How Long do Horses Live ?

How Long do Horses Live ?

A big gap that hurts !

The situation is bitter. The gap between the programmed longevity and life expectancy is overwhelming.

By associating with humans, the horse has difficulty in ensuring a good future for itself. Its life expectancy is in free fall !

How is the biological longevity of a species defined ? Why does the horse live longer than the shrew and shorter than the whale ? Why does shoeing a horse reduce its life expectancy ?

The donkey is visibly better off than the horse, living most of the time outside. Without doubt, social consideration saves the donkey but kills the horse. The donkey is considered as "vulgar" whereas the horse ensures a social place for its owner. The horse is supposedly "pampered" in its stable while the donkey lives outside. Let's take the comparison even further : the pony, which is nothing more than a robust little horse that man has modelled to work in the mines, also benefits from a longer life expectancy than the horse. Equestrian centres report a longer life for the pony, which is less likely to be kept in a box and very often without horseshoes. Everywhere we look, we see that equines that are free from human intervention do better by having a longer life expectancy ! The free-ranging horse in an open space does much better than the "carefully" stalled, shod and bit-tied horse. If the size of the gap between life expectancy - less than 15 years - and longevity - 50 years - is despairing, it is equally astounding to learn in an article by a veterinary doctor that "the autopsies carried out in 1989 at the Institute of Horse Pathology in Normandy, on adult horses, especially competition horses, revealed that 58% had died of digestive pathologies and 12% of non-infectious pathologies of the locomotor system".

Horse Picture

Alerted by this incredible observation, we tried to understand how we had arrived at this point. Could the modern horse have a recurring defect ? Is it so badly "designed" by nature ? Would natural selection not have done its work to the point of allowing fragile individuals to survive ? Strange, strange. In 2001, the thesis of certain veterinary doctors observed that a horse was 11 times more likely to die of colic than of old age, disturbing but explicable.

Faced with such an observation, how can we not recommend a simple and effective remedy : free the horses that are locked up ! Living in a country where horses are bred for slaughter, we approached the local veterinarians who confirmed that this population was not affected by colic or other digestive disorders and did not reveal any pathology related to the locomotor system. The free horses that we have been working with for several decades are not affected by this type of disorder either. During a trip to the island of Barbuda, where the mares circulate freely, there were no significant reports. Where does this "disease" that kills the most closely watched horses in USA come from ? Indeed, we notice that the most "pampered" horses are mysteriously struck by these colics, a real haunting for the owners.

horse in the field

Is there a calamity that hits horses so hard that they die so young ?

Yes, there is ! It is the inadequate intervention of man in the life of the horse which makes it suffer systematically and die prematurely ! In all the studies on digestive problems that we can consult in the United States or abroad, at no time is the daily life imposed by man questioned in a primordial way. However, it is this that generates a destructive process and sets off a veritable vicious circle. Only a holistic approach can determine the origin of this catastrophe for the horse. Two major elements are lightly discussed and often ignored in the various theses and studies devoted to the problem of digestive disorders : 1-) sedentary lifestyle 2-) diet

horse running in the field

When a study from Texas reveals that horses with "air ticks" are particularly prone to colic, it is not saying that horses that are confined and therefore subject to behavioural disturbances and immobility are unable to ensure proper intestinal transit. Was it really necessary to produce a long study on the subject to note that the confinement of an individual who must walk 10 to 20 kilometres daily poses an induced problem of transit ? On the other hand, there is a direct link between food distribution and colic.

horse in the mountain
A free-range horse in an open space spends 70% of its time eating. In a box or paddock, the low number of meals encourages the horse to overeat quickly, which inevitably leads to gastric problems but also to boredom. The horse has nothing to do between meals. In a free and open environment, the horse takes 12 to 15 meals per 24 hours. The stomach, a "chemical pocket" of about ten litres, is small in relation to the horse's weight and forces it to divide its food intake. This function keeps the horse constantly busy. Slow chewing stimulates the salivary glands and the functioning of the stomach. In the stall, to compensate, the horse does not hesitate to "eat" its door or bedding and risks an "impact" on the large intestine with straw and shavings. Staying in a paddock or in a meadow, polluted on the ground by urine and dung, to pass the time he nibbles on food or soil carrying germs. Pellets, on the other hand, are ingested too quickly and dangerously reduce the chewing necessary for digestion.

horse mom and baby

It should be remembered that the horse is not a bird, but a monogastric grazing mammal. Offering it seeds as a basic food because, among other reasons, one does not want to, does not know how to or cannot provide it with the 12 meals it needs, remains an aberration without a name that considerably increases the risk of digestive disorders.

white horses

Water quality is also important. We have all seen that horses living in an open environment prefer clean water from a stream to "doctored" water from the tap. We will not discuss here the influence of the quality of the air we breathe, dust, pollution. These too can be detrimental. So much for the major implications of a confinement and a dubious diet "controlled" by humans. With 2 or 3 meals per 24 hours, we are far from what the horse's metabolism requires. Immobile and constrained in a restricted and monotonous space, the horse develops various pathologies that pile up and make it die young. As for shoeing, which contributes to a poor elimination of toxins and causes serious disorders, the disastrous diet and the harmful conditions of daily life slowly but surely destroy our favourite animal. Sordid evidence.

brown horse look like

Is the social and economic reality capable of supporting a change in attitude and practice ? Not sure ! Finding spaces for the good of horses requires an organisation that is likely to disrupt the "juicy horse market". And then we want so much to have our horse at our door, in front of us as if to reassure us. We bring him in at night, whereas the horse's main activity is nocturnal. He is a night owl and we upset him by locking him up at night. Anthropomorphism, when you hold us ! The habits are ingrained, the financial stakes are too high. 150,000 tons of pellets, 330 equine veterinarians who would no longer have to treat "colic" and other pathologies induced directly by humans. These equine "specialists" should have an obligation to advise and to produce results, which would change the nature of the problem. They should be the ones to impose the greening of the horses by defining a protocol for the transition from stall to open space. This would be much more gratifying and above all more effective in terms of care ! Our country has plenty of space for horses. Many farmers would be willing to take them from land that is often used for unprofitable or fallow crops. But to give the "horse budget" to a farmer rather than to those who make the horse look like a recurrent disease, risks creating an unbearable "mental" and economic disorder.

