A horse’s age affects everything from deciding the level of care to provide to whether or not to purchase one. When thinking of buying a horse, one of the most significant factors to consider is its age. Age determines if a horse can be ridden, needs specialized care, and affects the costs of owning a horse.
How long do horses live? The average horse lives 25-30 years. Horse lifespan depends on many factors, including genetics, nutrition, and exercise. The breed also plays into the lifespan of a horse. Smaller breeds such as Arabians, Appaloosa, Icelandic, Quarter horses, Haflingers, and American Paint horses are some of the longest-living horse breeds in the world. Wild horses usually don’t live as long as domesticated horses, averaging around 16 to 24 years, while ponies may outlive their larger counterparts by up to 10 years, living as long as 30-40 years.
This article covers everything you need to know about horses’ lifespans including
- Average life expectancy for horses of different backgrounds
- Equivalency between human years and horse years
- Investigates the factors that affect a horse’s lifespan.
What is the Average Life Expectancy of a Horse?
Horses are hardy animals. If provided with relatively good living conditions, the average horse could easily live to around 25 or 30 years old. Occasionally, a horse may live into their 50s. The oldest verified horseis a barge horse, known as Old Billy, who has reached 62 years old.
How Long Do Domesticated Horses Live?
Domesticated horses can easily live for between 28 and 33 years. The conditions in which they are kept and the care they receive significantly affects their longevity. Many well-looked after horses kept in captivity may reach their forties with minimal intervention and high life-quality of the horse.
How Long Do Wild Horses Live?
Wild horses average slightly shorter lifespans, reaching between 16 and 24 years old. In nature, horses with heath issues can’t be treated by a vet. They also eat a more limited diet of grass and little else. They usually die of natural causes like illnesses or injury, which could have easily been treated by humans had the horse been domesticated.
Another cause of their shortened lifespan may be injuries sustained from fighting for dominance of the herd. Some herds are so brutal they will fight to the death.Despite this, there are records of American Mustangs living in the wild for up to 40 years.
How Long Do Ponies Live?
Ponies can live for around 30-40 years. They easily outlive larger horses as their workload is much lighter, and they can continue working and exercising until they are much older. This exercise keeps them fit and in good condition for longer.
How Long Do Racehorses Live?
The life expectancy of racehorses has long been a sensitive topic. Realistically, a racehorse’s career will last between 3-4 years. In many countries, it is common to shoot or euthanize the horse once they can no longer use it for racing.
I owned two retired racehorses, rescued from their stable manager who had them listed to be put down. Both race horses were retrained for dressage and showjumping. They discovered a love for outrides. Eventually they went on to find permanent owners who would care for them over many years to come. Those same racehorses are still alive and kicking over ten years later.
Racehorses, like any other domesticated horses, are capable of living to reach 30-years-old. Racing does not appear to lower the natural life expectancy of a horse. The unfortunate reality is not many of them are given that chance.
Which Horse Breeds Live the Longest?
One of the factors affecting a horse’s life expectancy is its breed. Some, especially smaller species, just seem to be able to live slightly longer than others.
- Arabians: As horses bred for endurance, their hardiness pushes their average age to just above 35 years old.
- Appaloosas: These versatile horses easily reach 30 years old under the right conditions.
- Haflingers: Bred in Austria, they have robust cardiovascular systems that help them commonly reach 40 years old and remain in good health.
- American Paint Horses: As sturdy all-rounders, they live to around 31 years old.
- Icelandic Horses: Many reach 40 without much trouble, maintaining their health and strength along the way.
- Quarter Horses: Named because of its speed, quarter horses are versatile and loyal. They usually live well over 30 years, often reaching as much as 35 years on average.
However, these are just generalizations, with horses of these breeds living longer than others on average, although some may become outliers on both sides.
What Factors Affect a Horse’s Life Expectancy?
There are several factors individual to each horse that affects its longevity. These factors usually vary, even within breeds, and among family lines.
