Don’t keep a commercial scale handy? Here is a simple and accurate way to weigh your horse without a scale at all!
If 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.
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.
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:
What creative ways do you reuse poly bags?
Feed 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Managing 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If you do not know your pasture composition, err on the side of allowing adequate growth before grazing.
- 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.
- If you have limited acreage, consider purchasing some temporary fencing so that you can rotate the pasture.
- The outer fencing should be a safe, permanent fencing.
- You can cross fence the pastures with temporary fencing such as capped steel posts and appropriate electric wire.
- 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.
- Clip and drag the pastures after you pull the animals off to control weeds and control parasites and flies.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Introducing 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:
- 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.
- Horses should be fed hay before going out on pasture the first time. Do not turn them out with empty stomachs!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Remember that cool season grasses growing very rapidly can be high in plant sugars (fructans), so caution is in order.
- 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!
Horses 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.
Compost has numerous benefits, including:
- Fly control
- Odor control
- Reduced runoff
- Less chance of worm re-infestation
- 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.
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.