Horses are living healthy, active lives well into their 20's!
Gail M. Staines, Ph.D.
Founder, The Senior Horse
April 12, 2021
If you believe that today's horses are living longer, healthier lives, then you are probably right! Although there a no definitive studies on the changing lifespan of the horse over time, anectodal evidence indicates that today's equines live, on average, between 25 and 30 years. (Petsmont, 2020) This makes sense if we look back at the use of the horse in everyday life.
Uses of Horses Over Time
“The horse was used for food, herding, warfare, transportation, communication, agriculture, trade, commerce, pleasure, sport, religion, symbol, status, gift, industry, competition, and recreation. This is to say nothing about its significant role in the transfer of language, culture, and technology that resulted with the increased mobility the horse offered to man.” -- Equine Heritage Institute
In the beginning, horses were hunted as a food source. Once domesticated, the horse was used for traveling and transportation, farm work (e.g., plowing fields, pulling hay wagons, etc.), in the coal mines, and in war. Equines living in the pre-Industrial Era has difficult lives with heavy work loads, suboptimal nutrition, and rudimentary veterinary science. In fact, horse care relied primarily on folk lore.
How Long Do Horses Really Live?
The answer is -- it depends. There are many factors that impact how long a horse lives. Breeding, use, nutrition, and veterinary care all play a role in determining a horse's lifespan.
Breeding & Genetics: There are over 300 breeds of horses. According to Cummins (2020) and Hoffman & Valencak (2020), Arabians, Appaloosas, and Tennessee Walking Horses live, on average, about 28 years; the American Quarter Horse 20-25 years; and the American Paint Horse, 30-31 years. Ponies tend to live into their 30's, while Freisians live about 16 years. This is due primarily to in-breeding and other genetic disorders. These are averages and there are horses of all breeds that live much shorter and much longer lives.
Use: What a horse is used for over its' lifespan significantly impacts how long it will live. Racehorses (Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds) are more prone to injuries due to their racing careers. Horses that are over-worked and/or over-ridden may not live as long.
Nutrition: Scientific advances in equine nutrition have greatly influenced the health of the horse. Today's equine feed companies, such as Purina, Nutrena, and Buckeye create products based on evidenced-based practices. Equine nutritionists and equine veterinarians can provide expert advice on what to feed your horse. Forage (hay) remains the foundation of a horse's diet. However, the availability of various concentrates and supplements can make it challenging to know exactly what to feed your horse. The best advice is to learn as much as you can about equine nutrition from experts. (Gray, 2016)
Veterinary Care: Like breeding and genetics, use, and nutrition, our deeper understanding of the horse and advances in veterinary care for equines enables horses to live longer, happier, healthier lives. Horses that are on a regular maintenance care regimen (e.g., regular vaccinations, worming, dental care, hoof care, etc.) have a better chance of living longer.
“Take care of your horse, and it will take care of you," -- G. Staines
As horses live longer, it becomes our responsibility to ensure that they are happy and healthy. Some things we cannot change, such as breeding and genetics. If we get a horse later in it's life we will not be able to change it's past, but we can (and should) change it's future for the better. Changes to making our horses feel great should be based on evidence and positive results. Then we can feel confident that we are doing everything possible to ensure our equine's lifespan is a long one.
Cummins, D. (2020). Do Some Breeds of Horses Live Longer Than Others? The Thinking Equestrian. https://successful-horse-training-and-care.com/do-some-breeds-of-horses-live-longer-than-others.html
The Fresian Horse Breed: Lifespan, Genetics, and History. (n.d.) https://horseracingsense.com/fresian-horse-lifespan-genetics-history/
Gray, L. (2016). Nutrition: The Key to Unlocking Your Horse's Health. American Association of Equine Practitioners. https://aaep.org/horsehealth/nutrition-key-unlocking-your-horses-health
Hoffman, J.M. and Valencak, T.G. (2020). A short life on the farm: Aging and longevity in agricultural, large-breed animals. Geroscience, 42 (3), pp. 909-922.
Shaping civilizations: The Role of the Horse in Human Societies. (n.d.) Equine Heritage Institute. http://www.equineheritageinstitute.org/shaping-civilizations-the-role-of-the-horse-in-human-societies/
"What is the average lifespan of a horse?" (Nov. 14, 2020). Petsmont https://petsmont.com/blogs/pets/what-is-the-average-lifespan-of-a-horse