The Importance of Clean Water

Would you drink dirty water? Water that had algae, mud, maybe even feces in it? Would you be able to put it to your mouth and swallow?

I would, if it was a matter of survival. Chances are, if it was a matter of life or death, you would too. If that was the only water available and the choice was to drink that water or die, I am betting there are not many people who wouldn’t take at least a sip. But, would you drink your fill of that dirty, nasty water? Would you drink deeply so that your thirst was satisfied and your body was hydrated, all the way down to a cellular level? Probably not. And neither would your horse.

We all know that water is the most important nutrient that any animal can have. It is essential for almost every function, from digestion and respiration, to reproduction and lactation. But what we may often forget is that even though our animals have access to water, that doesn’t mean they are well hydrated. If their water is teeming with algae or full of mud or excrement, chances are that they are choosing not to drink as much as they could.  In the winter, if it is too cold or even frozen over, horses will have lowered intake as well.

A horse that is not well hydrated can run into a myriad of problems, not the least of which can be impactions that can lead to colic. Veterinarians will tell you that winter is prime-time for colic episodes that are directly related to lack of water. This is why it is important to monitor your horse’s water intake and make sure they are getting their fill on a daily basis.

The bare minimum amount of water that a horse needs on a daily basis is 0.5 to 1 gallon for every 100 lbs. of weight in a maintenance environment with a temperate climate. Add in performance demands, lactation, hot weather, humidity, etc. and the demand for water increases significantly. Your best bet? Keeping free choice clean cool water available at all times.

But how do you know if your water supply is up to snuff? There is a pretty easy test to tell. Ask yourself these questions as you stand at your horses’ pond, water trough or bucket:

  • Is it the right temprature? (between 45 - 65 degrees farenheit is preferred)
  • Is it fresh?
  • Is it clean?
  • Is it abundant?
    Would I want to drink it?

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then you are providing a good water source that your horse should be happy to drink their fill from.

Take this “water quality quiz” today, and then take it again in the middle of winter, when the way you supply water to your horse may be entirely different. Because no matter what the season, water is key to a healthy, active horse.

 

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Posted in Colic, Feeding Management, Weather-Related Feeding
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Transitioning Your Horse to a New Feed

You may be thinking your horse is in need of a senior diet, or perhaps there is a new feed available that you believe is even better for your horse.  Maybe you are no longer happy with your current feed.  Or, your retailer no longer carries the product you were using.  Whatever the reason, switching your horse to a new feed is a change that requires care and know-how.

It’s important to transition your horse gradually over a 7 day period, gradually increasing the new feed and decreasing the old.  Throughout the process, you’ll want to watch your horse’s body condition and adjust feeding rates as needed.

Mixing with Current Feed – The Ideal Process

If still have some of your current feed, transition as follows:

 

Current Feed

New Feed

Day 1-2

75%

25%

Day 3-4

50%

50%

Day 5-6

25%

75%

Day 7

-

100%

No Current Feed Available

Whether you just simply ran out, or your favorite feed has been discontinued or no longer carried by your retailer, sometimes you may not be able to mix their old and new feed slowly.  While not ideal, if no current feed is available, you can still safely transition to the new feed.

Because you don’t have any of the old feed to mix, you’ll want to reduce the total amount you feed your horse and gradually increase it again over 7 days, using the new feed.  It is a good idea to offer some extra hay or pasture-time during this transition, as well.  Feed your horse the new grain as follows:

 

% of recommend feeding rate of the new feed

Day 1-2

25%

Day 3-4

50%

Day 5-6

75%

Day 7

100%

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Posted in Changing Horse Feed, How To
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What Your Senior Horse is Telling You About Dietary Changes

Recent studies indicate that about 30% of the horse population in the U.S. may be considered “senior” horses. The appearance of the senior horse may give useful suggestions as to what changes need to be made in its diet.

Loss of body condition may be the result of more than one type of change. If the fat cover, as measured by Body Condition Score, has decreased, the horse needs more calories. These calories can come from added fat from vegetable oils, high quality fiber or controlled amounts of starch and sugar. Increased energy intake from highly digestible sources can restore body condition score.

If there is a loss of muscle mass causing a visual and measurable change in the appearance of an old friend, this will not be fixed with just increasing the energy intake. The senior horse may need additional a high quality protein source containing the essential amino acids lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting amino acids, to rebuild muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass may also be accompanied by dull hair coat and loss of hoof quality.

