As ponies age, they can become prone to laminitis, which can make feeding them tricky. Veteran ponies generally need feed to maintain weight but a high protein diet can cause episodes of dangerous laminitis.
So what can you do to make sure that your pony gets the nutrition he needs, whilst remaining in good health and free from the dreaded symptoms of laminitis?
Weigh your pony and feed accordingly
The first thing to remember is that you should feed your pony by his weight, not by his age alone. Many veterans are still 'good doers' and don't need lots of high calorie feeds to keep weight on. Use a weight tape and body condition scoring chart (available from a good agricultural feed supplier) to evaluate your pony's condition and try to keep the pony between 3 and 5 on the scale.
Choose the right feed
When choosing feed, always ask the advice of the expert staff at your local feed suppliers and look for a mark on the feed packaging that indicates that the product is suitable for feeding to laminitics.
If your elderly pony can no longer eat hay or haylage because of poor dentition, choose a short chop fibre instead. You can safely feed your pony a fibre-only diet, as long as you supplement it with suitable minerals and vitamins. Vitamin supplementation is especially important if your pony suffers from Cushing's disease.
Your feed supplier will advise you on a supportive vitamin supplement that will also encourage healthy skin and coat growth, which is important in Cushing's sufferers.
If your veteran pony is difficult to keep in good condition, you should choose a feed that contains plenty of digestible fibre and oils. Oil-based supplements can also be very useful in these circumstances, although you may find that your pony's droppings are a little loose at first until his body gets used to the new diet. Adding extra dry forage or bran to the feed mix should help to control any diarrhoea that may occur.
Just because your pony is elderly, it doesn't mean that he shouldn't enjoy plenty of exercise. This is especially important if he is inclined to become overweight. Excess weight can make arthritic joints painful and stiff and will also make the pony more likely to bouts of laminitis.
If you have a pony that is elderly and laminitic, it's essential that you feed him correctly to keep him healthy and happy. Ask your local horse feeds supplier for more advice on feeding and diet supplements.