Horses are magnificent creatures, but time stops for no one, and the vitality and stamina of these animals also has an end date. Knowing the life expectancy of a horse is important for proper training of the animal and planning for long-term management and care.
The average lifespan of most horses is 25 to 30 years of age. Smaller breeds of horses tend to live longer than larger ones. Advances in veterinary healthcare, access to specially formulated nutrition, hoof care, and regular dental care can considerably increase a horse’s lifespan.
Whether we buy an adult horse or breed our own foal, we want them to live as long as possible. We can’t slow time down for our horses, but if we understand the aging process in horses, we can keep our horses healthy for much longer than the average lifespan prediction.
What Is The Average Lifespan Of A Horse?
There are more than 300 distinct horse breeds in the world with huge variations in size, appearance, and temperament. These beautiful creatures have been domesticated since 4000BC, and horses have played an invaluable part in human history.
The average lifespan of a domestic horse has certainly increased considerably in modern times. While horses themselves haven’t changed much over the last few thousand years, there have been tremendous advances in veterinary science and animal nutrition, so keeping older horses healthy is less challenging than it was in the past.
With good care and balanced nutrition, the average lifespan of a domestic horse is usually between 25 to 30 years. Of course, many horses have far exceeded this age. The oldest horse ever recorded reached a whopping 62 years of age.
Generally apparent between the different breeds of horses is that the smaller the breed, the more likely it is to live longer. Heavier breeds such as Friesians and Clydesdales often don’t reach 20 years of age, while some smaller breeds and ponies frequently survive well into their 30s or even 40s.
According to Britannica, the lifespan of a horse can be calculated at six to seven times the time it needs to reach full physical and mental development. So keeping in mind that most breeds only stop growing at around four or five years of age, the absolute highest mark that should be possible for any horse is between 30 to 35 years of age. However, exceptions are common, and many well-cared-for horses have taken no heed of this limit and have lived well beyond expectation,
Things that affect the expected lifespan of a horse are the following:
- The breed of the horse
- The available nutrition
- Dental health
- Hoof care
- The healthcare that it receives
- How young the horse was backed as well as its workload
All of these factors are vital in understanding what the projected lifespan of a particular horse might be. A horse that was backed too young was worked intensively and provided with an inadequate diet is less likely to reach the minimum average age of a particular breed than another well cared for.
While the average life expectancy of horses as a species is usually 25 to 30 years, there can be profound fluctuations between breeds. For example, a twenty-year-old Welsh pony has a very different potential lifespan than a 20-year-old draft horse.
It isn’t easy to accurately compare the aging process of a horse against a human. However, it is clear that horses don’t live as long as humans, and even with the very best care, they can be considered seniors from around the age of 18 to 20 years. Most human-to-horse age comparisons place a 20-year-old horse as equivalent to around 60 years of age in humans.
Regardless of the breed of horse, the signs of aging usually become apparent before they reach 20. The genetics of the horse, its care, diet, and workload will all have a massive impact on its life expectancy. Ponies tend to mature much faster than larger horses and usually outlive them.
If a horse reaches the age of 30, it is always regarded as extremely old. However, many oldies still live full and happily pampered lives. Anyone who kept ponies knows that these tiny equines continue to be mischievous throughout their lives, regardless of their age.
Horses are flight animals that evolved from the same common ancestor as zebras which also have an average estimated lifespan of around 25 to 30 years. In the wild, individual animals rarely reach advanced ages. Wild horses that have to fend for themselves tend to live much shorter lives than their stabled counterparts.
The Average Lifespan Of A Horse Is Affected By Its Breed
Some breeds of horses have a longer expected life expectancy than others. Although the average for the equine species is around 25 to 30 years, many animals far exceed this prediction, and some breeds are more likely to consistently live well into their 30s. To understand which horses are more likely to live longer, the most significant determining factor besides care appears to be the size of the breed.
Larger breeds like draft horses have a lower expected lifespan than lighter breeds like Arabians or Appaloosas. Supporting their massive musculoskeletal systems and frequent heart and colic problems associated with age takes their toll on gentle giants like Friesians, Belgium Drafts, and Shires.
Routine care and proper nutrition can also significantly increase the lifespan of any horse breed, including these large draft horse breeds. Although they probably won’t ever outlive smaller built breeds, excellent care will go a long way to keep a horse in good condition even well into advanced old age.
The Average Lifespan Of A Horse Is Affected By Its Feed
Horses need to eat plenty of hay and grass. That is a standard requirement that can significantly affect the animal’s health. Although grain concentrate can also be added, it is essential to feed the right type of food in the correct quantities to avoid conditions such as ulcers, joint issues, or laminitis.
