A Horse’s Condition

Whether your horse is in hard condition or soft condition, he should always be in good condition. As a responsible horse owner, you must keep close tabs on how much your horse is eating, how well he is utilizing that food, his weight and his overall health to ensure that he is thriving. If he’s not, it’s your job to figure out why and fix it.

Condition in Horses

A horse is considered to be in “good condition” when he falls within the range of “soft condition” and “hard condition”. A horse in soft condition is healthy but not fit, with slack muscles and a little extra fat. A horse in hard condition is healthy and fit, with well-developed muscles and no excess fat.

A horse in poor condition is either too fat (obese) or too thin (emaciated). A thin horse has no layer of fat under the skin, making him less able to stave of infection, or withstand cold (making it especially difficult to fatten up a horse who is thin going into winter). An obese horse holds extra fat on the shoulders, neck and quarters, and finds it difficult to perform even light exercise without stress. Excess weight is hard on a horse, leading to such ailments as laminitis.

Correcting Weight Issues in Horses

It is much easier to prevent weight issues in horses than it is to fix them. If you “weigh” your horse (either literally, using a weight tape, or by using the body condition scoring system and keep monthly records of the results, you will notice small changes in in weight and condition, and take corrective action right away.

Overweight horses often require fewer carbohydrates, or concentrated feeds, and more exercise. Underweight horses will often respond to an increase in both roughage (hay and grass) and concentrates, and the addition of an extra blanket in winter, as horses use food as fuel for staying warm in cold weather.

The use of practical feeding scales, appropriate exercise and good record-keeping are all practices that lead to maintaining good condition in your horse.

Anorexia in Horses

While many weight issues in horses can be attributed to care (over/under-feeding), or circumstances (age, teeth or parasites), keep in mind that most horses live to eat. If your horse stops finishing up his food, the matter must be taken seriously. This could be caused by something as simple as moldy grain, or not taking enough time to gradually introduce a new type of food, but anorexia (refusal to eat) can also be associated with pain, fever or disease.

If your horse’s condition is less than ideal, find out why. If in doubt, call your vet. Whether it’s due to poor feeding practices, parasites, age or anorexia, a responsible horse owner must get to the root of the problem and solve it. With a good feed and exercise plan, diligent record-keeping and a keen eye for the smallest change, you can help your horse be the picture of health.

Six Week Fitness Program for your Horse

Let’s face it. Many of us just don’t have the luxury (or the desire) to ride our horses year round, due to winter weather or sheer lack of time. Sometimes it’s necessary – and even beneficial – to give our horses a few months off each year. It is of the utmost importance, however, that when we do bring them back into work, we do so slowly and carefully. Follow this plan for preparing your horse for the show season without risk of stress or injury.

Legging up, or bringing your horse back from “vacation” to being ready for regular schooling sessions, lessons and hacking, takes a minimum of six weeks. This may seem like a long time, but there are few things more frustrating than putting in hours of work in the ring only to end up with a stress injury that can take months to heal.

Before you start your horse’s fitness program, he needs a bit of a “spring tune-up”. Ask your vet to administer spring vaccines and check to see if the teeth need floating. Have your farrier visit to ensure that your horse’s feet are in top-notch shape. Clean your tack thoroughly, checking for worn stitching or cracked leather, and have any damages repaired. Trim your horse’s legs and bridle path, and neatly pull his mane and tail; remember, impeccable turnout shows a sense of respect for your horse, your sport and yourself.

Weeks One and Two – Walking

Start out with fifteen to twenty minutes of walking. This can be more fun done out in the open to guard against boredom, but there’s no shame in staying within the confines of your ring if your horse is prone to being rambunctious in the spring!  Build up to thirty or so minutes of steady walking. Hint – if you want to increase your own fitness, you can do some of this work in hand.

Don’t forget to give your horse a rest day or two each week, and to begin to slowly increase his grain ration as you bring him back into regular work.

Week Three – Adding Trot Work

In week three, keep to the same duration (about thirty minutes), but add some trot work to your daily rides. Keep the trotting to short intervals of a minute or two at a time to help safely build cardiovascular fitness.

