Summer Horse Grooming Care

Henry MusclesWhile it’s a priority to look pristine during the show circuit summer months, grooming is also important for health and comfort. Whether it’s a lazy day in the pasture, or your horse is active with training and riding, the summer grooming care you provide is essential. Proper care helps to increase your horse’s comfort when the sun is bright and the temperatures are on the rise. It also protects your horse’s coat and skin from irritating conditions. Use these grooming tips to keep your horse comfortable and healthy throughout the summer.

Tips to Keep Your Horse Clean, Comfortable and Cool This Summer

  1. Give Your Horse a Trim. Mane, tail and coat care is an integral part of keeping your horse cool in hot weather. Trim your horse’s mane and tail, and keep their coat clipped if it isn’t shedding out properly to avoid extra, unnecessary warmth. A good grooming kit for trimming and clipping will make the task easier for you and comfortable for the horse. Every other week, take a couple minutes to run the clippers over your horse’s bridlepath to help bridles and halters sit comfortably without interference.
  2. Keep Cool with Sponge Baths. Following exercise, giving your horse’s face a sponge bath will help prevent fungal hair loss. Continue the cool sponge bath over his entire body to reduce body temperature and provide relief from the heat. Excessive bathing with shampoo and cleansers isn’t good for a horse’s skin or coat, but a cool sponge bath is always an option. On particularly hot days, spritz a 50/50 mixture of cool water and rubbing alcohol over your horse’s body (not the face) to aid sweating and cooling.
  3. Have Good Grooming Supplies On-Hand. A good quality grooming kit is essential throughout the year, and will help you keep your equine friend cool during summertime. Have horse shampoo, conditioner and hair polish available for full grooming or pre-competition sessions. Add sponges of various sizes, a hand mitt and sweat scraper to your grooming supplies so that you have all you need in one kit when you’re ready to spend time grooming and bathing your horse.
  4. Keep Pesky Insects at Bay. When temperatures rise, summer pests become more active. A horse that has to run away or constantly flick its tail to get away from biting flies and other pesky insects is expending energy needlessly. As you spend time keeping your horse cool, also take a few minutes to protect him from bugs. Use appropriate fly masks and insect sprays to repel insects while your horse is out of the barn. Stable and barn traps set up in the barn will keep your horse comfortable inside so he doesn’t work up a sweat trying to fend off gnats, mosquitoes or flies.
  5. Protect from the Sun. During the summer months, use horse shampoo with sunscreen in it to protect his skin from ultraviolet rays and painful sunburn. Pink noses should be protected daily as well with a zinc oxide-based sunscreen.

Take a Proactive Stance to Beat Summer Heat

Incorporating these summer grooming tips will assist you in being proactive about the hot weather to come. In addition to providing your horse with a cool place to rest, plenty of fresh water and a fan to circulate the air in the barn, these grooming tips will promote equine health and comfort during the warmest months of the year. A horse that’s comfortable and healthy will expend less energy trying to alleviate discomfort, leaving more energy for your summer rides together.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods. She has been an avid equestrian for 20 years.

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Posted in Care and Management, How To

Salt Blocks are Not a Complete Feed

A balanced, fortified feed is a better option than a trace mineral salt block.

A balanced, fortified feed is a better option than a trace mineral salt block.

As a feed consultant I hear quite often “My horse has plenty of hay and a salt block with selenium. That’s enough to meet all his nutrition needs, right?” My answer is always, resoundingly, “NO.” The truth of the matter is, while salt does have its place in the equine diet, the nutrient needs of a horse are much more complex than what a salt block with trace minerals can provide. So if you are depending on a trace mineral salt block to provide anything to your horse’s diet except for a source of salt, I would encourage you to keep reading.

Typical salt blocks are 95% or more salt and less than 5% mineral, so they do very little to meet the mineral needs of the horse. In addition, horses are usually inefficient at consuming salt in block form. They will lick for a short period of time each day on a salt block, but will not consume the sheer amount of minerals needed to have any effect on their nutrient needs.

A better solution to get your horse all the nutrients he needs is to provide a fortified feed that is fed according to tag directions. This will ensure that your horse’s needs for many things, including energy, protein, vitamins and amino acids in addition to minerals are being met. Then, provide loose white salt, which horses will more freely and easily consume, alongside the feed in a separate container. As always, be sure to provide plenty of fresh, clean water at all times, as consuming salt will also often increase water consumption.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Care and Management, Supplements

When Is It Time for Senior Horse Feed?

One question I am frequently asked by horse owners is “when should I switch my older horse to senior feed?”

