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.

Winter Horse Care Must-Haves

As with any season, winter has a few must-Dover Saddlery Winter Horse Care Must Haveshave horse care items that will help to keep your horses happy and healthy during the colder months. Read on to discover a few items that will be helpful in any barn this winter.

The Perfect Winter Horse Blanket

Not all horse blankets are created equal. In fact, there are several types of blankets that are made for a wide variety of horse sizes, personalities and activity levels. A sheet, medium-weight blanket and a heavy blanket with a neck cover are three types of blankets that would be beneficial for many horses in the winter. A turnout sheet can also provide an additional level of warmth and protection when layered over stable blankets. Below are a few pointers on the types of blankets that are winter must-haves.

  • Turnout Sheet: A turnout sheet is the perfect option for sunny winter days, when the temperatures are still above freezing. A good turnout sheet should be durable, waterproof and fit comfortably over your horse’s indoor stable blankets to allow for multiple uses.
  • Medium Turnout Blanket: A medium turnout blanket should be used as the temperature starts to drop. The medium turnout blanket will have a liner that attaches to the exterior shell or be made with insulating materials. Brands such as WeatherBeeta, Rambo and Rhino all make good medium turnout blankets that can be used throughout the winter.
  • Heavy Turnout Blanket with Neck Cover: A heavy turnout blanket with a neck cover is the ideal blanket for freezing temperatures. As the name suggests, the heavy blanket is the warmest option, and the neck cover provides much needed protection for your horse’s neck, especially if he is clipped. A heavy turnout blanket with a neck cover can be used in combination with a light sheet for extremely chilly winter days.

Winter Horse Care Supplies

There are several other types of horse care supplies that can be useful in the colder winter months. From wound care to extra hoof-picks, adding the following items to your supply list will help make for a smooth winter:

  • First-aid kit: Stock up on supplies such as vet-wrap, Betadine, gauze, Corona ointment, a thermometer and tri-care wound ointment.
  • Extra hoof picks: During the winter your horse’s feet can become packed with debris, snow, ice and mud. Be sure to keep extra hoof picks handy to remove ice balls and help keep your horse from getting thrush and other hoof ailments.
  • SleekEZ or Shed ‘n’ Blade: Shedding products can help encourage healthy winter coat growth. As horses’ hair grows, the SleekEZ or Shed ‘n’ Blade can be used to get rid of the old hair and help new, healthy hair grow.
  • Clippers: Clippers, as well as a variety of clipper blades, come in handy during the winter for body clipping your horse if necessary. Body clipping can be beneficial if your horse regularly works up a sweat while being ridden, as it will help the horse cool down faster and avoid catching a chill.
  • Extra food, water and supplements: Being prepared is the best method for keeping your horses healthy and happy during the winter months. Keep extra grain, hay, jugs of water, bran and additional supplements on hand for use during inclement weather. It is also a good idea to stock up on a few extra bags of shavings or straw — extra bedding will come in handy on the days that the weather is too harsh for turnout.
  • Heated buckets: If you don’t have warm water to fill your horse’s water buckets, then you should consider purchasing heated buckets. In order to help keep your horse happy and healthy, it is important to have access to unfrozen water to help stay hydrated.
  • Leather care and tack room heaters: During the winter it is easy for leather tack to become cracked and dry. With this in mind, try to keep your tack room warm. Leather conditioners, soap and oil can be used to keep your saddles, bridles and other horse tack clean and supple during the harsh winter months.

As you prepare for the winter weather, remember that it is always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Throughout the winter, stay tuned to weather updates and remember to keep an extra supply of food, fresh water, bedding and blankets handy at all times.

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.

Tour the Equine Digestive Tract

Ever wonder how your horse’s digestive system works? What goes on in there? Why are they so sensitive? And why should I divide the feed ration into 2 or 3 feedings per day? Let’s take a closer look to better understand.

The Equine Digestive Tract:

Digestive Horse Cecum_logo

Mouth & Teeth: Teeth are the beginning of the entire process. Designed to grind foodstuffs into smaller pieces, the act of chewing also stimulates three glands in the mouth to produce saliva. These glands can produce up to 10 gallons per day of saliva. The saliva contains bicarbonate (a natural acid buffer) and amylase (assists with carbohydrate digestion). Teeth are an important component to digestion and should be checked annually to insure proper function. A horse that is unable to effectively chew long stem forage, such as a senior horse, is at higher risk of impaction colic. If you have a horse like this, be sure to consult with your veterinarian for a comprehensive care and feeding program.

