Old Horses: No Excuses

On this page you'll find information about how best to feed senior horses that have trouble keeping weight on. You'll also see lots and lots of senior horses that look GREAT because of the excellent care they've gotten.  And of course, you get a bit of a rant.


This page shouldn't have to be in existence. If a horse of ANY AGE looks too thin, the owner should consult with a vet and fix the problem. But too many people see a horse that looks like a walking skeleton and shrug, saying, "He's just old." This is an awful, terrible, no-good excuse for laziness and neglect.

It's true that old horses have less muscle mass. They also have a harder time keeping weight on, and they may need special diets. They sometimes have other health issues, like poor teeth, cancer, breathing difficulties, severe arthritis and other problems that also make them less eager to eat. It's hard keeping weight on an old horse with health problems. But it can be done.

An old horse shouldn't have to suffer the aches, pains, cold and hunger of malnutrition for weeks or months or years just because you are too poor/sentimental/busy/lazy/ignorant to either find a way to improve its health, or put it down humanely.

The bottom line is, there is no excuse for an old horse to be a starving horse. None.

Resources and Links

  • Here's a great list of articles from The Horse on keeping older horses fit.
  • Information for Rehabilitating a Starving Horse
  • If you are rehabilitating a starving horse, be careful: you can cause re-feeding syndrome by feeding to wrong food too fast or too soon. Learn how to prevent re-feeding syndrome here.
  • A well-researched article, outlining some common problems among senior horses: Care for the Older Horse: Diet and Health
  • Here's the gold standard, vet-approved Henneke Body Condition Scoring System, with color photo examples.
  • Tried everything? Maybe your old horse really can't keep the weight on. It's time to give your friend the last, best gift: a peaceful, humane death. Here's a video showing how low-stress it is. Here's an article by a vet about the difficult, emotional process that we must all face: "I held on longer than my common sense told me was reasonable. Ultimately, however, I realized that I was clinging to Goldie's life for my own benefit, not hers."
Gallery of Healthy Senior Horses
Thank you to all who sent pictures!! I truly appreciate them-- and of course your dedication to your senior horses. You are their angels.
If you have a senior horse in great shape you'd like to show off, please send pictures to northhorseblog@gmail.com.

Clover is in her 30s, rescued from neglect. She lives on alfalfa mush.

Late 20s horse rescued from neglect.
Moonshine, a 36 year old pony, looking good!

Canela 24 year old Argentine Thoroughbred
Rondi - 20+ Year-Old | 15hh | Lipizzaner | Mare |
Leah - 22 Years-Old | 15.2hh | Appendix Quarter Horse | Mare (Sadly now deceased.)

Re-feeding syndrome can occur if the horse is fed too many calories too quickly which can lead to heart failure, respiratory and kidney failure within 3-5 days after feeding commences. - See more at: http://www.triplecrownfeed.com/articles/horse-feed-starving-or-neglected-horse-horse-feed-strategies/#sthash.EJGvCjrf.dpuf


  1. I love older horses! It's great to see such healthy seniors :-)

  2. An informative article about feeds for old horses.Aged horses may have health problems.Lack of appetite may cause problems in maintaining weight.They may need special diets to improve this health condition.There are different Horse feeds available as bulk or bagged custom mixes.

  3. I have an older horse. (24) I am having a lot of trouble keeping weight on him. I have had the vet out, had his teeth floated, he's wormed 3 times a year. I feed him twice as much feed as he ate when he was in good shape. I feed him senior feed with beet pulp and alphalfa cubes. all soaked because his teeth are so worn down. Nothing seems to help. I would do anything to help him, and to have someone rant and accuse me of neglect really pisses me off! You tell me, what else should I do? I'm up for any suggestions! My vet seems to think that his gut is not absorbing the nutrients in his food.

    1. Sounds like you've done a lot to try to get weight on him. There are a ton of articles out there with more suggestions; feeding probiotics to help the gut, feeding smaller meals more frequently to aid nutrient absorption, adding oils and protein to a horse's grain, various supplements, blanketing, etc etc. But if you've done all that, and he still looks bad, there's one more step you can take to avoid neglect: put him down humanely. When horses are very thin, they're cold, hurting, and have lost their spark. Stopping their suffering is really the last, best thing we can do for our old friends. It's hard, and it hurts so much. I know, I've been there. But just as you've found the strength, time, and money, to try to keep him alive, you can find the resources to give him a good ending. Best wishes