The Underweight Senior Horse: A Before + After Story

Posted by Jennifer Serot, Tue, Jan 16, 2018

Is your senior horse receiving the nutrition they need? When horses are in their senior years, it can be even more difficult for them to maintain or gain weight due to many factors such as loss of ability to chew and loss of muscle mass due to normal aging. This heartwarming story, shared by Janis, demonstrates what tender love, care and the right nutrition can do for some friends in need!

From Janis: A friend in need: Charger + Sable’s Story “When my friend Cathy P., director of Whippoorwill Horse Rescue in Turtletown Tennessee, asked me to bring two of her recent acquisitions to our little farm, I thought it might make for a rewarding summer, a change from my old horse show days. “They’re friends,” she said. “The two sweetest souls you’ll ever meet; but they need significant attention.” Significant? She meant intensive. Both were skeletons. Sable, the little black mare, was 30. How do you bring back such an old horse from the effects of starvation? The big chestnut “PL Charger” was even worse, though ten years younger. Never had I seen a horse in that state. My heart sank. There was no meat on him at all. His skin seemed to be held together by rain rot. His eyes were either swollen or he just didn’t have the strength to do more than squint. Where to start?

First, a good veterinary exam for both. Sable had teeth so worn that eating hay and hard grain was impossible. Charger’s blood test showed compromised kidney function, a poor liver enzyme reading, and anemia. Why even try? Euthanasia seemed the kindest choice for him. But little Sable loved her tall friend, and Charger’s affection for her let me see just enough light in his eyes to give him a chance. Even with all that was wrong, his ears were always flicking, listening, trying to show us the ghost of what he had once been. I couldn’t just start feeding them. They would colic and die. But they needed something: careful pasture, controlled grain calories, hydration hay, and supplements that wouldn’t make them sick.

We looked for a way to begin—a single broad spectrum component that would work on weight, skin, heart, and brain. I found the answer: Manna Pro’s Senior Weight Accelerator: Vitamin E, Omega-3 Fatty Acid, lactobacillus acidophilus, and some other carefully crafted ingredients that made this my choice to turn Sable and Charger’s lives from gloomy to glistening. We found Sable’s original owner, the young girl who raised her, now thirty herself and living on the other side of the country. Like so many horses, Sable had a caring friend for well over a decade, but years passed, and Margaret grew up and moved far away. Sadly, Sable could not go with her and eventually fell on harder times. Whippoorwill Horse Rescue stepped in almost too late. The State of Georgia seized PL Charger in 2011 and sent him to Pulaski Women’s Prison, where he was brought back to health and given his name (PL designating the prison). His history before that is not known. He was auctioned by Georgia a year later and found a loving home with a woman who adored the big chestnut. When life circumstances intervened, Sandi found what she thought was a good home for her stunning American Saddlebred in a neighboring state. Her young grandson, Gavin, mourned the departure of his dear friend. “I’ll never forget him.” Something went very wrong over the next eighteen months, and in February 2017, Whippoorwill Horse Rescue was contacted. Sable was already there, but there was not room for another, so I was called. The photos do not show the horrible condition Charger was in. My veterinarian said the horse was a few weeks from death. I don’t know what I was thinking when I said I’d take him—and Sable.

Yet here they are, healthy and happy and two of the kindest horses I have ever been around. Although I now give lessons on them to neighboring children, they’ll never have bits in their mouths again: only bitless bridles for them. And they will never again know starvation. Sandi and Gavin visit ‘Big Red’ as often as they can, happy to be invited into his life again and to help with his care. They share their love with Sable, who is teaching Gavin to ride. Margaret, the girl who loved Sable for so many years, so long ago, is moving to our area. Soon she will be reunited with Sable and introduce her to her daughters, who will be part of the rest of this little mare’s healthy life. Thank you, Manna Pro, for your central part in helping this story have such a happy ending.” 

Crafting a special diet for a senior horse can be complex. A senior horse that needs to put on weight and requires extra calories can be given a senior horse feed supplement such as Manna Pro® Senior Weight Accelerator™, as Sable and Charger were. Keep in mind that all feeds and supplements should be formulated for the horse’s individual needs based on age, sex, workload, and body condition.

Why does a senior supplement such as Senior Weight Accelerator make sense for senior horses?

  1. Digestibility: For senior horses that are starting a new feed, or when changing any feeding regimen for your horse, one has to be very careful about reintroducing feed back into their diet due to the possibility of colic. Good-quality fats (such as the fats in Senior Weight Accelerator) are highly digestible, grains are intermediate and forages are the least digestible of the ingredients commonly fed to horses. Probiotics are essential to gut health and supporting proper digestion. Senior Weight Accelerator contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, which helps with intestinal health and digestion, has anti-fungal properties, and plays a crucial role in preventing Candida overgrowth.
  2. Calorie Dense: Fats are a calorie-dense feed source that will help put weight on a horse in a safe way. Interesting Fact: Fat contains more than twice the calorie content of starch and is safe to feed because horses can easily digest and utilize fat. Fat is the perfect solution for a horse like Charger or Sable, who needs lots of condensed calories. Grains and sweet feeds provide calories, but are high in simple carbohydrates (sugars) that may disrupt the normal bacterial flora and function of the GI tract. This may cause a horse to become jittery, or  “hot.” Weight supplements that supply calories from good fats, such as Senior Weight Accelerator, do not have these negative side effects and boast the added bonus of improving skin and coat condition.
  3. Palatability is also key with senior horses. Have your older horse’s teeth checked to assure they can chew hay and feed adequately. Don’t forget that senior horses need good-quality proteins, minerals and vitamins in their diet, too. Luckily, Senior Weight Accelerator is extremely palatable and contains biotin, Vitamin E and Omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. Take Your Time: Thin horses didn’t get thin overnight, so don’t try to get their weight back up too quickly. Gradual is best.

Always remember to make any feed or supplement changes gradually, and don’t expect results overnight. After making a feed change, you should start seeing results within 2–4 weeks. If you aren’t seeing results, then re-evaluate and make additional changes. Once a horse has reached their ideal weight, you will need to decrease their feed to prevent them from continuing to gain weight and becoming obese. As always, if you have any concerns or are not seeing improvement, you should consult your veterinarian.

Jennifer Serot

Jennifer is the newest member of the Manna Pro Equine Team. She has been riding and showing dressage for 20 years and enjoys spending time with her Connemara pony. Jennifer graduated with her BSBA and MBA in Marketing from Washington University in St. Louis.