It is interesting to note that 30-35% of the current horse populations in the US are “Seniors”. Surveys show 54% of all horse owners own at least 1 “senior” horse. By age definition “senior” horse has been defined as 15+ years of age.

Due to improvements in veterinary care and nutrition, horse routinely live 25-30 years of age, some into their 40’s. It is not uncommon to see horses in late teens and twenties performing at high levels. The key is that we need to treat horses as individuals. So when is a “senior” feed required?

WHEN YOUR HORSE CAN NO LONGER MAINTAIN GOOD BODY CONDITION ON A NORMAL HAY AND GRAIN DIET.

Quidding of Hay

The result of quidding.

Signs that your senior horse may need a senior diet include:

  • Weight loss
  • Poor topline condition
  • Hoof quality and hair coat tell a story
  • Dropping feed while eating, may be a sign of dental issues
  • Loose stools
  • Quidding – dropping partially chewed hay out their mouth while eating.

As the horse ages, nutrient absorption and utilization decrease due to breakdown of the digestive system with age. Research has shown that senior horses experience poor nutrient absorption, which occurs particularly with phosphorus, vitamins and protein. Enzyme production may also decrease.

When we look at a senior diet there are some key points to consider. You want to choose a feed that is:

  • Highly digestible to accommodate less efficient digestive system.
  • Look for higher and improved protein quality to make up for small intestine inefficiency.
  • Does the feed contain higher fiber, and can it be fed as a complete diet, to make up for decreased large intestine efficiency, and possibly replace hay if the horse has dental problems.
  • Higher fat helps provide added safe calories.
  • Enhanced vitamin and mineral fortification are needed because of loss of digestive efficiency.
  • Use of pre- & probiotics in senior feeds can aid in gut health and the digestion of fiber.
  • Does the feed have the ability to be served as a mash? Not only are senior feed mashes highly palatable, but they also kelp keep the senior horse hydrated.

Below are the results of a recent feed trial. Cleo is an 18 year old Quarter Horse mare. We changed the diet from a maintenance level feed to senior feed. The results after 6 weeks were impressive!

This is Cleo, 45 days after starting on SafeChoice Senior horse feed.

This is Cleo, 45 days after starting on SafeChoice Senior horse feed.

This is Cleo, on her "maintenance" feed diet.

This is Cleo, on her “maintenance” feed diet.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Changing Horse Feed, Senior Horses
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Selenium Levels for Horses

Henry MusclesAs a horse owner, you may have heard about selenium levels and that you need to be concerned with them.  But why?

Technical reason: selenium is a key trace mineral in equine diets because it is a major component of glutathione peroxidase, which is an anti-oxidant enzyme, as well as several other enzymes.

  • Selenium also has an important interaction with Vitamin E.
  • Selenium and Vitamin E together are essential for both anti-oxidant benefits and for reducing the risk of certain muscle problems such as white muscle disease and exertional rhabdomyolysis syndrome.

Why you should care: Because selenium can also be toxic at higher intakes, it is also the only trace minerals regulated by the FDA.  Most of the U.S. is selenium deficient in soils (and thus toxicity is not an issue in those areas), but there are some areas with high selenium in the soil where some plants accumulate unacceptable levels of selenium in forage and may cause chronic toxicity. If you aren’t sure about the levels where you live, ask area horse owners, farmers, or your local extension office.

How much is in the feed?

In the case of selenium, the label guarantee, which is “added” selenium, is listed in ppm = parts per million = milligrams per kilogram. The actual content will be slightly higher as there is naturally occurring selenium in the ingredients. The labeling requirement is based on added selenium per FDA guidelines.

  • Premium horse feeds are commonly tagged at 0.6 ppm selenium, or 0.6 mg/kg of feed.
  • This equals 0.273 mg per pound of feed. (0.6 mg/kg divided by 2.2 kg/lb. = 0.273 mg per pound of feed)
  • Thus, if you feed 5 lbs per day of a 0.6 ppm selenium feed, you are providing 1.365 mg of selenium per day.

FDA requirement limits added selenium in feed to a maximum of 0.3 ppm concentration in total diet. This is why the maximum on complete feeds – feeds that include enough fiber to replace the hay/pasture portion of the diet – is 0.3 ppm.

On feeds which can be fed at a maximum of 50% of the diet (not that horse owners generally feed it that high), the limit is 0.6 ppm added selenium. Chronic selenium toxicity occurs at about 10X the FDA limit, so there is a pretty good safety margin.

How much does a horse actually need?

A horse’s basic daily requirement for selenium is 1-3 mg per day.  Some chronic selenium symptoms might appear above 10-15 mg/head per day.

