Even if he’s not overweight, a horse who is out of shape isn’t likely to live as long as one who has been kept in good condition.
“Fitness extends a horse’s life,” says Rachel Buchholz, DVM, of Northwest Equine Performance in Mulino, Oregon. “It helps to maintain muscle mass and, therefore, strength. And a horse is going to need that strength as he ages to be able to move around easily, access resources in a herd and even rise after he lies down.”
Fitness is much easier to maintain than achieve, adds Buchholz, which is important to remember well before a horse grows old. “If a horse spends his middle age years not doing much activity, and then when he’s 17, someone decides he needs to get fit, they are going to have a much longer and potentially difficult road than if that horse was always kept in condition. Older, unfit horses are more likely to injure themselves and those injuries can heal slower than in a younger horse. It’s far easier to just keep him in shape than to try and bring him back.”
Of course, a horse who is very active is more likely to be injured than a pasture potato, but those risks can be managed to minimize their effects into his older years. “If you have a significant bone injury in a young horse, yes, that could lead to arthritic changes even after it’s healed, which may be a management issue throughout the horse’s life,” says Buchholz. “But you can manage that with supplements, medications and even various joint injections when the time is right.”
Soft tissue injuries in an equine athlete may never fully heal, but they can