Is it 15? 25? 30? Defining at what age a horse is considered “senior” depends on who you’re asking. “It’s hard to define the senior horse,” says Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, DACVN, of Rutgers University. “The American Quarter Horse Associatio­n defines a senior horse as any animal over the age of 16. But I’ve seen 25-year-olds run circles around some 16-year-olds.”

One certainty is that the definition of an older horse has changed significan­tly over the past century. In the days when most horses worked hard as daily transporta­tion, “old age” came quickly. But even just in the past couple of decades, advances in veterinary care and knowledge have helped more and more pleasure horses to remain healthy, sound and active well into their 20s and even 30s.

“It’s a good question,” says Gary Magdesian, DVM, of the University of California–Davis. “Thus far, we’ve defined the senior horse by age, but horses are living longer, and geriatric medicine is improving. The numbers change. Most consider a horse 20 years of age or older a senior horse, but others consider a horse as young as 15 a senior.”

It’s easy to understand the difficulty. Our own horse, Folly, entered his golden years so gradually it almost escaped our notice. One day, it seemed he’d turned the corner from middle age to senior horse, but there’d been no definite marker, no flag to say he’d arrived. We just knew. Gray hairs peppered his muzzle and eyes, and his back was slightly swayed.

Folly was clearly entering new territory. That’s when we began seeking out ways to keep him as healthy as possible. To us at least, our senior horse is worth his weight in gold.

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