Winter is Coming

I have been looking towards winter with some trepidation for the last couple of months, dreading a potential repeat of last year’s emotionally unstable Phoenix.

So as with everything, I made a plan.

I decided to maximise on the fact that she’s come on so well in her training over the summer, and reap the rewards by booking a few competitions. Having something to focus on would also help distract me too.

So in the last five weekends, Phoenix and I have been adventuring four times, and have two more adventures before November. She’s entered four showjumping classes, doing three double clears and being placed in all four. She’s been placed first and second in dressage tests, which whilst they weren’t her best work felt much more established than her last test and the consistency had improved. She’s also been on the Badminton sponsored ride to get in some cross country practice. Our next two outings are hunter trials, which will hopefully put us in good stead for some one day events next year.

So we’ve had a lovely few outings, thoroughly enjoying ourselves and building on her CV.

I planned to make some changes to Phoenix’s management this year, but I wanted to ensure I did it step by step so that I learnt which aspect she didn’t appreciate and what stressed her. She’s continued to spend time in her stable over the summer so that it is a familiar environment, which would hopefully reduce any stress there.

I decided to get her saddle checked before she started living in, and to buy her a dressage saddle that I’d promised myself, so that I knew there wasn’t an issue with either saddle or back. Phoenix’s regular massages mean I know that her overall muscle tone is healthier and better than last year, with any problems being ironed out quickly.

I have come to realise over the summer that Phoenix doesn’t cope well in the wind and rain. She gets chilly very quickly, even when we’ll rugged up, and when ridden is more tense and “scooty” in the wind and rain. I retrieved my exercise sheet which when Otis grew out of it several years ago I loaned to Mum and Matt, who rarely used it. Over the last week I’ve used it a few times and definitely found Phoenix to be more settled and rideable with it in adverse weather.

With this sensitivity to wind and rain, I decided to give her a blanket clip, not a full clip, so that her loins had extra protection. Additionally, she found clipping a very stressful experience last year, so I planned to clip her before she started living in. Then I could gauge her reaction to clipping without the factor of being stabled. We actually had a much more positive experience last week; Phoenix ate her bucket of feed, and let my friend gibber in her ear while I clipped away. It’s not my best work of art, as I quit while I was ahead and stopped clipping when she ran out of food! But it was a positive experience, and there hasn’t been a change to her behaviour under saddle.

So I’ve ticked off clipping, saddles, and back, and still had a lovely, happy horse to ride. Next on my list was feed. Phoenix didn’t eat well last year, not tucking into her hay, or drinking sufficient. She’s happily eaten hay in the field the last month so I decided not to change her forage unless she went off it when she started staying in. And then I would immediately introduce haylage. However, I bought some Allen and Page Fast Fibre a couple of weeks ago and have introduced it alongside her chaff based bucket feed. This has a low calorific value, but will fill her tummy up and hydrate her, which will hopefully mean she is less skittish as a result of gastric discomfort. I’ve recently increased her magnesium the level she had in the spring, and maintained her daily dose of gut balancer.

My plan was to get all of these steps established before Phoenix came in at night, but the fates were against me as last weekend she and her field mates started living in due to the atrocious weather conditions. I haven’t been able to exercise her as much as I wanted to this first week due to family problems, but I was thrilled when I have that Phoenix has been lovely to ride, and that she seems happy in her new routine.

It may be that Phoenix is more settled this year; in her ridden work, at the yard, with me, and having experienced a winter living in, so is less likely to become a stress head this winter. But by taking these steps I feel I’ve done my best not to overload her system with simultaneous changes, and could identify triggers that upset her.

I’m not so anxious about winter now as I feel in control, yet ready to make positive changes at the first sign of stress from Phoenix.

The Rules of Feeding

It crossed my mind the other day how much feeding horses has changed even over the relatively short time I have been working with horses. Does this mean that the rules of feeding we learn so diligently by rote need modernising, or have they stood the test of time?

Let’s go through them one at a time.

