Feeding horses can be enough of a challenge, without having to wonder if what you’ve heard lately is true. Here, we bust five common horse feed myths to help you out.
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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?
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.
As with any season, winter has a few must-have 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Throughout 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
Comfort and Warmth
Tending to Health
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
Your 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.
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.