I want to talk about how I perform physical exams on senior horses to check their overall health and condition. So one of the things I start with is checking their eyes. Just like an elderly person you can get cataracts and vision issues. I just evaluate that there’s nothing chronic going on in his eyes. I shine a light in them and make sure he has a good reflex to his eyes that way when you are riding him that you don’t have a spooky horse or a situation where a shadow or something might cause an accident where he doesn’t know quite what it is. So evaluate the horse’s vision is the first step.
Next thing I do is to listen to is the horse’s heart and lungs. I want to make sure that he’s not having any kind of heart murmurs or elevated heart rate. I listen to his lungs to make sure there’s no harshness or fibrosis in the lungs where he has some sort of exercise intolerance or they just can’t get out their breath after they’ve been worked. So I evaluate that and listen to their heart and lungs and make sure those systems are clean.
I give them a general feel of his whole body. You might pick up a tumor or a mass or lump that’s somewhere on his body that you just don’t touch often, especially when they get their long hair coat for the winter. I just kind of run my hands over their body make sure I’m not dealing with any kind of stiffness or lumps or bumps, especially around their tail.
Next I look at the feet of an older horse. I’m looking for solidness. I’m always worried about them having secondary problems in the feet due to metabolic issues or any realistically secondary disease process out there. A lot of times with older horses that is the reason I see them in the first place is for a sore foot. A lot of times the sore foot is due to other issues, specifically metabolic disease or Cushing’s in an older horse. This can be seen where it skin around his mane starts to get meaty. I have seen some where the meat around their mane gets so heavy that they start to flop over. They begin to get some fat pads and a little bit of a belly but any time a client were to call me and say I’ve got a foot sore elderly horse. Those are some signs that maybe you should start pulling some blood work looking into some other disease processes that might be causing this.
I’ll have clients call me with elderly horses typically they’ll either have an overweight issue, sore foot issue, or in the opposite case they’ll have a really skinny horse where I will start looking at the dental exam and see if I have any kind of issues there. A proper dental exam once a year is going to be necessary for older horses as well. I’m going to use a speculum that opens up their mouth to where I can look at all of their molars and premolars to make sure that they are able to grind grass and hay and forage properly.
Next is just a general physical exam. I’m going watch a horse walk make sure that he’s moving easy and freely and doesn’t have any joints that are creaking or cracking. Maybe do some flexing exams. Make sure they don’t’ have and bumps or bruises that could be causing any kind of problem just as if you were younger horse. Age is not a disease I don’t treat it as if it is a process. I have horses that are 25 and sound as can be. Still competing just as hard as horses that are in their younger years.
So with an older horse just like a younger horse, if they’re sound I definitely recommend that they stayed in activity. It doesn’t have to be jumping or anything hardcore, but there’s no reason that an older senior horse can’t be used in a regular fashion. If they’re sound they ought to work. Just like a human doctor’s going to tell you and I, exercise is part of the battle, same thing with them.