How Long Do Horses Live? Average Lifespan Guide

What’s the Average Lifespan for a Horse?

The relationship between a horse and its person is one filled with mutual trust and respect. As any horse owner can tell you, there is a deep bond that grows between horse and rider, and it won’t take long to develop a strong attachment. If you are considering your own horse, or if you already have one, you are likely wondering how long you can expect your equine partner to live. 

How long do horses live? The average lifespan of a horse is 25 – 30 years, with small ponies living slightly longer on average, and large draft horses having a slightly shorter lifespan on average. With good genetics, proper care, and special attention, your horse may live well into its 30’s. 

Read on to learn more about the lifespan of a horse, how long a horse can be ridden, and what measures you can take to extend the life of your horse. 

How To Extend The Life Of Your Horse

You will want to give your horse the best chance at reaching its full lifespan potential. If your horse is also your riding partner, you will also want to do what you can to extend the length of time that you can continue riding them. To do this, you need to be proactive with maintenance and vet care, attentive to your horse’s nutritional needs and focused on their overall wellbeing.

Keeping up with maintenance means providing the necessary vaccines and de-worming protocols according to your area, regularly having your horse’s teeth floated, and regular visits from the farrier. All of these forms of maintenance will help to prevent major issues down the road. For example, a horse who is not receiving regular hoof trimmings could suffer crippling hoof damage, and a horse who does not have its teeth floated is at risk of suffering painful sores and weight loss. 

You will also need to pay close attention to your horse’s nutrition, especially in their senior years. Many older horses may require grain and chopped how to supplement their diets and easier methods for eating. As horses age, they can lose teeth, which can make it difficult for them to graze. Grain and chopped hay provide extra sugars and nutrients an older horse may not be able to get from grass.

You also want to make sure that your horse is mentally healthy. To provide for your horse’s wellbeing, make sure that they have a pasture friend of their own, and adequate turn-out time. A horse left in a stall by himself for the majority of the day may become depressed and bored. The lack of exercise a stalled horse experiences will also have an effect on his cardiovascular and respiratory health. 

How To Determine The Age Of A Horse

As is the case with most other animals, you can tell a lot about the age of a horse by looking at its teeth. The teeth of a young horse will give a more accurate approximation about age than the teeth of an older horse, as there are many factors that will affect the teeth of a horse as it ages.

When a foal is born, you will not see any teeth in its mouth. A foal’s baby teeth (also known as milk teeth or temporary teeth) will gradually develop in the first nine months of life. When the horse is between 2 and 3 years old, his baby teeth will begin to be replaced by permanent, or adult, teeth – this continues for the next few years until the horse has all of his permanent teeth around the age of 5. Because of the order in which baby teeth are replaced by adult teeth, one is able to determine age in a horse under 5 with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

One way to surmise the age of an adult horse is by looking at the shape of his teeth. Young permanent teeth are concave in shape, and these concavities are referred to in the horse community as “cups”. Pastured horses will spend approximately 12-14 hours per day grazing, and as the horse ages, that grazing will have an impact on the cups of its teeth. By the time a horse reaches approximately 10 to 12 years old, the cups on the surface of his teeth will usually have been worn flat. 

Another indicator of age is the angle of the teeth. Young adult teeth will be relatively straight, but as the horse ages, these teeth will slowly begin to angle outward. As the angle becomes more pronounced, the tooth will become longer as well. You may also notice something called the Galvayne’s groove surface at the gum line around the age of 10. This groove will continue to grow until it reaches the length of the entire tooth and will begin to recede from the gum line once a horse reaches his senior years. 

When Is A Horse Too Old To Be Ridden?

How long your horse remains rideable will depend on a number of factors – most notably, your horse’s genetics and your horse’s history. It is important to ensure your horse receives regular vet care as they age, as early intervention can have a significant impact on your horse’s future under saddle.

Modern horses are typically able to be ridden for a longer period of time than horses thirty or fifty years ago, and this is due largely to advances in veterinary medicine. While a horse in her 20s may be considered a senior, if she has good conformation and no significant injuries she will likely be able to keep up with you for several more years. Generally speaking, you might expect a horse to retire around the age of 25. 

While genetics play an important role in the soundness of your horse as she enters her senior years, her history will also play a significant role. A horse who has been competitively jumping, for example, may see joint weakness earlier than a dressage horse.

A horse’s early years will also have a big impact. A horse should not be started under the saddle and heavily worked until 4 to 5 years of age. If a horse is started too early, the likelihood of back problems increases. Horses are not finished growing until the age of 5, and carrying both tack and a rider can cause structural damage to the spine and muscles. 

To learn more about how to know when it’s time to retire your horse, visit my article What Age a Horse Should Stop Being Ridden: Complete Guide.

Can An Old Horse Participate In Equestrian Sports?

Some sports are harder on a horse’s body than others. If you want to compete with your horse, you will want to know when a typical horse reaches its prime in your discipline of choice. This will vary by sport, and what is required of the horse.

Thoroughbreds, for example, usually start racing at the young age of 2. A Thoroughbred is considered to have reached its racing peak by the age of 4 ½. For this reason, most racing Thoroughbreds are retired by the age of 5 or 6. 

Dressage horses, on the other hand, need a bit more refinement before they are ready for the highest level of competition. To qualify for the Grand Prix, a horse must be at least 7 years old. Most competitive dressage horses reach their peak between the ages of 8 and 12. 

The average age for a horse in an elite jumping competition is between 10 and 11 years, though there are significantly fewer horses in the jumping circles who are older than 14. 

With any sport, you may have a horse who ends up retiring earlier than the average, or you may end with a horse who is still going strong well into her older teens or even twenties. Deciding when to retire your horse is a personal decision that should be based on the needs of your individual horse. If your 20-year-old horse has the fitness level of a horse half her age and still enjoys barrel racing, there is no need to retire her. 

How Old Was The Oldest Horse?

The oldest horse on record died in November of 1822 at the age of 62. The horse’s name was Old Billy. Old Billy lived with the same owner for the majority of his life and worked as both a barge horse and a gin horse until the age of 59, at which point he retired comfortably. He was painted multiple times and was famous because of his age. A veterinarian visited with him in June of 1822 and documented that while his teeth were worn, he was otherwise in good shape and could be seen frolicking with the younger foals that were kept in the pasture with him. 

While you shouldn’t expect your horse to live into his 60s, you can expect him to live a good deal longer than he would have 30 years ago. Both veterinary medicine and advances in feed have come a long way in the last few decades, and more frequently horses that would previously have been retired in their 20s are now happily accompanying their partners on trail rides.

 

Are you looking to get a young horse to start working with? Check out this article! How to Train a Young Horse: Everything You Need to Know.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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