Giving Every Horse a Chance
Some of the horses we rescue are in the latter years of their life, but here at Remus Horse Sanctuary we believe that age is just a number.
So it was heartening to read this article in Your Horse magazine, which details several cases of older horses who have been ill or injured, and who, after treatment, recovered enough to live happily ever after.
As well as their owners seeking help quickly, and the vet treating them accordingly, the other common themes in these success stories are love and care – something that is not in short supply here at Remus.
This is why we never euthanise our horses based on sickness or age alone – they trust us to look after them, however old or sick they are and that is exactly what we do. Euthanasia is always a last resort for us.
Can you help us? The soaring temperatures in the summer turned our tasty green paddocks into wasteland and they’ve yet to recover. If you can, please contribute to our Urgent Hay Appeal.
Family of Elderly Shetland Ponies Rehomed
Damson, April and Mopsey find sanctuary at the horse charity in Buttsbury, near Ingatestone in Essex.
Three elderly Shetland Ponies, all in their thirties, have been rehomed at Remus Horse Sanctuary after their owner was struggling to look after them. Damson (38 years old), mother of April (32 years old) and aunt to Mopsey (36 years old) will be loved and cared for at the Sanctuary and receive the required medication to manage their various ailments.
At present the girls are in isolation whilst tests are being carried out to ascertain their needs – elderly horse care is a specialty at the Sanctuary. As horses and ponies get older it is vital owners are aware of their changing needs – in particular their teeth, diet, stabling and general healthcare.
The picture shows these delightful little girls from left to right: Damson, mother of foal April, and her niece Mopsey. Damson suffers from Cushings’ disease (PPID), which she is being treated for, and Laminitis. Due to her thick Cushingoid coat she has been clipped.
The previous owner, an elderly lady who was struggling to look after the ponies and her own sickly mother at the same time, contacted founder Sue Burton to see if the charity could help.
“It broke her heart to part with them, but she had the strength to make the right decision by them and let them come to Remus,” said Sue.
Extensive blood tests are required on all new animals at the Sanctuary. They have had their first Strangles test which came back clear. Once the second test is completed and they have the all-clear, they will be able to go out into the paddocks, meet the other ponies and live the rest of their lives together.
“Damson, April and Mopsey are such delightful little girls! They’ve always been together and, by coming to Remus, we will ensure they stay together.
“At the moment, this is quite a change for them, and Damson is quiet and quite nervous. April the youngest and by far the spriteliest has a lot of character and is the most confident. Mopsey is quiet and timid, she’s still not sure of us.
‘All three love their food and are eating well, which is always a good sign. We’re really looking forward to seeing how they develop and settle in at Remus.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to support the ongoing care of Damson, April and Mopsey at the Sanctuary can do so online or direct to the charity. Details can be found at: www.remussanctuary.org/donate. People can also find out about sponsoring the newly homed Shetland Ponies here: www.remussanctuary.org/how-you-can-help/sponsor.
For further information, visit www.remussanctuary.org or contact Sue Burton on tel: 01277 356191.
Laminitis: the silent monster in older horses
We’re finally enjoying some much warmer weather but, as usual for horse owners, it comes with additional challenges! Many vets up and down the country have reported rises in cases of Laminitis, with the mixture of the warm and wet weather making the grass grow like crazy.
Many of our residents here at Remus are elderly and Laminitis is just one of the conditions that we are very careful to monitor all year round. While late teens used to be considered old for a horse, many now live and often work well into their twenties and longer.
And now, a new study has found that horses over the age of 25 may be suffering from chronic Laminitis but not showing any of the obvious signs.
The research has come out of the Swiss Institute of Equine Medicine. They looked at 51 clinically sound horses between the ages of 15 and 32, so what we would consider ‘veterans’.
They x-rayed their feet to check for pedal bone rotation and also assessed their body condition scores (BCS), cresty neck scores (CNS) and levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ATCH), which can be a sign of Cushing’s, another condition often found in older horses that can lead to Laminitis.
Almost half of the horses’ x-rays showed signs of pedal bone rotation, but none showed signs of acute lameness or Cushing’s, which goes to show that our horses could be suffering in ways we don’t expect so monitoring and awareness are key.
You might also like to take a look at our feature in Horse Magazine on how we eradicated Laminitis from the Sanctuary.