  1. Feed according to size, age, body weight, type, temperament, time of year, level of work, level of rider. With all the modern complete feeds on the market I think it is easier to choose, and trial, a feed that will suit your horse and then feed it in the correct quantity. For example, you can buy feeds specifically designed for laminitics, veterans, excitable horses, endurance, stud, and any other factor you can think of. However, there is still a huge (excuse the pun) problem of horses being overfed. I feel this is more due to the quantity they are given, their grazing being too rich, and owners being unable to distinguish between healthy and overweight animals rather than the type of feed being unsuitable for them though.
  1. Feed little and often. This rule comes from wise observations of horses in their natural state, and as the digestive tract of a horse has not changed in the last century we can be sure that this rule is as relevant today as it was when the rules were first drawn up.
  2. Always feed good quality food. Just the same that we wouldn’t eat poor quality food, feeding poor quality food can lead to respiratory or digestive disorders as well as being a false economy as the horse will drop weight and under perform. Since the early 2000s the EU has passed many regulations on the quality of equine feeds, which I think makes it far harder to purchase low quality food.
  3. Feed plenty of bulk. This rule is based on the observation of a horse’s natural diet, and as I said before they haven’t changed physiologically in recent years we should still feed plenty of bulk. The knowledge of the average leisure rider has improved vastly so whilst this rule is no less important, it is done more autonomically. Additionally, the complete feeds that you now buy instead of having to mix various straight feeds, are all based on a mainly fibrous diet.
  4. Do not make any sudden changes to the type of food being fed. Again, as this rule is based on the horse’s physiology, so is still relevant today. I think the feeds on today’s market does mean that there is less change in a horse’s diet over the course of a year though. Because the off the shelf feed bags are complete feeds within themselves, a horse’s base diet stays the same throughout the year, it may just change in volume between seasons, or it may be supplemented during competition season in order to keep the horse’s performance levels up. When I was young I can distinctly remember our ponies diets changing quite radically between winter and summer. Matt always had to have the oats removed once he started living in, and barley added from September to help keep the weight on him. Nowadays, he has the same type of feed all through the year, but the ratio is adjusted if he needs to gain weight.
  1. Always use clean utensils and bowls. We don’t eat off dirty plates so why should our horses use dirty bowls? The move towards plastic feed buckets in recent years rather than the rubber ones does mean it’s easier to keep them cleaner to a higher standard. And of course you can write names onto plastic buckets more easily, which reduces the risk of cross contamination of illnesses and medicine. I think perhaps the importance of preventing horses getting the wrong medicine, or banned substances in their feed, has increased in recently years with the FEI having more stringent rules surrounding medicines in competition, and the fact there are more non-professional riders competing at the highest levels and under rules. Also more leisure horses are fed drugs for maintenance, such as Bute or prascend, which increases the risk of competition horses being exposed to the drugs.
  2. Feed at regular times daily. Horses are creatures of habit so thrive on routine, but equally having a frequent feed routine helps to keep the digestive system flowing. This helps reduce stress, which is linked to gastric ulcers. There seems to be more cases of ulcers nowadays, but whether that’s because of better diagnostic techniques and understanding of the equine body. Or whether horses have more stressful lives – in terms of routine, competitions, environment – yes, I know that’s a can of worms! So the rule is old and still relevant, but has the reasoning behind the rule changed slightly as our demands on the horse changed?
  3. Feed something succulent every day. This rule is to provide horses with variety to the diet and to provide extra vitamins. Now that complete feeds are scientifically balanced to provide the correct quantities of vitamins and minerals are carrots, parsnips, salt licks as necessary?
  1. Water before feeding. This comes from when horses were predominantly kept in stalls not loose boxes (think of Black Beauty) so didn’t have access to water all the time. This rule has changed in the revised textbooks to “provide a clean, fresh supply of water at all times”. So yes, it has been modernised!
  2. Feed a hard feed at least an hour before exercise and longer before more demanding work. Just like we don’t swim an hour after eating to ensure blood is not diverted and away from the digestive system to working muscles leaving us with undigested food banging around our insides, it’s still not advisable to feed a horse just before riding. However, I do believe this rule needs expanding as now we are beginning to understand the importance of having a little bit of fibre (e.g. hay or chaff) in our horses stomachs when we ride to soak up excess gastric acid and help prevent the development of ulcers. Most people now give their horse a small haynet or a scoop of chaff while they are grooming for this reason.

In all, the rules of feeding are staying with the times and not becoming outdated, which is good news for us oldies! Are there any rules which could be added or expanded to, to make sure they’re more relevant to today’s stable management routines and the feed available on the market?

Another rule I can think of, which is fairly common sense, but still important with the numerous feeds that require soaking prior to feeding, is to follow the preparation instructions of compound feeds. The rules from the BHS textbook I looked at also did not mention about dampening feeds, which is vitally important in preventing horses bolting their food and getting choke.

I’d be interested on a nutritionist’s opinion on the original rules of feeding and their relevance to modern feeds.

Taking Medication

Here’s a question for you all.

How do you trick your right-now-they’re-annoyingly-clever horse into taking tablets or medicine?

Be it hard tablets, powders or wormers, horses are very good at sniffing out the medication and eating around them or totally rejecting any attempts by you to administer it.

