Feeding Skinny Old Horses.

CHRNHe’s old. Some kind women from the Colorado Horse Rescue Network saw him at the Calhan auction. Do you think he should be euthanized? There was almost nothing left to him. The weight tape says 890 pounds and he is about 15.1 HH. Does he look like he can survive? We can guess at how old he is–probably 20-25. At the same time, his face was bright. This is Captain.

There is a false assumption that old horses get skinny by virtue of being old. It just isn’t true. Old horses, whether they are loved or abandoned, simply change as they age. Their muscles may be smaller; he may move around less because of arthritis, but getting thin is not any more normal for a horse than it is for a human. How is your waist doing?

A horse’s teeth are usually the problem. Sometimes they have grown so unevenly that hooks on the edges can cause ulcers that make it painful to eat. Sometimes the teeth are worn down too far to chew or if they lose one or two, the rest become unstable. They may munch on hay but spit it out. Others may chew hay, swallow it and still lose weight because if the hay isn’t well masticated, it is harder for the horse to absorb the nutrients. Meaning a horse can appear to be eating fine and beginning to starve at the same time.

But it isn’t a crime to get old. 

Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue stepped up and welcomed Captain in from the auction and the January cold for a refeeding program. In the beginning he had six feedings a day, including a 2:00 a.m. serving. He’s eating a combination of beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, bermuda grass pellets and a bit of senior feed soaked into a glorious mush. It’s a little different from buying hay, but not necessarily more expensive. And when his head went into the bucket and the smacking began, he didn’t come up for a breath until it was gone.

After a week or two, Captain was getting stronger. He transitioned to eating five times a day, smaller portions, but his tummy still wasn’t empty for longer than about four hours–except for the 6-hour layover at night. Horses are designed to graze most of the day so the mush meals had to come more frequently as well. He had some catching up to do.

Captain3mosHandsome, isn’t he? Here’s Captain after 3 months of refeeding. He is eating four times a day now and he will get his teeth floated on May 6. They’re hoping he can start to chew hay just a bit better, maybe enjoy some spring greens. Still, his teeth are expiring and he will need soaked, or at least pelleted feed, for the rest of his life.

Captain is a very friendly sort who readily follows humans around, probably in search of more food and treats. It isn’t the worst way to pass an afternoon. He’s a grateful horse with a different sort of beauty at this age. He still deserves our respect.

He would like to remind us that elders need a bit of help as years pass. They aren’t that different from us.

Captain is available for adoption but he will need a special home. One that appreciates second chances and has little extra time and love because his heart is extra big and sweet. But then the rewards for helping a Grandfather like Captain are much greater too. These are golden days–he is safe now.

What is the value of another summer in a sweet pasture? It might be time to pay some kindness forward. (You aren’t getting any younger yourself.) Consider donating your local rescue in their work for horses. Click here Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue to help Captain and others just as deserving.

Please remember Captain when you see a thin horse. It’s quite possible that his owners just don’t know. Kindly remind them that older horses need their teeth checked a bit more often. That as years go by, supplementing hay and pasture with soaked pelleted feed may be necessary. Refeeding information is available from any vet or local  horse rescue.

Most of all–keep an open heart. Captain did.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.

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