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We asked six experts the following question:

Why should I look at feeding food designed for veterans for my older horse? Is ‘normal’ food not suitable? 

Their answers:

Isabel Harker from Spillers
Senior feeds are a useful addition to any older horse’s diet as they will provide enhanced levels of nutrients specific to the needs of the older horse, however at what age an older horse will benefit from a senior horse varies and will depend upon each individual horse. Some of the key signs of aging include, weight and muscle loss, joint stiffness and reduced immune function. Most senior feeds will provide enhanced levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support the immune system, extra quality protein to support muscle tone and topline, and extra calories to support weight loss - such as Senior Conditioning Mix. If however your older horse does not require additional calories look for a senior feeds that provides the additional benefits without extra calories such as SPILLERS® Senior Maintenance Mix.

Bryony Biddlecombe from Allen and Page
If your veteran is still happy and active and showing no signs of ageing, there is no reason for changing to veteran feed. However, as horses get older they find it harder to digest food and become less efficient at it, become less tolerant to sugar and starches and find the harder to digest and often have issues with joint stiffness and arthritis. Veteran feeds are designed to support them with these issues. Allen and Page Veteran Vitality helps to address their issues by adding pre and pro biotics to improve digestibility, so it helps to get the best out the feed you are putting in. We add mint garlic and fenugreek, all natural pre biotics and appetizers. We also add high levels of Omega 3 oils, which help to maintain condition and improve joint lubrication and therefore suppleness, as well as rosehip, which works as a natural anti inflammatory, and dandelion for liver and kidney function. It is also low in starch and sugar, and high in fibre, to work in harmony with the horse’s guts, and feed them more as they are designed to be fed. This is especially important in the older horses as they find it increasingly hard to digest the starch and sugar in a lot of traditional hard feeds.  The fact that it is a soaking feed which takes just three minutes to soak means it is not only easier for the horse to digest but also allows older horses struggling with lack of teeth to eat it without any problem at all.

Laura Meszaros from Dodson & Horrell
Whether or not you need to consider a veteran diet is largely dependent on how your horse maintains weight and condition. If you have a good doer that you currently provide a ‘normal’ feed to and he is maintaining weight well it is unlikely you need to consider a specific veteran diet. However, a common ailment associated with aging is reduced digestive efficiency leading to weight loss. If you have an older horse that is perhaps prone to weight loss a conditioning veteran feed such as Dodson & Horrell Sixteen Plus Mix may be more suitable.  Further benefits of specific ‘veteran’ diets include the addition of joint supplementation. If your horse doesn’t require calories from a conditioning feed but you still want to provide joint support, I recommend considering a natural anti-inflammatory agent such as Dodson & Horrell Devil's Claw Root.

Nicola Tyler from TopSpec
‘Normal’ food is suitable if your horse does not show any signs of aging e.g. poor muscle tone and topline, poor dentition leading to problems with quidding etc or poor mobility. If there are any signs of ageing then a specialist feed may help. Try  Consult an experienced nutritionist for free by calling the Multiple Award Winning TopSpec Helpline on 01845 565030. Much more information can be found in my article on ‘Feeding Elderly Horses’ at www.topspec.com.

Lorna Edgar from Baileys Horse Feeds
‘Normal’ food can be suitable, if your elderly horse does not have any problems with its teeth and maintains its condition well.  However, for those horses that need a little more assistance, a feed manufactured for the older horse (such as No. 15 Senior Mixmay be of benefit to increase the calorie intake, ensure the vitamins and minerals are adequate for the older individual, and many have digestive enhancers in them to assist in the health of good bacteria in the hind gut.  I would always suggest consulting manufacturers for feed advice if your older horse has any problems with laminitis, Cushings, poor teeth, holding too much or too little condition to ensure the correct feed is being fed to your older horse. 

Anna Pyrah from The Pure Feed Company
There is a fair amount of controversy around this subject at the moment. Although very little research has been completed around this topic, a common belief in the horse world is that as a horse gets older, his ability to digest and absorb decreases. However, recent studies measuring the digestive and absorptive capacity of older horses has shown that in fact there were “no digestibility differences noted between adult and aged horses”. Looking for a veteran feed, which is labelled as being easily digested and absorbed, may not be of any significant benefit, but looking for one which contains a high specification of vitamins and minerals is certainly something to keep an eye out for. Studies have shown that horses over the age of 15 have a naturally increased production of free radicals in the body, and so supplementing with a high specification of antioxidants will help to normalise those levels in the older horse. Pure Balance is high in antioxidants.


Posted: 16/03/2012 10:51:38