Colic is one of the top causes of premature death in horses, and the mere word is enough to strike fear into most horse owners. Providing infrequent, insufficient, or incorrect feeding can severely affect the expected lifespan of a horse. Providing an ample supply of clean, drinkable water for a horse is also essential to keep it well hydrated and healthy.
A horse’s weight must be carefully monitored to give it the best possible chance of achieving a long lifespan. An obese horse can develop an assortment of severe health complications due to weight buildup, including adding additional strain to the heart and lungs. Obesity in young horses can cause developmental problems, and carrying too much weight at any age can severely impact feet, limbs, and joints.
Horses evolved as flight animals that would have been ready at all times to dart away from predators. Their bodies are not well adapted to carrying large amounts of excess fat, and doing so can significantly reduce their expected lifespan.
Before considering putting any horse on a diet, keep in mind that they need access to good quality roughage in the form of grass or hay continuously to maintain good gut health. A sudden change in diet is not a good idea no matter how well-intended and can develop an ulcer or colic. Always work under guidance from a veterinarian when making changes to a horse’s diet.
As horses age, they may require a special diet or feed supplements to keep them healthy. Like humans, they are also prone to conditions like arthritis. Feeds are available that are formulated especially for the needs of senior horses – some of them even take into account the diminished chewing ability of older equines. The life expectancy of older horses can be significantly extended by providing them with age-appropriate, easily digestible feed.
The Average Lifespan Of A Horse Is Affected By Its Teeth
We have all heard the phrase ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’; however, when it comes to predicting the future lifespan of a horse, it turns out that their teeth are one of the most critical factors.
Unlike many other animals, horses’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. The natural chewing action normally files down a horse’s teeth to keep them in check. Unfortunately, they usually don’t chew evenly, so often teeth form sharp edges, which can form painful ulcers or make it difficult to chew food properly. If untreated, dental issues can drastically reduce the lifespan of a horse.
Extremely old horses can even completely lose the chewing surface on some teeth, or teeth can become loose. Horses must get their teeth floated regularly, particularly older animals, as they may even require extractions to make chewing more comfortable.
The inability to chew and digest food effectively will quickly lead to a deterioration in a horse’s condition that can be difficult to recover from and can significantly shorten the animal’s lifespan.
The Average Lifespan Of A Horse Is Affected By Its Hooves
The lifespan of a horse can be severely reduced if its hooves are not regularly assessed and trimmed as pain and inflammation from the feet can affect the animal’s overall health.
A horse that can’t walk will not survive for long. An old adage says, ‘No hoof, no horse.’ A horse must be able to move around actively to maintain good health. Compared to the size of its body, the hooves are tiny surfaces that carry the entire weight of the animal, so keeping them in good shape is of paramount importance.
Many domestic horses do not cover enough rough terrain to wear down their hooves naturally. Hooves need to be kept at about a 50-degree angle to reduce strain on the legs and heel. If they receive regular farrier attention, a horse is more likely to stay active for much longer, positively affecting life expectancy.
The Average Lifespan Of A Horse Is Affected By Healthcare
Improvements in veterinary care and the introduction of equine vaccines again common illnesses have been a major step forward in increasing the lifespan of horses. Common illnesses like influenza or West Nile Virus that might have killed a horse a few decades ago can easily be vaccinated against and offer good protection against developing a serious illness.
Routine vaccinations have increased the average lifespan of domestic horses as before, an outbreak of an infectious disease could quickly devastate the entire equine population in an area. Keeping a horse up to date with all vaccinations will significantly reduce its chances of dying prematurely from preventable illnesses.
Horses with access to prompt veterinary care are also far more likely to exceed the average life expectancy for their species. Injuries can be quickly treated, and wounds that were once considered life-threatening or fatal are often cleaned, stitched, and successfully treated.
Age-related ailments, like Cushings disease and arthritis, often particularly affect older horses. With vet care and careful management, many of the symptoms of various degenerative conditions can be managed, providing the horse with a comfortable quality of life well into old age.
It is not only improvements in veterinary care that can keep a horse alive for longer but also advances in routine animal healthcare. The availability of effective and safe equine treatments for both internal and external parasites has meant that horse owners can take steps to avert many common health problems.
Horse owners are often faced with heart-wrenching decisions about prolonging a horse’s lifespan vs. quality of life. Although most horses are physically programmed to live for at least two decades, injury or poor health can negatively affect the quality of an animal’s existence.
Working closely with a veterinarian is one of the best ways to keep your horse healthy and enjoying its life for as long as possible.
The Average Lifespan Of A Horse Is Affected By Its Workload
The lifespan of any horse is significantly affected by the setting it was born into. While some horses are only kept as leisure animals or lightly used farm mounts, others are regularly subjected to tremendous physical strain.
