Last time I wrote about the main problems that seem to plague horse and human alike. In these modern times we seem to have more problems with too much food, rather than not enough. More specifically we take in too much non-structural food, which in and of itself throws a wrench in the works. I guess God had a reason for limiting the resources of most humans. People that seem to live the longest are far from our modern conveniences we are so proud of.
But enough about us, and back to our horses. I will go into some details about how I help my horses cope with these trying times we live in today. Sure, we ideally would be able to up a horse’s exercise program to be able to burn off the excess calories they ingest. I try to involve my horses with working on my acreage as much as possible. I use horses to run errands a half-mile or so to renters on my place. I use them to let cattle into pastures where I have previously unrolled hay, or move poly lines or water tanks when I am pasturing cattle (I have a poly toboggan I dally to the saddle horn). Yet like most people, I still do not use my horses enough to not limit their feed intake.
When my horses are on pasture during the grazing months, I rotate them to a different grass paddock every three or four days (I set up simple one-strand poly lines on extension cord reels). I will let them graze from 6 a.m. to noon or so, then they are let into the round pen and find a pound or so of grain each for a treat. I let them into their pens at night so they can get water (wild horses will visit watering holes once every day or two) and a flake of hay each to tide them over till they go out to pasture in the morning. The reason I let my horses graze in the morning is because the grass is less sugary then. Grass transforms from a structural carbohydrate to a non-structural carb as the day progresses. Since horses can get all the grass they need in about four hours, I choose to let them graze it early. My horses are motivated to go to each place when I open a gate, because something they want is at each area. If I did not work part of the day at my place, I would probably put pasture muzzles on my horses to limit the amount of grass they could ingest. I would still let them in their pens at night so they would eat less n.s.c. grass.
During the non-growing times of the year, I let the horses in larger pasture areas in the morning, then bring them in for a treat and water at night. When pastures need to recoup such as in drought times, I just rotate my horses from their pens to the round pen. They find their grain in the round pen, and I may hay them there again before letting them back into their pen for water and hay again at night.
Unless I work a horse pretty good, I use grain sparingly only as a treat to motivate them to go to their pen or round corral. The easiest thing we can do is limit their grain. The next easiest thing besides limiting hay is to use a pasture muzzle so they cannot eat grass so quickly. Bring them in at night, take off the muzzle and let them get water. We need to be observant when we hay our horses. If they are fat and/or wasting the hay, back off. Round bales are the worst source of waste. I will set round bales real close to where I am feeding them and peel off only what they need and push it under the fence to them at least twice a day. Usually one small square bale will feed three horses a day (a third of a bale a day per horse). To cut waste I will shove smaller increments of hay to the horses under the fence throughout the day (if I am working at home).
Late first-cutting hay is better for overweight horses because it has more fiber and less sugar (unless it was cut at night). The best way to show we care about our horses is to be attentive to their body condition. We do not want them too fat or too skinny. “Balance” is that valuable, elusive jewel that we are looking for.
Besides toughening a horse’s feet by backing off on sugar, we can be more aware of the ground we keep them on. Horses’ feet were not meant to be on wet or soft ground for very long. Their natural habitats are pretty arid territory. Aside from drinking out of ponds and crossing water, they need dry surfaces to callous and toughen feet. Water actually can cause cracking, much like dish washing hands, or muddy surfaces that crack when the water leaves (too long of wall on a horse’s foot causes it to crack, too). We should try to keep a horse on the type of surface we will ride them on. One of the reasons I rotate my horses into the round corral is because it usually drains better than their pens during wet weather. Pea gravel is a good bit of magic to add to their pens, especially where they loaf, and near water tanks. It helps keep them out of the mud, and stimulates callousing on the bottom of their feet. There has been talk about whether white feet are not as strong as other feet. That is really irrelevant because it is the callousing on the bottom of the sole, with a well connected wall that is the determining factor.
Well, enough about too much food and water. Next time I will talk about how not to build a barn for your horse.
Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.