For the Horse Who Has Everything
© 2010 Cherry Hill
Is there is a special horse on your Christmas list that you would like to thank in some way for his enjoyable partnership and devotion to duty? If so, show that you really appreciate him by choosing something that a horse would enjoy. Pass up the reindeer antlers and choose something from this, a horse’s Christmas wish list.
As you might suspect, with horses, food items top the list. If you have several horses, you can wish them all happy holidays with a truck load of carrots. Some farms sell a pick up load for $100 or so delivered. If you have a cool shady place to store them, they will likely keep until the last one is fed. Carrots provide a welcome diversion to the horse’s normal ration and can be a healthy reward for good behavior. Carrots are an excellent sources of carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A. Vitamin A is usually the only vitamin that ever needs to be supplemented in a horse’s diet. If a horse is not receiving green sun-cured hay, he may not be getting adequate carotene. If a truck load is not an option, then set aside the $$ to buy large bags of carrots or apples, especially affordable if you belong to a buyer’s club like Sam’s. If you’re on a tight budget, you’d be surprised at how many perfectly good (for horses) carrots and apples are thrown away by grocery stores every day. Make friends with your local produce manager and arrange to pick up goodies for your horse regularly.
When the temperature dips, oatmeal makes a healthy and warming breakfast for you. Likewise, at the barn, during cold weather, your horse might relish a hot grain mash. It takes a little practice and some testing to see what grains and mash consistency appeal to each horse. Don’t think of wheat bran as the only choice for a mash. In fact, wheat bran, fed on a daily basis, can be detrimental since it could add too much phosphorus to your horse’s diet. There should be no such problem if you only feed wheat bran once a week. But also experiment with mashes made from rolled oats, sweet feed, cracked corn, barley, shredded beet pulp, a handful of molasses or a pinch of salt, some oil or chopped apples or carrots and you are on your way to satisfying your horse’s culinary pleasures (or at least enjoying the benevolent feeling you get from trying!).
Measure and mix the dry ingredients the night before and bring them to the house in a pail. When you put the water on for your tea the next morning, boil some extra water for the mash. Usually a 4:1 ratio of grains to boiling water is satisfactory for most horses. It is best to err on the dry side rather than the mushy side. Stir as you pour the water. Let the mash steep in a warm place for about thirty minutes, preferably covered so it can steam. Check the temperature and serve. Take a mug of hot tea out to the barn for yourself, find a warm corner to sit and then listen to the contented slurpings of your appreciative buddies. And know that beside the nutritional benefits, a mash during cold weather can provide your horse with the needed moisture he might be reluctant to sip from a cold bucket.
Swirl a candy cane in your horse’s water pail? This is not just a frivolous holiday act but can have a practical application. Peppermint oil is one substance that can be used to disguise water for the horse that is often “on the road” and will be offered different types of water to drink. Using an aromatic and tasty substance in his water while he is both at home and away, may be the best gift you give a reluctant drinker.
A tasty treat that doubles as a pacifier for the a horse that is stalled during cold weather is a molasses grain block. Sold across the country under hundreds of local feed mill labels, these blocks should be considered as an occasional supplement to the horse’s normal diet. Under most feeding circumstances, they are unnecessary, but horses dearly love them. Comprised of grain products, molasses and minerals, the forty to fifty pound cubes have a wonderful smell and a texture that entices horses to both lick and chew them. Similar products are made for sheep and cattle, but contain a synthetic source of protein called urea which horses can’t utilize. For horses, it is important to purchase the “premium” horse version which contains protein from plant sources, such as soybean meal. Most horses appear to enjoy these large “candy bar blocks” and, in fact, some horses are determined to finish an entire block all at once. If your horse falls in this category, you will have to roll the block out of his stall or pen each day and only let him have access to it for a limited period of time. Be sure he always has adequate water available, as even the small percentage of salt in most of these blocks will increase your horse’s thirst reflex – which is a good thing during cold weather.