The change in hair coat and hoof quality may also be associated with a deficiency of key trace minerals in the diet as well as key vitamins.

Changes in body condition, muscle mass, hair coat and hoof quality may all indicate the need for dietary changes. The easiest solution may be to switch to a senior feed especially designed to meet the changing dietary needs of a senior horse. Your old friend will show you the results!

 

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Posted in Senior Horses
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Cribbing: Not Always Just a Bad Habit

Cribbing, the process of a horse biting down on a stationary wooden structure, applying pressure and then breathing in deeply, can be destructive to more than just your barn and stalls!

A wooden fence that has been chewed by a cribber.

While cribbing has traditionally been thought to be just a vice or bad habit, new information indicates that a horse that cribs may be responding to a digestive upset. The act of cribbing produces excess saliva. This saliva helps to buffer the stomach and can calm the pain of things like ulcers and other digestive problems.

If you have a horse that cribs, the first step should be determining why the problem started. This may very well include a trip to the vet to rule out gastric ulcers or digestive issues. In cribbers who are diagnosed with ulcers, the behavior often stops or is reduced when treatment for the ulcers is started. Cribbing can also be caused by extreme boredom and is usually associated with horses who spend most of their time in stall situations.

It is important to note that cribbing is not a learned behavior – horses don’t start cribbing because they see their stablemates doing it. Rather, in a group of horses that all begin to crib the catalyst may be management practices that lead to some type of gastric distress. Some of these practices that can lead to cribbing include:

  • Not providing enough long stemmed forage
  • Feeding large grain meals all at one time
  • Not providing a properly balanced diet
  • Not giving adequate access to salt
  • Inadequate turn out time

The bad news is that once a horse has started cribbing, it can be a hard habit to break. As the horse bites down on the wood and inhales, endorphins are released that can give the animal a “high”. That is why it can be very difficult for the horse that has started cribbing to stop – they get addicted to what it does to their body. Unfortunately, cribbing is a very good way to cause colic (as well as destroy property), so all possible steps should be taken to end the behavior.

Once the source of the cribbing is confirmed and addressed, some recommendations to help stop the behavior and break the addiction can include:

  • Adequate long stemmed forage provided throughout the day
  • Plenty of turn out time with opportunities to interact with other horses
  • Stall toys to help ease boredom
  • Placing feed in multiple locations around the pen to make the horse mimic his natural grazing behavior
  • Feeding grain meals in small amounts several times per day rather than all at once
  • Providing a balanced diet
  • Giving ample access to loose white salt
  • Using a special cribbing collar or strap
  • Covering wooden surfaces with anti-chew paint

Treating the cribbing horse can be a challenge, but remember that the first step is figuring out why the problem started. Your horse’s cribbing may just be his way of telling you that he is in pain and needs your help.  

 

 

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Posted in Care and Management, Diseases and Disorders, Feeding Management, How To
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Can You Feed the Flies Away From Your Horse?

In warm months, it seems like flies and other biting insects are always the #1 enemy of horses. They annoy, they bite, they cause itching, bumps, swelling and skin reactions. Often times horse owners go to great lengths to lessen the impact of flies on their horses. But can what you feed your horse actually have an impact on your fly population?

There are fly preventatives that may work for some horse owners which involve feeding a certain ingredient to the horse. Many people claim that giving apple cider vinegar daily will keep the flies away, while others swear by garlic powder or brewer’s yeast. The fact more often than not is that it is very difficult to get the horse to eat enough of these items to make a difference where flies are concerned because they typically have a strong taste and smell; the trick is getting the horse to ingest them at all. The important thing to remember is that horses are all unique and what works for your neighbor’s horse may not have the same effect on your horse.

Another alternative to feed the flies away is using a feed through IGR additive that is labeled for horses. This active ingredient does not get absorbed by the gut, but instead passes through into the manure, hence the ”feed through” name. Once in the manure, the Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) causes the fly pupae to not mature into adult flies. With disciplined feeding, these products can be effective but may be expensive. One warning with this type of fly control – if you have close neighbors who aren’t controlling their fly populations you will likely see little difference because their flies will continue to come snack on your horse.

More traditional methods of fly control should not be discounted, including finding an effective fly spray, using fly sheets, and changing turn out times to when flies are less active. Cleanliness in your stable and proper manure management can also have an impact on fly populations.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Care and Management, Ingredients in Horse Feed, Supplements, Weather-Related Feeding
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How Much Horse Feed Does Your Scoop Hold?