To figure out what your horse is consuming, have your hay/pasture supply tested, and then add the amount it is consuming from the hay, to the amount it is consuming from any feed & supplements, and you will know if you need to make any adjustments to your horse’s overall diet.  Depending on your area, it may also be useful to consider intake from water sources.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

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Manage Pasture to Help Control Horse Feed Costs

Widgy in Grass_BRManaging pasture can be a very important tool in controlling feeding cost for all livestock, particularly horses being kept on small acreages.  If pasture is going to provide a substantial amount of the required nutrition for a horse, it takes about 2-3 acres per 1100 pound adult horse.

There are a number of key steps in managing pastures, particularly small acreages

  1. Do not turn the animals out on pasture too early in the spring.  Forages need some growth to recover from the winter and allow root systems to develop.
    1. Do not turn animals out on tall cool season grasses such as brome grass and orchard grass until the plants are 8-10 inches tall.
    2. If pastures are short cool season grasses such as Kentucky blue grass or rye grass, the plants should be 6-8 inches tall before grazing.
    3. If you do not know your pasture composition, err on the side of allowing adequate growth before grazing.
  2. Remove animals from the pasture when plants are grazed down to 3-4 inches in height.  Grazing too early or too long and allowing animals to eat the grass off too close to the ground will kill the grass and turn the pasture into a dirt lot where the only green plants are weeds, requiring expensive renovation.
  3. If you have limited acreage, consider purchasing some temporary fencing so that you can rotate the pasture.
    1. The outer fencing should be a safe, permanent fencing.
    2. You can cross fence the pastures with temporary fencing such as capped steel posts and appropriate electric wire.
    3. By allowing the animals to graze one section, then moving them to another section to allow the first section to recover, total pasture yield can be increased substantially, helping to control total feed costs.
    4. Clip and drag the pastures after you pull the animals off to control weeds and control parasites and flies.
  4. Make certain that fresh clean water is available at all times and that salt is available at all times.  If you are not feeding a balanced horse feed or ration balancer, offer appropriate mineral free choice as well.
  5. If space is very limited, keep a dry lot area where animals can be fed and watered to prevent areas of pasture from being overgrazed.
  6. Check with your local extension team for additional recommendations for your area and for recommendations on fertilizing pastures.  Dr. Krishona Martinson at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN has published some excellent guidelines for pasture management.

A small investment in supplies to allow pasture to be managed and rotated can pay for itself in higher pasture yields.  Managing the pastures and selecting the right feeds can help manage total yearly costs as well as improve animal health and condition.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Hay/Pasture, How To
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Spring Pasture Time for Horses!

Toby GrazingIntroducing horses to growing pasture is a welcome event each year, yet must be approached with caution. Introducing the horses to pasture too soon in the season or for too long a time period can be bad for both the pasture and the horses.

The following are some guidelines to consider:

  1. Do not turn the horses out on pastures too early. Grass needs time to recover from the stress of winter and should be allowed to re-grow to 6 to 8 inches in height, depending on the species, to allow roots to grow and to store some energy before being grazed.
  2. Horses should be fed hay before going out on pasture the first time. Do not turn them out with empty stomachs!
    1. Initial grazing should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes and gradually increased each day by 15 minutes until the horses are out for about 4 or 5 hours, at which time they can be allowed unrestricted time.
    2. If horses are allowed too much initial grazing time, the risk of digestive disturbance is increased as it takes the microflora in the gut some time to adjust to the difference in forage source.
  3. Do NOT overgraze! Pastures should not be grazed to below 3-4 inches in grass length or you will wind up with a dirt lot fairly quickly. Some weeds are also hardier than most grasses, so if pastures are over grazed, weeds will become more prevalent.
  4. Remember that cool season grasses growing very rapidly can be high in plant sugars (fructans), so caution is in order.
  5. Grazing muzzles might be an option for helping reduce rapid intake.

Proper introduction of horses back on pasture needs to be managed for the health of the horses and the health of the pastures!

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Care and Management, Hay/Pasture, How To, Weather-Related Feeding
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Composting Horse Manure

Compost PileHorses give their owners a lot of joy – and a lot of waste. One horse can create more than 8 ton of manure per year – and that doesn’t include the soiled bedding or uneaten feed! So what do you do with all that waste? If your horse is stalled or in a small paddock, chances are you have, somewhere on your property, a large pile of what your horse has left behind. But is that pile working for you? Is it heating, decomposing and turning into rich organic matter that you can add to your yard or garden, or sell to your neighbors? Composting can help turn that pile of waste into a manageable cache of valuable nutrient matter.

