SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label feed. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feed. Show all posts

October 29, 2011

It Only Takes 30 Minutes To Feed The Horses

Especially on a cold, rainy evening.  There's only six of them, easy, right? Bring horses in, dump the feed, turn them back out, done!

Except the water on the beet pulp's gone cold and I want to run some hot water in there.

Except since it's raining and 45 degrees, I want to put a rain sheet on Solo.

Except he's got festy gnat bites on his belly that won't heal and I want to clip around them and spray tea tree oil on there.

Then I decide to go ahead and clip his back white foot because the fungus is always attacking.

Then I need to smear some more desitin on that foot anyway.

Then I need to take Solo's rain sheet off of Encore and put it on Solo.

Now Encore gets Solo's mid-weight blanket because it's not QUITE cold enough for his winter blanket but he's skinny so he needs more than a sheet.

Then Danny needs his sheet because it's wet and cold.

Danny and Solo can finally go out but now I have three leftovers.

Tigger's pasturemate is out of town and he can't stay alone. I can put Tigger with Pete and Encore but now they all need their own hay piles.

Except there are no open hay bales so now I need to climb the stack in the extra stall and roll a couple down.

Then I need to take hay out to each horsey so no one feels left out.

Then I have to scrub all the feed buckets so they are ready for the next morning.

Then I discover Tigger and Pete both left presents in their stalls for me.

Then I need to sweep up fallen hay and make sure everyone has water.

An hour and a half later, I can finally go home.

August 6, 2011

From The Horse's Mouth. Or Guts: Feed Needs

I have been horrendously remiss.  What with all the medical issues and whatnot, I have fallen behind on, well, everything.  Mea culpa.

Around about the time I was ever-so-gracefully kissing the dirt in Virginia, the folks at Woodruff Sweitzer and Zinpro Performance Minerals sent me a CD-ROM about horse nutrition and their 4-Plex EQ Performance Mineral line for my rambling genius review.  I finally managed to watch it!  It is in part a description of the Zinpro equine mineral line, but also a lot of information about equine nutritional needs.  I was actually quite surprised how thorough and informative it was!  They've done a good job condensing a very complex field (I know just enough to be dangerous) into some very useful highlights, focusing, of course, on the horse's unique mineral needs.

The disc was made up of four chapters, two focusing on your horse's nutritional needs, both generally and specifically. Included: fun facts (oh, they know my weakness...).

-The mature horse at rest drinks 5-8 gallons of water a day. On a 100 degree day, that amount will increase to 20 gallons. Put him in intense work, make that 25 gallons.

-While the energy needs of each horse vary, even very light work increases his need for fuel (calories) by 25%.

-The horse's small intestine absorbs proteins, sugars, starches, fats, vitamins and minerals.

-His large intestine absorbs (large colon) volatile fatty acids, B-vitamins, and (small colon) water.

-Minerals are generally considered in two classes:  (1) Macro -- phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, sulfur  (2) Trace -- zinc, copper, cobalt, manganese, selenium, iodine, iron

Each of these have different vital roles to play in your horse's body and many will have more than one job to do.  For example, calcium is needed for muscle contractions, bone structure, and milk production in lactating mares, while phosphorus is used in the nervous system, for energy transfer, and helps calcium on bone and milk duty.

Looking at trace minerals, zinc influences your horse's coat, immune system, skin & hoof function, muscle development, and appetite, just to name a few.

Now, before you go hurling things into your horse's feed pan, there are some important points to remember.  Chiefly, all things in moderation and you CAN have too much of a good thing.  Selenium toxicity is very real and you can watch your horse's hooves slough off.  Raise his zinc levels too high and he will be unable to absorb any copper, which he needs to run his nervous system, among other things.  The zinc:copper ratio should lie between 3:1 and 5:1 to keep one from blocking the other.  Which is why BALANCED nutrition is so important.

We as owners need to know what we need, too.  Where I live, selenium levels are highly variable and I am also on the edge of cobalt deficient soils.  If you really want to dig, check out your water as well; it can contain all kinds of minerals in differing ratios that are very much a part of your horse's diet.

