Average Lifespan of a Horse: When Are They in Their Prime?

If you are a new horse owner, you might be wondering how long will he be with you, when will he reach his prime, and how old is too old for a horse?

So, what is the average life span of a horse? A horse normally lives 25 to 30 years. The prime age for the mental and physical ability of a horse varies. But most horses reach their prime around the age of 5, which lasts until they reach 15 years of age. However, the “prime” or mature age for horses could vary as well.

In this article, we will discuss the average life span of a horse and its prime age.

Also, we’ll go into detail on how aging affects a horse’s capabilities and the comparison between human and horse years.

The lifespan of a horse

Did you know: All registered horses running in the Kentucky Derby share their official birthday as the 1st of January. Even if a foal was born on 31st December, it will officially be considered a yearling on the 1st of January.

The first six months of the lifespan of a horse

Horses are born after a gestation of 11 months and baby horses can get on their feet within a few hours. They stay by their mother’s side for 6 months, until they get weaned.

It is important that mares and young horses should stay out in the pasture with other mares and foals. They can run around, exercise and learn the basics of the horse society.

The foal stage

Male horses are gelded between the age of one and two. As stallions are harder to manage, most boarding stables refuse male horses.

Till the age of two, a horse often reaches 90% its mature weight and height.

During this part of the horse lifespan, it gets to learn the basics like staying still for tacking up, grooming, and bathing.

The young adults

Intensive training of horse starts at around two years of age.

Early training is necessary for all horses regardless of whether they are to participate in races or not. There’s no doubt that a trained horse acts maturely compared to an untrained animal. 

Most racehorses start their juvenile racing career by the age of two years.

The prime age of horses

The prime-age in the horse lifespan is between 5 to 15 years. Most horses are in their prime by the time they turn 5 years old. That’s around the same time they start their official racing careers.

Most jump racehorses are at the peak of their physical and mental ability between the ages of seven and ten. If they are taken care of, they can still be fit and active by the time they reach seventeen.

Old age in horses

Horses are considered old when they turn 20, however, this doesn’t mean the horse should be retired. Like human’s retirement age of horses vary for individual horses, depending on their lifestyle and the care they received.

The horses that get regular deworming, dental checkups, and diet adjustments are more likely to stay healthy well into their twenties.

How long do horses live?

Horses can grow up to 45 years of age, but some horses are recorded to reach the big five-O. Sugar Puff is the oldest horse of modern times that died age of 51 in 2009. However, the oldest horse ever is the Old Billy horse who reached the ripe age of 62 years

How to determine your horse’s age

To determine the age of a horse the most accurate way is to check the registration or breeding papers. If you adopted the horse, you’d want to get the neck scan done to see if the horse was microchipped by its original owner. If the horse isn’t microchipped, it may cost you a few hundred dollars to do that. You can learn more about the cost of microchipping a horse here.

However, the most widely used method to determine the horse age is to examine its teeth. Though it is not real science, but with adequate experience, it could be a fairly accurate estimate. 

From 1 to 5 years of age, the estimate is quite easy based on the number of adult teeth. From the age of 5 till 7, the new adult teeth will start to show clear signs of wear, while between the ages of 7 to 8 the 7-year hook is developed where the upper incisors develop hooks that hang over lower incisors.

By the age of 10, the chewing concave face of the incisors flattens out and leaves behind light shaded marks.

To determine a horse’s age accurately between 10 and 20 years, the Galvayne’s Groove is examined carefully. The Galvayne’s Groove is a brownish vertical groove that starts to develop from the gum line of the upper incisors and reaches the end of the teeth by the time the horse turns 20.

From 20 years onwards the Galvayne’s groove starts to disappear bit by bit, starting at the gumline. There are a number of factors that should also be considered for instance the feed and habitat of the horse.

Signs your horse is aging

Aging in horses is a natural process and not a disease. Therefore, an old horse might still be healthy even if it has lost some of its zeal and energy.

You should know the signs of aging in horses and what’s normal for a senior horse. Also, what can you do make your horse feel better and enjoy the golden days in its lifespan?

Spending too much money and effort to help keep the horse looking young is not worth it. Instead, focus on making it feel comfortable, healthy, and loved.

1. Loose saggy skin

An older horse’s skin becomes loose and saggy. As the body ages, the skin starts to lose its elasticity.


  • The skin will appear to be dry and thick
  • Its hair will become coarser
  • In some horse, the greying of hair starts with aging

2. Weight loss

It is common for horses to lose weight as they grow older.

However, the horse owner should keep a check on how much weight his horse is losing.

Normal weight loss could be due to loss of muscle mass, or it could be because of increased caloric needs.

The calorie requirement increases in the colder months when a horse’s metabolism is more active to keep the body warm.

3. Arthritis or inflammation in joints

With continuous movement, the joints start to wear down.

In younger horses, inflammation triggers an immune response, allowing the body to heal itself naturally.

But in aged horses, this natural healing process might lose its effectiveness and information with subsequent pain might follow. This can also reduce the lifespan of a horse.

4. Dental issues in horses

Younger horses have reserve teeth of about 3 and a half inches which continuously grow to manage the wear and tear of teeth.

However, in the older horse, these reserved teeth are often all worn out. So, senior horses sometimes face teeth issues and difficulties in chewing.

5. Slow immune response

Later in the lifespan of a horse, its T-cell production depletes.

T-cells are a type of white blood cells that help fight disease and infection.

With age, the immune response becomes slower and weaker, making the horse susceptible to diseases.

6. Unstable gait

Sometimes due to arthritic pain and inflamed joints, the horse might walk with a wobbly gait, or it might find it difficult to get up quickly or do any exercise.

In such cases, a vet should immediately be consulted.

It is also important to keep the horse moving.

If it is too old to ride, hand walk it. Also, keep your horse in a large stable where it will have to walk around for food or water.

7. Bent back

The horse’s back may become curved as the muscles become floppy with age.

The conditions are called lordosis or sway-back. It might happen to younger horses too, but then this condition won’t be considered age-related.

How to take care of a senior horse?

Just like humans, age takes away the vitality and energy of horses.

The older horses will become slower too. This reduction in speed and energy happens to different horses at different ages. Some might be in decent shape at 20 while others start to age from 15.

When your horse starts to age mostly depends on its lifestyle and care routine.

Let it have plenty of exercises designed accordingly.

Walking is also good for old horses to prevent their joints from getting stiff.

If arthritis is hurting the horse badly, take it to a vet so he can prescribe some medicines for your horse. As the teeth start to wear with age, regular checkups are necessary.

Also, the horses should be given appropriate senior feed. My choice is the Purina Equine Senior diet.

Related Questions

How old is a horse in human years?

There is no comparison between the two. But roughly, you can say a horse lives for three human years in one year of his life. So, a 20 years old horse is around 60 in human years. Crossing the 20 years mark makes a horse a senior.

What is the oldest living horse?

Old Billy is the oldest horse that ever lived in documented equine history. He was born in 1706 in Lancashire, England. Old Billy was a barge horse that spent his life dragging barges from canals even after his back got bent, due to old age. Its owners were Mersey and Irwell Navigation. He breathed his last in 1822, at the age of 62.

How old can a horse be ridden?

That depends on the health of a horse. Some horses can be ridden well in their twenties while many can be used as training horses for children at the age of 20.


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