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Archive for the ‘Feeding and Nutrition’ Category

Even though horses voluntarily eat snow in the winter, they require free choice water to prevent dehydration. Requiring them to obtain their needed water from snow would be a full time job and take precious body heat to melt the snow.

It is best if the water is not ice cold as it can be uncomfortable on a horse’s teeth and gastrointestinal tract and chill the horse as he drinks.

It is best if the water is not hot, so if using heated watering devices, be sure they are set to keep water from freezing but not so hot the water is on the verge of boiling !!

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Friends and family around the country tell me how scarce and pricey hay is this winter. It seems like every year one section of the country has a drought or flood or something that affects or even wipes out the hay crop.

Even though good hay might be tough to find in your area, don’t be tempted to feed moldy hay to your horses.

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When shown a bale of premium hay and one of poor quality, most horsemen would have little difficulty deciding which bale they would like to take home and feed to their horses.  But since the average bale of hay has one or more defects and because the hay-buyer’s budget enters into the picture, choosing hay, in actuality, is often not so easy.  The many factors which should be considered when selecting hay all relate directly to the growing and harvesting of the hay.  Understanding the hay-making process from the ground up can help you make wise decisions when it comes to buying your winter supply of hay.

Choosing Good Quality Hay

    Good quality hay should be leafy, fine-stemmed, and adequately but not overly dry.  Since two-thirds of the plant nutrients are in the leaves, the leaf-to-stem ratio should be high.  The hay should not be brittle but instead soft to the touch, with little shattering of the leaves.  Lost leaves mean lost nutrition.  There should be no excessive moisture that could cause overheating and spoilage.

     Good quality hay should be free of mold, dust, and weeds and have a bright green color and a fresh smell.  In some instances, placing too much emphasis on color may be misleading in hay selection.  Although the bright green color indicates a high vitamin A (beta carotene) content,  some hays might be somewhat pale due to bleaching and may still be of good quality.  Bleaching is caused by the interaction of dew or other moisture, the rays of the sun, and high ambient temperatures.  Brown hay, however, indicates a loss of nutrients due to excess water or heat damage and should be avoided.

     Hay which is dusty, moldy, or musty smelling is not suitable for horses.  Not only is it unpalatable, but it can contribute to respiratory diseases.  Moldy hay can also be toxic to horses and may cause colic or abortion.  Bales should not contain undesirable objects or noxious weeds.  Check for sticks, wire, blister beetles, poisonous plants, thistle, or plants with barbed awns such as foxtail or cheat grass.

     Making premium horse hay involves a valuable balance of knowledge and skill.  From a horseman’s standpoint, there’s nothing like snipping the strings on a bale mid-winter and finding soft, green, leafy hay inside.  Horses thrive on such hay and require little, if any, grain supplementation. 


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Horses should have access to salt at all times. I provide each of my horses with two salt blocks. One is a plain white salt block that is simply table salt; sodium chloride. The other is a calcium/phosphorus trace mineral salt block. It is sometimes called a 12:12 block because it contains 12% calcium and 12% phosphorus or an equal ratio of calcium to phosphorus, which is good for most adult horses.

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Hi Cherry
I have a, well, almost 3 year old Quarter Horse mare. Last time I weighed her she was about 800 pounds or so. She is a small girl, about 13 hands. The lady who feeds her I think is feeding her too much (a flake of alfalfa in the morning along with some oat, and some grass and oat at night) Though I think that oat doesn’t matter- for it’s just a filler, Ive been told.
A size 32 cinch is WAY to small on my horse and barely can go around her stomach.
Though she is stalky and so is her family, is she too obese for her size? I am worried about that. Jen

Hi Jen,

I wrote requesting you send me a photo of the mare as that would be helpful in formulating an answer. Without that visual, I’m going to refer you to several articles on my website that will help you get started in evaluating your horse’s weight.

What is the correct weight of a horse?

What should this horse weigh?

How do I put my horse on a diet?

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When my dear hubby Richard built my scriptorium (the cottage where I write) he put in lots and lots of bookshelves…..that was, well, I don’t want to say HOW many years ago but a long time !!

The shelves are now overflowing and its time to downsize my collection.

Most of the books are new or like new. Many have never been opened. Some are current titles and others are vintage and out of print. I’ll be adding a handful every week or so, so keep an eye on Used Horse Books.

Likewise, Richard is also going through his video and DVD collection.

We hope you find something you need or have been looking for.

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Help!  I have a wonderful 5 yr old QH mare that started stall kicking before feeding time and now pins her ears and bites at the stall wall while eating her grain or hay.  She is destroying the stall bit by bit.  We tried kicking chains to no avail.  Now we are using a horseshoe around her heel  and it seems to be working. However, she is still bodyslamming into the wall and pinning and biting the wall while eating.  We have no idea why she is doing this or what is causing her to be so nervous.  We purchased her in May and this didn’t begin until mid July, while we were away on vacation.  She has been treated for a capped hock numerous times and I don’t want this to get worse.  I had my trainer take her for a week and the kicking stopped.  Now that she is back in our barn it has begun again.  I have also talked with my farrier.  I need help as we love her dearly and don’t want her lame.  Unfortunately, we are stuck using our neighborhood barn and can’t really change her schedule.
She goes out at 7:30 am after feeding, to her paddock.  we bring her in at dinnertime and she stays in her stall at night. She is ridden by my 10 year old daughter and myself.  She gets 2 days off a week as be both take a lesson as well.  I would appreciate any guidance you could give.  Sincerely, Kim

Dear Kim,

Behavior such as you describe can have a variety of causes. Some are physical factors which you should discuss with your veterinarian. Others could be more psychological which can be modified with management and training. Observation and figuring out the cause is the first step.

