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Archive for the ‘Horse & Pony Care’ Category

When it comes to weight, horses can be much like us – for some it’s impossible to gain an ounce no matter what or how much they eat, and others gain a lot of weight if they even look at a bag of rich food just right. As we’ve discussed, maintaining a healthy weight and ideal body condition is essential to a horse’s health. So how should you balance your horse’s diet to keep them at their ideal weight?

The “Hard Keeper”

First we’ll look at the horse that’s underweight, also known as a “hard keeper.” A “hard keeper” is like that one person you love to hate – the person who, no matter how much they eat, never gains an ounce. But when it comes to a horse, this can cause health problems.

If your horse is underweight, the first and most crucial thing to do is rule out any health reasons. Make sure you are on a regular deworming schedule, have a veterinarian exam your horse, as well as schedule a dental exam.

If your horse is under any stress, or has been worked a lot, he may need a break. A good rule of thumb is that just like us, horses need vacations, too. If your horse is stressed, making sure to do a daily turnout or even getting a stall buddy may help. If too much work is the problem, give the horse a month or two off. If you’re not noticing any weight gain or your horse doesn’t seem to be eating any more than usual, check with your veterinarian to rule out any gastric problems.

The Overweight Horse

A horse that is overweight has more health risks that one who is underweight. The two best things to do are cut back on feed and increase exercise. If those don’t seem to be working, or especially if the weight gain was sudden, consult your veterinarian to rule out any health problems. Sometimes a larger stomach doesn’t always mean a weight gain – it could be a health problem such as Cushing’s disease, a parasite infection, or a metabolic condition instead.

It’s important to evaluate your horse’s condition throughout all stages of life, and take into account where your horse is at – whether aging, going through changes that are environmental or performance-based and any other changes your horse may go through. Address any problems you may find before they become a bigger health issue for your horse. And keep your horse’s feed regimen as close to nature as possible. Doing all of this will help ensure a long, happy and healthy life for your horse.

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Since we’ve talked all this month about feed and hay, it’s a good idea to visit the topic of weight.

A horse’s weight and body condition directly impact their health. If the horse is too thin or heavy it can affect reproductive health, work function, health status and performance ability. For these reasons, it’s important to keep your horse at a proper body condition with a good fat to muscle ratio.

A good system to use to determine if your horse is at a good weight is the “Body Condition Scoring” system. This system is about using common sense when looking at your horse, but there are still some guidelines to follow.

The system is based on a scoring system ranging from 1 to 9. A score of 1 means the horse is emaciated, while a score of 9 means it is extremely obese. The scores are universal, which means that it doesn’t matter what breed or size your horse is, the scores all represent the amount of fat on a horse.

As you’re checking your horse over, some things to keep an eye out for are:

  1. thickening of the neck
  2. fat covering the withers or shoulders
  3. fat deposits around the backbone, tailhead, on the flanks and behind the shoulders
  4. fat covering the ribs
  5. the shoulders blending into the neck

Not only should you assess your horse’s body condition by sight, but you should also use your hands to feel each area of your horse to feel any fat deposits or if you can feel parts such as ribs or the tailbone sticking out. This is important because if your horse has a thicker coat, especially in the winter, it can be difficult to tell by sight what condition your horse is in. If a horse is extremely thin, especially during winter, it is easier for them to starve and slide into worse health as they continue to lose weight. It’s best to observe your horse both by sight and touch to make sure nothing is missed.

Making sure your horse is in and maintains the best body condition possible will help keep your horse healthy for years.

Image courtesy of Kevin Hutchinson

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Treats can be used to reward a job well done, or just to let our horse know we love them. For the most part, a small amount of any kind of food is safe to use as a treat. But the best treats for horses are foods that resemble their natural foods.

Some treats that are safe for horses are:

  • Apple pieces
  • Carrot pieces
  • Sugar cubes
  • Peppermints
  • Hay cubes
  • Raisins
  • Dates (pitted only)
  • Sunflower seeds (with or without the shells)

Of course, each horse’s taste is going to be different. While some may love carrots or sugar cubes, others may love peppermints or raisins.

Some horses have “strange” tastes, too. Some have been known to love ice cream. Others love roast beef sandwiches. These are fine in small amounts every once in a while, but keep in mind that a horse is an herbivore, and their digestive systems are built to digest grass, hay and grains. Even though some horses will never have any troubles with these types of food, it is still better to err on the side of caution.