Week Four – Adding Hills and Ring Work

Walking and trotting up hills (do not trot down hills) a couple of times a week adds muscle and builds stamina. One or two training days can also be spent in the ring at walk and trot, doing easy transitions and nice big school figures. As with all aspects of this program, be careful not to ask for too much too soon. At this point your rides should be about thirty to forty-five minutes long.

Week Five – Adding the Canter

By week five, one or two of your rides should still be out in the countryside (you don’t want boredom to set in, for you or for your horse). In your ring work, you can start to add short canters to continue building muscle and lung capacity. Your rides should now have a duration of about an hour.

Continue to gauge your horse’s weight and general condition to ensure that he’s not lacking in concentrates.

Week Six – Adding Work over Fences

By week six in your program, your rides should be lasting an hour or a little more, and you should have a nice mixture of schooling and hacking, with a day off each week. Once or twice through the week, add an easy jump school. A simple gymnastic is a good place to start. Don’t over-do it; you don’t want to risk an injury. By the end of week six, your horse should be ready to begin specialized training for his discipline.

Remember that every horse is different, and some need more time than others for the legging up phase. Make a plan (and follow it), but be flexible enough to recognize when your horse may need a break. Pay careful attention to changes in body weight and attitude, make small adjustments as required, and your horse should be ready to face the rigours of show season stress- and injury-free.

The Eye of the Master Makes the Horse Fat

Feeding is an often-misunderstood art. Knowledge, patience and an eye for small changes are all required in order to keep your horse at his ideal weight.

What Horses Live On

Water

Water is an essential part of every cell in your horse’s body. Up to 12 gallons a day or more is required for vital functions. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times, and in winter, cold water may need to have the chill taken off to encourage your horse to drink more.

Carbohydrates

Carbs come mainly in the form of grains, and provide energy. Plant fibre (from grass, hay and other roughages) is required for digestion.

Proteins

Found in such sources as oilseed meals, alfalfa and (to a certain extent) some grains, proteins are essential for growth, repair and maintenance of the body.

Fat

Fatty acids, such as those found in corn oil, wheat germ oil and the like produce extra energy, will help put weight on a poor doer, and, in small amounts, aid digestion (especially of vitamins).

Vitamins

Vitamins come from good hay, grain, sunlight and supplements, and aid all bodily functions.

Minerals

Found in good hay, grain, salt and supplements, minerals build and maintain bone and tissue, and trigger natural bodily functions.

Determining How Much to Feed Your Horse

Before you can figure out how much to feed your horse, you need to know three things:

1. How much your horse weighs;

2. How much each of your feeds weighs;

3. What condition your horse is in (thin, soft, hard, etc).

Using a set of kitchen scales and your scoop (many prefer a coffee can or similar container to a feed scoop because you can easily mark it), determine how much a pound of each type of grain you feed is (you may find that a pound of sweet feed takes up more of the can than, say, a pound of barley).

To determine the weight of your hay, put an average-sized flake in a plastic bag. Weigh yourself on a digital bathroom scale, then weigh yourself holding the hay, and figure out the difference. If you don’t have a set of digital scales, most feed stores will weigh your hay for you. Most types of hay weigh between three to five pounds per flake.

You can weigh your horse using a weight tape, which isn’t an entirely accurate system, but will give you a good starting point. As a general rule of thumb, horses require 2 to 3 pounds of total food (grain and hay) per 100 lbs of body weight per day.  Thin horses or hard keepers may need substantially more, and fat horses, easy keepers or ponies may require a little less.

Always keep in mind that horses need to be fed according to work done, size, age, type and temperament. Ponies tend to make better use of their forage, and therefore require less. Many ponies, in fact, do very well on good quality hay alone.

Feeding Scales

The harder a horse works, the more of his daily ration will need to be supplemented with grain. The average horse in good condition requires roughly 90% of his daily ration in roughage (hay) and 10% in concentrates (grain), and a good rule of thumb is to supplement the hay ration with grain at a rate of about 10% for each step up in activity level. So a horse in light work would get about 80% of the ration in roughage and about 20% in grain. A horse in medium work would go to a 70% roughage, 30% concentrates, and, in hard work, about a 60%/40% split. A horse’s ration should never go below 50% roughage.