I visited a horse owner that had just purchased her own farm this spring. She said she was following the same feeding program that was followed at the boarding barn, but the mare had gained weight. A quick evaluation showed the mare had defiantly crossed the line to a good solid body condition score of a 6.

We knew the forage had not changed as the owner purchased her hay from the boarding barn. When we weighed out the mares daily ration of hay, we came up with 25 pounds per day on average. The mare weighed 990 pounds so she was receiving just over 2.5% of her body weight per day in hay. This was on target with her diet at the boarding barn.

The pasture was still being fenced, so she had a sand ring as turnout. Definitely no added calories there! The mare was also receiving the same amount of work, if not more, since she was now at the owner’s home.

The owner said she had purchased the same feed and still feeding 5 pounds per day, divided into two feedings. She then asked if our formulation had changed.  We walked into the feed room and I checked the product. It was the same feed the mare was previously on, and I assured her we had not made any changes.

I then asked how many bags of feed she was using a month. The owner replied “4 … exactly 1 per week.” I quickly did the math: 50 pounds/ 7 days is 7+ pounds per day.

I asked the owner if she had weighed a serving of the feed. She replied “No” because it was the same kind of scoop the boarding barn had used. However, when we weighed her scoop it held 3.5 pounds of feed when filled, not the 2.5 pounds she thought she was providing.

The above scoops and resulting weights are for SafeChoice Horse Feed. Weighing your scoop needs to be done with the product you are feeding, as there are differences in weight for various feeds.

With the extra source of calories identified, we adjusted the mare’s diet and she is on her way back to a healthy body condition!

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Posted in Feeding Management, Weight Control
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Heat Exhaustion in Horses

Summer time is here and with it comes risk of overheating, heat exhaustion, or heat cramps for horses especially performance horses.  The following situation comes from Nutrena Equine Specialist Jolene Wright, who owns and trains roping and barrel racing horses in Texas.

The temperatures had just started to get into the upper 90’s and I went out for my usual routine ride on one of my horses in training. I noticed after my ride and cooling him out that he began to get down and roll an hour or so after turning him back out and he was sweating. I had sprayed him off and cooled him out as usual, so I first thought colic since he was dropping down on the ground. As I got closer to his pen I saw his respiration was faster than it should be and I could see some of his muscles quivering. He was also very drawn up in his flank. I started to think maybe he has heat exhaustion.

I immediately got him out and began to spray his legs and chest to get his temperature down. I called the vet while I was spraying him and we went over his symptoms. My vet was also sure it was heat exhaustion, and recommended giving him 10 cc’s of banamine and continuing to spray him off for 30 minutes to get his temperature down. He also recommended not feeding him for the night and to give him plenty of water and keep him in a cool place.

After getting the banamine and spraying him for 30 minutes, he seemed to be much better. He was cooler and his temperature and respiration were back to normal. Then I set up some fans in a stall and moved him to the barn and gave him plenty of water. I monitored him throughout the night, and he stood behind the fans all night.

This was a good reminder that even after a ride and cooling a horse out that they can still actually be over heated or have heat exhaustion. My horse had seemed completely cooled out and seemed fine when I put him up. Luckily, I noticed him and his symptoms right away when I went back outside to check the horses.

Signs of Heat Exhaustion:

  • Sweating
  • Increased temperature
  • Increased respiration
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dropping down to roll or throwing themselves on the ground
  • Drawn up in the flank
  • Muscles quivering
  • Muscles tying up

If you aren’t familiar with what “normal” respiration and heart rates are for horses, check out our blog post on this topic. And if you suspect heat exhaustion in your horse, please call your vet immediately!

 

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Posted in Care and Management, Weather-Related Feeding
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Managing Feeding Programs on the Road for Show Horses

The show season is in full swing and horses are subjected to the stress of going down the road on a regular basis. This travel schedule imposes additional requirements for managing the feeding program. Horses like consistency. Changes can cause emotional and physical stress. The more we can keep the routines the same, the easier it is for the horses to cope with the challenges of travel and competition. The following are some suggestions that may be useful to help maintain the body condition, appearance and performance that is required to maintain the competitive status of the horse.

First and foremost, it is critical to maintain water intake while traveling and while stabled away from home. The water may taste different at different locations. Horses should have fresh clean water available at all times when stabled at shows and should be offered water as needed between classes.

