We had the dentist here this week so it's a good time to write about living with a senior horse's ability to do what horses do most and best - forage, chew, and digest/absorb nutrients.
Salina, at 28, technically has all her teeth. A number of her molars are almost down to the gum line, but none of her teeth are mobile. This visit the dentist said that unless something changes, or we have a dental issue crop up, she feels it's best to leave Salina's teeth alone. Her weight is good, she eats grass, free choice hay, and I feed her (actually, all the equines) wet meals balanced to our analyzed hay, so she's getting good nutrition and is happy with her feed. She still nickers for each of her three tubs a day, goes where the good grass is, and follows the hay barrow just like the rest of the herd.
She does end up sometimes with small packets of hay that accumulate where the teeth are down to the gum line. Being the very sensible mare she is, Salina knows to take breaks at the water troughs where she stands and actually rinses the small hay packets out of her mouth. I find them occasionally floating in the water, by the side of the troughs, and I suspect that at least part of the time she re-chews and swallows them. Sometimes weeks go by and I don't see any, and then I'll find one again.
I keep an eye on her manure - she's still digesting things well, which is good.
In 2008 Salina came out of the winter season thinner than I liked, and at that point I put her on a complete senior diet developed by Dr. Eleanor Kellon. It's a wonderful, nutritionally balanced diet, served in four wet meals a day, and Salina looked and felt fabulous on it. Last summer though she actually got a little chunky (we had the most pasture I think we've ever had since moving here), and because of her arthritic knees I didn't want the extra weight to put more stress on those joints. So I transitioned her back to the same diet the geldings are on, feeding three meals a day, and watched her closely. She's come out of this winter a little thinner than she went into it, but still looks good, and I think as the grass comes in she'll pick up weight.
If not we'll transition back to the senior diet but cut back on the amount. It requires having two extra ingredients plus a customized mineral supplement on hand, and it's obviously easier having them all on the same basic diet - but if she needs the senior meals again, we'll do it.
I think with the senior horses, especially if they have any special issues, it becomes second nature to keep a close eye on everything they do, as well as things they stop doing. Which is one reason I love having them all here, right outside my windows - it's easy to monitor very subtle things, as well as bigger changes.
For several years, our entire schedule revolved around Salina's four tubs a day, and now it revolves around three. But the day has to revolve around *something* and Salina deserves it. You can set the clock by her coming to the barn for her meals.
And by Keil Bay's coming in, always hoping that he's reached that magic age when he too, gets the extra tubs!