Our senior horses have often been with us the longest and it is our responsibility to help them live long and healthy lives. Thankfully, there are a number of senior feeds and supplements designed specifically for our older horses.
The best senior feeds will include all the vitamins and minerals necessary for older horses to thrive. They should be easy to chew and digest so that senior horses maintain a healthy weight. Not every senior feed is created equally and you should know all the facts before you pick one for your horse.
There are many different kinds of senior feeds on the market and more often than not, you will have to find the one that works best for you and your horse. The following breakdown and recommendations will help you narrow down your options so you can make the best decision for your senior pal.
Common Ingredients in Senior Horse Feeds
Senior horse feeds are designed specifically for older horses. They have different ingredients and levels of nutrients than regular horse feed.
As horses age, they often lose some of their ability to digest certain vitamins and minerals including protein and fiber. Senior feeds have higher crude fiber levels than regular horse feeds.
These sources of fiber include beet pulp, rice bran, or alfalfa meal because they are easier for horses to digest.
Senior feeds often have higher phosphorus levels as well as higher calcium than typical feeds. Depending on the type of feed, some senior feeds also include high levels of easily digestible fiber.
A feed designed for younger horses may only have 8-14% crude fiber while senior feeds have 16% to 20%. A high fiber content is most often found in complete feeds.
Senior horses also need higher levels of vitamin E than younger horses do, therefore, senior feeds tend to have higher levels of vitamin E in them.
Vitamin E is essential for a horse because it aids in their immunity. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and sometimes they are added to senior feeds or supplements.
Check the label on each senior feed to supplement to make sure it is formulated to fit your horse’s needs. You may need to consult a vet to find out which feed is best for your senior horse.
Complete Feed vs Supplement
Complete feeds can be fed as the sole source of food for a horse, while supplements must be fed in conjunction with forage and other sources of fiber and nutrition.
The majority of senior horse feeds are complete feeds. Senior complete feeds include fiber and are designed to meet all of the nutritional needs of a horse.
Horses need fiber in their diets to keep their digestive systems functioning correctly. Typically, they get this fiber daily from eating forage. Grass from pasture and properly stored hay are both considered forages.
Often, senior horses are unable to chew or process forages like they did when they were younger due to dental issues. Over time, this will cause them to lose weight because they cannot digest the food and obtain the needed nutrients from it.
Complete feeds are designed for these senior horses that need to get all of their fiber and other nutrients from an easier to chew source. (source)
Many nutritional gurus suggest feeding regular, long-stem sources of forages along with complete feeds, if your horse is able to chew it. Keep in mind that you can still feed your horse hay or grass along with a complete feed, however, you must always follow the directions on the label of your specific feed. It will advise you how much of the feed will be needed if you add forage to their diet. (source)
Supplements must be fed with hay and other sources of forage like beet pulp. Supplements do not contain the fiber that is necessary for a horse’s digestive system.
These feeds or additives must be fed along with other nutrients and fiber sources for a horse to have a complete and balanced diet.
Supplements can be added to your horse’s current diet in an effort to add needed vitamins, nutrients and calories while avoiding having to switch to a complete feed.
If your horse is eating a complete feed already, there is typically not a need for a supplement unless that specific feed is missing a needed vitamin or mineral that a supplement can provide.
What if my horse has metabolic problems?
If your horse suffers from metabolic issues such as insulin resistance or equine Cushing’s disease, you will need to be extra vigilant when choosing your senior feed.
There are senior feeds designed with these horses in mind, however, you should always make sure that the feed you choose contains low levels of nonstructural carbohydrates.
This means that is has a lower sugar content and can be fed to horses with insulin-resistant disorders.
Always read the label and watch for additives like molasses that can add sugar levels to a feed. You should always work with your vet to find the right feed for these horses. (source)
Can I feed senior feed to younger adult horses?
Senior feeds were designed with horses that have reached at least their twenties, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t feed it to younger adult horses.
While it is not recommended for horses that are in perfect health, there are certain situations where senior feeds could benefit a horse younger than 20.
Horses that have dental issues or a faulty functioning digestive system can be fed senior feeds to help them gain or maintain their weight.
Horses that are recovering from certain illnesses or events such as surgery or choking could benefit from eating senior feeds until they recover. Discuss the option with your vet to decide whether a senior feed is right for your younger horse. (source)
Top 4 Senior Horse Feeds to Try
Triple Crown Senior
This senior feed is a complete feed that is perfect for older horses with dietary issues. It has a beet-pulp blend and has a low sugar level making it ideal for horses with metabolic issues.
Triple Crown Senior is softer than normal feed and can easily be mixed with a little water to make it more palatable for older horses. It has 14% crude protein along with 17% crude fiber. It contains Omega 3 fatty acids along with vitamin E.
Purina Mills Equine Senior Horse Feed
Purina’s Equine Senior is a complete feed that is has a lower level of nonstructural carbohydrates so that it can be fed to horses that are sensitive to sugar.
It contains beet pulp and hay as well as prebiotics to aid in digestion. It has added vitamins and minerals that are vital to an older horse’s health. In 2012, it was the #1 senior horse feed recommended by veterinarians. (source)
Manna Pro Senior Equine Supplement
This supplement is designed for older horses and contains protein, fats, prebiotics and calcium. It contains a combination of vitamins and minerals that aid in digestive and promote joint health in horses.
Manna Pro Senior is processed by extruding pellets which makes them easier for horses to digest. It must be fed in conjunction with a forage source. Grain is not necessarily needed depending on the quality and quantity of the forage provided.
Farnam Senior Health and Wellness Supplement
This is a supplement designed for non-active senior horses. It provides a balanced supplement that contains the needed vitamins, proteins and minerals for an older horse.
Farnam Senior Health and Wellness Supplement has amino acids and a prebiotic that aids in digestion. It can be fed along with a forage-only diet or in conjunction with a forage and grain diet.
The best senior horse feed is the one that works the best for your horse and your situation. What might be perfect for one horse might not work for another.
By considering what your senior horse needs and is capable of eating, you will no doubt be able to find the senior feed that is the best for your horse. It is always recommended to consult with your vet before switching feeds.