You can also visit our website to learn more about elderly horse care.
Remus residents: some of the oldest equines to have lived
We’ve all known a special ‘golden oldie’ on our yard or at the local riding school who has defied science by still being ridden at 30 plus! While the expected lifespan for horses is 25-30 years and ponies 30-35 years, many surpass this.
The team here at Remus launched the Elderly Horse Awareness Campaign back in 2007 when we received backing from vets, nutritionists, well-known names in the equestrian world such as Jenny Pitman OBE, the Laminitis Trust and numerous feed companies.
Along with our team of experts in feed, dentition and holistic care, we constantly challenge the old adage that old age equals poor condition. Instead we focus closely on individual, changing needs and our residents are a testament to this thinking.
In an article of eight of the world’s oldest horses, two of them saw out their retirement here at the sanctuary.
Shane the liver chestnut, died aged 52 and was believed to be the oldest in the world at the time of his death in 2013. He remained well covered, healthy and enjoyed going out in the paddocks every day up to the day he died. Orchid passed away two years later aged 50. She was a Thoroughbred/Arabian cross who unfortunately suffered neglect before being moved to us to live out her final days peacefully. We also had another resident, a small black pony called Buttons, who passed away at a remarkable 54 years old.
You can find out about some of the other oldest horses and ponies in history here: https://horseyhooves.com/oldest-horses-in-history/
Please spare a moment to donate to Remus to help us continue the important work that we do here at the Sanctuary rescuing neglected and abused horses.
Keep on moving: joint problems in horses
Just as we humans have to look after our joints as we get older, so do we have a responsibility to care for our horses’ joints. Joint problems in horses are a common cause of lameness, with arthritis being the likely cause, particularly as horses get older.
While all of our residents here at Remus are retired, we still want to make sure they are as sound as possible, so that they continue to live life in comfort. General health of the elderly horse is extremely important, as it is directly related to quality of life.
Horses and ponies are living longer than ever thanks to better veterinary treatments and general nutrition. While late teens used to be considered old, many horses live and often work or even compete well into their twenties and longer! In order for them to be able to do this, however, we need to carefully manage joint health.
Currently, with the added pressures of lockdown, some of our ways of managing our horses’ needs may have changed. Perhaps you have taken the decision not to ride and have found that your horse has become stiffer as a result? Or has turning your horse away seen him pile on the weight, putting even more strain on his joints?
As with everything, prevention is better than cure. So, if you’re worried about new or existing joint conditions, get some expert advice. This article from Your Horse magazine is a good starting point.
Our hard work at the Sanctuary continues, despite Coronavirus, and we’re trying to survive on a small skeleton staff. Please consider making a donation, either as a one off or as a regular monthly payment.
Improving equine welfare through changing habits
The 2020 National Equine Forum took place on 5 March with a focus on how changing our own habits as owners can improve equine welfare.
Here at Remus we provide lifetime help and care for horses, ponies and donkeys. We also advise owners of older horses in all aspects of care through our Elderly Horse Campaign and advise members of the public through our Horse Welfare Watch. So we’re very conscious of the need to encourage better awareness within our communities.
Veterinary, equestrian and behavioural change experts came together at the Forum to discuss how the welfare of our horses can be improved by changing our habits in relation to disease prevention and control.
One of the welfare issues they looked at was colic risk. The ‘REACT now to beat colic’ owner campaign was developed by The British Horse Society and the University of Nottingham and is helping to ensure colic cases are more appropriately and rapidly responded to in order to ensure more effective treatment.
Another issue discussed was worming. There has been lots of debate surrounding regular worming programmes and the message from the Forum was that the more we worm, the more resistance we will experience to the drugs we currently use. Instead, if owners turn to targeted worming – in other words, only worming if a faecal worm egg count shows it is needed – then this could decrease the use of the drugs by 80%, therefore delaying further resistance.
You can read more about the discussions from the National Equine Forum on the website: www.nationalequineforum.com/changing-our-habits-nef20/.
Keeping Your Horse’s Teeth Healthy
We’ve all heard the expression, ‘getting a little long in the tooth’. Of course, it’s an alternative way of saying someone’s getting old! Horses’ teeth grow for much of their life, and wear between 2mm and 3mm a year, as a result of them happily chewing and grinding their food. It’s important that food is broken down properly in the horse’s mouth, as it allows the gut to digest it fully and therefore avoid problems such as weight loss or colic.