I know, I know, you are already slavering about the mouth, "ZOMG, tell me where I can order a perfect mix of minerals so my horse will be a healthy champion RIGHT NOW!"  That's what I thought Zinpro was going to tell me, too.  Turns out, their Performance Minerals are already in many horse feeds and they do not sell them individually (quantities fed out each day would be ridiculously small).  Speaking of which, they can use the word "performance" because their product has passed a certain level of research, testing, and certification, so there is some measure of security there that at least SOMEone has checked the stuff out before chucking it in a bag.  Just as important though, these minerals have been formulated to be highly bioavialable to your horse -- meaning they have been bound to "carrier substances' which will allow the intestine to absorb the minerals.  Otherwise, Dobbin just craps it out with the rest of the stuff that doesn't make it through the lining of his gut. 

You, however, have to read your feed tag to find out if it's in your bag -- which their handy CD helps you do.  While you will not often see their logo on the bag, the ingredients will contain 'zinc methionine complex, copper lysine complex, manganese methionine complex, and cobalt glucoheptanate.'  Bite me, spellcheck.  

There is a great deal more information contained on the CD -- you can request a copy of your own at the Zinpro website listed above and I encourage you to do so if you'd like to learn more about what makes your horse tick.  It's got several great tools, including more feed bag label tips, a water analysis tool, and a link to some other health educational materials.

I'd like to thank Emily Stoutenborough for taking the time to contact me and send me the materials.  My sincere apologies again for taking so darn long to actually look at them.  You can be sure I'm going to wrestle down some feed tags tomorrow and start digging for information.

March 5, 2011

Take The Time

It is so important to do the little things to keep your horse sound and mentally and physically fit no matter what his job is. Far too easy is it to get lost in the rushing and scheduling and riding that consumes us on a daily basis. But it's those tiny tasks, many that take only seconds, that collectively add up to a well-managed horse. This is what makes a horse(wo)man, not just a rider.

Take the time to palpate your horse's neck, back and haunches before and after a ride to look for tender spots. Just running your fingers down the big muscles with medium pressure can tell you a lot.

Take the time to run your hands down each leg so you know if that knot is new or old.

Take the time to lay a palm on each hoof as you pick them to check the temperature.

Take the time to wiggle each shoe to check for tightness when you lift his feet.

Take the time to really notice the colour, shape and texture of his frog and sole so you know if they change.

Take the time to run your fingers up the back of his pasterns to check for fungus like scratches.

Take the time to take him out on a hack to condition him on hills and uneven ground at the walk and trot, getting him fit the RIGHT way. Don't get trapped in the sandbox.

Take the time to watch him walk away from you as you turn him back out to watch for any stiffness or unevenness.

Take the time to give him a day or two off for a grooming spa or some quiet handgrazing so his body and mind can rest each week.

Take the time to dip his bit in a bucket of water after your ride so there are no sharp-edged crusties next time you tack up (and you don't have to scrub later!).

Take the time to lay out your girth and saddle pad after riding so it can dry and stay mildew and fungus free.

Take the time to glance into his feed bucket -- is he cleaning it up? Sorting out the supplements he doesn't like?

Take the time to watch him eat hay or grass. Is he chewing easily and evenly or does he just mash it and let it fall out of his mouth?

Take the time after you pull his saddle off to curry the matted, sweaty hair, letting air reach the skin and re-fluffing his coat.

Take the time to inspect his manure and watch him pee. Is everything normal coloured? Is the flow and consistency of all his waste the same every day?

I am sure there are others; the take-home message is that these seemingly miniscule things can catch a problem early, saving you potential headaches, vet bills, and missed competitions. They also help make your horse's job more pleasant so he doesn't resent what you ask him to do. Keeping his body and mind fit is 100% vital to keeping him going year after year, not to mention it goes a long way to keeping your maintenance costs down. Fight the urge to rush, be a horse(wo)man, and train yourself to a routine that incorporates getting to know your horse's body and habits so that when something does change (oh yes, we know it will), you will be the first to know. The faster you notice, the faster you can fix it and get Dobbin back on track, which only gives you both more time to enjoy the good stuff!

December 25, 2010

Horses Love Candy Canes Too!

So take one out to Dobbin if you get a chance.  Happy holidays to all of you and give the ponies a smooch for me, as well.  I cannot smooch my pony at present as I am three states away, sigh. 

I hope you enjoyed our foray into equine nutrtion.  Some disclaimers:

(1) This was not intended to be an end-all discussion of nutrition.  My posts only cover a fraction of the variables which exist.  Google is your friend.

(2)  My perspective applies to the performance horse and specifically, to the eventer.  Please do not give a fat supplement to Fatty McFatPony who lounges around in the backyard and gets toodled around on once a week.  Both Fatty (in the long run, he will, anyway) and I thank you.

