Group Feeding Tips for Small Facilities

Feeding TimeWe are a far cry from a fancy operation with four horses on my property to manage.  The horses in our herd live outside in one of two paddocks with fulltime access to a run-in shed which is divided in half.  They get rotational turn out onto the pasture whenever possible.

With the variety of horses we have, our little operation is anything but simple.  And oh how they vary!  One is a 32-year-old hard keeping Arabian mare with a princess complex who has progressively lost dentition efficacy in the last few years.  Next is her 14-year-old gelding son who is an air fern, aka quite possibly the world’s easiest keeper.  Finally the two Warmblood geldings, half-brothers both in light work.  One is a 16 hand, 10-year old fair doer while his brother (12 years) just under 16 hands, tends to be higher strung and a notch or two closer to being a hard keeper than his half-brother.

We feed good quality grass hay in small squares as we don’t have the storage space, equipment or desire to feed rounds. With these parameters, in combination with our variety of personalities, feeding time can be quite….interesting.  Over time, we’ve developed some strategies for making this living arrangement work.  Here’s a few you might consider if you have a similar herd situation:

  • Divide your herd by feeding needs and behaviors
  • Separate the bully of the herd.
  • If possible, put harder keepers with harder keepers, easy keepers with other easy keepers.
  • Keep an eye over time as the herd dynamics shift, the bullies can easily become bullied and go from ideal weight to underweight if you’re not checking regularly.
  • Check body condition score on a regular basis and be prepared to move horses around if dietary needs change.
  • Provide at least as many feeders as there are horses.  More if you can. Divide the ration of hay evenly among them.  This allows those who are bullied by others the chance to get what they need.
  • While on pasture, use a grazing muzzle on the easy keepers so that the harder keepers can have sufficient time with the forage.
  • When it comes to feeding concentrate, use paddock, pasture, round pens, arena etc.  to separate the herd.  This way, those who need a different feed type (example: ration balancer versus a senior feed) can get what they need and have time to eat it.
  • If you don’t have facilities to separate during the time to feed concentrate, consider guarding the slower eater so they can get sufficient time to eat their full ration. This may add time to the chore schedule, but it will help to ensure all horses are meeting their unique nutritional needs.

Keeping multiple horses with a variety of nutritional needs in a smaller space can be a challenge.  But with a little creativity and the right tools, you can be assured everyone gets what they need.  What ideas do you have to manage the variety of horses in your herd?

Critters for Christmas

It’s tempting, isn’t it? Your small child, grandchild, or family friend looks at you with thoseTobyBow14_1 big eyes and says all they want for Christmas is…. A pony. While the plea is endearing, and you do know a guy with a Shetland for sale, time and care must be taken before launching into this decision. Here are just a few of the key points to consider:

Time
All animals require time and attention. If you’re looking at getting a horse for your daughter and she is already spreading herself thin between basketball practice, dance lessons and pep squad, you may want to reconsider. At a minimum, you need to be prepared to have the time to feed and water your horse at least two times each and every day. In addition to that, regular grooming and exercise will take time, as will things like farrier visits, veterinarian check ups, etc.

Space
Let’s face it: a horse is not a backyard animal. They require space to live and space to get exercise. Unless you have a barn and paddock ready to go or are willing to pay for boarding somewhere, buying a horse may not be the best choice for you.

Money
Horses cost money. Not only at the initial time of purchase, but also throughout their life. Dollars can be easily spent on horses in the form of veterinary bills, shoeing, boarding, feed, tack, equipment, supplies, transportation, etc. Make sure you have talked to other horse owners about what to expect for costs (especially those specific to your area – like the price of hay and boarding costs) and that you can afford the hobby before you begin.

Commitment
Almost every little child goes through a phase where they want own a stable full of horses and they swear they’ll ride every day. But when the rubber hits the road, the passion often fizzles. And nothing is sadder than a well-trained, capable horse in the prime of its life, sitting in a pasture with nothing to do and no one to ride it.