Why Compost? 
Compost has numerous benefits, including:

  1. Fly control
  2. Odor control
  3. Reduced runoff
  4. Less chance of worm re-infestation
  5. Improved relationships with your neighbors (refer #1 and #2!)

How to Compost

  • To get started composting, you want to pick your site. An ideal site is one that is dry and relatively close to your stall or paddock (to make your work easier).
  • Once you’ve selected your site, you can start adding your material. Straw, shavings, manure, left over hay can all go into the compost pile.
  • For the pile to heat appropriately, it needs to be at least 3 ft. square.
  • Keep your pile about as damp as a wet sponge on a continuous basis. You can water the whole pile with a garden hose periodically or water each wheelbarrow load that you add.
  • Ventilation is important. You can turn your pile by hand, but this becomes a real chore as your pile grows each day. Consider placing PVC “chimneys” in the middle of the pile instead. These are lengths of PVC pipe placed vertically with small holes drilled along the length. This will encourage air flow through the pile.

You may want to have more than one compost pile going at a time. One pile could be the one you add to daily, while the second is a completed pile that is resting and decomposing.

How do you know it’s done?

Once your pile reaches the desired size, you want to rest it for a time so that it can completely breakdown. Exactly how long to let it rest will depend on the size of your pile, as well as the season and climate. An average size pile in the warm summer weather may take 2 – 3 months to decompose completely, while the same pile may take up to 5 months in the winter when temperatures are colder and decomposition is slowed. Your composting is complete when, after the allotted amount of time, the material in the pile is crumbly in texture, has an “earthy” scent, and no longer resembles the original material in any way. This rich organic matter is a great soil amendment; you can apply it to your garden or yard, or sell it to help fund your horse habit!

There are lots of great resources for composting. If you’d like more information, you can contact your local extension office or conservation district.

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Posted in Care and Management, How To, Living the Horse Life
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Feeding the Maintenance Horse

Vitamin in half

Feeding below the recommended amount of a particular horse feed, is analogous to only taking half of your daily vitamin.

I am fortunate in my job to speak with horse owners face-to-face on a frequent basis. During these conversations, I enjoy hearing about the horses they own and how great their horse’s look and perform.

Occasionally, I will hear someone mention that their horse looks great on hay alone and they only feed a ‘handful’ of grain in the morning and night, just for the vitamins and minerals.

I delicately point out that the analogous human activity would be chopping your daily vitamin into pieces and taking a fraction of one a day. This is an opportunity to discuss feeding rate, calorie requirements, muscle and hair coat quality, and making sure owners have selected the right feed for their horse.

In many of these instances, the horse in question is an adult in good body condition, on a good quality forage and light work load; in other words, a horse at maintenance activity level.  Even though this horse may be able to keep a good body condition score, without balanced nutrition, they will exhibit less-than-ideal muscling, hair coat and hoof quality.

A well-intentioned owner of this kind of horse might feel they need to provide some form of nutrition supplementation to their hay, as they should, but may not fully understand what is needed or the appropriate quantities. Feed, being as complicated as it can be, is often misinterpreted and either under or over fed. Here’s where we can help!

If a maintenance horse is in good or better-than-good body condition (a 6+) from their hay or pasture alone, they really don’t need more calories in the diet. But they do need something to fill in the gaps that the hay or pasture is not providing. These include vitamins, minerals and quality proteins (amino acids) their body needs for normal tissue repair, hair growth and muscle maintenance.

For this horse, a ration balancer is the ideal solution. A ration balancer (sometimes called diet balancer) is a concentrated form of feed without the energy provided by fats, fibers, starch and sugar of a regular feed. Ration balancers tend to have higher guaranteed levels of nutrients, but significantly lower feeding rates. Don’t panic! A protein level of 30% with a feeding rate of 2 pounds per day means your horse gets 0.6 pounds of protein. Compare that to feeding 6 pounds of a 14% regular feed = 0.84 pounds of protein per day. When you do the math, it’s really in line with a “normal” diet.

If this same horse would be slightly below ideal body condition, a feed designed to be fed to maintenance horses would be appropriate for calories and the balance of other nutrients. Be sure to follow the feeding rates and keep a close eye on how your horse responds to the feed, as you may need to adjust within the feeding rate guidelines.

When it comes to calorie management of the maintenance-level activity horse, remember to watch out for those treats, too. Calorie levels can vary widely so all the work you’re doing to manage intake with the feed scoop can easily be washed away with an indulgence in treats!

Feeding a horse at a maintenance activity level doesn’t have to be complicated. With a few pieces of information and the right feed, your horse can look and feel their best, even if they aren’t heading for the show pen.

