Horses are amazing animals that bring joy to anyone that has the pleasure of working with them or owning them. They are majestic creatures, and it’s only natural to want to learn more about them. some common questions that we come across are how long do horses live? What is the average horse lifespan? and do some live longer than others?
This post takes a look into the lifespan of a horse, how it differs across species and things you can do to help encourage longevity in horses.
Average Lifespan Of A Horse
Horses typically have an average lifespan of between 25-30 years, but some can live much longer or shorter than this. Some breeds have been known to live up to 40 years or even longer in captivity depending on the breed, management practices, and overall care. Others, as a result of breeding and selection may live much shorter lives.
Breed has an obvious effect on the life expectancy of horses; smaller breeds such as Shetland ponies tend to live longer than larger breeds such as Thoroughbreds or Drafts. This is because larger horses have more stress placed on their bodies due to their size, which can lead to an earlier death.
Here are the average lifespans of 12 of popular horse breeds:
|Horse Breed||Average Life Expectancy|
|Clydesdale||25 – 30 Years|
|Quarter Horse||25 – 35 Years|
|Akhal Teke||18 – 20 Years|
|Icelandic Horse||25-30 Years |
(Up to 40 Years Documented)
|Appaloosa||25 – 35 Years|
|Friesians||14 – 16 Years|
|Arabian||25 – 33 Years|
|Miniature Horse||25 – 35 Years|
|Shire||25 – 30 Years|
|Mustang||20 – 25 Years|
|Thoroughbred||25 – 28 Years|
|Haflinger||25 – 30 Years|
Average Horse Lifespan – A Working Horse
Working horses such as draft horses, workhorses, pack horses, and carriage horses typically have an average life expectancy of 25 to 30 years. This can range from 15 to 40 years depending on the individual horse’s health and lifestyle. Those that have a hard working life, or a long racing career, may not live as long as those that have an easier working life, where all other conditions are the same.
Average Horse Lifespan – A Racehorse
Horses that are used for racing or show jumping may not live as long due to the physical demands placed on them, but generally speaking, these breeds will still have a life expectancy of 25 years or more.
A horse will usually only race for around 2-3 years of its life, but may race much longer than this. This is because they peak at around 4 and a half years of age and the rate of decline after peak is greater than the rate of improvement between the age of 2 and 4. So beyond their peak they are usually replaced for racing as their chance of success declines. As long as the horse can run fast and compete, it will generally stay in the race.
While most will go on to live long and full lives, racing does cause more early mortalities for horses. In one research by AnimalAid, it was reported that 186 horses died as a direct result of racing in 2019.
Average Horse Lifespan – A Wild Horse
Feral horses living in the wild usually have a shorter lifespan than those that are well taken care of. The life expectancy of feral horses is typically between 15-20 years due to harsh conditions and lack of veterinary care. Without healthcare, conditions that are manageable and treatable, such as dental issues, can become a major problem for wild horses, resulting in shorter lifespan in general.
Common Causes For Early Death
The ageing process is not the only factor affecting horses’ lifespan; the environment, diet, and overall health also play a role in helping them live longer lives. Good nutrition and regular exercise are essential for proper maintenance of your horse’s physical condition, as well as keeping them mentally healthy and happy.
Poor health and lifestyle can significantly reduce a horse’s life expectancy. Common causes of early death in horses include infections, accidents, parasites, harsh weather conditions, and inadequate nutrition.
Infections such as Equine Herpesvirus (EHV), West Nile Virus (WNV), strangles, Potomac Horse Fever, and equine influenza can be fatal if left untreated. Parasites, such as tapeworms and roundworms, can also cause internal damage and impair your horse’s digestion if left untreated.
Injuries caused by accidents, such as collisions with cars or falling in a ditch, can also result in an early death. As can inadequate nutrition, which can leave horses weak and prone to disease.
Tips For Keeping Horses Healthy
All of these risks can be mitigated with adequate and professional management practices. Horses should be provided with adequate nutrition and exercise in order to stay healthy and strong, as well as routine check-ups and vaccinations to prevent disease. Poor management practices such as overfeeding or inadequate exercise can lead to a shorter lifespan due to increased stress levels, injuries or diseases.
