Many horses live to be over thirty years old, much longer than even the oldest cats or dogs. In fact, many horses live beyond the age of 30 with good care; some senior horses are still ridden or driven lightly.
Variations in Horse Longevity
Advances in the understanding of animal care and veterinary medicine have increased the lifespan of horses, just as improved medical and nutritional knowledge has benefited humans. This means horses and ponies are living longer than ever just as many people are. The reality, however, is that some breeds live longer than others.
The average lifespan of a domestic horse is 20 to 30 years. Many horses go well beyond this average. Ponies tend to live longer, with many ponies still serving as schoolmasters well into their 30s. A few ponies and horses may even reach the age of 40 or over. Larger horses like draft breeds are generally not as long-lived as smaller breeds such as Arabians. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are some really elderly draft horses out there.
It Can Be Hard to Know the Age of a Horse
Extreme old age can be hard to verify, however, especially if horses don't have identifying paperwork and have changed owners several times. You can tell the approximate age by looking at a horse’s teeth, but teeth are not a 100 percent accurate way to determine its age, especially as they advance in age beyond their twenties. So unless a horse has some sort of competition passport or registration papers verifying its identity, information about age may be lost.
Help Your Horse Live a Long and Healthy Life
Many people report that with good care, their senior horses continue to live healthy and useful lives. With careful attention to basic maintenance of a senior horse such as feed, dental, and hoof care, many horses can remain sound and useful into their senior years and remain a joy to their owners even when fully retired. Some may still be used to give children lessons while other senior and retired horses keep young horses company and teach them good horse manners. Others are just enjoyed for their personality and presence.
Sometimes, a health issue will force an owner to euthanize a horse before it lives out its natural lifespan. Complications from colic will force a decision, or a horse may be in constant pain from a soundness issue. While it doesn't seem natural and is a very difficult decision, euthanasia is preferable to the horse living a life of pain and struggle. However, horses in good physical shape have a much greater chance of living a healthy and useful life far beyond horses several decades ago.
Hoffman, Jessica M., and Teresa G. Valencak. A Short Life On The Farm: Aging And Longevity In Agricultural, Large-Bodied Mammals. Geroscience, vol 42, no. 3, 2020, pp. 909-922. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s11357-020-00190-4.
Gitari, Anderson et al. Occurrence, Treatment Protocols, And Outcomes Of Colic In Horses Within Nairobi County, Kenya. Veterinary World, vol 10, no. 10, 2017, pp. 1255-1263. doi:10.14202/vetworld.2017.1255-1263.