Unbelievable but just two days after I republished an article about safe starting and the life expectancy of the horse, that wonderful dispensary of all knowledge equine, The Horse, publishes an article about “Vaccines, Dewormers, and Nutrition for Senior Horses“. Although the information presented is in itself very dubious (vaccines and dewormers) or just plain wrong (nutrition), the thing that stands out first and foremost is the definition of the “Senior Horse”.

In the article, there is mention of 7 – 15% of the US horse population being over 20 (that is a horrifyingly low percentage) and 29% of the UK population being over 15!!! Over 15? Since when is 15 “senior”? That is atrocious! That relates to calling a 24 year old human, “over the hill”! And those of you that have reached 35 are now complete write-offs…

A study by J.E. Bobick and M. Peffer in 1993 showed that the longevity of the free-roaming horse was 62 years – that of the captive horse 50. Agreed, longevity1 and life-expectancy2 are not the same thing but there is something of a correlation – and when we consider that essentially, the longevity of the human should be around 30 years and we manage more than 2½ times that, that a horse should manage often less than half is shocking. The average age of the horse in captivity in the Netherlands, a country renowned for being “horse lovers”, is an appalling 7 – 8 years. In France – somewhat less renowned for their love of horses – it is 9 (this does not include horses used specifically for the meat trade).

Obviously, somewhere, we are doing things wrong – and the article in The Horse highlights a small part of it; in the section on Nutrition, none of the horses in the experiment were fed a proper diet. There were four options (and no control): Oats and alfalfa pellets; commercial senior feed; commercial senior feed with added probiotics; commercial senior feed with added omega fatty acids. In the absence of a control, this experiment is immediately null and void. Also voiding the experiment is the fact that the horses were specifically fed senior feed and no horses were fed “normal” feed. The control should be the proper feed of a horse – grasses and possibly hay. But even then, the results are unbalanced because it is over a period of just over six months. This does not take into account the full cycle of the year and the effects upon the horse of (extra) feed during the winter nor the breaking – or not – of the IR cycle which is an important contributory factor to horses with PPID and/or EMS.

1) Longevity is the scientifically defined lifespan of an animal under defined criteria
2) Life-expectancy is the actual age an animal can be expected to reach and varies according to heredity, living conditions, working conditions, nutrition, etc. Life-expectancy is usually ascribed to an individual or group of individuals whereas longevity is ascribed to a species.