Physical causes could include hormones and eating discomfort.

Mares can be “nervous” as you say, but usually only during certain times of their estrous cycle, so if this happens all the time year round, then hormones are probably not part of the cause.

If a horse is uncomfortable when eating, anywhere along the digestive tract from the teeth to the esophagus to the stomach to the intestines, the horse might exhibit odd body movements.

The most likely psychological explanation would be that it is an exhibition of “pecking order” behavior. At your “neighborhood” barn, if there is a horse in the next stall, your mare could be reacting to that horse’s presence. When eating, she might exhibit aggressive behavior on the stall wall with biting and body slamming to communicate to her next door neighbor – stay away, this feed is mine.

When at the trainer’s the behavior might have disappeared because there was no horse in the next stall or the horse next door was not a threat.

When working on changing a horse’s behavior, always start with the obvious things first:

Check to be sure the feed ration is appropriate

Make sure the horse is receiving adequate exercise and turnout time

Make sure the horse has no health issues such as dental problems, intestinal discomfort and the like.

Change the horse’s companions and neighbors to see if that is changes the behavior.


Best of luck and let me know what you observe and determine!

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This time of year when we have brought the horses in from winter pasture and they are enjoying full service pen life, we give them a taste of alfalfa every day. I think of it more as a top-dressing on their native grass hay.

I feed each horse 1 pound of high quality alfalfa per day. I figure that’s like giving them a tonic, a vitamin pill, some extra protein and calcium without inviting problems.

Here’s a question I got from a reader that you might find interesting.

Hi Cherry,

I have an ex-reiner now roping horse, he gets bored very easily. He is constantly playing in his water (even when I work him EVERY DAY). He plays in his water and pees constantly. I do not have a pasture to put him in but I can transfer him from my arena to stall daily. He is always ruining his stall by peeing and making it a lake…what is the best bedding that lasts the longest and stays dry for a continuous pee’er?? ANY info would be appreciated…

Cheri


Dear Cheri,

As always, it is good to get your veterinarian involved in such a conversation since frequent urination is a symptom of some serious health concerns. However, I’ll try to head you in the right direction with the information you provided.

First of all, a bored horse playing in his water won’t necessarily urinate excessively. It is a horse that drinks excessively that urinates excessively. So we need to figure out why he is drinking so much.

Frequent urination in horses can be caused by many factors. Here are a few:

  • A sign of a mare being in heat. But since you say “he”, then this is not the reason.
  • A horse that has colic. But since this is a continuous symptom, it is unlikely to be colic every day !
  • A reaction to a pasture plant or weed. There are so many that could cause a horse to drink more water than normal to rid his body of toxins or other chemical compounds. I don’t have any details about your pasture but this is one area that is suspect.
  • A symptom of Cushing’s Disease or kidney or liver problems, most often in older horses. You do say this is an ex-reiner, which may mean he is older so this could also be a possibility.
  • A glucose intolerance in an older horses who after eating have increased thirst and urination. Again, if he is a senior horse, this could be an explanation.
  • A symptom of blister beetle poisoning. Horses that ingest blister beetles in their alfalfa hay and suffer toxicity show behavioral signs of repeated splashing of the muzzle in water and frequent urination, among other symptoms. However, since you say your horse does this all the time, it is unlikely that this is the cause, but for sake of completeness, I wanted to include it. But it does lead me to the final item which is most likely the culprit.
  • A symptom of a horse that is fed alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is very high protein feed, up to 20% protein. An adult horse does not require that much protein. And in order to convert protein into an energy fuel, a horse’s digestive system has to work hard and as a result his metabolic rate and temperature rise. That means, in most cases, a loose, watery stool and a warm horse. Already I am getting thirsty.

Also, alfalfa is very high in calcium, too high to meet the ideal 2:1 Calcium:Phosphorus ratio unless you feed the horse a lot of grain (grain is high in phosphorus) to balance it out. But that would not be good.

Excess protein can lead to kidney problems and frequent urination to get rid of the excess protein in the diet. And excess calcium can lead to kidney stones.

And speaking of stones, enteroliths (intestinal stones) are directly linked to an alfalfa diet. I wonder if you live in one of these states which have a higher incidence of enteroliths and which are states where alfalfa is a common horse feed?

        • California
        • New Mexico
        • Texas
        • Florida
        • Utah
        • Arizona
        • Nevada
        • and others

Well, you can tell I am not a big fan of feeding horses alfalfa hay. Is that what you have been feeding your horse? If so, it could explain his abnormal thirst and frequent urination. If you change to a grass hay, his stall will probably no longer be a lake and you won’t have to search for that super absorbent bedding.

