The Signs of a Senior Horse

Side Shot Of A Horse On Landscape
A dropped back can be a sign of an older horse. Sebastian Kopp / EyeEm / Getty Images

Question: What are the signs that my horse may be aging?

What are the physical signs your horse may be aging? How will I know it's time to care for my horse as if it were a senior horse?

Answer: Not all horses age at the same rate and this can be due to genetics and the care they have received throughout their life. Generally, horses are thought to be ‘older’ after the age of 15. But this is a generalization, as there are horses that remain youthful into their twenties.

Even though your horse may not appear to be a senior citizen from the outside, there are things going on inside that we can’t see, but are part of the aging process. Being a senior horse doesn’t mean that your horse should be relegated to the back pasture and a life of easy retirement. With the right management, taking consideration some of the changes that the horse is undergoing,  many older horses continue to compete at a high level of competition. So while the chronological age for a horse to be regarded as a senior is fifteen, horses like people age at different rates. Diet, activity, genetics, environment and other factors affect how a horse ages.

Signs Your Horse Is Becoming a Senior Citizen

Very aged horses sometimes grow gray hair around the eyes and muzzle. This will be more obvious in horses that are a dark. A grey horse, which might start out as a chestnut, bay or other color earlier in life might become whiter, or more speckled as they age.

Often by the time a grey horse is fifteen or older, it will be completely white. 

An older horse’s skin tone becomes looser and hair/skin may feel coarser. An older horse’s skin may feel thicker and dryer. Their coat may not be quite as sleek as it once was.

Your senior horse’s gaits may become choppier and this can be caused by weaker muscles and arthritic joints.

This is why exercise is important, along with a good diet, proper weight maintenance, and if needed, supplements to support tissue repair.

Minor scratches and cuts may take longer to heal. This is natural as any animal grows older.

You might see a change in appetite. Your horse may have decided preferences for what, and when it eats.

And older horse might have long front teeth, very worn or missing back teeth. By the time a horse is fifteen, the groove on the outside of its teeth will have grown al,ost  all the way out, its teeth will be more sloped and yellowed or stained. A very old horse may have outlived its teeth and have gaps were they once were.

The horse’s back may sag. This is due to slack muscles. This is called lordosis or sway back. Some horses suffer from it much earlier in life, but that is not age related.

In many older horses, the depression over the eye may become more hollowed. Again, slack muscles can cause this, giving the horse a woe begotten look.

Overall energy level decreases in an older horse. Your horse may not the pep it once had. Warm ups will need to be longer, workouts more gentle and after care will need to include joint care. An older horse may need a bit more feed for extra energy, but not so much it makes them fat.

So, just because a horse doesn’t look old, doesn’t mean there aren’t things going on in its body that are signs of aging we can’t see. Adjust your horse’s workload, diet and environment

Back to Caring For Your Older Horse Main FAQ Index