The question of the lifespan of an animal is very important, a fortiori that of an animal like the horse. Raised in a certain utilitarian perspective, his longevity leads him to experience a period of substantial old age, during which he no longer has the usefulness he may have had previously. What is the life expectancy of a horse and how to ensure a long life?
How long does a horse live?
The progress experienced by Western societies is leading to a longer lifespan for humans, but also for the animals they live with. Thus, the horses experienced an elongation of the Average duration of their life. While this was still often limited to 25 years at the beginning of the 20th century, a horse more often reaches the 35 years today. The absence of conflicts in our Western countries, the improvement in the management of illnesses and care contribute to this extension. The place we give to animals in our daily lives and the way we now treat them are also part of this evolution.
Beyond this general average, it should be noted that the length of life is not the same depending on the size of the horse. The small horses, that is to say those whose height at the withers does not exceed 1.48 m, are placed at the top of the range. This is particularly true for Fjords and Icelanders, renowned for their robustness: they often reach 30 to 35 years old. This is partly due to the way their bodies develop. Their maturity is reached only around the age of 7 or 8 years. This allows them to be ridden for up to 20 years, sometimes a little more. Large horses rarely exceed 30 years, their longevity stretching more generally between 20 and 30 years. But again, this is just an average. Depending on the race, life expectancy varies.
The length of life depends on how we live it
A wild horse has a shorter life than a domestic horse. Life expectancy in the wild hardly exceeds 15-20 years. This is explained by the quality of care and foodbut also the security of the environment, which have a positive impact on the lifespan of a domestic horse. The difference between the lifespan of a wild horse and that of a domestic horse can also be explained by the fact that domestic horses are the result of a work of human selection which reproduces the best elements. Finally, as for us, there is a genetic factordifficult to control, which will cause a particular horse to live longer than another of the same species.
For domestic horses, it is important to consider how we use them. We are more and more attentive to animal welfare and, it is clear that we use horses very badly, not taking enough account of the period of growth, which leads to many back problems in these animals. The bone maturity of the vertebral column, for a horse of 1m70, is not complete until 8 years old. This should lead us to take precautions in the way we work horses before this age. Given this situation, veterinarians agree to estimate that 70% of horses over 20 years old will require specific care. Moreover, it is known that racehorses generally have a shorter life, not because they would be poorly cared for, but because certain traumas are synonymous with the end of life, such as a broken leg can lead to euthanasia. .
Offer a beautiful and long life to your horse
Here is what contributes to the longevity of the horse:
- a good diet,
- attention to his needs: socialization with other horses and regular exercise in particular,
- attention to his health to deal with problems quickly.
It may seem simple and obvious. However, all is not always rosy in the life of a horse: it can lack attention, either because the owner has neglected what it means to own a horse, or because of ignorance of its needs. We cannot stress enough the fact that the acquisition of a horse is a project all the more expensive as the horse lives a little more than a third of the life that a human in good health can hope to live. This implies having a good lifestyle as well as stable life prospects.
To take good care of a horse, it is best to offer it living conditions as close as possible to what it may encounter in the nature.
This involves feeding small amounts of grass and other plants. Feeding your horse two to three times a day is increasingly recommended. It is essential to avoid overweight. The food quality is just as important as quantity. Forage grasses and long-stemmed hay such as alfalfa should be preferred. The intake of cereals such as oats and corn should be moderate, unless the animal has specific caloric needs (growth, lactation, activity involving a lot of effort). Since counting calories is difficult, the easiest way is to assume that a horse needs 1.5-2% of its body weight in food overall each day. Obviously, grazing remains the ideal. If this is not possible, the “slow” feeder is a good option: equipped with small openings, the horse eats in a way that approximates natural feed intake.
The activity is essential to the health of a horse, as it is for us! A horse should walk about 20 minutes a day. Remember that the horn of which the hoof is made grows constantly and needs to wear out. Evolution in a large enclosure during the day is ideal.
It is also essential that a horse regularly sees other horses: in nature, they live in herds. It is simply necessary to check the compatibility of character beforehand before letting horses evolve together. Offering him company also means visiting him regularly, to treat him or simply caress him. the mental well-being of the horse promotes a long life just as much as physical health.
Side health, horses can experience many hassles. Much of it can be avoided by vaccinations, deworming, regular care of teeth and hooves. But the horse can still contract common diseases, which can sometimes shorten its lifespan: colic, laminitis (painful disease affecting the hooves), arthritis… You have to watch over your horse and take care of its health problems. health as soon as the first symptoms appear.
Managing the old age of a horse
Old age is synonymous with physical and mental decline. This will considerably limit the activities that can be envisaged with a horse. The signs of aging are close to what humans can experience: wear of the teeth, whitening of areas of the head, modification of the curves of the back and appearance of stiffness in locomotion.
The aging of this animal raises economic but also ethical questions, given the particular sensitivity of our societies to the animal condition. In addition to the fact that horse owners do not anticipate the cost of a horse over its entire lifespan, for some, the question of this cost weighs more heavily because the animal loses its usefulness. The case of racehorses is perhaps the best known. These top athletes are generally retired quite early. Some of them may be engaged in other activities, others, because they stood out in performance, are chosen for breeding. But many horses also end up the slaughterhouse. Is it admissible or not? Horsemeat had its heyday, but today the consumption of pets is less and less accepted. It remains to be seen whether the horse is one!
In December 2019, MP Loïc Dombreval was entrusted by Prime Minister Édouard Philippe with a mission on the well-treatment of pets. Its scope included equidae. It was a question of the management of their end of life, and that whatever the activity of their owners. Suffice to say that professionals in the horse industry were moved because, in rural law, horses are farm animals. We are therefore living in a period of transition on many subjects. Mores evolve, our way of being with animals with. Our relationship with horses will certainly continue to evolve in the coming decades and the management of their old age as well.