While horses need to stay fit and active to remain healthy, and it is essential that they receive adequate exercise, overworking or backing a horse too early can take a tremendous toll on its long-term health. A young horse that is ridden before its musculoskeletal system has finished may suffer premature injuries, joint pain, and early onset of debilitating arthritis.
Horses that are under tremendous physical strain for prolonged periods will not only suffer physical damage to their hearts and lungs, but stress can quickly lead to ulcers. These are issues that will affect an animal’s overall health, which may reduce its expected lifespan.
Signs Of Aging In Horses
The average lifespan of horses is steadily increasing because many of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with advanced age can be successfully managed. Horses don’t all age at the same pace, so owners need to remain alert to subtle changes that may indicate that a horse has started entering its golden years.
Fortunately, being a senior is not necessarily an immediate death sentence for a horse. Older horses can enjoy many years of light work or comfortable retirement if they receive good care and are properly managed. However, it is vital to remain vigilant to the signs and symptoms of aging, which, if left unmanaged, can rapidly spiral out of control and may cut a horse’s life short.
Some horses come with a detailed history and possibly even an exact date of birth. This makes things a lot easier for owners when trying to diagnose possible age-related problems. However, many horses have an unknown history, and one needs to work from an estimation of age.
If you notice that your horse has slowed down, the most important thing to remember is first to get a medical checkup. Horses slow down for many reasons other than advancing age, so ruling out other conditions must always be your first stop.
Some conditions are more likely to occur as a horse gets older. This is not to say they are untreatable, so the sooner management begins, the better the animal’s life expectancy.
Four major signs may tell you that a horse is no longer a youngster and may need a little extra support to remain in good health.
1. Deterioration In Overall Condition
If you have eliminated all other potential causes, like internal parasites or stress, and you find that your horse is losing weight, it may be because it is struggling to absorb sufficient nutrients from its food. Gut health is often compromised in senior animals, so changing to a softer, more digestible feed can help.
As horses age, they often struggle to maintain a solid appearance and may start to lose their topline. Although wasting is more common, the reverse can also occur if a horse has developed a condition like Equine Metabolic Syndrome.
Other physical signs can be greying, especially around the muzzle or cloudiness in one or both eyes.
2. Dental Issues
A horse may start losing weight if its teeth have developed sharp points or are causing pain. Besides weight loss, look out for reluctance to eat or dropping of food while it is being chewed.
Regular dental exams and treatment are essential in keeping your older horse in good condition. A horse that cannot properly chew its food will quickly develop other health issues as the body struggles to get enough nutrition.
3. Age-Related Disorders Or Conditions
Like humans, horses are more prone to develop certain conditions as they age. All the organs are aging, so watch out for specific issues. For example, frequent urination may signify possible kidney failure; yellow-tinged gums may be associated with a liver condition, and stiffness can indicate the onset of osteoarthritis.
One of the most frequent conditions that can occur at any age but is more common in
older equines is Cushings disease. This disease has several symptoms but frequently presents as horses with a year-round shaggy coat, loss of topline, potbelly, and frequent hoof abscesses.
4. Showing Visible Stress
To recognize signs of old age, remain alert to subtle or extreme changes in a horse’s behavior. A dominant horse may gradually become more reserved. A usually energetic horse may prefer to stay in sight of its stable.
Of course, extreme changes in behavior like refusal or eat or drink must be urgently resolved.
Sometimes older horses may simply start to exhibit signs of stress about things that never previously bothered them. It may visibly shiver in cold weather or breath heavily on a hot day.
Ensuring that a horse can always walk and run comfortably will go a long way to ensuring that it enjoys the longest possible lifespan. A horse with stiff legs may be reluctant or slow to move out of its stable. A veterinarian can prescribe necessary anti-inflammatories that can ease stiffness. A farrier can ensure that your horse’s hooves are trimmed to put the least amount of stress on aging leg joints.
Fortunately, most old symptoms of advancing age come on slowly, and the lifespan of any horse can be significantly prolonged if problems are diagnosed and treated as early as possible. With proper management, most horses can live well beyond their predicted lifespan.
Horses age at different rates, however, the average lifespan of a horse is usually between 25 to 30 years. Lighter breeds like ponies or Arabians generally enjoy much longer lifespans, and some can even trot their way well into their forties! The horse breed can also profoundly affect the expected lifespan as large draft horses may only often reach a top age of around 20 years.
No matter how long they live, it will always seem too short for those of us who own horses. But time waits for no one, and once frisky foals eventually slow down to become grey-nuzzled old souls that continue to bring us joy with their presence.