(3) I am fully supportive of fat supplements for people.  Especially if they appear in the form of brownies or other heavily frosted items.  If you cannot possibly bring yourself to eat them, please send them to me and I will be happy to take one for the team. 

Lastly, please send a kind thought to our wonderful dressage instructor, P.  She has laid to rest the mighty Reitz yesterday with a broken heart.  This giant white mare was phenomenal, trained through Grand Prix dressage, and noble of heart and spirit.  I was truly honoured to have sat on her and to have been tolerated by her.  She is buried in her favourite paddock where she thoroughly enjoyed retirement until her aging legs could no longer hold her up.  She joins our very special Ben in perfect freedom from pain forever.  

December 22, 2010

Filling And Refueling The Tank

Now we are all experts on equine metabolism, right?  And I am rolling in the glee of all my fellow science nerds who have come out of the woodwork!

We know that the horse must also be fit if he is going to do his job well. We know that he needs fat and glycogen stores in place in order to answer the energy demands of his muscles. He needs carbohydrates and fats in order to stock his larders and replenish his stores after a workout.

So should we stuff him full of fat and sugar so he will have fuel busting out his ears? Only if you want him to die of colic and laminitis at the same time. Equine digestive systems cannot handle "loading" of substances the way a human system would. Studies have demonstrated that it will take 24-48 hours for a horse to completely refill his glycogen tanks after a hard workout, so it's best to offer him a meal 60-90 minutes after he's tapped them and then, if he has really drained the well, a second meal can be offered about three hours later.

How much fat he will need on a daily basis will depend on your horse. I like to at least top dress feed during heavy work/competition with something that is around 22-26% fat. Fat supplies 2.5 times more energy pound for pound than starches. Solo's normal food (SafeChoice) is 7% fat and I can tell you, that even with 14% protein, it does not give him a big "bang" of energy. This is because protein cannot be stored and any that is not immediately used is just peed out. So I will add something like rice bran pellets or Empower at 22% fat on top of his meals in the spring and fall.

Here's another interesting little tidbit -- if you supplement a horse's diet with fat, he uses less energy for heat production in his body. He then has more energy available to do other stuff with. Like a lot more. Like up to 60% more.

OMG, fat is awesome!

But you don't want to go overboard -- if the fat content of the diet gets too high, you can actually inhibit the storage of muscle glycogen (that's that thing we really need for anaerobic activities like galloping and jumping, remember?). Which is basically shooting yourself in the foot.

So, in the end, it comes back to common sense -- all things in moderation. But if we understand WHY, we can better tweak the details of our management programs. Because it's just not as much fun when you are kicking your horse's guts out just to stumble across the finish line in cross country and slide off while he gasps in exhaustion. It's not very satisfying to try to pilot him around a challenging stadium course when he's got no gas in the tank and you wonder if the next set of jump poles might end up in your face. But if you give Dobbin the resources he needs to get the job done and condition his body so that he can maximize the energy you put in, then you'll still have plenty of gas left for that victory gallop at the end of the day.

December 18, 2010

Oxygen Optional

We were talking about nutrition. And you've been up for days waiting for the secret to growing that unicorn horn (don't lie, own it).

Too bad.

Here's another, possibly equally as important tidbit, though. Different athletic disciplines make different demands on a horse's body. I know, thank you Captain Obvious, right?

But here's the breakdown: there are two basic types of metabolism. (1) aerobic (the muscles use oxygen while generating energy; a slow process) and (2) anaerobic (yes, you guessed it, genius; the muscles generate energy without oxygen; much speedier).

A horse who is working in a long, steady fashion (think endurance racing or your dressage school) gets to create energy aerobically. He has an advantage because this is a much easier and longer-lasting method of working. You see, fat is a horse's go-to fuel and in order to burn it, his body must use oxygen (just like your fireplace must have a flow of oxygen to burn up your firewood and create heat).

However, if Dobbin has to work hard and fast (think sprinting or jumping), he cannot get oxygen into his body and burn fat fast enough to create the energy he needs. So his muscles turn to his glycogen stores, which can be burned anaerobically. In short, glycogen is a carbohydrate stored in the liver and in muscles that the body can convert to glucose (muscle fuel).

Glycogen is a finite resource, though, and stores are smaller than his fat supply. Burning it also produces lactic acid, which fatigues muscles. So, you, as pilot, want to save that glycogen until you really really need it. You want to save that hard sprint or gallop, which burns up those precious reserves, for your horse trial or other vital moment. And once he burns it up, you have to make sure to give him time to replenish the storehouse before you ask for it again. The more glycogen he has stored up, the longer he can go in a demanding situation before he fatigues.