Unfortunately, not all treats are safe for horses. Some unsafe treats include:

  • Acorns
  • Grass or garden clippings (after mowing or weeding)
  • Chocolate
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower

When feeding any treat, be aware of choking hazards. Whole carrots or apples can get lodged in the throat, so cutting them into chunks makes for safer treats. Also, anything hard, such as peppermints, or hay or sugar cubes, are best in very small amounts. Some animals may gulp down their treat without properly chewing, so you want to reduce the risk of anything getting caught in their throat and choking them. Removing the pits from any treats, such as the dates from the list above, also reduces choking hazards.

The safest way to give a horse treats is using a bucket or feeder. If you feed from your hands and keep the treats in your pocket, you may teach your horse a bad habit. Your horse may think that all hands and pockets contain treats and nip at people’s hands or clothing. Any horse that becomes pushy about their food or treats can be dangerous. Also, make sure to dispose of any food wrappers. Plastic that smells like their treat can be ingested, causing choking or other harmful, and even fatal, digestive issues.

Finally, one more word of caution – do not feed treats to a horse you do not know or do not know very well without the owner’s permission. Some horses are allergic to certain foods, and some owners do not believe in giving treats at all. Again, it is better to be safe than sorry and, unless you have permission from the other horse owner, stick to giving treats to your own horses. They’ll appreciate having more to themselves.

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So now that you have the basics on hay, how do you know how much to feed your horse? Do you just set a bale out and let them graze all day? Give them a specific amount at set times? Finding out how much your horse should be eating and how often can make a difference in their health and happiness.

When determining how much to feed your horse, you’ll want to take into account its size, what breed it is, its age, how active it is, and what the weather is (when it’s cold, outside horses need more food to keep warm). The general rule of thumb is for every 100 pounds of body weight, a horse needs 2 to 2.5 pounds of feed. So, to calculate an example, if you have a 1000 pound horse, you would need 20 to 25 pounds of feed each day, with most of that made up of hay. Of course, if your horse is smaller or not very active, the amount may be less, and if your horse is larger or more active, it may be more.

As far as how often to feed your horse, a general rule of thumb is to chunk up the amount of feed they get among several times throughout the day, at minimum twice. For convenience’s sake, many people feed two or three times each day, but just as it’s recommended for us, the more times you can feed your horse smaller meals during the day, the better. As with our “no swimming after eating” rule, it’s wise to wait an hour after your horse eats before work or exercise. And, of course, keep to a regular schedule. Feeding off schedule is disruptive to your horse and can lead to digestive problems.

The most important thing is to keep an eye on your horse. While some horses are able to control themselves and know when to stop eating, others will keep on eating until they have overstuffed themselves. You may need to control how much food you set out each time you feed the horse, or even keep the horse corralled if the horse is overgrazing in a pasture.

As with most things, use common sense when feeding your horse. It’s up to you to determine if you need to feed your horse more or less. Keep an eye on not just how your horse looks, but also how he feels, to know if he’s too thin, too fat or just right, and adjust your feed from there. If you ever have any questions about how much to feed your horse, just ask your veterinarian and they can help you determine how much food your horse needs.

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If you don’t have a pasture or field to bale hay from for your horses, then chances are you’ll need to purchase some already baled. But how do you know if the hay you’re buying is any good?

The easiest thing to check is the color of the hay. It should be bright green in color. If the hay is yellow or brown, it can be an indication that it has gotten too much sun and has bleached, or that it has received too much rain. Whichever is the case, the nutritional value of the hay will be lower with any discoloration.

The next thing you’ll be able to see is whether the hay has any dust or mold on it. If you see either of these on the hay, avoid that bale. Hay that has mold on it was baled when it was too wet, and any mold spores that your horse can inhale from it can cause permanent lung damage in a short amount of time.

Also check the seed heads and the leaves of the hay. The seed heads should still be closed and the leaves should be intact. Any broken leaves can be an indication that the hay was baled too dry, which means its nutritional value would be lower. The hay should also not have any weeds in it.

After you have closely inspected the hay, check to see how it smells. The hay should smell fresh, as if it was just baled. If it smells old or musty, avoid that bale.

Next, stick your hand in the hay to see how it feels. Freshly baled hay should feel dry and warm, but not hot. Hay that is hot can be an indication that there is too much moisture in it. Hay that is way too hot and continuing to heat up can combust. It should never be used to feed horses or stored in a barn because of the fire hazard.

