based on their nutritional needs.

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Much more than just floating teeth! Do you remember to get an annual dental exam for your horse? A dental check by your veterinarian involves floating, the process of filing a horse’s teeth to correct irregularities in the occlusal (biting) surfaces, as well as inspecting the teeth for any indication of a variety of other potential problems. In addition to examining the teeth for abnormalities that might cause chewing and/or bitting issues, your vet will also be looking for signs of fractured or loose teeth, as well as signs of ulceration on the cheek mucosa, the tongue, or the gums (gingiva).

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For the horse owner, the onset of fall weather can signal the start of the search for storable forage before winter begins. Considerations such as forage type and storage form, nutritional content, palatability, and cost all become important.

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Horse owners have been wetting or soaking hay as a feed management practice for many years. Soaking hay for horses can be invaluable when feeding a hay that is a little dusty as a result of soil contamination or where it was stored in the barn. Horses that have allergies and are sensitive to the natural dust and particles in hay can benefit significantly from wetting or soaking hay.

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The best way to evaluate a horse’s weight and condition is with this universally recognized Body Condition Scoring (BCS) system based on the Henneke Body Condition Scale. Since it can be hard to recognize if your horse is over- or underweight, it is often helpful to have two or three friends who don’t see your horse every day use the BCS system to objectively score your horse.

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