Esophagus: The purpose of the esophagus is to funnel food from the mouth to the stomach. Approximately sixty inches in length, this is a one-way passage. Unlike humans, horses cannot vomit. This is why horses who ‘bolt’ their feed (eat too fast and don’t chew adequately) can get into trouble and feeding practices need to be adjusted to reduce the risk of bolting feed.

Stomach: Small in size compared to the rest of the horse’s body, food will only spend about 15 minutes in the stomach before it moves on. The stomach is designed to function best when it is ¾ full; therefore, care takers are encouraged to provide horses with a steady supply of forage throughout the day. Because of the small size, a horse should not be fed more than 0.5% of body weight in one meal. Meals of grain are best divided into 2 or 3 portions per day.

Small Intestine: After leaving the stomach, food will spend anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes here; a good thing with the many nutrients that are absorbed. Nutrients such as proteins (amino acids), vitamins A, D, E and K, calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals along with starches and sugars. Cereal grains such as oats, barley, and corn that are high in carbohydrates (starch and sugar) are easily digested here. The horse doesn’t have a gall bladder, so bile from the liver flows directly into the small intestine to aid in the digestion of fat.

Large Intestine: is comprised of the cecum, large colon, small colon and rectum.

  • The cecum is located on the right side of the horse and is where fiber is digested and converted to energy and heat. The shape of the cecum is unique because the entrance and exit are located at the top of the organ. Able to hold up to 10 gallons of food and water, the cecum contains populations of bacteria and microbes which further break down food (fiber) for digestion and absorption. These microbes are accustomed to digesting a horse’s ‘normal’ diet, so any adjustments in feed or forage should be done slowly, allowing the microbes to adjust.
    • If a horse consumes too much starch in one meal, it is unlikely to be digested fully in the small intestine. It would pass through the small intestine into the cecum where the microbial organisms rapidly ferment the starch, producing excessive gas and lactic acid that could ultimately cause digestive upset or colic.
  • The large colon continues the digestive process by absorbing additional fiber components and water. This is where B vitamins are absorbed.
  • The small colon is where excess moisture is reclaimed to the body. This is also where the formation of fecal balls occurs.
  • The rectum is where the fecal balls are expelled.

With this short tour and explanation, we hope you have a better understanding of how your horse digests and absorbs nutrients, and that this also sheds light on why good feeding management and regular dentistry care are important aspect for the digestive health and overall well-being of your horse.

Prepare Your Horse For The Winter Months

Toby Snow 28Throughout the year, tending to your horse’s needs requires you to be prepared for a variety of conditions. When the temperature falls and the winds grow colder, you should be prepared with the proper gear, supplies and accessories to keep your horse healthy and happy during the upcoming months. Learn more about caring for your horse during the winter so you can be prepared well before the first frost.

Water and Food

  • Food for Health and Warmth. Food digestion is a primary source of warmth for your horse, which means your horse’s caloric needs can increase during the colder months. Use quality forage, combined with grain, as recommended by an equine nutritionist to sustain warmth and maintain caloric intake.
  • Wintertime Hydration. Even though your horse might eat snow while it’s outside, fresh water is still important for wintertime hydration. A supply of (non-frozen) water, ideally above 45 degrees, will keep your horse hydrated and aid in digestion.
  • Mouth Health. Healthy teeth and mouth allow your horse to drink and eat without discomfort. It’s wise to have an equine veterinarian check your horse’s teeth and mouth to ensure he can eat comfortably and maintain the right caloric intake for weight maintenance throughout winter.

Comfort and Warmth

  • Your Horse’s Natural Coat. If possible, allow your horse’s coat to grow during the winter months. Its natural thickness provides your horse with the extra insulation needed to keep its body warm as the weather gets colder, as a layer of warm air is trapped below the surface.
  • Provide Extra Warmth. There are times when you must clip your horse’s coat to keep them cool while working in the winter or in preparation for a show . For this reason, or because you’ve got an older horse, extra warmth can increase the horse’s comfort throughout winter. A waterproof, breathable blanket or coat will come in handy for days when your horse needs an extra layer to stay warm.
  • Shelter During Winter. The warmest natural coat isn’t always enough to protect your horse from cold temperatures. A strong wind can cut right through it, and a wet coat can quickly lose its insulating ability. Provide your horse with shelter from wind, snow and rain so it can enjoy pasture time and still have access to an area that will protect it from the elements.
  • Wintertime Riding. When riding your horse during the winter months, be careful to warm them up properly and ensure any sweaty areas are fully dried since this can cause the horse to later become chilled. Likewise, maintain care of horse riding tack and the proper saddle so that it doesn’t become cracked and dry from the cold air, causing it to become less effective.