Alternatives to horse ownership
So how do you know if horses are going to be a long term enjoyment for you or someone you love? There are several ways to get started in the horse habit without being a full-fledged horse owner. Why not give a gift certificate for riding lessons at a nearby stable? This will whet the appetite of the temporary horse lover, and if they stick with it, it may prove that a long term investment is wise. In addition, many horses are offered for lease instead of sale. This minimizes you exposure to risk in the event that after 2 months the riding habit dies off.

If you decide to move forward with the purchase, well – be ready with wide open arms for the biggest hug you’ll ever receive! Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Hauling Horses: Stay Back and Stay Safe!

Truck and Horse TrailerThe following situation comes from Joanna Russell, a Nutrena sales representative, who enjoys riding eventers and show jumpers.

My father grew up on a farm with cattle and horses, he could back a truck and loaded trailer well before he had a driver’s license. My mother was a registered nurse who took a few years off in her career to drive a semi. Driving a truck and horse trailer is a skill I started learning while I was fifteen and still had my learner’s permit. By the time I graduated high school, I didn’t think anything of loading a couple horses up and going to a friends to ride with them. By the time I graduated from college, I was used to driving my horses several hours at a time on both highways and back roads near home. I had even driven straight from Virginia to Kentucky with one of my mares in tow. And by the time I started working for Nutrena, I was a pretty confident driver, in my car or in a truck and trailer.

Then I had that confidence shaken.  Recently I hooked up my trailer to my truck (we call her Roxanne), and loaded up two of our geldings, Ty and Jack, for a clinic. I didn’t think anything of the three hour, all highway drive. There was light traffic, it was actually a very pleasant drive listening to my favorite CD and keeping an eye on my trailer. About an hour down the road traffic got a little heavier, so I was making sure to keep plenty of space between me and the car in front of me. I was being extra alert, thanks to a hands on defensive driving class I had taken through work. And of course, keeping the cardinal rules of hauling in mind: DO NOT slam your brakes and NEVER swerve.

I was in the passing lane as a car passed me on the right aggressively, so I slowed to give them more space. Suddenly, I saw brake lights and heard tires screeching, all the cars in front of me had their brakes locked up. I broke the Rule. I locked up the brakes on Roxanne and my trailer, I heard them both squealing and knew I wasn’t going to be able to get stopped in time. I knew I had an empty space to my right. I broke the second Rule. I swerved. Hard. I missed the cars in front of me by a hair, while I felt the horses scramble, the trailer shake, and felt cold fear and dread in the pit of my stomach.

There was plenty of space in the right lane, and whatever caused the slowdown was gone—traffic was back to normal speed. The shoulder was narrow, and an exit was only a mile up the road from me so I kept driving slowly with my flashers on. This was the longest moment of my life. Were the horses ok? What would I do if one of them had a broken leg? What about a heavily bleeding wound? I had very basic first aid supplies, but nothing like I feared I might need. I finally got to the exit and pulled in a truck stop. I ran back to the trailer, trying to keep from crying in fear until I knew…

One of the worst moments of fear and dread in my life was followed by the greatest sense of relief. Ty had fallen down, but only had a small scrape on his hock and on his cannon bone. Jack didn’t have a single mark. They were both wide eyed and shaking—not as bad as I was, though. I fed them treats until I stopped shaking and was comfortable to drive again. The rest of our drive was uneventful, and would have been pleasant, save the sick feeling lingering in my stomach.

I thought a 7 second following distance was enough. I was wrong. I will do everything in my power to keep a minimum of a 10 second following distance from now on, longer if possible. Always have a way out in mind, and use “what if” thinking (what if a car slams its brakes in front of me? Where do I go?)—it could save you lives and vet bills. You can bet I will be beefing up my equine first aid kit for my trailer! And a big take away for me: Not everyone will notice or care that you take longer to stop and have living creatures as your load, so plan accordingly.

I am thankful that my employer values my safety enough to have put me through driving training that at very least saved me from having to replace my truck, and at most, saved the lives of myself, my horses, and the drivers around me.

You’re So Lucky!

