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Taking over care of senior horse - help!

Hi Everyone!

I’m in a bit of a sticky situation and would love some solid advice. I have had horses at my Dad’s house since I was a kid (12 years old). I never lived there full time, but came up every weekend to ride. I’ve never been the decision maker in my horse’s feed or care (despite trying) - it was always up to my Dad. I am pretty horse savvy having worked for vets in the past and at a few pack stations, but I’ve never actually taken over caring for a horse 100%.

My Dad is now terminally ill and my horse is 24 years old. I still ride him on weekends, but he’s been losing weight in the winter and has been in a huge 2 acre pasture since he was 4 years old. He’s also been alone for the last 2 years since our other horse passed. I know he’s lonely, but again - I didn’t have much say in his care. We are lucky our ranch is surrounded by a national park, so there was no need to trailer him to ride. He’s been trailered twice since we’ve owned him - the last time was 10+ years ago. Now I have to move him because my Dad can no longer care for him. I’m excited to take over his care and be able to make the changes I’ve wanted to, but I also know this is going to be very hard on my old guy. It’s not ideal, but it is the reality of the situation. I’ve found a great spot for him 5 minutes from my house. He’ll have a dry 24x24 with a horse on each side. I can turn him out in a large arena every day on my lunch break and do some light trail riding on the weekends. I think down the road this will be an improvement for him as far as interaction and attention.

I am worried about the transition since it will be a 1.5 hr trip to get him to his new home, it will be SO different from where he’s been and his age is a concern. I also want to change his feed to put some weight on him and am looking for suggestions. I’m thinking alfalfa/timothy hay cubes and Safechoice senior (his teeth aren’t the best, but vet doesn’t want to do advanced dentistry given his age). Maybe I’ll throw him a flake of alfalfa or timothy to nibble on as well. What do you think? I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with this huge change and want to make it as easy on him as possible. Also how much should I feed him? He currently gets 1.5 flakes of alfalfa am/pm and a scoop of alfalfa/timothy cubes. If I switch to mainly cubes and senior - how much is enough? He’s a narrow chested 16.2 thoroughbred.

Any suggestions about feed, trailering, care, transitioning, etc are greatly appreciated! Sorry for the essay.

Thank you.

I’m sorry about your father.

I would suggest starting horse on Ulcergard several days before the move, and continuing for at least a couple of weeks, if not longer, when he arrives at the new place.

Can you work with him on loading before the day of the move? Nothing like feeling rushed and horse MUST load on the day of the move. Try to keep a relaxed attitude.

If at all possible, bring what he is currently eating, and make any changes slowly. Change one item at a time, so you can track his response/reaction to that item. Probably helpful to keep daily notes in a notebook so you don’t have to rely just on memory. A weight tape may be a good tool to track how his body condition changes.

Keep as many things the same as possible, so he has a similar routine to start. He will have new neighbors, having been alone a couple of years.

Can you consult with your vet (current vet, or maybe better, the vet you will use in new location), to go over things to watch out for, or be aware of during this transition? Will he need any updates vaccinations for the new place?


I agree with keysfins, start ulcergard a few days before the move and keep him on it for a while until he settles in at the new place. You can also talk to your vet about cheaper long term alternatives. My vet put my horse on ranitidine for ulcer control but it needs to be fed 3x a day so not sure if that would work for you.

Keep the food the same for now but it might not be a bad idea to get some blood work done to see if he’s missing any nutrients. That will give you a better idea of what grains you can/should introduce him to to help him gain weight. But you can’t go wrong with beet pulp, rice bran, or alfalfa to help keep weight on.

I’m sure he will enjoy having friends nearby, just make sure someone can supervise until you know everyone gets along. The last thing he needs a kick through a fence (by him or a neighbor) and resulting injuries.


Thank you so much for the advice! I’ll definitely look into ulcergard. I am working pretty closely with his current vet (he’s been our vet for 20+ years) so we are getting him up to date on vaccines and I’m going to get a full game plan from him. I wanted to make sure I have some questions and a starting point when we have our next appointment. I was thinking about starting him on senior feed (vet recommended integrity or safe choice senior without molasses) before he makes the move to get a jump on things, but I agree it may be best to wait until we move him before switching things up.