Only treatment at the source can open the way to a cure. At the same time, carefully researched theses overlook the real cause of the disorders that kill horses. Is the simple truth too difficult to hear, the change in behaviour too disturbing ? Is it advisable not to propose alternative solutions to owners who are too naive, too docile, too deaf ? Decidedly, the transition from the horse as a machine of war or agriculture to the horse as a "leisure" companion is long and difficult. Bad habits persist. The army was able to transform its "cavalry" from horses to motor vehicles, but left us with the old practices : shoeing, stalls... A sad legacy. Those who choose to have a horse locked up in a garage are mistaken. Today, there are all-terrain motorbikes to fulfil the function they want. They can change a worn tyre, damaged parts and, above all, try to modify the fuel. As far as the horse is concerned, it is neither correct nor possible to reduce it to a mechanic that is equipped. Unfortunately, it is to be feared that the "tuning horse" still has many bad days ahead. We are obviously not trying to make you feel guilty, but when you say you love your horse, this imposes a certain number of steps, including knowing and respecting its vital needs...

horse in stable

Too few people want to see this change, even though it is beneficial for our relationship with the horse. And then, in order to ride a horse, you would have to go to the place where you live. This is unacceptable for humans who have the annoying habit of making everything about themselves. I want to see an orca, I put it in a tank, to see a lion, I put it in a cage, to ride a horse, I put it in a box. Really, the rider plays the spoiled child and too bad for the horse. He will suffer and die younger for his own pleasure. A horse is not well ? Don't worry, everything is under control... A "professional" will repair it : "I'm waiting for the parts, but come back on Friday, you'll have your horse back in working order. "A shot of anti-inflammatories, a nevrectomy, two heel pads, a hefty bill and off you go. Not for long, because often, at best it slowly destroys the organism, at worst it cracks without delay on the other side. With a lot of veterinary interventions, a lot of anxiety and questionable results, things deteriorate without hope of remission.

To die before 15 years old when nature offers 50 is too hard !

Faced with this sad reality, we can only be revolted by our own stupidity. We have difficulty in guaranteeing the minimum vitality of individuals of animal species, but also of our own species. It seems that humans - imbecilic predators - are acting out of a lack of lucidity. All appeals seem to be in vain. How can we overcome psychological blockages ? Humans are not "equipped" to put an end to the despair of horses, nor of humanity, nor of life on this planet we love. We must become a responsible species. Meeting this hope would be the noblest conquest of mankind !

Life expectancy of the horse : how long does it live ?

Generally speaking, the life expectancy of a horse is between 20 and 35 years. However, these ages depend on the type of horse.

Pony and small horse : how long do they live ?

Small horses live longer than their larger counterparts. Indeed, they have a life expectancy of easily 30 to 35 years. This is especially true for pedigree horses such as Icelandic and Fjord. This is simply because they mature late, at around 8 years of age. In addition, they can be ridden until they are 20 years old, unlike the larger horses.

How long does a large horse live ?

Unlike smaller horses, large horses only live to be 20-30 years old. Again, this depends on the breed :

  • Thoroughbreds live on average for 25 years. However, if the horse is used as a show horse, its life expectancy will be lower, due to the psychological and physical stress of competition.
  • Half-breeds live for an average of 20 years. At the age of 5 years they are already fully grown.
  • Cold-blooded horses have a life expectancy of only 16 to 18 years.
  • Draft horses have the longest life expectancy. They can live and be of service for up to 50 years. However, this breed of horse remains a rare exception.

How can you tell if a horse is old ?

Signs of ageing in a horse

Generally speaking, a horse is old when it reaches the age of 20. However, there are several signs of ageing that you can see :

  • a clouding of the eyes
  • grey hair around the eyes, forehead, ears and mouth
  • a hollowed out face and eyes
  • a drooping lower lip
  • less appetite, eating more slowly because of teeth
  • loose skin
  • a sunken back

How to calculate the age of a horse ?

Perhaps you have already asked yourself how old your horse would be if he were a human. The answer is very simple ! Just multiply your horse's age by 3 and you will get its human age ! Easy, isn't it ? Let's take an example. If your horse is 6 years old, his human age is 18 !

What is the maximum age of a horse ?

As you read earlier, the age of a horse depends on its breed as well as its usefulness. However, the longest living horse reached the age of 62 ! His name was Old Billy and he was bred in the British village of Woolston by Edward Robinson.

The record for the oldest pony is Sugar Puff. He lived in England and died at the age of 56. A strong mix of an Exmoor and a Shetland pony.


By Luisina Giovannini

I created Horse Placenta with the aim of showing all the beauty of this incredible animal which is the horse. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. I invite you to continue reading to find out more.


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