This weekend I attended my 3rd Awards banquet for the 2014 show Region 14 Arabian Sport HOrse Rider Handler of the Yearseason. My horse and I completed the season earning state, regional and national championships. Considering that I am 60 years old and have been working with this horse for the past 4 years, I am very proud of our accomplishments. A friend told me we are just “So lucky to win all those awards”. I feel we are blessed to have earned these honors but it is more than luck. I look at the equation like a balanced triangle.

I like to start with the horse. So first I make sure I have the right horse for the job. I purchased my horse Rhinestone Cowboy AF as a potential horse I could show in trail class on the Arabian circuit.

At a local show, a nationally recognized Arabian judge commented he was very correct and would do well as a Sport horse. We watched a few Sport Horses classes and other friends encouraged us to enter the division. They were right and he has proven to be an outstanding Sport Horse Hunter under Saddle. I adjusted my goals for my horse with his development and athletic ability. It was a learning curve for me, and a lot of great people in the Sport Horse industry encouraged us to compete. So having the right horse for the job is important.

Next let’s look at the training aspect. You would not think of sending your child to school and telling the teacher you want the child to read at 6th grade level in 60 days, yet people expect miracles from their trainers. It takes time, patience and more time to properly train and school a horse. It is not within my budget to send my horse out for training, so he is home schooled. That does not stop me from seeking advice, attending clinics or watching trainers work horses. So many of our industry’s professionals are more than willing to help an amateur solve a problem or evaluate a situation, if you just reach out to them, but respect time and professionalism.

The third side to the triangle is diet. You would not train to run the Boston Marathon on a diet of fast food, why would you expect your horse to be any different. I start our program with the best quality hay I can find. I then feed my horse 2% of his body weight per day in hay. I balance the diet with a quality performance horse feed that provides chelated minerals, pre and pro biotics and is formulated at a safe NSC level. My personal choice is Pro Force fuel by Nutrena.

I only attended 3 shows last season one each month during June, July and August. I want the experience to be enjoyable for my horse as well as myself. I realize judging horses is like judging living art work and it is one person’s opinion. If my horse worked a good class, that is what matters to me. It is a hobby and we are there to have fun. We have worked hard to prepare for the show, and we are there to show what we can accomplish. My horse will have good days and bad days, and I need to know when he has reached his limit both physically and emotionally.

As I look at the triangle I feel confident I have the right horse for the job, worked to obtain realistic goals, and provided my horse with a balanced diet. We were blessed with an outstanding year and lucky to have so many great people in the industry encourage us!

Reconditioning After a Winter Break

Nutrena Warmblood Horse Annick-7120If you live in a state that has cold winters, chances are that even if you have an indoor arena you are taking a break on those dreaded frigid dead-of-winter weeks or months. But when things begin to thaw and your horse begins to shed like crazy, it’s time to get back to it! If your horse has had more than three weeks off, he will need to be worked back into a routine strategically in order to help reduce the risk of over-stressing or injuring him in the process.

As eager as you are to get back to jumping, reining or piaff-ing, it’s best to start slow. Think of how you feel the first day back to the gym after a long break. Now picture yourself about 10x the size that you are now, in the gym, out of shape. It’s exhausting just thinking about it! Your horse might have built up energy and seem to be ready to get right to it, but it’s best to work him up slowly to help avoid an injury that could set you back even further.

Plan on a six to eight week conditioning schedule depending on how much time your horse has had off. Start with low impact hacking for about 15 minutes, working only at the walk. You could also utilize a hot walker if you have one available or hand-walk if you would like. Unless your horse is very obedient on the lunge line, it’s not a recommended way to get him into shape just in case he is extra excitable. Bolting away and galloping in a small circle on the lunge could result in injury to him or even you.

5-7 days after you begin your walking routine add in 5 minutes of trot work each day. After two weeks of solid walk-trot work you can gradually introduce the canter, again working up slowly from 5 minutes just as you did the trot. After thirty days of flat work you can begin to add more strenuous activity to your conditioning program like jumping or speed work (barrels) but work up slowly. Figure in another month to get your horse back to where he was before he took the break. Begin with jumping a single, low fence both directions for the first week, then add in a line and work your way back to a full course. Once you are jumping a course at a smaller height, gradually increase the size of your fences and the complexity of the course.

