Oh, He’s skinny because he’s OLD… (not)! What to feed the older horse.

Do you read the Fugly blog?

Well, last week I caught this video from the Fugly and I loved it.  You have got to see this 40 year old horse…!  He was 35 when he was rescued from a kill pen looking “old”.  He was 40 years old in the video and in the second shown below.  Wow.

Sarge in the kill pen 5 years ago at the age of 35. Click to watch the video.

Sarge 5 years later, age 40!


How often do you hear, “Oh, he’s just old…” when referring to a skinny horse with an awful top line?  I know I’ve said it.  I also know that I’ve accepted that reasoning when looking at an elderly horse.  And, in some cases, I think it is true.  Some horses, like people, don’t last as long or look as good later in life.  I’m sure it has to do with lifelong stuff (nutrition, health, job, stress, genetics…) but these kinds of horses and people are not going to become ‘spring chickens’ overnight…  However, good food, good care and exercise will help any horse or human, for sure.

This Roman Riding mare pair is over 30 years old! They are fat and healthy!

Having said that… after watching that video of  40 year old Sarge, the photo/story of the 27 year old mustang called, Brumby,  linked here and also shooting this video of Tad Griffith and his 30 year old Roman Riding horses (30 years old!!);  I don’t believe equine old age has to be expressed in skinny.  I think that some older individuals respond incredibly to great care, great food and reasonable exercise.  I believe this totally  —  which is why it is a tsktsk kind of thing that I’m going to report next…

Brumby, the 27 year old Mustang stallion.


I’m also writing about equine ‘skinny top line old age syndrome’ because it caught me off guard recently.  Tsk Tsk.  I mean, I think of myself as astute and on top of the condition of my animals… but I realized that I almost didn’t detect the first signs of AGE in my Shetland ponies.  Ugh. 

It is hard for me to even admit it but my two Shetlands (Slick and Dodger) are approximately 19 and 20.  My retired Morgan mare is 20, almost 21.

For some reason, I’ve accepted that my Morgan mare is older.  Maybe because she acts like a saged and wiser old mare?… Maybe because she is arthritic and I’m reminded of her age when she moves about?  But, truly, she looks great so I don’t really consider her ‘older’.  Yet, I’m watching her closely for signs to appear.

On the other hand, my Shetlands seem so spunky and spritely and silly and devilish, I just didn’t see it coming on..  Sure, I see them every day and I also let them out to graze the green grass around the house which puts them right under my nose… but I was watching their nature instead of their physicality.  You see, Tess, my older Morgan mare seems older.  The ponies seem exactly the same as they have always been.

This photo was taken September 10th and I still don't notice any wither or topline issue...


All of a sudden, the skinny top line came to my attention.  It had rained for the first time this season; Slick was wet and he looked different.  Huh? I grabbed his wither and in an instant I felt it.  I ran my hand down his spine and got a lump in my throat.  Wow.  This really bothered me.  First of all, it seemed sudden because I had been grooming them all Spring and Summer to get rid of their voluminous hair during this hot season.  I didn’t notice it then.  And, I took the above photo in September and I didn’t feel it or see it then.  But, a few months later and I can feel the wither.  Ugh.  What happened?  I was a bit frantic.  Am I feeding too little?  No, they look plump.  Did I forget to worm them?  Nope.  Are their teeth bad?  Nope.  Are they sick?  Nope.  Hmmmmm.

Dodger's wither was protruding, too!

And then I realized the truth.  In an instant it hit me like a ton of bricks.  My little feisty ponies were turning the corner and starting to get older.  I realized that good hay, green grass and supplements were not enough anymore.  I realized that they needed some senior help.

It happened so fast… Or did I miss it?  How could I have missed it?

He sure doesn't look like he has a skinny top line or wither... (Slick)

Denial, probably…  For example, before Nadia passed, I took her to the vet and he called her, “An old gal”.  I was shocked.  Old?  Nadia?  She isn’t old!  But, she was…  I just didn’t see it…

So, I think I just overlooked the signs that my ponies were getting older.  Or it happened suddenly, dunno.  In any event, probably My Bad.

... but he does... My bad that I didn't notice under all that hair.