If he gets really desperate, Dobbin can also turn to blood glucose for energy. His nervous system needs this to function, though, and there isn't much of it (about 1% of the body's fuel supply), so we don't really want to push him this far.

Is your brain fried by science-geekness yet? I could go into ATP and muscle cell pH, so be grateful...

Why the heck should we care about all this anyway? In my opinion, knowledge is ALWAYS power when it comes to horse management. If I understand what my horse's body needs to do his job and how it uses what I give him, I am better able to meet his needs and maximize his performance safely.

Because you need to understand all of that to understand this, the point we act on: the more fit your horse is, the better he is able to utilize his fat stores first. The unfit horse may have to get up to 40% of his energy from his glycogen reserves during even light exercise. When you fit him up, he can drop that percentage dramatically even during moderate exercise, meaning his body won't quit on him for much longer.

So should we stuff our horses full of lard? How do we refill his glycogen tanks? All this and more, tonight at 11. Ok, not actually at 11, but you clever ones out there got it...

December 9, 2010

Rocket Fuel And Other Stories

So I have been reading about nutrition (the horse's, not mine, who cares about that?).  Why?  Well, because I don't want to do the actual work I am SUPPOSED to do, so why not. And if it has the word "horse" in it, then it is a pre-ordained given that I must read it. Who am I to argue with those that ordain??

Lots of interesting things to share with you. How horses use their feed, what different types of feed items offer, and what magical food will make your horse grow a unicorn horn (calm down, lifeshighway, one of these items may or may not be fictional).

Those of us who grew up obsessed with horses learned many important horse-keeping rules that have been passed down through generations. One of those things that I always heard was that you never worked your horse hard right after he ate. Much like nagging Aunt Margaret told you never to swim right after you ate or else you'd surely get a cramp and drown. I always held equal skepticism for both. Turns out, I was partly justified.

After your horse eats, his body begins to metabolize his food. This means that his blood insulin will spike, which reduces the efficiency with which the body burns fat (fat is generally the go-to energy resource for horses). So, if they need energy when insulin levels are high, their bodies will instead turn to stored glycogen reserves first. While this is hardly deadly, glycogen is something you want to save until you really need it (I'll explore why in the next post).

So, what's a rider to do? Well, you have two choices. It takes about four hours for that insulin spike to return to baseline. So you can (a) wait four hours (Suck! Who wants to do that?!) or (b) ride immediately. That's right, the spike doesn't really get up there for about two hours, so if you hop on within thirty minutes, you can have your ride and then put Dobbin away before he has to switch over from fat metabolism. What you want to try to avoid is hitting it right on that two hour mark, when insulin levels are highest and burning fat is the most difficult.

Now, obviously, we're not going to get this right every single ride, but it's something to shoot for as a general trend and a handy bit of info you can toss out if someone tries to give you crap for riding your horse right after he ate.

Scorecard: Science, 1, Naysayers, 0!

November 18, 2010

OMG, Something Actually Worked!

Red blood cells:  found!
Remember August?  Yeah, well, neither do I.  But that is when I started Solo on his SmartVite in hopes of boosting his hematocrit back to normal levels (for geek-out explanation of hematocrit, click here).

Our much-loved Dr. Bob was out yesterday to do our hock injections for the winter and so I had him pull a blood sample and run a CBC to check our progress.

Result: Success!!! Solo's back up to healthy red blood cell levels and ready to carry on. I have noticed that his respiratory recovery times had improved and Dr. Bob observed that he carried significantly more muscle yesterday, so I think we're looking good!

Thank you, SmartPak!

August 16, 2010

Blood And Guts

Waaaaaayyy back in May, Dr. Bob recommended we run a blood panel on Solo.  Well, it's halfway through August, so I figured I could finally get around to it & I ran Solo through the clinic's vampire services last Friday.

Dr. Bob's helpful associate, Dr. Brian, faxed me the results today & we had a short chat on the phone.

(Warning: science geek-out ahead)

Turns out overall that my horse is largely on the normal side (unlike his owner).  The only flag raised was a low hematocrit at 31% (normal levels are 32-52%).  Hematocrit is a measure of the percentage of red blood cells present in the blood sample.  Along with this, his levels of hemoglobin were right at the low end of borderline (11.2, when the normal range is 11-19 g/dL).

What The Heck Does That Mean?