Tending to Health

  • Controlling Parasites. Consult with the equine veterinarian for wintertime parasite control. Once the first frost has occurred, you may want to give your horse something to kill bot larvae.
  • Barn Pest Control. People and horses aren’t the only creatures that seek warm places in wintertime. Other pests are likely to find their way into the barn. Discourage and control pests by keeping food storage in sealed containers. Likewise, store blankets, leather products and other materials that could be used for nests in sealed storage spaces.
  • Vaccinations. Good health is pivotal to staying comfortable and warm from the first frost until the temperatures begin to rise again. Part of your effort to maintain your horse’s health should include any necessary vaccinations as autumn transitions to winter.
  • Take Care of Hooves. Hoof growth occurs throughout the year. Maintain hoof care year-round. Consider having your farrier use winter studs for traction and snowball pads to keep snow from accumulating inside the bottom of the hoof.

Wintertime Storage

Make it easy to access everything you need throughout the winter months by putting away the seasonal items you won’t need again until spring. By organizing your barn storage space, you can avoid wasting time searching for supplies and spend it grooming or caring for your horse. In conjunction with preparing your horse for winter, you can also be prepared by getting organized and ready to spend quality time with your equine friend this winter.

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.

Do You Know the Feeding Rate For Your Horse Feed?

scooping feedI was visiting with some friends at a recent horse owners meeting. I saw a trainer I had visited several times in the past few years, answering nutrition questions and making recommendations. I asked how his horses were doing and if he had made any changes to his feed program. He replied that he had switched to a competitor’s product a few months ago and the results were terrible. His horses had lost weight, their coats were dull and he went back to feeding his old mill mix.

I asked which product he was feeding in particular and if he was feeding it to all of his horses? He had chosen a product that was designed for maintenance level horses, not show horses or breeding stock. For horses working harder an added supplementation and proper feed rates would be imperative.

Although I was disappointed he hadn’t tried Nutrena products, I went on to ask if he followed the directions on the tag? He responded that he can never figure out all that garbage on the tag and fed his horses as he always does. There was part of the problem!

A feed tag will give you a statement of purpose, what type of horse and life style it is formulated to be fed. Next it will list the recommended feed rate. This can vary from 1/4 pound to 2 pounds per hundred pounds of body weight, depending on the fortification and quality of nutrients.

I was familiar with the product he had tried and their feed rate for horses working at a performance level would be 1.5 pounds per hundred pounds of body weight, or 15 pounds per day for a 1000 horse. This would have to be broken down into 3 feedings to be fed at a safe consumption rate, and could also mean added labor for his farm, not a bargain.

When I mentioned what I believed was the recommended feed rate for the product he was surprised. He said he would never feed that much of a concentrate to any horse. Again, he reiterated he doesn’t have time to read tags and do the math. I told him it is like making a box cake. You need to follow the directions, if you don’t use the entire box of cake mix, you won’t get the desired results. He did laugh at my remark, but I also think he understood the concept.

Does My Horse Need a Diet or Exercise Change?

I recently taught an Equine Nutrition class to a group of seniors at an area college.  Our focus for the classroom lecture was dietary assessment by body condition scoring, weight and topline evaluation.   After the lecture I conducted a lab to apply hands on practice of what we had just reviewed.

One of the students asked if we could evaluate her horse during the lab session. The evaluation proved to be a classroom classic. The horse was a 4 year old Warmblood gelding. He was 17.1 hands and 1350 pounds. The horse at first glance appeared to be round and in good flesh, but as I ran my hands over his withers and back you could feel a lack of muscle and coverage.hand feeding red size

I asked the student what the horse’s current diet consisted of, she replied 20 pounds of first cutting hay per day and 8 pounds of locally grown oats. The calorie content of the diet appeared to be sufficient, however the amino acid balance was lacking. The student also mentioned she had her saddle recently refitted and the chiropractor out because the horse was having back issues.