I think i’m getting ahead of myself wanting to make all these changes and need to focus on one thing at a time. I’m excited to get him to a healthier/happier state, but need to slow it down so it’s not too much all at once. I will be feeding/mucking twice a day and turning him out on my lunch break so I’ll be keeping a close eye on him and he’ll be getting A LOT more attention than he has the last few years. I’ve talked to the barn manager and he knows to let me know if he sees any issues with aggression from the horses next to him (luckily they are both old guys as well, so I’m not too worried).

I’ll talk to our vet about blood work and see what he says - Red has always been an easy keeper, but I’m prepared to be a little more hands on with his care than my Dad was in the past.

Thank you again! I really appreciate the help. It’s intimidating to take over a senior horse that may need more advanced care, but I’m up to the task! My fiance is a farrier as well so we are deep in the horse community. I’m just an overprotective animal owner, so I want to make sure I’m doing everything possible to give him the best care.

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If you plan on pulling blood anyway (new barn probably will need a current Coggins), ask your vet if it might be worth checking for Cushings/PPID, given the horse’s age and if there are any symptoms or risk factors noted.

Horse is fortunate to have you stepping in for whatever he needs. :slight_smile:

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Thank you! I really appreciate it :slight_smile:

On the day of moving him, do not feed him breakfast. Work him. Then give him half a biscuit of lucerne (alfalfa) before floating (trailering) as that will help against ulcers. Give him his breakfast at the new place. It will help him settle in a little bit.

Good Luck and have fun.

Don’t try to change everything at once or too quickly so continue the same feed and hay while gradually replacing it with the feed and hay that he needs. The recommendations above are good, ulcer guard or gastrogard, starting now, and give him alfalfa tea, alfalfa soaked in water, for days before and after he moves.

You can ask your vet about giving him a sedative for the move, but if you plan to do so, test it out on him a few days before the move as some horses have a negative reaction to some drugs.

It’s great that your father took care of him till now and it’s great that you are going to take care of your horse in his old age. I hope he lives a long and happy life with new horse friends. That may stress him out a little to meet new horses, so continue his gastroguard or ulcer guard for a while after the move till he settles in.

Make sure he gets plenty of water in his feed and hay for the rest of his life.

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I would question the vet about not wanting to do dental care for a 24 year old horse. If anything, a 24 year old’s teeth should be checked every six months and anything that needs attention should get it. 24 is not ancient, especially these days. I have never had a vet refuse to do dental care due to age.


He hand floats his teeth, but informed me that Red has a wave mouth. I was shocked and actually frustrated to hear this because I’ve asked how his mouth was for years and my Dad always said he just needed a float. I have no clue why they didn’t tackle this issue sooner, but now that he’s older, the vet said that unless it’s causing him pain, it will do more harm than good to correct the wave and take what little tooth he has left. He’s never shown any sign of pain or trouble eating, but I do think its affecting his masticating at this point since he’s losing weight in the winter. The vet said that is probably due to lower quality hay in the winter which is harder to process with old worn out teeth.

I agree that 24 really isn’t that old. Our last horse lived to 35 and Red is in pretty good shape. The vet however doesn’t want to sedate him heavily to do a dental unless absolutely necessary. I’m on the fence with this line of thinking - I used to work as an equine dental assistant and saw how beneficial advanced dentistry is, but I also understand the worry of causing further damage.

He’s a great vet. He just believes less is more when it comes to sedation and procedures - something I like about him, but I might get a second opinion on this one. Any other opinions on advanced dentistry in older horses? I’d love to hear what others think.

Had a gelding who was 25 at the time had wave mouth. Vet who floated him corrected it and horse had plenty of tooth left after. I don’t have that horse now as he’s was pts 4 years ago or so.


In the Europe I grew in, stable managers, not veterinarians, did the basic teeth floating.
Veterinarians did any other to teeth that was found to be needed.

We didn’t tranquilize horses for that.
We backed the horse in a standing stall, stood on a bucket with a flashlight and used the hand held diamond rasps we had, carefully taking a bit at the time where needed.

Some horses we just took the tongue out the opposite side we were working on, if one had a harder to reach mouth, we may use a speculum, but it was not needed that often.

Never had a horse get violent during that, most just stood there and made faces and so did everyone else watching, always funny to see.
We did it ourselves and taught the apprentices all about it at the same time.
Some times the veterinarian was there watching also and checking our work.

You may ask your vet to try with a manual dental rasp and no tranquilizer?
I don’t see why that could not be just fine.


