Carrying too little weight should not be considered normal for any horse, even senior citizens.
When Kenos Chapetta and Lyndee Moser come out of the arena after a barrel run, Lyndee’s mom, Leslie Schur, DVM, often gets asked, “How old is she?”
And Schur typically responds, “Which one, the kid or the horse? My 7-year-old daughter rides my 25-year-old mare. Both are pretty amazing.”
A lifelong barrel racer, Schur has been in practice for about 20 years at Desert Pines Equine Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I retired ‘Etta’ about 13 years ago because she wasn’t sound,” Schur says. “She had three babies, and I had three babies. When Lyndee was about 3, she used to get Etta out and play with her. Then she decided she wanted to ride her.”
When Lyndee hopped on, Etta was inexplicably sound. And since the two started running barrels together, they’ve been winning wherever they go, usually ending up at the bottom of the 2D or the top of the 3D. Etta’s aged kidneys need a little management, but the old mare is doing great.
“There are a lot more horses [like her] out there now, doing really well,” Schur says. “They are competing well into what once was the end of their years.”
For that reason, Schur finds it discouraging when people assume it’s normal for an older horse to be underweight.
“When we have underweight horses come into our clinic, it’s frustrating when I hear clients say a horse is ‘always thin’ because they are either old or are a Thoroughbred,” she says. “Those two things don’t naturally make horses thinner. But they might make it harder to keep weight on those horses.
“The trick is figuring out why a horse has lost body condition, and what we need to do to change it. Horses should get 1.5 to 2 percent of their body weight in roughage. But then you add grains, supplements, fats and proteins, and take into account their individual metabolisms— there’s no one diet for every horse.”
It often takes practical caretaker and veterinary detective work to figure out exactly why any horse is thin, and older horses present additional challenges.
The most common causes for any horse to lose body condition are dental problems and parasites.
“Especially with older horses, poor dentition or dental abnormalities are at the top of the list,” Schur says. “As horses get older, their teeth are worn down, even to the gumline. They have increased chances of losing a tooth or having a bad tooth.