Doing the Math

In general, a horse in good condition requires 2.5 lbs of total food (hay and grain) for every 100 lbs of body weight (so a 1,000 lb horse needs about 25 lbs of food per day. If that horse is in light work, he requires about 20 lbs of hay (or, between 4 and 6 flakes per day), and about 5 lbs of grain (spread over two or three small meals).

Fat horses or very easy keepers will often require less than this. Conversely, thin horses or hard keepers will require more. Remember, though, that increasing the grain or hay for a hard keeper may not be the answer. Changing the type of grain being fed might work better. A thin horse being fed a grain very high in concentrates, like corn, may just build extra energy, and actually lose weight trying to work that energy off.

Common Types of Grain

Oats

Oats are less concentrated than most grains, and are therefore quite safe for most horses. They can be fed whole, crushed, crimped or rolled. Some say whole oats shouldn’t be fed because the husk is difficult to penetrate, causing the oats to move too quickly through the digestive system to do the horse any good. Others feel this is an old wives tale. The truth is more likely that no two horses are alike, and what works well for one doesn’t necessarily work well for another.

Corn

Corn is the most concentrated (ie contains the most energy per pound) of all the grains. In most cases, it is not safe to feed to ponies, and should most certainly not be fed to hot horses. Corn can be fed whole, cracked, rolled or flaked.

Barley

With more energy than oats but less than corn, barley is a good compromise. It should be fed rolled, flaked or boiled, otherwise the husk is too hard to digest. Boiled barley is nice in a bran mash and, can often help put weight on a thin horse.

Bran

Bran is the by-product of the milling process of wheat. High in phosphorous, it upsets the calcium:phosphorous ratio, leading to bone problems if fed too often. Low in nutrients and easily digested, bran is best fed occasionally as a warm mash for a cold or tired horse.

Beet Pulp

A by-product of the production of sugar beets, beet pulp is mainly roughage, and is a good substitute for hay in horses with allergies. It is more digestible than hay and bulkier than grain. Beet pulp is a good way to add weight without excess energy. It should always be fed soaked as it swells when mixed with fluids (such as saliva and other digestive juices).

Sweet Feed

This is a mixture of grains, normally with added molasses to cut down on dust and make the feed a little tastier. Due to the content of corn and molasses, it is not always a good choice for ponies or hot horses.

Pellets

There are many types of processed “pelleted” feeds on the market these days, and many give a horse all (or most) of what he requires. Beware, though, that not all pelleted grains are alike. Be sure to choose a type that is suitable for your horse’s needs. Pellets are convenient because they eliminate the need for mixing grains, but they are not overly palatable, and horses may tire of them quickly. Pellets are probably the safest grain for ponies and hot horses, though, as they do not contain high amounts of sugar and corn like sweet feed does.

Whatever you choose to feed your horse, be sure to follow these well-established rules of good feeding:

1. Feed little and often;

2. Feel plenty of roughage;

3. Feed according to work done;

4. Keep to the same feeding hours daily;

5. Make all changes in amount and type of feed gradually;

6. Feed something succulent each day;

7. Do not feed immediately before or after hard work;

8. Feed clean, top quality grain and hay only;

9. Make fresh water available at all times (except for a hot, sweaty horse, which must be allowed to cool down before drinking a large amount of water).

If you feed the correct amount and type of grain and hay and follow the time-honoured rules of feeding above, your horse should thrive (and if he does not, please enlist the help of your vet, as there may be more at play than grain and hay).

How To Groom A Horse Really Well

In this age of quick fixes and short cuts, many people seem to be turning to products that make their horses look clean – but they aren’t really clean. Horse owners need to remember that there are many reasons for proper grooming, besides just making a horse look good. Good grooming improves circulation, ensures good health, and allows for early detection of disease.

Before you begin, gather the following items: hoof pick, rubber curry comb, dandy brush, body brush, water brush, towel or stable rubber, a small bucket with water (warm if possible), tail detangler and hoof oil. Tie your horse in a safe, quiet area (using a quick release knot) or on crossties, and remove his rugs. If it’s chilly and your horse has been clipped, keep a folded rug or wool cooler over the parts of his body you’re not working on so he doesn’t get a chill.