Although most horses live to be around 25-30 years old, some, like Friesians, are genetically disposed to shorter lifespans. On average, a Friesian will reach approximately 16 years old. Their short life expectancy is due to the possibility of developing genetic disorders.
Linebreeding, or inbreeding family lines, also produces horses more prone to illness and premature death. Most of these horses with the disposition to experience illness or disease due to genetics share similarly short lifespans.
Individual Veterinary Care
Many fatal illnesses are treatable if caught early enough. Scheduling yearly vet checks for your horse will ensure there is the best chance of identifying problems quickly enough to respond and treat them before they become irreversible.
Once your horse passes the 15-year mark, yearly blood tests may indicate possible kidney or liver disease, allowing ample time for treatment. A vet will also regularly deworm and vaccinate your horse and suggest diet and exercise adjustments to keep it in the best condition.
Problems with a horse’s teeth can affect many other parts of its well being. Not being able to chew food properly may result in choking, malnutrition, or colic.
Regular dental checks can nip these problems in the bud and ensure your horse remains pain-free and able to process food correctly.
A horse’s hooves support all of its weight. Keeping them clean, healthy, and in good condition significantly reduces your horse’s chance of being injured or crippled.
It is crucial to have a farrier attend to your horse’s hooves regularly to avoid this, especially for older horses, as injuries to their legs due to unkempt hooves may not heal. If a major leg injury occurs to an older horse, , the vet will most likely recommend euthanization.
Well-fed horses live longer than those suffering from malnutrition. Thankfully, providing your horse with the proper diet is very simple. Most good quality pre-mixed feed comes in sacks or barrels and contains the optimal combination of fiber, carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
As your horse ages, you should increase the fiber content of its feed and opt for grains like wheat that are easier to digest.
Just like humans, exercise improves a horse’s overall health, makes them stronger and more hardy. Ensuring your horse gets enough exercise can be as simple as leaving them outside for as long as possible daily, regularly riding, and lunging them.
Maximizing your horse’s turnout time encourages gentle exercise to improve mobility and is the best option for any horse over 20. Even if you can no longer ride your horse, the movement and freedom gained from being outside all day may be sufficient to improve its health and life expectancy immensely.
Keeping your horse’s environment clean and pest-free can provide many benefits. Pests can wreak havoc on a horse’s overall health. Larvae scars affect their digestive system, while ticks can transmit diseases like Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis, which causes bleeding from the nose, mouth, and eyes.
Some diseases contracted by horses are much likelier to prove fatal than others.
These include, amongst others:
- Tetanus (Lockjaw): Caused by bacteria in the soil, it contaminates wounds and causes muscular stiffness, sweating, spasms, and possibly death due to respiratory problems.
- Strangles (Streptococcus equi): Causes abscesses to appear near the lymph tissue and respiratory tract. It is highly infectious and can spread through contact with other horses or equipment that may have touched infected individuals.
- Equine Encephalomyelitis (Sleeping Sickness): A virus transmitted by mosquitoes causes inflammation of the horse’s central nervous system. It kills between 75% – 100% of infected horses.
- Rabies: Spread through contact with other animals, most cases of rabies are fatal. Annual vaccination can almost entirely protect your horse against it.
How Old is My Horse in Human Years?
Since horses don’t live as long as we do, it can be tricky to equate a horse’s age with a human’s. The table below provides a close estimate of the age equivalence between that of horses and people.
|Horse Years||Age in Human Years||Classification|
|4||20.4||Colt (male) or Filly (female)|
What are the 7 Stages of a Horse’s Life Cycle?
This term is used for a horse from the day it is born until it no longer nurses from its mother.
Between 3 and 6 months old, a foal will be able to start eating special feed designed for young horses. From this point on, it will be known as a weanling. Weanlings are far more active than foals.
A horse is called a yearling from its first birthday until it turns two.
Colt or Filly
From 2 to 4, a horse is either called a colt (male) or a filly (female). Colts and fillies can begin gradual training as they reach their full-grown size.