  • When traveling, horses should be offered water on a regular basis. I recommend offering water every 2 hours while hauling and others may have different schedules that work for them.
  • If horses are reluctant to drink water that smells different due to chlorination or water source, it may be useful to flavor the water at home with something like wintergreen or vanilla so that you can do the same when traveling.
  • You need to make certain that whatever you use does NOT contain caffeine or anything that will trigger a positive drug test!
  • If you are going to flavor the water, do it well in advance of travel so that the water at home smells and tastes like the water while traveling.
  • If horses get dehydrated during a show, the risk of impaction colic may increase, particularly during hot weather. The horses may also not perform up to expectations, particularly in multiple day or multiple event competitions.
  • As a judge and as an announcer, I can see the difference in some horses from day 1 to day 3 of an event.

Second, maintain your feeding schedule as close as possible to routine followed at home. You may have to adjust slightly to accommodate classes.

Third, monitor body condition carefully and adjust feeding rates to avoid excess weight loss while traveling. A horse can tuck up badly if it goes off feed and water.

Fourth, select a horse feed that will help reduce the risk of metabolic issues and will help maintain intake to maintain body condition and bloom. Added fat, controlled starch & sugar products with balanced amino acids and added key vitamins work well for virtually all classes of show horses.

Pre-season preparation involves achieving desired body condition, coat condition, hoof condition and the required training. Managing the horse during competition is essential to maintain the competitive edge!

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Care and Management, How To
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How to Feed Electrolytes to Horses

We recently had a horse owner ask about providing electrolytes to her horses all at once, through the watering trough.  While in theory this might work, in practicality, it may cause some issues.

First, it is important to understand what horses need:

  • The key electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium and magnesium.
  • Forages and feed normally contain adequate potassium and magnesium to maintain body levels.

Then, we need to understand how a horse consumes & utilizes electrolytes:

  • The best way to add these to a horse’s diet is to provide free choice salt in a loose form at all times, as sodium and chloride are the primary electrolytes lost in sweat.
  • Horses may not consume enough salt if the salt is in block form, particularly during cold weather or hot, humid conditions.
  • Horses cannot store excess electrolytes and will excrete in the urine.

If you have particular events where the horses will be worked hard, particularly in hot, humid conditions, it is recommended to provide the additional electrolytes immediately prior to, during and immediately following a competition.  Maintaining water consumption is key to preventing dehydration and adding electrolytes to the water may not be desired.

Dr. Krishona Martinson at the University of Minnesota recently published a useful newsletter review that suggested that adding supplements to the drinking water for horses can actually decrease water consumption, which is exactly what you would want to avoid doing.

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Posted in Care and Management, Supplements
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Following Feeding Recommendations

Is anyone taking a road trip this summer? Chances are, if you are heading somewhere in your car you will probably consult a road map or at least plug the destination into your GPS or smart phone. We do this so we can get where we want to go and do what we have planned. The same can be said for directions on horse feeding. They help us get our horse in the condition we want him to be so that we can do the events or activities that made us get a horse in the first place.

We have a pretty good road map attached to every bag of horse feed that is purchased.  Feed tags not only list ingredients & guaranteed analysis, they also give detailed directions for feeding.  The normal result of shortcuts during a road trip is usually being somewhere you don’t want to be. With your horse, taking shortcuts when it comes to feeding rates can mean a horse who is underweight or overweight, getting too much or being fed insufficient levels of vitamins and minerals, among other issues.

My challenge to you is this - look at your feed tag and consider the following:

After you establish the above items…

  • Is the amount I am giving my horse within the tagged recommendations according to weight and activity level?
  • Am I feeding to accomplish something with my horse? (ie: weight gain or weight loss, lactation, etc.)

If you are in the parameters set by your feed tag on what you are giving your horse, good for you! If you are not, you need to ask some follow up questions:

  • Am I willing/able to change my feeding to match what the tag recommends? If the answer is no, then the question becomes:
  • Am I willing to change my horse’s feed to match how I am feeding him?

Many times we continue to do something just because it is what we’ve always done. By answering the questions above, it may become clear to you that your best feeding option may be changing feeds. Sometimes, this may mean switching to a feed with a lower feeding rate and higher fortification in order to accurately meet your horse’s needs (for example if you are currently underfeeding a senior horse).  Other times, you may find that you don’t really have an easy keeper – you are just feeding him a bit too much. Don’t neglect the feeding directions on your feed tag – they are the road map for a long, healthy life for your horse.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Posted in Feeding Management, Horse Feed, How To
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