Horses are natural trickle feeders, typically eating for up to 18 hours a day, but with modern day winter stabling, this isn’t always the case and we need to be aware of problems that may arise.
The team here at Remus dealt with a lovely pony called Prince, who died within days of us taking him in. We found him in a field rugged up and with food but emaciated and with a huge tooth abscess. His owner loved him but was not aware that, despite feeding him, he was quidding (dropping) most of it back out. She didn’t realise that as he got older his teeth needed more attention.
As well as dropping food, horses with problem teeth might show facial swellings, head shaking or potentially nothing obvious at all. This article from Your Horse magazine sets out the importance of maintaining healthy teeth and what you should be looking out for.
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Exercise is key!
‘Use it or lose it’. We’ve all heard the expression and we all know how important it is, with an ageing population, to exercise and keep our bodies in good working order. Our equine friends are also living longer, so how can we help them to stay strong and less-injury prone as they move through life?
While our residents here at Remus are retired, and many are elderly, we work hard to keep them interested in day-to-day life, in order to maintain their health and fitness. So a recent article in Your Horse magazine got our attention. It’s about incorporating simple exercises into your horse’s daily routine to strengthen their muscles – either between physio visits, if your horse is recovering from an injury, or just generally.
Some of these are ridden and some are in hand, such as turning your horse on a circle around you to get him to engage his core. Of course, be careful to only do what your horse is capable of and always work evenly on both sides, or you could be doing more damage than good!
Read the full article here.
We are specialists in caring for elderly horses. You can read more about this on our website here.
Saying Goodbye to your Equine Friend
It’s never easy saying goodbye to our equine friends, however long they’ve been a part of our lives. We specialise in the care of veteran horses and ponies, and give them every chance to thrive into old age. Our animals are never euthanised for reasons of age or infirmity alone, but when we lose residents, such as Buttons at 54 and Shayne at 52, it’s still an incredibly hard time for the whole team, despite knowing they got to live out their twilight years in comfort.
Human feelings apart, what about the other horses left behind when your beloved equine passes away? Our horses spend everyday out in the paddocks enjoying each other’s company, as indeed every horse should, so a sense of loss is inevitable. There’s currently not enough research for us to be certain about how horses understand the concept of death, but there are things we can do to soothe the situation for them. This article from Horse & Hound has some great advice if you’re going through this hard time.
Caring for the Elderly Horse
At Remus Horse Sanctuary we very much work with older horses and have had many in their early 50’s, late 40’s and many into their 30’s.
We believe that ‘old horse’ should not equal ‘thin horse’ and all of our horses are weighed on a weighbridge weekly to ensure that we can monitor their weight. They have high fibre food and high caloric, if we require weight gain. Those with poor dentition have this in a sloppy porridge consistency. Old age is not an illness and horses can cope very well with being old. It does take a lot of work to keep on top of the needs of the older horse and as they live longer the problems increase.
We try to keep their lives as structured as possible with as much enrichment as possible. We have calm music playing around the yard in all buildings to keep all the animals calm and we offer various holistic therapies including reiki, self-selection herbs, shiatsu etc to help keep them emotionally calm to help them deal with the many issues they have to deal with as they age.
Retirement is a very tricky issue at the moment as there are just so many horses caught up in the horse welfare crisis that there are very few places available for them. Most people will find their horses will tell them when they are ready to retire. Every horse and every situation will be different. We urge horse owners to think before buying or breeding a horse, can they care for that horse for life? Options available are :
- Put to sleep – this seems unfair as its not the horse fault that it has become old but if you can’t guarantee him/her a safe retirement then this is an option.
- Keep their horse in happy retirement.
- Find a retirement home – a lot of research has to go into ensuring you find the right place for your horse and the retirement home is going to do what it promises.
We have been home to Buttons who died at 54 years, Shane who died at 52 years and Orchid who died last year at 50 years. We achieve this just from the care regime that we mentioned above. Its not always easy but its so satisfying to be able to enable a horse to live its life out to the full. There is something so gracious about an elderly equine who has given its life to its owners, doing everything that is required of it, now being allowed to live its life in quiet and peaceful surroundings.