Best of luck,   Cherry Hill

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Here in the Colorado foothills, we are way behind in snowfall for the Winter 2010-11 season. (Thankfully the mountains above us are above average, sending good moisture down to our creek.) The wildfire season has already begun in Colorado.

But even without moisture, the pastures started greening up last week and we saw the horses micro-grazing, nipping 1/8″ bits of green grass, which of course is very hard on drought-stricken emerging grass.

Nipper Micro Grazing

So we brought all the horses in and they are now in sacrifice pens and back on full hay rations.

Hoping for rain or even snow !

Take care of your land and that good horse.

 

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Hi Cherry,

My old guys (Teddy is 22 and Brighty is “not yet 25” according to my vet) are getting up there in years and I want to be sure I’m doing everything I can to keep them feeling good as long as possible. Any general tips?

Briana

Hello Briana,

You’ve got a couple oldies but goodies ! Well here is some general information about older horses and some guidelines for their care. Let me know if you have more specific questions.

Cherry

Senior Horse Care

©  2011 Cherry Hill

Time flies and soon that good horse is a little gray around the muzzle. Even if your horse is over 20, you still can continue using and enjoying him or her. You just need to give some special attention to his care.

Value of a Seasoned Senior

Many folks say old horses make good teachers. Old is not necessarily synonymous with good. But if a senior horse had thorough training and a wide range of experience, he can be a valuable mentor. Seasoned seniors are usually calm and stable. They’ve been there and done that…and then some. There’s nothing like an old timer to take a kid for her first lope or to give confidence to a novice adult rider.

Seniors are valuable role models for young horses too. A good pony horse makes the tag-along yearling obedient and confident. When trailering, a senior can exude “What’s the big deal?” and soon the colt in the next stall relaxes and starts munching. On the trail, an unflappable veteran shows the way past rock monsters and through creeks. And for just plain osmosis, there’s nothing better than having a good old horse around to show junior the ropes. It’s just too bad our good horses can’t last forever, but at least today, they are lasting longer.

Many of today’s horses get high quality care and, like humans, they are living to ripe old ages. In the past a horse in its late teens was approaching the end of his life but now the average lifespan is the mid-twenties with many ponies and Arabians in their thirties.

Signs of Aging

A 20-year-old horse is the approximate equivalent of a 60-year-old person but when and how a horse ages is extremely variable. Some senior horses are raring to go while others prefer to vegetate. Horses can reproduce later in life than humans can. Healthy mares kept on a regular breeding program can foal well into their twenties and semen can be viable in stallions as old as 30.

Seniors often grow thicker, longer winter coats and might hold onto them past spring. Just as we gray around the temples at varying ages and degrees, some horses gray around the muzzle, lower jaw and eye sockets. Other cosmetic changes include hollow depressions above the eyes, a hanging lower lip and loss of skin and muscle tone. Common problems of aging are arthritis, colic, heaves, laminitis, lameness, general stiffness, poor digestion, decreased kidney function, and an overall lack of energy.

When an older horse starts slowing down, you can call it lazy, laid-back or just plain exhausted – but the fact is, time does take its toll. Fortunately you can increase a senior’s energy level and prevent many ailments through proper management and exercise.

Shelter

Provide the veteran with comfortable accommodations. On our place, the Luxury Senior Suite is a 12′ x 50′ south facing pen with a 32-foot long wrap around wind wall. The barn roof extends over 1/3 of the pen and half of the covered area is rubber-matted for feeding. It’s an ideal combination of indoor/outdoor living which suits most horses to a T. The pen is adjacent to an indoor stall for bitter cold weather and it’s ten steps away from a 10-acre turnout pasture.

In my estimation, life in a stall takes its toll on any horse, but especially a senior. The small space and lack of regular exercise just spells STIFFNESS! If a senior horse must live indoors, he needs regular exercise. In addition, dust and ammonia in the barn must be eliminated. Dusty bedding, moldy feed, dust raised from aisle sweepers and other airborne debris can contribute to the respiratory disorder heaves (COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Ammonia fumes, which are generated from decomposing manure, urine and bedding, are caustic to the respiratory tract of both horses and humans. Keep stalls clean and be sure the barn is well ventilated.

Many horses are happiest living on pasture. For free-minded old timers, choose a pasture that has enough room to roam but not so much lush grazing that it leads to an unhealthy weight gain. No matter where a senior lives, provide a soft place for him to lie down for at least a portion of the day.

As horses get older, they have less tolerance for temperature extremes so your horsekeeping practices might need to be re-evaluated year round. For protection from winter wind and snow, an in-and-out shed is ideal. But oddly, many horses choose to stand out in a blizzard so you may need to provide a stall or storm blanket. A waterproof-breathable winter blanket with long sides, tail flap, and neck protection can function as a mobile horse house and keep your senior toasty.

During the summer, provide shade, ventilation and fly protection. A roof strategically located where it takes advantage of natural breezes is ideal. Add a PVC mesh fly sheet and a pasture horse will have UV and fly protection. Large barn fans can be used to cool stalled horses and chase flies.

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