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Posted in Feeding Management, Horse Feed, Horse Nutrition, How To, Weight Control
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Is City Water OK for My Horse?

The question comes up from time to time if municipal water supplies are OK for horses. The concern is generally related to the added chlorine or added fluoride in the water. The water is treated with chlorine to minimize risk of bacterial contamination, and the fluoride is added to improve human dental health.

The chloride may change the aroma and taste of the water. Taking horses to facilities with chlorinated water can sometimes reduce water consumption. Reduced water consumption may impair performance and may also increase the risk of impaction colic. Horses do adjust to the difference in taste and aroma over time, but this may take a few days. It is routine in many barns to flavor the water with something like wintergreen or peppermint at home, then flavor the water at the new location or while traveling to match the home water.

  • NOTE: Do NOT use soft drinks that contain caffeine or any material containing caffeine as these can trigger positive drug tests!

The fluoride levels in municipal water supplies are normally at about 0.5 to 1.0 mg/liter of water. The maximum dietary allowance for horses is about 4-8 mg/liter (Source: Mineral Levels in Animal Health-Diagnostic Data, Second Edition, R. Puls), so the level in municipal water is well below any levels associated with heath risk for horses.

Municipal water should be OK for horses. When changing water sources, consumption should be monitored to make certain horses continue to consume adequate water with flavoring the water being an option when traveling. As always, salt should be available free choice.

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Horse Feed Tag Mathematics

It takes some time and math skills to properly understand how the guaranteed analysis relates to what your horse is actually taking in every day!

It takes some time and math skills to properly understand how the guaranteed analysis relates to what your horse is actually taking in every day!

We often receive questions from horse owners, wondering what the various units of measure on horse feed tags mean, and how they can use those units to figure out what their horse is consuming…and wondering why in the world they have to be so confusing, too!

In short, feed companies use the units of measurements on nutrients that we do, because we are required to. Why? Because horse feeds and other livestock feeds are labeled as required by AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) and the various state Feed Control regulations.  These regulatory bodies establish the units which are to be used for each nutrient in tag guarantees.

To break it down, there are 4 common units used on feed tags.  To help you understand them all, here’s a quick overview of how they work, along with examples of how to do the appropriate math:

Protein, amino acids, fat, fiber and macro minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium) are listed as a % minimum or maximum.

  • To calculate the amount supplied per pound, you can convert % to a decimal fraction by moving the decimal point 2 places to the left, then multiply by the pounds fed.
  • As a horse’s daily intake requirements are sometimes given in grams, we can convert those pounds of intake to grams as well.
    • For those of us that are mathematically challenged, a quick Google search of “pounds to grams” will provide a handy conversion calculator!

Example:

  • A feed that is 14% protein would contain 1 lb x 0.14 = 0.14 lb of protein in 1 pound of feed.
    • If you want to measure in ounces, there are 16 ounces per pound, so the same pound of feed would contain 0.14 x 16 = 2.24 ounces of protein.
    • If the requirements are given in grams, we know that there are 453.6 grams per pound, so the feed would contain 453.6 x 0.14 = 63.5 grams of protein per pound of feed.
  • Feeding 5 lbs of this feed per day, results in feeding 0.7 lbs, or 11.2 ounces, or 317.5 grams, of protein per day.

Trace minerals (copper, zinc, manganese and selenium) are expressed as “ppm” or parts per million.

  • One part per million is the same as one milligrams per kilogram.
  • 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds.

Example:

  • Premium horse feeds are commonly tagged at 0.6 ppm selenium.
  • This is 0.6 mg/kg of feed. This equals 0.273 mg per pound of feed.
  • 0.6 mg/kg divided by 2.2 kg/lb. = 0.273 mg per pound of feed
  • Feeding 5 lbs of this feed per day, results in feeding 1.365 mg per day of selenium.

Vitamins A, D and E are expressed in IU/lb.

  • An IU is an International Unit and is based on the effectiveness of a particular vitamin.
  • There are some rather complicated conversions of different Vitamin sources to International Units, which is why animal requirements are given in International Units, so no further conversion is needed.

Example:

  • A feed that lists 100 IU/lb of Vitamin E, fed at 5 lbs per day, provides 500 IU’s per day.

Vitamin C (or Ascorbic acid) and Biotin are normally expressed as mg/lb or milligrams per pound.

  • Usually only tagged on senior horse feeds.
  • Requirements are in mg of intake per day, so no further conversion is needed.

Example:

  • A feed that lists 75 mg/lb of Vitamin C, fed at 5 lbs per day, provides 375 mg per day.

Still confused?  Don’t worry about it. Just leave us your questions in the comments section below, and we’ll be happy to help you out!

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