1. Start by picking out your horse’s feet. Remember to always pick away from you, and make sure you get out any dirt, stones and muck.

2. Next, use your rubber curry comb, in a circular motion, everywhere except the face and legs. This will loosen up dirt trapped underneath the coat, as well as mud and sweat marks on the coat. Use your left hand when on the near (left) side of the horse, and your right hand when on the off (right) side. Press hard – most horses enjoy this part. If you don’t press hard, it may tickle them. Note that some horses (especially thin-skinned types, like thoroughbreds) don’t always like to have their bellies curried.

3. Now that you’ve loosened everything up, it’s time to bring it to the surface of the coat with your dandy brush. Starting just behind the poll, use quick flicks to lift the dirt from the skin to the coat. Remember to brush in the direction that the coat lies. Keep your curry comb in your free hand, and every few brush strokes, run your curry over the bristles of the dandy brush to remove dirt (there’s no sense putting the dirt back on your horse). Some dandy brushes are harder than others. If yours is very hard, be very careful when using on legs or other bony areas. Do not use the dandy brush on the face.

4. The mane and tail: spritz a little detangler in your horse’s tail. Let it sit while you work on the mane. Using the body brush, go to the side opposite that to which the mane lies, and, section by section, brush from the roots to the ends of the mane. It helps to hold a section of mane in one hand while you use the body brush in the other hand to brush away from it (so you are brushing from left to right). When one section is done, move on to the next. Remember – you’re not trying to make the mane look pretty. You’re trying to get the dust and dander out of the roots. This will also bring the natural oils out from the crest and through the mane, making it shinier. Once you’ve done the entire mane this way, use your water brush (dip the ends of the bristles in your bucket of water and then flick the majority of the water off first) to smooth the mane down. Dampening it will help all the shorter hairs lie flat with the rest of the mane.

Hint: I suggest doing the mane before using the body brush over the body, because you will always stir up a little more dust if you are brushing the mane properly.

5. Next, get your body brush again, to continue grooming. Again, start just behind the poll, brush in the direction of the coat, and use your curry comb to help clean the body brush after every few strokes. The body brush will brush all remaining traces of dirt off your horse’s coat. It’s a nice soft brush, so you can use it on any part of the horse’s body. Use it in nice long strokes, leaving the hair lying soft and flat.

6. The face is brushed using the body brush, or a small, soft face brush. It is best to lift the halter off then put it back on over the neck so you still have control of the horse, but you can get his whole face brushed. Be careful around the eyes, and on the bony parts of the face. Pay special attention to the forelock and the area under it. Dirt often collects there. Once the face is brushed, replace the halter in its usual position.

7. Using two sponges (one for the eyes and nostrils, the other for the dock), clean these areas by dampening the sponges in your bucket of water. Do the eyes and nostrils first so the water stays relatively clean. Clean any gunk away from the corners of the eyes, then sponge softly all around the eye (most horses will find this refreshing), then clean as far up into the nostrils as your horse will allow. Switch sponges, and lift the tail, cleaning the dock in a smooth but firm downward motion. Most mares will also appreciate the udder being cleaned as well.

8. Time for the tail. Using your fingertips, run through the tail until all the tangles are out (remember to do this every day so that you keep on top of the tangles). Once the tangles are gone, use your body brush to brush the tail. NEVER use a mane comb or plastic curry to brush the tail. This breaks the hairs.

9. Remove all remaining traces of dust, and put a nice shine on your horses coat, by taking a stable rubber (towel), folding it into a hand-sized pad, and running it all over your horse’s body in the direction the coat lies. In the summer, when days are dusty, you can very slightly dampen the stable rubber for this process.

10. Condition and shine the hooves. Using your water brush dipped in a bit of your water, brush all dirt and mud from your horse’s feet. Then use a hoof oil/conditioner to keep the hooves from chipping and cracking. Please check with your farrier as to how often he or she feels your particular horse requires hoof oil. Not all horses require this every day.

Correct grooming technique takes a little longer than the “once over” you may be used to, but it will become habit soon enough, and your hard work will show in the bloom on your horse’s coat that only comes from elbow grease – and elbow grease doesn’t come in a spray bottle!