If you are worried that you or your horse might get bored working on the flat, remember that flatwork is the foundation for your riding no matter what discipline you ride. It’s a good time for you to work on yourself as well, starting you out on the right foot (or hoof) for the season. Work on your position or ride with no stirrups. When your horse is feeling more fit, do some lateral work and get him really listening to your aids so he’s sharp when the time comes to compete.

As far as feed is concerned, as you are reconditioning, the correct feeding program will depend on what your horse’s body condition score is coming out of his break. If he is on the thin side, you will want to increase his feeding rate as you work him harder or include a fat supplement. Make sure to always provide fresh, clean water and free choice hay. If he is on the heavier side of the scale, keep his feeding rate the same but keep an eye on that body condition score as you may need to adjust your feeding rate as he gets back into shape and is working harder.

Creative Reuses for Plastic Feed Bags

Plastic feed bags, also called, poly weave bags, have been on the market for many years now and unlike their paper predecessors, there are many uses of poly feed bags once their job of delivering feed is complete.

Why Poly?

Poly feed bags are made from a recyclable plastic material and generally fall into the #5 recyclable plastic category. Feed manufacturers and retailers alike have embraced the use of poly over paper for the many benefits they offer.  For instance, poly bags reduce or eliminate the need for shrink wrap on a pallet of feed, with the use of special glue that locks the bags into place.

For feeds higher in oil or molasses, traditional paper bags required an extra layer or two (usually plastic)  to keep the oil or molasses from seeping through the bag and compromising the strength of the paper.  In many instances, switching to  poly bags reduces the amount material used for feed bags.

Poly bags also reduce the amount of broken bags during moving in a warehouse or truck therefore, reducing the amount of wasted feed.  And though not waterproof, poly bags hold up better if exposed to rain, snow or other forms of moisture.

Ideas for Reuse

Here are some creative reuses of poly bags:

Container garden

Container garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bags as baskets

Bags as baskets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bags as a tote

Bags as a tote

Bags as a raincoat in a pinch

Bags as a raincoat in a pinch

Bags as a dress

Bags as a dress

What creative ways do you reuse poly bags?

What’s the Shelf Life of Horse Feed?

Textured Feed PouringFeed freshness is a concern for many horse owners.  We all want to feed our horses the best we can.  When it comes to freshness there are several factors involved, one of those being the expected shelf life of feed.  Horse owners and barn managers who understand these factors and practice good inventory rotation will be able to provide their horses fresh feed on a regular basis.

Shelf Life

First, what is shelf life?  Shelf life can be described as the length of time a feed is considered to have the nutritional quality and physical characteristics as intended when it was produced from the manufacturer.

In food terms, you may see ‘Best if used by’ or ‘Sell by’ followed by a date.  Human food is tightly managed and there are regulations that food processors, distributors and retailers need to follow to make sure that the food they put on their shelves is within date.

Most horse feeds do not have a ‘Use by’ date due to the process of manufacturing as well as the different storage conditions that feed is exposed to from when it is made to the time it is in your scoop.  Therefore, understanding what affects the shelf life can help you to provide your horse with fresh feed on a regular basis.

Feed Form

The form of feed you purchase has an impact on its shelf life. For example, a feed in the form of a pellet has undergone a process which involves cooking with heat and steam, followed by the use of centripetal force to push it through a die (think Play Dough machine) before it is cooled and dried.  This high temperature cook and cool helps to make the nutrients more available for digestion as well as improves the shelf life (cookie dough is only good for a few days, but baked cookies stored properly can last up to 2 weeks – well, not in my house!).

On the other hand, ‘textured’ or grain-based feed (where you see the oats, barley or cracked corn) which has had oil and/or molasses added has not undergone the same amount of ‘cooking’ as a pellet and therefore has a shorter shelf life.  Alone, the dry grains have a good shelf life, but when oil, molasses or other liquids have been added, the shelf life is shortened.

Generally speaking, a pelleted feed stored in ideal conditions won’t begin to lose nutritional quality until it is approximately 6 months old.  That’s a long time for a feed to still be good!  On the other hand, textured feed tends to lose nutritional quality around 90 days from date of manufacture.

