Thursday, April 07, 2011

the senior horse, 1: teeth and diet

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!



Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Keil Bay's looking forward to his senior citizen status eh? Too funny :)

Salina sounds like she couldn't be in better hands billie.

Have a great weekend!

billie said...

I know - too funny about Keil Bay. He will be 22 in a couple of weeks and as far as I can tell, he thinks that places him squarely in the "needs extra calories" senior category.

He is also not amused that Salina is back on the massage therapist's schedule. When I was working more they all got monthly massage alternating with chiro, but as the economy slowed, I cut back on those appts.

Salina was first in line to go back on, and you should see Keil Bay - he comes and plants himself where I can see him and glares for most of her massage time.

Our massage therapist is doing a 6-day equine massage class split into two weekends, which I desperately wanted to take but couldn't swing this time. With all these animals, it would be a wonderful investment though.

At some point I want to host the training here - anyone interested in learning equine massage? She's fabulous. :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

Salinas sounds like she is enjoying her retirement. Being in your loving caring hands she must feel like a princess.

I had to laugh at the big bay wanting AARP status and his massages too. I'd love to go to a massage clinic but I think you're just a tad too far for me to travel there. When we hosted the Reiki clinic years ago it was very interesting and productive. You should go for it.

billie said...

Arlene, some days Salina is the diva goddess, and other days she seems resigned to the fact that she has been on the earth for 28 long years - which is part of what makes living with these older horses so interesting (and during the resignation times, hard).

Keil Bay would be a grand spokeshorse for the AARP for horses. Embrace your age! I can see the cover now.

Of course, it's completely different being a 22-year old pampered gelding than it is being a 28-year old mare who has had many babies and lived through inspections and weanings and the removal of an eye. Salina has the battle scars of that life, but she carries them really well.

ponymaid said...

billie, I think Salina and Jack are siblings. They both feel the need to oversee their worlds and to supervise the youngsters (which is everyone else). They are both very involved in the everyday routine and they both have so much history to draw upon. Thank goodness we have them.

billie said...

Sheaffer, it's true. Some equines are just predisposed to survey and oversee, while others enjoy living the life of Riley and trusting that SOMEone is keeping an eye on things.

And of course there are others - you and Rafer being prime examples - who survey and contemplate and try to make sense of it all.

Thank goodness for all these equine types - we need the Rileys so the overseers can stay busy, and the contemplators to help us sort things out.

Máire said...

I am catching up after a lack of computer time. Very interesting observations on Salina. I am watching Rosie quite anxiously at the moment.

billie said...

Maire, it's definitely stressful. I have to constantly remind myself that she has already lived a long life, and we've given her a good home for five years. I try my best to make sure she doesn't have anything to worry about. (but she's a mother and a mare, so she does anyway!)

Máire said...

Yes, that definitely goes with the territory

billie said...