Improved equine preventative care techniques, and a better understanding of conditions in older horses, have led to significant expansion of this golden-age demographic.
If you’ve got an old-timer out in the field, you’re one of the millions of horse owners worldwide benefiting from improved equine preventive care techniques and a better understanding of conditions seen in older horses. These advancements, along with a heightened appreciation for the horse as a “family member,” have led to a significant expansion of this golden-age demographic.
Researchers are responding to the call, focusing on aging equines’ particularities—metabolic and hormonal issues, tendon and muscle weaknesses, feeding and exercise regimens, and lung and airway diseases, to name a few. So what’s new and exciting in senior horse research? We turned to the individuals actively studying these horses to find out, and we’ve compiled a list of important senior horse studies conducted over the past year.
The studies fall into three major categories: metabolic and endocrine disorders, soft tissue injuries, and probably the fastest-growing field of the relevent topics—“inflamm-aging.” Amanda Adams, PhD, of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, in Lexington, coined this term to describe the phenomenon of age-related inflammation throughout the body.
Commenting on the studies are equine researchers Sarah Elzinga, a PhD candidate at Gluck under Adams’ direction, and Sanni Hansen, DVM, PhD, from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Large Animal Sciences, in Tåstrup, Denmark.
Metabolic and Endocrine Disorder Studies
Older horses are far more prone to developing metabolic conditions such as equine Cushing’s disease (also known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or PPID) than their younger counterparts, says Elzinga. As many as 20% of senior horses suffer from PPID, which can set off a long chain of other health problems. These horses can also suffer from hyperinsulinemia (when blood insulin concentrations rise above normal range), but whether it’s a sign or side effect of PPID is still unknown.
Because diet is the primary management tool for these diseases, researchers have been studying senior horse digestion and the role of a particular hormone in aging horses.
1. Senior horses digest just as well as younger adult horses
Researchers at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, and the WALTHAM Center for Pet Nutrition, in Leicestershire, U.K., evaluated how healthy stock-breed mares of varying ages digested nutrients. Each horse consumed one of three different diets over a six-week period, and the scientists investigated a large range of digestion parameters.
What they found Unlike humans, most horses maintain their ability to properly digest nutrients deep into their senior years.
Why this study is important Many owners find feeding older horses challenging, especially those that tend to lose or gain weight too easily. Understanding digestibility in senior equids can help us establish a proper diet for this population. “A lot of older horses have compounding problems that might mean they need some changes in diet,” says Elzinga, who was the lead researcher on this study. “But if they’re healthy, they can just keep eating whatever other adult horses are eating.”
Story continues in the September 2015 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of the September issue to learn more about recent studies on soft tissue injuries and inflamm-aging.
About the Author
Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor’s in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.
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