How Long Does a Horse Live? (7 Factors Affect Horse Longevity)

Believe it or not, over seven million domesticated horses live in the US as working animals and pets. They comfortably live in approximately 450,000 horse farms or are owned by about a million horse owners. On the other hand, wild horses live freely in nature. Unfortunately, it comes at a price, and they live shorter because of an unbalanced diet and lack of shelter and vet care.

It is pretty challenging to answer the question of how long does a horse live. The horse expected lifespan is about 20 to 30 years, depending on the breed, but small horse breeds usually live longer than larger ones. It is recorded that the longest living domestic horse lived 62 years, and one wild horse was 36 years old.

Horse Lifespan

Horse Lifespan

Horse lifespan will primarily depend on genetics, diet, exercise, vet care, and living conditions. It is about 20 to 30 years, but many animals go well beyond the average. One thing is for sure. Nowadays, horses live much longer than ever.

Horse life expectancy

Breed Average life expectancy
Wild horse 15 years
Domestic horse 25 to 33 years

For example, ponies usually live longer, and you can use them as schoolmasters even in their 30s. Some of them reach 40+ years, as well. Unfortunately, large horses, especially draft breeds, are not as long-lived, but you can find a few that enjoy a happy life in their forties.

Horse life expectancy

Breed Average life expectancy
Mustang 15 to 20 years
Friesian 16 to 18 years
Gypsy Horse 20 to 25 years
American Quarter Horse 20 to 25 years
Clydesdale Horse 20 to 25 years
Norwegian Fjord 20 to 25 years
Thoroughbred 25 to 28 years
Belgian Draft Horse 25 to 30 years
Clydesdale 25 to 30 years
Percheron 25 to 30 years
Shire 25 to 30 years
Icelandic Horse 25 to 30 years
Arabian Horse 25 to 35 years
Quarter Horse 25 to 35 years
Miniature Horse 25 to 35 years
Tennessee Walking Horse 28 to 30 years
Appaloosa 29 to 33 years
American Paint Horse 30 to 31 years

Wild horses live much shorter because of their demanding lifestyle. Their approximate lifespan is about 15 years.

The Oldest Horses Ever Lived

A large Shire-type horse, Old Billy worked well even in its senior years. This fascinating, 62-year old animal lived a hard life in the UK as a barge horse towing barges throughout river canals in the 18th century. It became famous during its lifetime and found its place in the Guinness World Records as the oldest horse worldwide.

The oldest horses worldwide

Breed Name Age Period
Shire Stallion Old Billy 62 years 1760 to 1822
Shetland-Exmor pony cross Sugar Puff 56 years 1951 to 2007
Arab-Welsh cross Badger 51 years 1953 to 2004
Irish Draught Shayne 51 years 1962 to 2013
Unknown pony Scribbles 51 years 1958 to 2009
Thoroughbred-Arabian cross Orchid 50 years 1965 to 2015
Polish-Arabian cross Magic 46 years 1969 to 2015
Thoroughbred Prospect Point 38 years 1978 to 2016

Sugar Puff was a Shetland-Exmor pony cross born in the UK. Thanks to the age of 56, the second longest-lived horse ever.

The oldest female horse worldwide was Orchid that probably lived 50 years old. It is fair to mention Magic, the Polish-Arabian cross that reached 46, and Thoroughbred Prospect point that spent its 38-year long life in South Carolina, US.

Human vs. horse age

Human age Horse age equivalent
1 year 6.5 years
4 years 21 years
13 years 44 years
25 years 70 years
36 years 100 years

There is one more question you are probably interested in. It is crucial to know when the horse is considered old. Basically, it depends on its breed and type. Most breeders believe that a 25-year-old horse is old. That is approximately equivalent to the human age of 70 years.

Factors that Affect Horse Longevity

1. Breed

You can recognize over 300 horse breeds in the world nowadays. Their life expectancy varies depending on breed and type. As I have already mentioned, smaller horses will live longer than larger ones, and many of them can live until their late thirties.

2. Workload

Workload

As you have probably known, particular breeds are bred for a specific purpose and work type. Those that do risky and energy-intensive duties will usually live shorter.