Hemoglobin is rather important iron-containing stuff which resides tucked inside all our red blood cells. The iron binds to oxygen and allows the red blood cells to carry this life-sustaining gas all over your body. This process is especially important during exercise, even more so if you are an athlete (like a certain shiny red horse I know).

What this boils down to is that Solo's body is not as good as it should be at supplying oxygen to his tissues. Which doesn't exactly shock me as I have been feeling a little something missing. He is quicker to fatigue, slower to amp up, & has less pep during work than I would expect for a fit, well-fed horse.


Nutritional tweaking (no, not THAT kind of tweaking!). I don't really want to change his grain at present; overall, he seems to do well on it.  Dr. Brian recommended a multi-vitamin with emphasis on Vitamin B & a bit of iron. After much perusing of SmartPak & comparison to what the vet offered, I am going to try the SmartVite line of vitamin supplements, which seem to be the closest I can get to the balance of junk that I want.

With any luck, my exhaustive chart poring & ingredient comparing will result in some renewed vigor is Solo's near future. vLike he doesn't already enjoy XC at terminal velocity...

July 5, 2010

2 Out Of 3 Horses Were Delighted By De-Lyte!

Our lovely reader, Heather, was beyond brave when she kindly sent us a sample of her De-Lyte Bites for Solo to try and review. These treats are "designed to replenish lost electrolytes" in the equine athlete while providing a tasty treat all rolled into one neat package. Each one is about the size of those Mrs. Pastures things and a serving size is four treats.


It was a hot and humid day when the taste test commenced. The stakes were high -- Solo is notorious for his ability to dismiss the tastiest item proferred if it does not meet his standards of "horse food." Even peppermints are usually rejected in a fit of snobbery. Then he begs for the next one as if it will taste any different.

The players:

Solaris. 14 year old Appendix QH. Food critic renowned for his cruel rejections.

Jeff. 9 year old Hanoverian/TB. Eager to please younger chap, always interested in new things.

Moxie. 11 year old Oldenburg. Lineage possibly traces back to a hippopotamus. Has never been known to reject something that fits in her cavernous mouth.

And of course, S.O., the professional treat-giver and bringer of scratches, who generously agreed to participate in this very scientific endeavor.

So it begins.

Solo: Mmmm, treat proximity possible??




This tastes weird.


BLECH! No likey! Now give me the next one.


Oh no! The critic has struck again with his derisive spitting-out-on-the-floor! But as we all know, no experiment with a sample size of one is very meaningful. So, from across the aisle...



Yessss! I takey reject treats, please can I help you dispose of them?


Hmmmmm, this is intereshting, not quite what I expected...


Wow, that was weird, but I think I would eat another.


So now it's a tie at one to one! What will Moxie's verdict be?

Moxie: HEY! YOU! With the food! Bring it here!


I eat it and it is mine. MINE!


It was fine. Now want MORE!


So, the verdict is in. Horses with normal eating habits find that De-Lyte Bites are a tasty treat worthy of snarfing. Solo the giant food snob maintains his aloofness and refuses to lower himself the base levels of the masses. He will stick to his cheapie nasty smelling TSC apple licorice treats. Ew.

January 23, 2010


So I'm at the farm the other night. Solo's feeder is a triangular bin in the corner of his stall, so a few pellets always get crammed in the corners where he can't reach them. Being an OCD horse mom, I pick them out & move them out to the middle so he can finish them. So, I peek in to the feeder to see if any are in there. And I see...



Blink blink.

I know I am crazy, but I swear to god there are a couple bits of broccoli on Solo's plate.

I look up at BO. I look back at feeder.

Blink blink.

Ok, yes, definitely broccoli in there.

I look back at BO. I ask hesitantly, lest my insanity become blatantly obvious.

"Um. Has Solo been eating broccoli?" I am sure that I must be having yet another very strange dream.

BO (laughing): "Oh, LOL, DH (who is an avid gardener) had a bunch of leftover broccoli & cauliflower the other night so he brought it up to the horses for a treat."

Me: "Ohhhhhh..."

Yes, my horse, the giant food snob, who won't even eat peppermints because they are not Horse Food, has spat out cucumber and banana and watermelon all with equal distaste, apparently cleaned up a plate of broccoli & cauliflower, as evidenced by the sprigs left behind.

Who knew that Solo had such a taste for salad? What's next - cherry tomatoes? Beets? Rutabegas? I am going to have to talk to BO about random veggies in the food as they can cause gas colic...

What kind of crazy stuff does YOUR horse love?