Mold

One of the biggest risks regarding storage of feed is the potential growth of molds.  Molds are present in low levels all around us, but when exposed to certain conditions, molds can proliferate.  Molds love an environment that is warm and moist therefore, feed should be stored in a cool, dry place.

So what can you do to make sure your horse gets the best nutrition from the feed you buy? 

  • Feed makers and retailers set their own guidelines for shelf life of their products and they vary by the product.
  • Warm or humid temperatures will speed up the deterioration of quality as well, so pay especially close attention in the summer, and possibly even purchase less feed on a more frequent basis during those warmer months.
  • When you purchase feed from your retailer, ask how long they have had the bag of feed and under what conditions it has been stored.
  • When you get feed home, be sure to inspect it, looking for bugs or mold.
  • If you see indications of either, take the bag back to your retailer immediately.
  • Do not feed moldy or bug infested feed to your horses.

Any feed you store on farm should be kept in a cool, dry place, protected from infestation of pests.  Read here for tips on how best to store feed on your farm.

First Aid Horse Essentials

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit Photo Credit: Dover Saddlery (www.DoverSaddlery.com)

Being prepared to immediately give your horse first aid in the event of an illness or injury might make a big difference in the outcome of the situation. It’s wise to be prepared in case something happens, and an equine first-aid kit helps to ensure that you can care for your horse while waiting for an equine veterinarian to arrive. Start creating a basic first-aid kit with these helpful items.

Equine First-Aid Kit Basics

  • Flashlight. During the early morning hours, as sunset approaches or even in dark, tree-covered areas, a flashlight can be useful when assessing the problem.
  • Thermometer. Having a thermometer on hand lets you determine if your horse has a normal temperature. Typically this is between 99 and 101.5 Fahrenheit, but taking your horse’s temperature regularly when he is healthy will help determine what is normal for your particular horse.
  • Stethoscope. A horse’s heartbeat can be heard loudest behind its left elbow. A stethoscope also comes in handy for listening to the gut.
  • Antibiotic ointment. Superficial wounds and scrapes can be treated with antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection.
  • Diluted iodine. Any cuts, scrapes or puncture wounds can be flushed out with diluted iodine and covered to keep them from drying until the vet comes to treat them.
  • Electrolytes. Help protect your horse from dehydration and lethargy by carrying a powder or paste form of electrolytes in your first-aid kit.
  • Scissors or knife. It’s important to have something for cutting bandaging material, or for freeing a horse caught in a rope or other entanglement. Always exercise caution when using scissors around your horse.
  • Bandaging materials. A variety of bandaging materials are good to have on hand. Include some of the following in your first aid kit: nonstick gauze and cotton padding, duct tape and disposable diapers, sterile gauze and elastoplast, white adhesive medical tape, plastic wrap and cotton leg wraps.
  • Fly repellant. Keep pesty flies away from an open wound that can’t be covered with a bandage by applying fly repellant around the wound, but not directly on it.
  • Cooling packs. Ice packs that become cold when you bend or twist them could be useful when cold therapy is recommended by the equine veterinarian.

When First Aid is Needed

Before you consider administering any type of first aid to your horse, there are several things to consider. Start by calming yourself; your horse might already be scared and excited, and being in a panic yourself will only exacerbate the situation. Collect your thoughts and proceed by caring for your horse in a calm, slow manner. At that time, you should assess your horse’s attitude and behavior. If you’re not 100 percent sure that it’s OK to approach him safely and check the injury or problem, then wait until professional help arrives. Should you be able to safely approach your horse, it can be helpful to talk to him quietly and gently rub his neck for reassurance. Move the horse to a quiet location, if possible.

Once you have your horse secure, call your veterinarian so they can assess the injury or illness. Having a first-aid kit on hand allows you to administer initial care to your horse if needed while waiting for the vet. In addition to having a first-aid kit in the barn, it’s also helpful to have a travel kit that you can bring with you each time you take your horse off your property. While the list above can serve as a base to help you get started  as you put together an effective kit, always make sure that you consult your veterinarian on what other items will complete your first-aid kit so you are never left stranded.

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

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.