Health & Care

How Long Do Horses Live?: Horse Lifespans Explained

Horses are useful in many aspects, including competitions, work, pleasure riding, and so on. Hence, most people want their equine companions to live longer. You’re probably wondering how long horses live averagely and how to increase their lifespan. With adequate care and nutrition, you can increase the lifespan of a horse. Below, you’ll find out how long horses live, how to estimate their age, and the factors that affect their age.

Life Stages of Horses

A horse must attain the age of four before being considered an adult. A male foal is a colt, and a female foal is a filly. As they start growing into adolescents, the filly becomes a mare. In contrast, the colt becomes a gelding or a stallion, depending on whether it’s gelded (castrated) or not.

A horse enters the senior stage when it attains between fifteen and eighteen years old. Within this period, the horse may start slowing down in performance with less vigor. But since horses vary, lots of horses can still compete successfully, even at their senior stage.

Horse Statue

Determining a Horse’s Age

You can find a horse’s date of birth or age in its travel passport or registration papers. However, if these documents aren’t available, there are other ways to approximate or determine a horse’s age.

Using a Horse’s Teeth to Estimate Its Age

As horses age, there are unprecedented changes in their teeth that help with estimating their age. When you look inside a horse’s mouth, some establishing features provide a rough approximation of the horse’s age. For instance, when a horse reaches five years, there’s a hollow in each of its six front teeth (incisors) called a cup. This hollow has a dark appearance, and you can see it by looking at the horse’s lower teeth row.

Each consecutive year, the cup wears away from the horse’s pair of teeth, starting from the center teeth at the front. The following year, the pair of teeth close to the center becomes next in line to wear, and this continues. All the cups wear away by the time a horse reaches between age eight and ten.

When the horse becomes eleven years old, the upper incisors start forming a hook beneath the tooth. At this age, Galvayne’s Groove (a line that begins close to the gums and gradually slides down a horse’s tooth) appears. A groove that’s only halfway down may indicate that a horse is about fifteen years of age, and when it attains twenty years, the groove’s already touching the end of the horse’s teeth. The shape and length of a horse’s teeth also offer a rough estimate of its age.

Other Factors That Determine an Aging Horse

Rough Coat

An aging horse may lose its shiny coat and develop a furry appearance. The horse coat gradually becomes denser and thicker.

Swayed Back

The back of a horse starts dipping downward with gravity, and the withers are more prominent.

Lameness

In some cases, the horse starts to have issues with sound.

Muscle Mass Loss

The horse’s flesh becomes looser, and firming up becomes harder than before.

Horse Lifespan

Average Lifespan of Horses

Horses typically live between 25 and 30 years. But that’s not to say some horses do not live less than 25 years or up to 35 years.

The reason for these different lifespans in horses is the actual cause of their death. Horses that live up to forty years are more likely to die of old age. Such horses were cared for and well preserved, and they hardly had severe health conditions. They were offered wet feed and supplements for their aged teeth (that were yet to wear), and ultimately retired from all work and riding.

Sadly, many horses die too soon and don’t enjoy the golden years. They can become sick as humans do, with cancer and blood diseases. Horses can also be involved in unpreventable accidents. All these tragedies and sicknesses can prevent a horse from living to the fullness. Hence, we can conclude that the average lifespan of a horse is between 25 and 30 years.

aged horse

Factors That Determine a Horse’s Lifespan

Here are some characteristics and factors that determine the estimated lifespan of some horses:

Breed

Although breeding isn’t the only factor that affects the lifespan of a horse, statistics show that it undoubtedly contributes. One of the oldest horses, Orchid, is an Arabian crossbreed that lived up to 50 years.

Some breeds have longer lifespans than others. The bigger horse breeds tend to live shorter than the smaller ones. Large horse breeds like drafts and warmbloods tend to have shorter lifespans than pony breeds like Welsh Ponies and Shetlands.

Workload

A horse’s workload during its lifetime can also determine its lifespan. It will help if you consider several factors when evaluating the workload of a horse. What was the horse’s age when it started working? How long did the horse work in a particular discipline? How frequently did the horse work? What age was the horse when it worked in that discipline? Was the horse involved in competitions?

Understanding a horse’s previous careers and workloads can help with preparing for its well-being in the future. Gaining knowledge and taking precautions will also help you prevent unnecessary troubles that could affect the horse’s lifespan.

Care

Care involves giving adequate attention to a horse’s condition and wellness and allowing for regular vet checkups. It also includes frequent social interactions and grooming.

Caring for your horse will enhance its longevity. For instance, when you regularly interact with your horse, you’ll quickly notice whenever something’s wrong so you can give it immediate attention and treat it efficiently. Adequate stall time and turnout will help maintain your horse’s circulatory system and keep its joints and muscles comfortable.

Diet

Feeding a horse with a healthy diet can improve its health and significantly impact its lifespan. Also, giving your horse the proper quantity of food is essential. Ensuring that the horse has a healthy weight (not underweight or overweight) by offering it the right food quantity will increase its longevity.

Genetics

Similar to humans, some equine conditions and diseases are hereditary, which implies that a horse can inherit such from its parents. For instance, Hoof Wall Separation Disease (HWSD) causes severe deterioration of the hooves, and it’s transferable from parent to foal. No hoof strengthening supplements or drugs can prevent such transfer.

Understanding the genetic history of a horse will help you prepare for such situations. For instance, HWSD only affects some horses after some years. So having this understanding will enable you to retire them early and care for them through every stage of life.

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