If you will be transitioning his feed, you could move to a Senior feed that is meant as a complete feed. It is complete because the horse can thrive on it even if unable to chew hay. It contains forage in the pellet, and is great for horses who are no longer able to manage their hay well. Talk with your vet about this as an option, while keeping a close eye on his mouth for anything that needs attention. One benefit of feeding a complete feed is that you can also feed it anywhere from slightly damp to soften the pellets, or with a good amount of water to make it like a soup or porridge. That way you know he is also getting plenty of water, and it takes very little chewing on his part. It is also easy to mix in any supplements you might choose for him.

My older horse was on the “Senior Soup” for over two years, with minimal hay to nibble on, and he did well on it. He had a series of impaction colics, and we found that the forage in the senior pelleted feed was safer than having hay as the bulk of the diet. Definitely not the norm, but something you can talk with your vet about for his needs.

As you get Red settled in his new place, you might make a list of things he needs, or things that you want to do for him to keep him comfortable for many more years. Just be slow and cautious when making changes. If he starts eating well and gaining weight, then his dental care may not be urgent. But he still would need dental care and treatment on a regular basis. Getting another opinion, as you said, would make sense for this part of his care. If you have been a dental assistant, you already know some of the factors to weigh for the pro/con sides of senior dental care. (My senior did not have any significant dental issues, but had exams and floating every six months or so.)

ETA: Bluey, I wish I had learned more about dental care as part of normal husbandry for horses.

How are his feet? Is he shod?

I recently had an older horse to the vet for a checkup since he is loosing weight. He is a grade horse so I don’t know his age. We have had him for 19 years tho and he was guessed to be 7 when we got him, but who knows. Anyway, my longtime vet, who I trust, did not want to float his teeth. The vet said he has a low heart rate with an arthymia, so vet didn’t want to sedate him. We did do blood work to test for Cushings/IR.

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My old horse just had his teeth floated and had a cracked tooth removed by his vet. So I agree that floating and other dental work is appropriate for an old horse with a good, competent vet. My horse has a diagnosed heart murmur and he’s fine with sedation by his vet. His heart murmur has been checked out each time before any procedure, yes the procedure is expensive, but he has done well with sedation and dental work.

My horses, including the old ones in their 20s, have had great vet care all their lives and are used to having their teeth floated and being sedated.

OP, you should spread out his vet care over a period of time and not have everything done all at once. More expensive, but will allow your horse to get used to different vet procedures.

Practice loading for sure. When he gets on the trailer, give him treats! Try to get to the point of self loading before you go.

I agree with the advice to make 1 change at a time, but if you’ll still have him at home for a bit it seems smart to start that now (presumably his hay will be the same until he moves). If he has poor teeth I would only do soaked alfalfa cubes, or chopped alfalfa. I have a senior mare who, when still competing, was a hard keeper and she did very well on the chopped stuff.

Must be difficult on top of your Dad losing the battle. Hang in there.

Take some deep breaths here. You are probably overthinking this and stressing yourself out even more. Horses are more adaptable then we think when we use even a little common sense. I’m betting he is going to be happier in a new place with some horse buddies then he is all alone in the current place. He might even enjoy a little road trip, new adventure might give him something to do except stand around alone. Perk him up.

He’s not that old, he’s healthy, he’s trailered before and 90 minutes is no epic trek across time zones and climate changes,

Do think it would be wise to get some blood work and a basic physical before moving to be sure there’s nothing systemic going on and give you a good baseline for future reference. Most people withhold grain 12 hours before and after hauling and use an ulcer preventive, some add electrolytes but you aren’t on the road for more then a couple of hours and it’s not hot. Other then that don’t think you need to do anything special.

Try to relax. Then Horse will know it’s OK for him to relax too.

When you get moved, get another vet so he can get his teeth taken care of.


Thank you so much! That honestly brought tears to my eyes. This whole situation is really tough. My Dad and I are very close and taking his last horse is a very surreal situation. I’m also planning a wedding in 3 months in hopes he can make it. More stress is the last thing I need. I really appreciate the sweet sentiment and positive advice :slight_smile:

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Awww, you do have a full plate! Jingles that your dad will be with you on your special day!

If he’s up to it, he might be able to tell you things about Red that someone who cares for him daily would know. Ask his advice, ask what things Red would like, ask what he would like for Red—just involving him in this transition could bring you ever closer. Even if you already know the answers, Red’s wellbeing is something you’ll both always care about.