Finally, a way to know for sure how much moisture a bale contains is by testing the moisture content with a special gauge. Many farmers use this gauge to determine if their bales are at the right moisture content and would be happy to show you a reading if you are unsure in determining the content yourself.

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As children, we were taught that horses eat hay. But is that really enough to ensure a nutritious and healthy diet? Not quite.

Because of their long digestive systems and small stomachs, it takes a long time for horses to digest their food. In order to avoid painful constipation and other digestive problems, food with a high fiber content is needed, and hay fits the bill. With its main component being grass, it’s especially best for horses who are not able to graze in a pasture at all or for part of the year because of cold and snow. As horses slowly and continuously eat hay, the high fiber helps keep their digestive system functioning and healthy.

Hay can also help keep your horse warm. The fiber contained in hay generates a lot of heat for the horse, and it can also help keep bad stable habits such as cribbing or weaving at bay since it allows them to exercise their natural foraging habits.

However, hay does not include all of the nutrition that a horse needs. One of the main things missing from hay is moisture. Since hay is dried to only 18-20% moisture content, they need a constant supply of fresh water to keep hydrated. As hay is dried, it also loses some of its nutritional value. Supplementing hay with even a small bit of grain or mineral mix can help replenish the vitamins and minerals lost in drying hay. Hay also does not contain enough salt, so loose salt or a salt lick should always be available to your horse.

Those of us living on small hobby farms, or where pasture isn’t available for portion of the year will need to supplement our horse’s and pony’s diets with a bulky fodder. Hay fits this bill because its fibrous content and nutrition resembles the horse’s natural diet of grass. Missing is the moisture, which is why it is so important to always provide fresh drinking water.

While hay has definite benefits, and it’s a very necessary component of your horse’s diet and nutrition, it alone cannot keep your horse in tip-top shape and healthy. You still need to supplement a bit to make sure your horse receives all the vitamins and minerals it needs. Making sure your horse has plenty of water to keep hydrated as well as salt is essential as well. Having all of these together ensures your horse has the healthiest diet possible.

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This month here at the Hawkeye Tack blog, we’re going to focus on what you’re feeding your horse. What better to start with than hay?

Hay is probably the most important thing that you will feed your horse. Horses are grazers who spend several hours of their day eating, but not everyone has a huge pasture they can let their horses out into everyday to graze and eat, and winter can be problematic for horses to get to the food they need underneath all the snow and ice. Hay is a great way to satisfy your horse’s natural urge to graze as well as provide them with the nutrition they need.

So what exactly is hay made up of?

Those bales of hay you see rolled up and laying out in the fields are made up of not just dried grass, but many times legumes as well. The types of grass used in hay depends on what might be plentiful or native to the area, but some of the more common types are timothy, brome and orchard grasses. In some areas, marsh grass may even be used if it’s available. Grown in with the grass may be some alfalfa or red clover, legumes which are commonly included with grass to make hay.

To make hay bales, grass is usually cut right before the seed heads completely develop. That is when it is at its most nutritious. Once cut, they’re not quite ready for consumption as they need to dry out. Bales are typically dried out until about 18-20% of the moisture remains.

One of the commonly held myths is that you can’t feed a horse freshly cut hay. This is both true and not true. You don’t want to give your horse grass such as fresh clippings after you mow your lawn, or grass that is still drying to the optimum 18-20% moisture content. But if the grass you are cutting is already at the optimum moisture level, it’s perfectly okay to feed it to your horses.

So what exactly does hay provide for your horses and how long should you keep it before it goes bad? Stay tuned this month and we’ll answer your hay questions. If you have any that we haven’t covered or that you think should be covered, head over to our website at www.hawkeyetack.com to let us know!

Photo courtesy of Abby Lanes.

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If you’re fairly certain that your horse has ingested a plant that is toxic, how do you know if what they’ve eaten will affect them?

To really know if what they’ve eaten will affect them, you need to find out the species of the plant they’ve eaten. The amount needed to be ingested before a plant will be toxic to your horse varies between types.

For instance, for some plants, such as oleander, if your horse eats even just a few bites of the right part of the plant, the horse can be killed within minutes.

For other plants, it may be months down the road before you begin to notice a negative reaction. It takes your horse continually ingesting the plant over time for any reaction to occur.

Some plants are also only toxic during certain growing conditions. For example, while the plant is just beginning to grow, it may be toxic. In other cases, once the plant has been dried, its toxicity may increase.

And then there are the plants that don’t even need to be ingested to be toxic. There are some that can cause skin problems if your horse touches them or is exposed to them for prolonged periods of time.

