Thursday, June 25, 2009

Equine necessities

Just a quick blog on what our horses need versus what they don't need. In our quest to provide the best for our horses, we sometimes overdo ourselves a little. That and there is so much confusing and conflicting information out there to the individual new to horses. So what do horses need, versus what they do not need?

Room to roam:
Horses in the wild can roam up to 80km in one day - keeping them locked up in a stall is completely unnatural to them. The lack of mental stimulation causes many horses to partake in unhealthy activities such as weaving, cribbing, stall-walking, etc. A lot of the horses who take up such activities will continue to do so later, even if kept in a different, more natural environment - it's a mental cycle difficult to break. Physical factors that develop as a result of stress and vices may continue to contribute to a horse's habits and well-being long-term. Many horses are also "hot" as a result of being cooped up - they've got all this energy and nowhere to put it! When they are finally released from their "prison", they want to release all that pent up energy. Then we reprimand them for doing so! Keeping a horse in as natural a setting as possible is essential to their well-being, regardless of that horse's value. Turnout is not typically enough, and daily work under-saddle is not enough either. Another benefit of a horse out on pasture is improved physical strength and durability. Walking, running, and playing allows for the build-up of muscles and other structures, that ensure a sound, healthy life. Keeping your horse out on pasture is not only usually cheaper, but it is healthier for your horse - both mentally and physically. The walk out there is well worth it to your horse! Constant motion and activity (ie, a horse on pasture) is much better for a horse as it pertains to long-term soundness, as opposed to long periods of inactivity with only intermittent periods of physical stress.

Blankets:
I bang my head on the steering wheel whenever I drive past yet another horse wearing a heavy blanket. In 30C weather!!! A show coat is not worth your horse's comfort! This method of thinking is actually erroneous to start, because a horse's coat will be determined by exposure to light as opposed to being blanketed or not. Horses have their own coats, and for the most part, do not need artificial coats. From Thoroughbred to Quarter Horse, nearly every horse will grow the coat they require for the environment they live in, even despite former conditions they lived in prior years. I have met exceptions for sure (my own Quarab and one of my Thoroughbreds being two), but for the most part, horses do not need blankets. My Quarab shivers in the winter like there is no tomorrow, despite a heavy winter coat. One of our Thoroughbreds spent this last winter blanketed as well due to chiropractic issues and body soreness - we blanketed him in an attempt to keep his muscles warm so he could be more comfortable. He does not stay warm well either. However horses do not automatically need extra warmth in cold weather (yes, even down to -50C), the oils in their coat serves nicely as waterproof protection, and their tails make great fly-swishers. Take it case-by-case whether or not your horse needs added protection on a given day, whether it be a fly sheet or rain sheet or a winter blanket. Sometimes we do blanket our horses for our own sense of security and this can be okay, just so long as the horse's best interests are always served (ie, no heavy blankets in the middle of summer, etc).

Fly masks:
I have to admit we do not flymask our horses much. Personally, I hate having to later look for that same mask out in the pasture! Haha. We have masked the odd horse though that was very sensitive to bugs and that needed the additional protection, and I certainly advocate for the use of masks where necessary. Some individuals even use them for sun protection - as sort of sunglasses - and it seems to not go unappreciated by their horses. In this case, it's not hurting your horse to wear a mask and your horse is probably going to appreciate the mask in many cases. Be careful though to make sure the mask can always come loose (ie. velcro straps) should the need arise. Furthermore, teach your horse to release to pressure and to think through scary situations - that way if he is ever caught, he won't thrash around and hurt himself.

Feed:
Seems every time a horse goes into work, their owner starts shoving immense amounts of grain at him. I'll do a blog on feeds in the near-ish future, but for now, suffice it to say that most horses do not require grain. Make sure - via a vet (preferably a nutritionist) - that your horse's energy needs are being met, but not overdone. Over-feeding can be critical to your horse's health - founder, colic, tying up, excessive energy - all are potential problems that can arise when a horse is overfed concentrates. Start off with top-quality hay - feed little and often (as close to nature as possible). Nibble nets such as these or these or the Nibble Net, might be your friend. Your typical horse requires 10-20 percent of its body weight in roughage; increase the quantity of quality roughage before moving to supplementing for weight gain or increased activity. After that, you can add in fatty foods such as beet pulp, to up a horse's weight (in lieu of more grains). On another note, be aware of your horse, and his nutritional requirements, and do your research. One thing to watch out for, is a horse eating manure. This is often a sign of mineral deficiencies. Our average horse kept out on overgrazed, boarding pasture, is often lacking in nutrients, so look into possibly supplementing with a mineral mix, such as Hoffmans. Ration balancers are great for where your hay is lacking. Keep in mind while soybean meal is a great way of adding weight, that some horses are very sensitive to soy. One other note to be aware of is that turnout on grass needs to be done gradually. Your general rule of thumb is to wait 14 days after a rain before turning out on grass - prior to this time the grass might have an excessively - even fatal - sugar content. When you do turnout, do so sparingly at first and for increasingly longer periods of time. Not doing so could mean a potentially fatal bout of colic, founder, laminitis, etc.

Fly sprays:
Easy on the deet-containing sprays. Hey, and a horse's tail does actually work! There are definitely times though when your horse will appreciate relief from flies. My own personal rule of thumb: don't put anything on a horse that you wouldn't put on your own skin. Myself I typically leave the horses alone unless I notice they seem excessively edgy about the flying critters or they are developing too many bites.

The basics:
Horses need fresh water daily (preferably an unlimited source), hay and/or grass, shelter (trees, artificially-built, windbreak, etc), and room. Plain and simple. They don't need to be stalled. On that note, many horses are also shod unnecessarily. Some horses require shoes for corrective work while others require it for the career they do, but far too many horses are over-shod "just because". A hoof wall constrained by a shoe cannot flex as it should with every step the horse takes and - much of the time, going barefoot is healthier for the hoof and its growth. Keep it in mind and talk to a reputable farrier experienced with barefoot (not just shod) work. My favourite farriers are the ones who know when to shoe, when it is necessary, but who prefer to keep a horse barefoot when or if possible. With most horses, it IS possible.

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