The average lifespan of a horse is dependent upon the breed of that horse. Large breeds, such as the heavy draft horses, tend to have a somewhat shorter lifespan compared to the lighter horse breeds.
Where a horse lives will also affect the average lifespan. Horses in the developed world tend to live longer than horses in developing countries because of better food access. Horses in Europe and Canada tend to live a little longer than horses in the United States.
When all is said and done, the average lifespan of a horse today is about 25 years. In Europe, some breeds see an average lifespan exceed 30 years. By comparison, the average life expectancy of a horse that lives in the United States is about 22 years, with heavier breeds seeing an average life expectancy of about 18 years.
How long an individual horse lives depends on the lifestyle of the horse, its genetic profile, and a little bit of luck.
If you’re looking to maximize the quality and length of life for the modern horse, these are the steps that you’re going to want to take.
#1. Have Good Veterinary Care Access
Many horses are treated as pets today instead of as a working animal. That means there is an emotional connection to a horse that makes people pay more attention to shifts in health, especially as the animal ages. In the past, older horses didn’t receive the same level of care as younger horses because that connection didn’t exist on the same level.
There are no health guarantees in life, but having access to good veterinary care can help extend the average life expectancy of every horse breed. From vaccinations to immediate care responses for acute injuries, good vet care is one of the best ways to increase the chances of a horse being able to life a happy and long life.
#2. Take Care of the Teeth
Dental health issues can immediately and dramatically impact the health of any horse. If the horse cannot properly chew food, then the risks of colic increase. In older horses, colic is the most common health problem that is addressed. Bad teeth create numerous problems that are entirely preventable.
What many owners do not realize is that when a horse reaches a senior age, they may have worn nearly 3 inches off their teeth. Those teeth can develop sharp points as they wear down, crack, or break as well. The teeth can also shift, often seen in the molars, and that misaligns the bite of an older horse.
When chewing becomes painful or difficult, the horse will stop eating. The horse may also stop chewing properly and that can lead to choking issues.
#3. Stop the Parasites
Controlling parasites is critical to long-term good health in horses. Parasitic damage is often cumulative due to the scar tissues that they generate. As a horse reaches a senior age, the internal scar tissues can reduce the gastrointestinal tract and make colic more likely. Once that scar tissue forms, it cannot be reverse.
One of the easiest ways to maximize the expected lifespan of a horse is to have them dewormed regularly, even if no symptoms are present. Get egg counts done at least twice per year. And, as the horse ages, start talking with a veterinarian about parasite loads that could tax the health of the horse, even if no symptoms are being displayed.
#4. Follow a Good Nutritional Plan
Good dietary habits for a horse will create a strong foundation for future health. Make sure that every horse receives the vitamins, minerals, and calories they need every day.
It is important to remember that the nutritional needs of a horse will change over time. Older horses may not require as many calories, so they may begin to put on weight even though their feed remains the same. Younger horses tend to need more protein and supplemental nutrients and horses that are ridden recreationally need more calories than horses that are simply turned out.
Older horses struggle to break down fibrous foods, so offering beet pulp and other roughage that may be easier to digest may be necessary to maximize the lifespan of the horse.
#5. Exercise is a Good Thing
Horses get bored in their stalls. Even if toys are available, an inactive horse is a restless horse. These animals were built to be outside, enjoying the outdoors. If you can turn out the horse for extended periods, then it will decrease the risks of a premature death.
As horses age, some handlers fear that the outdoors may be too taxing on the animal, but the opposite is usually true. Some horses thrive when they’re allowed to be outside all day, every day.
If being turned out frequently is problematic or the horse likes to find trouble, consider a daily exercise program to maintain activity levels. That will allow the hindquarters to stay strong. Use a lead to encourage moving if the horse prefers being stationary at least 1-2 times per day to maintain strength.
Added exercise for older horses can also reduce the risks of dangerous colic.
#6. Be Vigilant
As a horse ages, they will take longer to recover from an illness. Their movements will become slower and more methodical. They may be more prone to parasites or injuries. That is why vigilance on the part of an owner or handler can create your own luck when it comes to life longevity.
Meeting the basic needs of a senior horse must go beyond food, water, and a little exercise. There must also be a social element given to the horse, whether that is through herd contact or human contact. Leaving a senior horse to be on their own creates an isolation that can be difficult to bounce back from over time.
Vigilance also means checking on the health of a senior horse every day and reporting any unusual changes to the vet as soon as possible.
Maximizing the Lifespan of a Horse
With good senior horse care, it is not unusual for horses to exceed the average lifespan figures that are noted here. There are two horses in documented history that have lived beyond the age of 60. Several more have reached their 50s, while the population of horses in their 30s and 40s has grown exponentially over the past few generations.
Horses may be treated like pets and that can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing if the horse is being spoiled. Instead of spoiling a horse with treats, spoil them with good care. Spoil them with exercise. Spoil them with time. In doing so, you’ll be giving your horse a chance at the longest, happiest life possible.