After watching Sarge’s video and knowing about the Mustang Brumby and Tad’s Roman Riding duo, I want to keep all of my older horses in tippy-top shape, if possible.  And, so far, I have a Tried and True formula (as long as they aren’t sick and still have teeth…).

For me, soaked pelleted beet pulp (not shredded) with Equion, plus 3 grain hay as well as grass hay, seems to do the trick.  If I need to, and my horse can tolerate it, I will add soaked alfalfa pellets. I may also mix in a high quality, non-sugared (non wet or cob) pelleted senior feed.  This works and I’m pleased with the results!

However, I’ve decided to experiment with the ponies, since there are two of them.

I ran my hand down his topline and cringed...


Now that the ponies are filling out and getting better, I’m going to add one supplement to Slick’s feed and not to Dodger’s feed.  I want to see if it makes a difference.

The supplement is one a reader sent to me.  It is called, SeaBuck and you can read about it here.  The reader is so sold on it, and the fact that she sent it to me, makes me really want to give it a go.  So, I’m going to try it on Slick.  Here is a quote from the website:

I’ll let you know how it goes…

"Who you callin' OLD?!" - Dodger seeming indignant.


I know that many have had success with THRIVE.  I also know that many readers swear by a bran mash, alfalfa pellet and senior feed mush.  Please write in what your successful formula is for keeping your older horse fit and sassy!

So, keep looking for the signs even if they appear YOUNG!

I think we all want our horses to live to the ripe old age of 40 and look/act like Sarge!

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7 comments have been posted...

  1. Barbara

    We have a 30 yr old given to my granddaughter and he’s a sweet thing but his back is swaying a lot more and seems yo be losing weight. We let him graze all day after his morning feed of Sweet Feed and coastal hay then around 5:30 he eats again and it’s nite nite for him and he goes to his barn. Any suggestions as to how we might help him gain a little weight?

  2. Margaret

    We have a 35yr old palomino PBA here in UK bought as a starved 2 yr old.
    She had a couple of summers recently when starting to look ribby and losing top line, but this last winter (stabled at night each winter) I found Alpha original, alpha pellets and a mix of beet + alpha pellets for soaking. Made big feeds plus her usual quality senior mix cod liver oil etc. this has made such a difference.
    She now has top line this summer rolls every day and canters around with her younger daughter. I’m thinking of showing her in hand in the veterans class next year. Such a beautiful mare with lots of presence. (won lots of riding pony classes in her youth but NOT overworked!

  3. Barbara

    thanks for talking about the old horse issue. We have more older horses than most rescues/santuaries and therefor have a lot of experince in dealing with aging bodies and sagging toplines and bellies. About 40% of our horses, wild and domestic are over the age of 25. Some of them look like Brumby, others do not age so well and no matter what we do they LOOK old. Its important for everyone to realize horses, like people, are individuals and will age differntly.
    Not every aged horse is going to be fat and sassy. We can’t expect a 30+ horse to look the same as a 10 year old. the important thing to to give each horse the care and nutrition they need and deservve as well as a happy life.

  4. Mari

    Should read “small amount of sweet feed; moderate amount of plain oats and usual amount of alfalfa hay”.

  5. Mari

    Soaked beet pulp and Kent’s Secure; the latter being a pellet designed for the older horse. At this time I have a 27 y/o pudgy draft, a 23 y/o TWH, a 14 y/o STBD with DSLD/ESPA, and a 32 y/o fat mini donkey. (all rescues) A year ago I lost a 27 y/o TWH I had had for almost 15 years. Beet pulp will put on weight quite quickly and is also very healthy for the gut….keeps it smooth according to equine vet.

    I also feed a small amount of sweet feed, oats, and mixed alfalfa hay.

    I surely do enjoy your blogs…. :)

  6. Anne

    thanks for the interesting stories; so glad to see the older mustangs be free ! thanks to dreamcatchers ! my comment on SeaBuck is: using Natural Antioxidants like SeaBuck Berries is good because this helps the health; helps the environment and helps keep “rural folks employed by harvesting the sea buck !

    a win win situation…! good luck; ps berries help the eyesight !

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