For instance, most racehorses have a career from 2 to 10 years old. Horse racing is a dangerous sport, and it often happens that the animal suffers injuries without a possibility to recover. Once these horses deserve retirement, breeders often stop being interested in their well-being.

They often neglect, abuse, or even eat former champions because they don’t bring money anymore. On the other hand, these horses can live up to 30 years old in decent living conditions.

Horse stages

Horse Age
Foal One-year-old horses, regardless of gender
Yearling One to two years old horses, regardless of gender
Filly Female horses under the age of four
Colt Male horses under the age of four
Mare Female horses over four years old
Stallion Non-castrated male horses over four years old
Gelding Castrated male horse, regardless of age

3. Nutrition

Nutrition

A horse’s diet mainly includes hay or grass and grains. They need to be free of dust and mold. The best option is to provide constant access to food or offer your horse a few small meals during the day to prevent ulcer development if they spend too much time hungry.

Keep in mind that grains are high in carbs, so you shouldn’t add them into the regular horse diet too often. Otherwise, your horse may suffer from joint problems. Never change standard food options too quickly to prevent digestive issues.

Make sure a horse has constant access to fresh water and let it graze as long as possible. However, not every pasture is good enough, so you should check its quality.

Older horses require a high-quality diet and supplements when needed. Take care to feed them at the same time every day if possible to boost their digestive system.

A suckling mare needs extra calories to produce milk, while growing colt requires high-quality food to develop properly.

Never overdo the calories since overweight horses will be prone to diseases. The calculation is not complicated. An average horse’s needs in food are 1.5% to 2% of its body weight per day. So, a horse weighing 1,000 pounds (453.5 kg) requires approximately 15 to 20 pounds (6.8 – 9 kg) of feed daily.

4. Exercise and rest time

Exercise and rest time

A horse needs regular daily activity. Take it for a ride to a nearby fenced pasture and let it walk and run as long as possible. Never keep it in a stall unless the vet recommends it during recovery from injury or illness.

The exercise intensity is not crucial, but at least one or better two 20-minute trail ride a day will keep your animal fit and healthy.

Older horses are often prone to degenerative musculoskeletal diseases, including arthritis and laminitis. You should give your best to prevent these conditions by letting animals move.

Even though horses are highly active animals, they also need rest time each day. That period will depend on the horse’s age, gender, workload, and condition. The only way to have a healthy and prosperous horse that will live for long is to find the right balance between daily activities and rest.

5. Veterinary care

Veterinary care

As a result of overbreeding, particular horse breeds are predisposed to specific health problems and continuously pass these genetic disorders from parents to offspring.

For instance, particular Appaloosas horse lines are prone to eye problems, while some Arabian foals are born with the immune-deficient disorder.

  • Cushing’s disease – It is a frequent disease in all horse types, particularly Morgan horses and Ponies. It never directly leads to animals’ death but is a base for many additional fatal health issues.
  • Colic – When you fail to provide proper food for your horse, it will probably start suffering from colic, followed by severe abdominal pain.
  • Laminitis – It is a severe and highly painful condition connected with an inappropriate diet that affects hooves.
  • Arthritis – Unfortunately, most old horses suffer from this condition. You can’t prevent it, but regular exercise often delays or prevent the most severe disease form.

Remember that your horse will need regular veterinary care and timely deworming and vaccination against:

  • Equine rabies
  • Tetanus and botulism
  • Strangles
  • Equine herpesvirus (EHV-4 and EHV-1)
  • Equine influenza
  • Rotavirus
  • Potomac horse fever
  • Equine viral arteritis
  • Equine encephalomyelitis
  • West Nile virus

6. Dental care

Dental care

It is necessary to have horse’s teeth floated at least once a year. That way, the vet will remove sharp edges at their corners. Once your horse gets old, it will require more dental care due to losing its teeth and additional trouble chewing.

7. Hoof care

Hoof care

Poor hoof management often leads to horse lameness and overall health decline. Therefore, you need to look after your animal on time and call a farrier regularly to check its current state. Keep in mind that an unshod horse often requires more frequent hoof examination.

Summary

Horses are long-lived animals with an average lifespan from 20 to 30 years. However, they can live much longer when enjoying excellent living conditions, regular exercise, adequate diet, and timely veterinary care. In other words, your horse lifespan will primarily depend on you, your love, and proper maintenance.

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