If you have any suspicion that your horse has eaten a plant that is poisonous, or has come into contact with one, the first thing you must do is call your veterinarian. They can advise you on what to do until they get there.

If your horse came into contacted with or ingested a plant that is in or around a pasture that other horses are still exposed to, remove those horses from the pasture until that plant has been successfully removed from the pasture.

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It was only a few years ago when the choices for feed were few, and most of the time people just used grain mixtures, oats or corn. The reason was because many horses were being raised on farms with good pastures, which meant hay was good and plentiful.

Today, the choices for feed are plentiful. There’s senior, elite, low energy, high energy, complete, low-carbohydrate, high-fat… the list goes on and on. But why all of the choices?

Horse owners began to see their horses as a member of the family, much like many pet owners see their pets as part of the family. For this reason, they want a high-quality made especially for their horse to give it the nutrients it needs. They also began to have more expendable income to afford these different types of feed. Many new horse owners were people who didn’t live on a farm but were able to realize their dream of owning a horse. Because they don’t have a pasture for the horse to roam in, a good-quality feed is needed.

So how do you know which feed to give your horse?

Do your research. Read the feed tag. The tags will tell you what type of horse the feed is made for. It will also give you a guaranteed analysis of the nutritional levels and ingredients so you know exactly what your horse is eating. Check the tag to see if the feed should be given by itself or with other forage, who it’s manufactured by, and any other directions that may be printed.

Follow the feeding directions to a “t.” If the directions do not say to mix with any other forage, then do not mix it or dilute it with anything else, including hay, oats or other grains. Make sure to feed by weight, not by volume, and to feed the correct amount according to the directions and your horse’s weight. Following the directions to the letter will ensure your horse receives the intended benefits from the feed.

Also, if you do change feed for your horse, make sure you do it slowly. Introduce the new feed by mixing it with the old feed and do not rush to begin feeding the new feed right away. Doing so will prevent any stomach or digestive problems for your horse and give him the introduction to his new feed that he needs.

Image courtesy of BRAYDAWG.

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If you’ve lived in Iowa, or anywhere in the Midwest, or just watched the news during the summer, you know that we run the risk of tornadoes. We all know to head for the basement or an interior room as soon as we hear of one coming, but what about your horses? Here are some tips we’ve come across to help:
  • You will rarely have much more than minutes to react when you realize a tornado is about to strike. You and your family need to have a safe place to hide in your home, the basement of a building, or a specially built tornado shelter, preferably underground. The safety of you and your family has to take precedence over your animals.
  • In catastrophic high-wind events, your horses are safer outside, especially if they have access to a large pasture and a copse of trees or ravines for shelter. In lesser wind events, they might be okay inside a building, especially if it is concrete block or very heavy-duty construction. Lightweight, wood-constructed buildings might not be designed to withstand the shearing forces of wind at catastrophic velocities of 70 mph and more. The large surface area of roofs and the face of buildings make them an easy target for the wind to rip them off.
  • You want to minimize the chance of objects becoming flying “missiles.” These items include garbage cans, loose posts, jumps, etc. This is a good thing to do no matter the weather conditions, because it reduces the obstacles on your property that horses can get injured on. Of note: In catastrophic events, wind has picked up horse trailers and flung them hundreds of yards; pickups have ended up neighboring properties; and dead horses have been found miles from where the storm vortex picked them up.
  • Keep an updated list of your animals. Include ages, medications, any medical information that may be needed. It can be difficult during a stressful situation to remember all of this information.
  • In the event of the unthinkable happening, take something with you that can be used to put down mortally wounded animals. The police or a vet may be unavailable for some time, whether it’s to take care of humans or they just aren’t able to reach you yet, so it can be helpful so an animal does not have to suffer for a longer period of time.
  • Every year or two, take pictures or a video of every room to keep track of all belongings. Review your insurance policy as well to make sure everything is included in the event of a loss. Don’t leave anything out, including items in drawers, sheds, garages, etc. The insurance companies typically want as many details as possible, so it’s best to keep track of it all while it’s easier to remember. Keep the pictures or video in a safe place, such as safe deposit box or in the basement.
  • Have a backup plan for hauling horses in the event of your truck and/or trailer becoming damaged. Whether it’s a rental place or just friends or family, you may need a way to haul your horses.

Tell us, what do you think is best for horses in the event of a tornado – keep them in the barn or release them? Do you have any experience in taking care of horses during or after a tornado?

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