Older Horse Lost? Confused? Distracted?

So my 22 yo gelding has been behaving oddly this week and I’m stumped…

When i came to his paddock last evening, he greeted me at the gate, then just sort of wandered off aimlessly - normally he stands there and waits for me to put the halter on and mugs me for more treats. I went and caught him and all seemed ok, didnt think much more about it.

Then this morning, I got there and he had just been fed and he was eating, but then mid-bite just listlessly walked away to the middle of the field by himself- again - not normal, but not that weird if you don’t know him…

However, when the guys that feed/water/turnout saw me, they made a point to come tell me they were worried about him - that it seemed all of a sudden like he has “horse dementia” - lots of aimless wandering, sudden disinterest in beating up on his pasturemate (a favorite activity)

He’s not lame or stumbling, his eyes seem bright, eventually all his food gets eaten (but not as quickly as it did last week…)

I want to call the vet, but what do I tell them? To come bring a lawnchair and hang out in the pasture with me? Ask for a neuro exam? Maybe bloodwork - but what?

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Have you checked all the usual things, like temperature, respiration, heart rate, digital pulse, capillary refill rate?

Has anything else changed, such as forage, water source, daily schedule, . . . ?

After checking all those things, I would tell the vet what you’ve observed and what the staff told you and then I would pull blood and have a general health check by the vet. I would also make sure that the blood work included levels for things like magnesium, vitamin E, and others I can’t think of at the moment. The vet should know what might be important.

Jingles. (I have an elderly herd - I sympathize.)


I would have the vet out and tell them exactly what he is doing. Anytime they change behavior like that a good look over by the vet is a good idea. Especially at his age.

Have them check for impaction also. It may be a small/ partial one that wouldn’t 't cause the pain we associate with normal colic and they still eat some and pass some manure. It happened to my mare once and to my vet she appeared fine( pulse, heart rate, etc) until the rectal.


I’d also call the vet - a health exam for a 22-year old is just a good idea, regardless. Check electrolyte levels. Is he drinking the same amount as he was?

Just tell the vet what you’ve told us - that in the last couple of days, he’s been acting odd, tell them what’s changed, and that you want a wellness exam/blood draw. It might be something simple. Of course, it might not, but it’s better to know.


I had a mare, well into her 30s, who suddenly seemed to lose her mind. She couldn’t figure out where her food was, even though it was right in front of her, and she got aggressive with my husband, whom she previously worshipped.

We discussed it with the vet, and it was a pretty easy decision to euthanize her as she’d become dangerous and was already so old. But given how much younger your horse is, relatively speaking, I’d think it worthwhile to find out through the vet if there is something correctable going on with him.



At 22 I’d suspect physical ailments not dementia especially such a quick onset. Feeling unwell like mild colic will make them be less interactive.


The vet, of course. As others have mentioned, there are several things that could be behind this behavior.

Ask the vet to check for anything going on that makes swallowing a bit harder. My old dog has some stiffening or slight paralysis of the throat. It doesn’t affect him much other than that it has slowed down his eating a great deal. Fortunately he’s being sensible about it.

If it is the ills of aging, I would suggest doing treatments only if that improves his quality of life right now. As you know, you are not managing for the long term, just the short term. Some of the stuff we could do for our aging animals doesn’t make their lives better. It is just us doing stuff.


Kudos to you, OP, for bring an observant owner.
I also vote for getting the vet out & relating the behavioral changes.
Big Hoosier Jingles for your Senior: :link::link::link:

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Our Cushing’s horse started acting like that, vet sent blood to Cornell and they said the numbers were so bad, they could not even measure them, past the charts, he was into metabolic failure and about to crash, his system finally shutting down.

Do get your vet out and do bloodwork, you may get some fast answers if there are some there and maybe something can be done to help him regain function.


I am only going to add some more Jingles!

I agree with everyone else. Call the vet and tell them your concerns. A sudden change in behavior is a symptom of something.


jingles jingles jingles!

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Not eating is a symptom of the final stages of life, for some humans and animals. As Cornell told you, the system was starting to turn out the lights. Which it does gradually, at different rates for different individuals.

Typically the digestive system is one of the first to go. Which is why it is not a good idea to try to push food or water into a system that is gradually switching off. The animal/human no longer feels hungry or thirsty anyway.

Not that this is necessarily what is going on with OP’s horse. But the bloodwork is a good suggestion.

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Definitely have the vet by for a neuro exam and labs.

So many things can cause off behavior, from relatively innocuous things like sleep deprivation to scary things like EDM. Vet bills sting, but they’re less painful than the stress we put ourselves through when we wonder and worry.

I am thinking the same thing ‘Scribbler’ said, mild colic.

Could it be mild poisoning from a bit of toxic plant???

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If you have or are aware of poisonous plants in your field, you can take them to your local agriculture office/municipal and they can identify them for you. I have never had a poison issue with any of my horses but I do know rhubarb is poisonous.

I would have the vet out as others have said. Change of season can be a challenging time for animals and I know we often saw a flurry of vague , virus like issues every august and September in our barn. Thought possibly something spread by flies.

blood work now would serve as a base line, If he gets worse, you have a comparison, if he gets better, you have some up to date info

Edited to add that his advancing age can certainly make him vulnerable to issues that a younger horse would not. Mentioned below is EPM, a very worthy consideration.

I hope your old friend continues well. Also consider a broken tooth or other mouth issue

A horse here that I thought had horsey dementia (he was 30) turned out to have EPM.

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