With the move to college, the horse’s workload had increased and the need for additional fortification was obvious. I suggested that the student purchase a ration balancer to balance the needs of the young horse’s diet and help replenish his topline.

One of the students in the lab then challenged my recommendation.  She stated that she was an Equine Physiology major and felt my diagnosis was incorrect. She felt that by working the horse in a more collected manner, engaging his hind quarters and coming up under him would help to strengthen and develop his topline. She thought he looked fat and did not need to change his diet.

I went on to explain that the horse’s current diet was similar to a young child that would be on a straight rice diet, which is deficient in amino acids. You would see a round abdomen, but lack of muscle mass. If that child were getting ready to compete in a marathon, I doubt running extra laps would increase muscle mass, unless we supplemented the diet properly.

Again, your horse will tell you what is lacking in his diet, if you just take the time to look.

Blood Circulation Matters to Horses

Henry MusclesYour horse’s circulation impacts many areas of his life and health,  delivering oxygen and nutrients to every cell in his body while aiding in various body functions. Because of this, good circulation offers many tangible benefits. It helps to keep your horse’s muscles strong, ensure optimal hoof health, speed recovery after injury or disease, reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis, and even improve your horse’s coat.

Here are the basics

With so much riding on good circulation (no pun intended) it’s important to aid that natural process in your horse as much as possible. Here are a few basic blood circulation improvement tips for your horse.

  • Exercise: Regular exercise is the first thing to consider if you want to maintain or improve your horse’s circulation. Regular exercise gets the muscles contracting and the heart pumping, thereby increasing blood flow to all your horse’s tissues and organs. On the correct footing, exercise helps to increase blood circulation to your horse’s hooves as well, encouraging proper formation and growth.
  • Grooming: Grooming should always be a part of your horse’s care routine. Brushing removes dirt, dead skin cells and shed hair, while also increasing blood flow to the skin, which will give your horse a healthier coat. Consider replacing metal or plastic curry combs with rubber ones. The rubber “fingers” on the comb work just as well and without the possibility of scratching your horse’s skin.
  • Massage: Massage is a great way to increase your horse’s circulation. It can benefit both the muscles and the skin, and is also a wonderful way to spend quality time with your horse. You can simply massage your horse’s back and shoulder muscles with your hands, just as you would a person. Watch your horse for clues as to what feels good and what doesn’t. Electric equine massagers are also available. Another option to consider is using a massaging gel pad under your saddle. This gives your horse a gentle massage every time you ride, encouraging blood flow to the muscles in his back while preventing saddle sores at the same time.
  • Relaxation: One unique aspect of the horse circulatory system, according to an article on Equimed.com, is the role the spleen plays in blood circulation. As in all mammals, your horse’s spleen removes damaged and diseased red and white blood cells from the blood. But, unlike in other animals, your horse’s spleen can enlarge and contract. In a relaxed state, the spleen enlarges, allowing in more blood and making it possible for the organ to work more efficiently as it cleans the blood. Continual stress can impede this process, since both stress and exercise cause the spleen to contract. By helping your horse into a relaxed state, you are allowing this normal and healthy process to take place. Relaxing activities might include brushing, massage, bathing or simply allowing your horse time to unwind in an open pasture.
  • Keep it cool: When your horse is overheated, according to an article on Horse & Rider, vessels in both his skin and lungs enlarge. This is the body’s natural attempt to shed excess body heat. Unfortunately, this also means that blood is being shunted away from your horse’s brain and major organs. By educating yourself on the dangers of overheating in horses and taking the necessary steps to prevent it, you are not only saving your horse from heat stress, you are also aiding his overall circulation.
  • High-tech options: Horse owners today have access to some amazing high-tech options for improving their horses’ circulation; options that weren’t available just a few years ago. Circulation-improving products include ceramic infused blankets designed to radiate body heat back into the muscles, vibrating stall floors and even hyperbaric chambers designed just for horses.

You know your horse and which of these techniques he will or won’t tolerate. Remember, even the most even-tempered horse can kick or bite when it feels provoked, so always approach your horse with reasonable caution.

Of course, you should also check with your veterinarian before adding any new process to your horse’s health care routine. Every horse has different needs and health issues; your vet can tell you which of the options discussed above are best for your horse’s individual needs.

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.