Probably the next most popular request on a horse’s wish list is his desire to be allowed to be a horse. Many horses like nothing better than to nose around a pasture inspecting roots and sticks and tracing recent equine history. From observations, it seems like a roll in the mud or the snow is hard to beat on the equine list of all time favorite recreational activities. Contrary to our guidelines, horses see nothing wrong in being dirty or having their manes flop over to both sides of their necks.
Depending on the type of winter management that you follow, you may wish To Groom or Not To Groom. A pasture horse, left to his natural devices, grows a thick protective coat and further seals his skin from wind and moisture by accumulating a heavy waxy sebum at the base of his hairs. Horses that are turned out for the winter should not be extensively groomed, lest you inadvertently remove your horse’s valuable oily protection. The best gift for the pastured horse is to let his waxy layer stay intact (no vigorous currying), let his coat be fluffy (not smoothed down by brushing) and to offer him shelter from wet weather or piercing winter winds.
If your horse would be more comfortable with a winter blanket, be sure to choose a waterproof, breathable one that can be easily laundered so you’ll perform that task when necessary. Read the two articles in the Horse Information Roundup that relate to winter blankets to help you choose and use a winter blanket properly.
The stalled horse that is in work not only appreciates but requires vigorous grooming. A special Christmas session might include body stropping which is an isotonic muscle exercise. You can use a cactus cloth or a wisp for the stropping. It’s a vigorous exercise which includes pounding the large muscle masses of the neck, shoulder and hindquarter with moderate pressure which stimulates circulation and then casting off waste products with a sweeping motion. Massage your horse’s legs with your hands using a circular motion toward the heart. Massage your horse’s head with an ear rub for the finale – inside and out ending with a slight pulling as you slide your fingers off the tips of your horse’s ears. Be forewarned – horses given such a body rub are likely to melt in a puddle!
If the cold weather has kept your horse in and he is lonely, he might appreciate a stall companion. Some friendships just happen and do not have to be arranged. Cats, chickens, lambs and dogs have been known to voluntarily take up quarters with a compatible horse. The daily treks and routines of both horse and companion provide interest and comfort for each other. Pigmy goats and other pets or small livestock can sometimes be successfully transplanted in a lonely horse’s stall.
As we know, the holiday season is not complete without family and friends. And so it is with equines. A real treat, especially for a stalled horse, is to be turned out with a favorite (compatible!) companion. There is nothing quite so joyous as two buddies ripping and tearing in the paddock, playing all the bucking and twisting games that are so important in the horse world. Even though mutual grooming can mess up a lovely mane, it provides unequaled satisfaction and contentment for a horse that is starved for socialization
If you feel you must give an actual present to your horse, perhaps an innovative stall toy is the answer. Designed to wile away the hours and discourage wood chewing and other vices, stall toys can channel pent up energies toward non-destructive play. Commercial models are often huge rubber balls but a gallon milk container can works too. Experiment with hanging the toy from various heights. Note that if your horse becomes obsessed with playing with a toy, you may see some undesirable changes in the curvature of his neck so monitor how he plays and what height is optimum. A variation on this idea is giving a horse a sturdy beach ball to play with in a small paddock or indoor arena.
Horses are appreciative when we make their work easier and more comfortable. One way to do this is to make sure he is shod for balance, comfort and safety year round. A consultation with an equine veterinary specialist or a master farrier may turn up some helpful ideas regarding your horse ‘s shoeing. Besides checking for proper break-over and flat landing, you may be introduced to new ways to provide safe footing for winter riding.
Another way to make a horse’s work easier is to become a more physically fit and athletic rider. Give your horse the gift of becoming a more effective rider. Promise to stick with the suppling exercises that help you to mount smoothly and ride more fluidly. Lose a few pounds to ease his burden. Strengthen your body and become a working member of the team, not just a passenger. Make a New Year’s Resolution to take some riding lessons to improve yourself so that you are a better member of your horse-human team.
Finally, let your horse luxuriate in some peace and quiet. Offer him a comfortable place where he can doze or lay without distracting lights and noises. Let him sigh and whinny in his sleep and wake when he’s ready. Peace.