In addition to their diet, environmental conditions play an important role in how long a horse lives, as they need a safe and comfortable place to rest and graze.
So, plenty exercise, regular deworming and healthcare, a balanced diet, adequate shelter and staying safe when out on roads and tracks all play a part in keeping a horse healthy.
Life Stages of a Horse
Life stages of a horse can be defined as the different periods in their life span. A horse’s life typically spans from birth to old age, and through this time, they experience various physical and mental changes that result from aging. These stages are a guide, but the timings of each stage may vary from breed to breed and horse to horse.
- Foal: The first stage is foal, which is the period between a horse’s birth to approximately one year of age. During this stage, the horse is still developing and growing rapidly.
- Yearling: The second stage is known as yearling, which occurs between one and two years of age. During this period, the horse will further develop its physical strength, mental capabilities, and emotional maturity.
- Two-Year-Old: The third stage is two-year-old, which occurs between the ages of two and three years old. During this period, the horse begins to transition into adolescence by developing its muscles further and gaining more agility and strength.
- Mature/Adult Horse: The fourth stage is mature horse, which occurs between the ages of four and fifteen years old. During this period, the horse is considered fully grown and is capable of working, racing, and competing in shows.
- Senior Horse: The final stage is senior horse, which occurs after a horse reaches sixteen years of age. During this period, the horse begins to slow down and may need more care and attention due to age-related health problems.
Each stage of a horse’s life is unique and important, so it is essential to provide them with the proper care and nutrition they need during each stage in order to keep them healthy and happy.
How To Tell The Age Of A Horse
- Technology – Microchipping, Covering Certificates & Passports
It is now a legal requirement for a horse to have a passport. This passport should have a record of the date of a Foals birth, and must be obtained within 6 months of their birth. A horse is not allowed to travel without a passport and every owner should receive one on purchase of a horse. This is the quickest and easiest way to tell the age of a horse today. There are however, more traditional methods for aging a horse.
- Teeth – Changes to Color, Appearance & Structure
One of the most common methods for determining a horse’s age is by examining the wear on their teeth. As a horse ages, their teeth start to show more signs of wear, such as chips and discoloration. They start to develop holes in all of their incisors as they hit a certain age. They also start to develop ‘dental stars’, hooks and grooves as they hit different ages. These have all been methods for measuring the age of a horse for decades.
Another sign of how old a horse is, is the staining or color of their teeth and the length of their teeth, as the gums start to recede, particularly in old adults and senior horses.
- Body Changes – Physical Changes Over Time
As horses age, their body starts to change and some of these changes can be helpful in aging a horse. One of the most obvious physical change, is that their back develops a deeper arch known as a ‘swayed back’ over time as they age. They also start to lose muscle at a greater rate, developing a bonier appearance, particularly around the joints, the eyes and the ribs.
Speaking of the eyes, these also develop a hollow depression over time. As horses age, their coats also typically become lighter and gray over time. By assessing the amount of gray on a horse’s coat, particularly around the eyes and muzzle, it is possible to estimate their age with some accuracy.
They may also start to develop a droopy lip, or more occurances of illness, particularly with their digestive system.
- Size Graph
Finally, a Horse Age Graph can be used to accurately determine the age of a horse. This graph is based on measurements taken from horses in different stages of life and are typically provided by breeders or other horse organizations. By cross-referencing your horse’s measurements with those on the graph, you can accurately determine the age of your horse.
By using these methods, it is possible to tell the age of a horse with some accuracy. Knowing the age of your horse can be important for providing them with the best care and nutrition they need to stay healthy throughout their life.
Horse Lifespan Facts
- The oldest living horse ever recorded was a Norwegian Fjord horse living in the UK, named “Old Billy” who lived to be 62 years old!
- Smaller breeds of horse have a tendency to live longer than larger horses. Shetland Ponies for example, can live well into their 30’s or 40’s.
- Horses in captivity often live longer than those in the wild, as they are able to receive more consistent medical care and nutrition.
- Horses that are used for racing and hard labor may experience shorter lifespans than horses that receive regular leisure riding, as the strain on their bodies is greater.
- Horses have an incredible sense of self-preservation and are often able to recognize when they are not feeling well, so it is important to pay attention to any changes in their behavior that could indicate health issues.