After a horse’s fourth birthday, it is considered an adult and is ready for training and breeding.
From around six years old, a horse is classified as a fully developed adult.
Some insist horses become seniors around 15 years of age, but 20 is a far more appropriate age by today’s standards. Senior horses experience reduced mobility and need extra care to continue living their lives to the fullest.
At What Age is a Horse Considered Old?
As horses are considered seniors from around 20 years onwards, it is a reasonable estimate as to when a horse qualifies as old. In human years, 20 is equivalent to 60.5 years, which most people would consider elderly.
Once a horse reaches this age, its owners should take extra care with its diet, exercise regimen, vet, and dental check-ups.
Can You Ride a 30-Year-Old Horse?
Retiring your horse may be an emotional process as the realities of mortality sink in. For the horse’s sake, no matter how healthy they may look, it’s better not to ride it at 30 years of age and older.
Some horses can still manage a light rider with simple exercise at 20-25 years old, but at 30, there are far too many risks for injury.
Instead, after 25, look at spending quality time with your horse through grooming, walks on a halter, and providing it with the best retirement possible.
At What Age is a Horse Too Old to Buy?
Although buying a horse at any age is a rewarding experience, if you aim to train and ride your companion, you shouldn’t buy one over 16 years old. Around 16, although they aren’t young anymore, they still have many riding years ahead of them.
There are many benefits to buying older horses, including them being sounder and wisened over the years. If you love horses, even just for the company, there is no limit to the age of horse you can buy. Many retired horses are given away or euthanized, and by adopting or buying them, you give them a chance to live out their last years in dignity and happiness.
How Can I Tell a Horse’s Age?
The best way to tell a horse’s age is by looking up its official birth date in any documentation it came with or calling and asking the original owner. If this isn’t possible, your second best bet would be to examine the horse’s teeth closely.
Although the method described below is not 100% accurate, it is a relatively reliable way of estimating a horse’s age.
Foals, Yearlings, Colts, and Fillies
You can pinpoint the age of young horses by identifying which teeth it has and which it has lost or is losing. The following estimations can be made:
- Less than 2 weeks old: Only the two front teeth on the top and bottom are present, and they are whiter and smoother than usual
- 2 to 4 weeks old: You can see the frontal incisors and a set of premolars along with the front teeth
- 4 to 6 weeks old: The second set of premolars are present
- 6 to 9 months: The third set of premolars, found in the corners, show up
- Yearling: 12 temporary incisors, 12 permanent premolars, and 4 permanent molars are present
- 2 to 4 years old: Temporary baby teeth are lost, so gaps may be present
Adult and Senior Horses
Once a horse passes four years old, telling its age from its teeth may become trickier, as all 36 teeth are now permanent. In males, canines may appear around the 4-year mark, but this is not the case for all of them.
After five, the best way to tell a horse’s age is by the wear on its teeth. Young horses have indentations in their teeth called cups. They look slightly darker than the rest of the teeth and are surrounded by a ring of enamel. As the horse ages, the cups are worn away.
- 6 years old: The cups on the lower central incisors are no longer visible
- 8 years old: The cups on the corner incisors disappear
- 9 to 11 years old: The cups on the upper incisors are all gradually worn off
Ridges running vertically down a horse’s teeth appear from around 10 years old onwards.
- 12 years old: The central incisors have a smooth concave shape
- 14 to 16 years old: The corner incisors have ridges
- 17 years old: All incisors have round surfaces
- 18 years old: Centrals are slightly more triangular than round
- 23 years old: All incisors are triangular
The older the horse, the more its teeth slant forward.
The average life expectancy of domesticated horses has significantly increased in recent years, mainly due to advancements in veterinary science and a better understanding of what is required to provide a horse with a long, rewarding life.
30 is the new 20 for many senior horses, allowing their owners to ride them and enjoy their company for much longer than was previously possible. Despite the effects of illness and hereditary diseases, the average horse can now comfortably reach its late 20s or early 30s if it is well cared for, enabling the horse and owner to make the most of their time together.