Horses - Diet and Nutrition/Senior feed


Hi Corlena,
I was wondering: I have a 21 year old Arab gelding who looks wonderful I would say he is a perfect 5 but I noticed the other day that his age is starting to show a bit, I see he is getting a little flabby and thought that maybe he is not getting all of his nutrients from his current diet. He has free turn out in a nice pasture, but don't know levels of nutrients in that pasture. He gets 1.5 lbs grain a day in two feedings with hay. His grain is 14% protein but I don't see anything about amino acids. As a senior this 1.5 lbs keeps him from gaining weight, in order for him to meet his requirements with this feed he needs 3 lbs or more and this will cause him to chunk up if I give him this, and like I said I don't see anything in there that I would say benefits a horse whose starting to change. He runs a lot with his friends in the pasture, runs up and down the little hillsides all day and walks up the hill to the barn several times a day to get a drink instead of going to the pond, so he gets a lot of movement and I work him very lightly a few times a week, he can take a ton of work, it's me who can't. So what type of feed or supplements should my boy be on to help him transition into his next stage of life. I hate sweet feeds, most senior feeds have molasses or other junk to make it palatable but I want better for him, any ideas Miss Corlena on what I can do for him.

Hi BJ,

Thank you for your question.  Senior feeds are the right choice for the aging horse.  Not every horse's digestive system ages at the same rate so some horses may need to start a senior feed sooner than others.  Although, there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeding a middle-aged horse senior just ends up costing you a bit more.  So if you feel you're ready to switch to a senior feed, by all means make the switch.

A well formulated senior feed should be high in fermentable fiber (ideally beet pulp), moderate fat levels (not much more than 6-7%o, older horses don't digest fat as easily as their younger counterparts), elevated protein levels (with some isolated amino acid sources) few-to-no cereal grains (older horses don't handle starch well) and some chelated mineral sources (to improve bio-availability lost to age).  IMO sweet feeds are not the best choice for senior horses so stay away from them.  It is possible that your gelding's 'flabbiness' or lack of muscle tone comes from diet, as muscle comes from the combination of dietary protein and exercise.  He is apparently getting sufficient exercise that he should maintain muscle tone so perhaps he simply isn't getting enough.  And that can be caused either from a shortage of dietary protein or a loss of efficiency in digesting protein (which comes with age).  Either way, a quality senior feed should help remedy the situation.  Also make sure you look into all of the other possible causes including parasite load, aging teeth and metabolic disorder.  Your vet can help you with this as part of a regular check-up.

I hope that helps.

Thanks, Corlena  

Horses - Diet and Nutrition

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Corlena Patterson


I can help with any of your horse nutrition questions and concerns. I have been involved with horses for closing on 40 years, with a B.Sc in Animal Science and currently working on an M.Sc in Equine Science with the University of Edinburgh. I have owned my own feed store, consulted professionally as an equine nutritionist, and lectured in the fields of equine and dairy nutrition at the University level for 5 years. I have developed and currently market 'Ration-X', a ration formulation program for horses...designed for the everyday horse owner. I am happy to help in any way I can.


Experienced in developing and implementing feed programs for horses of all disciplines, creating custom horse supplements and managing inter-disciplinary equine facilities. Specialize in equine nutrition consulting.

The American Society of Equine Appraisers

'Stable Management' Handbook, Equine Canada.

M.Sc (Equine Science-current), B.Sc(Agr) Animal Science, Equine Sports Massage Therapy Certification, Farrier Certification, Equine Consultant Certification, Certified Equine Appraiser, Certified in Emergency Equine Rescue.

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