Keep it Simple to Keep Your Horse Healthy
by Missy Wryn
I hear this all the time from regular visitors, clinic participants and followers: “Your horses are never sick, what’s your secret?” Dare I tempt fate by answering that? Well, I figure it’s more important to share my horse care program and risk criticism in the hopes I resonate with a new horse owner who may be confused and overwhelmed. Or, perhaps, a long time horse owner who is facing new issues of illness. Before I begin, here’s my disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and do not make any claims of health or cures for horses. My program as outlined below is solely my personal experience. Any action taken based on my example is at the reader’s own risk. Ok now that we have that out of the way, consider my experience:
It’s been over nine years since I’ve had a vet out for equine illness. Benny was a rescue horse that had been locked in a stall for two years (that we know of) and was on his sixth home in nine months when I agreed to take him in. A month after he moved into my barn, Benny became seriously ill with a gas colic. He scared me half to death as his vitals were bottoming out due to the intense pain. During the exam the gas was relieved and Benny quickly recovered. Since then I’ve had no vet calls. What’s my secret? Simplicity. My program is very simple, but not for everyone. I believe “less is best.” Below I have outlined my routine and how it supports a healthy, happy horse that is able to engage in relationship with me, meeting my deepest desires of having a meaningful connection with them.
Feed. Depending on where you live, if you can purchase local grass hay that is low in protein and sugar go for it. Since my horses are not competing in horses shows or racing they don’t work very hard. Therefore, they don’t need high protein/calorie feed. High sugar hay is like giving a child a candy bar for breakfast—would you do that? Once you switch to a low sugar and protein hay you’ll probably notice a huge difference in behavior. I found my horses responded to the local hay by losing their bloated bellies while also putting on weight in all the right places, like across the top line. It makes sense as my horses have acclimated to their environment, therefore their bodies have responded positively to the local hay. When I brought in hay from the Eastern part of Oregon the horses developed hay bellies, had loose stools and demonstrated “hotter” behavior due to the higher protein/sugar. And speaking of hotter behavior, alfalfa is made for lactating cows, not for horses. That said, I do understand that in some areas of the country and in drought conditions there is only so much hay available. Therefore some horse owners are feeding alfalfa and supplementing with straw out of necessity. This brings me to the next point.
Frequency of feeding is critical. Feed your horse four times a day if pasture is not available. Horses have small stomachs and large guts so smaller amounts of hay, throughout the day, instead of two big feedings will reduce the incidence of colic, illness and stress. In a perfect environment horses are grazing all day, but in our domestic environment many of us do not have access to pasture so we must emulate nature if at all possible. When feeding only twice a day you are asking your horse to fast 8-10 hours and they are not physically designed to do so. If you board your horse with someone else and they only feed twice a day, gently educate them about extra feedings. It reduces the incidence of colic and stress, which means less illness and less stress for everyone. Also feed from the ground, not out of a hay basket or bin. The horse is physically designed to eat with its head down off the ground. They are not like deer; they don’t glean from trees unless they are starving. Horses get various nutrients from dirt, too, just be careful to remove sand and bedding if you are feeding in a stall. Otherwise, feed your horse from the ground and outside on good weather days.
Supplements. This is always a big debate. I’m just going to tell you what I use and you can decide for yourself. I feed supplements five (5) days a week and take weekends off. My horses, and those in training and board, get a scoop of a multi-vitamin, a scoop of broad spectrum pro-biotic along with natural trace mineral loose” salt mixed with a cup of rice bran pellets as a carrier. I won’t mention brands, but it’s important to read the labels to avoid sugars, corn, wheat, soy and petroleum by-products. If you are not sure about an ingredient write it down and investigate. There are so many great resources now to provide education. Keep in mind that manufacturers are trying to make a sale so look for other resources to get information. I do not feed processed mixes, grains, wheat or oats. Remember, my horses are pleasure horses that do not work hard physically so they do not need” bulking up.” And I absolutely do not give them vegetable oil. Have you ever felt the coat of a horse that gets vegetable oil? Yuck. Think about what vegetable oil does to our arteries—why would we think that’s healthy for horses? There are healthier ways to put on weight for working horses and hard keepers, but that is another article. If you are interested in brand names feel free to contact me: 888-406-7689 or email Info@MissyWryn.com
Water: Horses must have access to clean water 24/7. Clean your horse’s trough regularly. During the summer the troughs get dirty quicker with mosquito larvae and algae so keep an eye on this. Just dump it out, give it a scrub and refill. I use the cheap livestock floaters from the hardware store with low-to-the-ground 35 gallon troughs that are easy to dump over. I learned to install simple plumbing so I plumbed right into my faucet by the barn, buried the PVC and used a bending hose to attach the floater to the pipe. Voila! I had automatic waterers without buying an expensive system. Seek help from the hardware store on this, if needed.
Keeping horses healthy and happy shouldn’t be overwhelming. Simplicity is key! You may have to tweak my basic program for your area and situation. Once you’ve got the right combination, you’ll know by your horse’s physical appearance, attitude and behavior.