I’m sure those of you with such horses have a trick or two up your sleeve. I want to know them!

For hard tablets, I’ve bored a hole in a carrot or apple and given it to the unsuspecting horse.

Most horses accept powder medication in a tasty feed. Sugar beet is a favourite for mixing it in for those with a sensitive palate.

What are everyone else’s tricks?

Vetrofen Healthy – A Trial

About  month ago I was forwarded an email by a fellow horsey friend from a company called Animalife. They were looking for equestrian bloggers to trial their new product and give them feedback, as well as promote their product on their blogs.

I thought this looked interesting, and I`m always looking for new topics to write about, so I applied. If I`m honest I didn`t really know what I was letting myself in for as there was very little information about the new product, Vetrofen Healthy, online. However, Otis is a fit, active and healthy horse, so I figured that he was probably an ideal candidate for trying a general purpose supplement.

I didn`t think anymore of it, until I received an email from animalife and within an hour the postman actually delivered my tub of Vetrofen Healthy.


The first thing I did was to read the blurb in the booklet provided. It told me that Vetrofen Healthy contains

“three plant sources known for the effective plant antioxidant support, Acacia catechu, Boswellia and Curcumin”.

I recently blogged about the fact that turmeric is becoming increasingly popular as a feed supplement for a variety of reasons, the main one being arthritis. Curcumin is the essential ingredient of turmeric. It was also promising to read that Vetrofen Healthy contained pepper to aid absorption – everyone knows that black pepper should be fed with turmeric to increase the uptake of curcumin by the body.

Acacia catechu has been used in Asia for many reasons, including anti-fungus, liver swelling, blood clotting, asthma, diarrhoea and constipation, and many skin afflictions. Similarly, botswellia is also from Asia and known for being an excellent anti-inflammatory; treating asthma, arthritis and osteoporosis.

Using this knowledge, I assume that Vetrofen Health, which is marketed as providing ongoing support of comfort and mobility in the equine athlete, works by improving the body`s response to inflammation due to work, and to help support the airways and speed up recovery of minor injuries due to work – such as fatigued muscles after going cross-country.

Another element I liked about Vetrofen Healthy is that it is completely free from banned substances, so you can compete whilst feeding it. But I`m sure I only need to worry about that when Otis and I go to Badminton …

My next step was to start feeding Vetrofen Healthy to Otis. When I opened the tub at the yard the next morning I was hit by the peppery aroma diffusing from the container. Now, Otis isn`t a fussy eater, but it would concern me that a horse with a sensitive palate may turn their nose up at the supplement. Having said that, the smell was more pleasant than some other supplements I`ve seen. It`s a very fine powder too, which probably means it`s more easily digested, but I did find that the powder got everywhere unless I was really careful!


Anyway, I started feeding Otis the recommended amount of 1.5 scoops per day. He`s a healthy horse anyway, so I didn`t expect a miraculous improvement in his general well-being, but I was interested to see if there would be an improvement in his recovery from tough workouts. Often I find him a bit flat for a couple of days after an event, or even the next day he can be flat after some interval training.

I had taken Otis to a BE90 the week before starting him on Vetrofen Healthy and he had had a good cross country round, but struggled with the deep going in the showjumping so hadn`t done brilliantly. I then decided to make my next event a BE100, which was last weekend – three weeks after starting the supplement. Although on a day to day basis I haven`t noticed a huge improvement in his performance, although he is working well at the moment, I did find that he performed very well at the BE100 last weekend. He seemed to pick up again after a good showjumping round really well, and put in a good effort in the cross country phase, only getting a handful of time faults and jumping clear and easily (he put in some extra effort and jumped the large flower pot on top of the table, which is not something I thought he was capable of). I was impressed the next time I rode him a couple of days later, however, that he was not flat, and worked really consistently and focused. So in that respect, I would say that Otis recovered from his physical exertions a lot better than he has previously.

If I`m honest, I would say that we are not the best combination to test this product as Otis is a very happy horse so always tries his heart out, which means that it is difficult to read him, and he has not got any underlying problems which could have been alleviated by Vetrofen Healthy – such as arthritis, so it is difficult to spot improvements in his performance. However, as the ingredients of Vetrofen Healthy are all natural, and to me the science is logical, I want to purchase another container of Vetrofen Healthy and continue my trial over the next few weeks as I think I would see more results after a few more competitions. He is a hardworking horse, and I do think that Vetrofen Healthy provides a safe supplement, which will do no harm if he doesn`t need it, yet should be beneficial if his joints and muscles need a helping hand.

Here is the link to animalife`s website

How Big Should Paddocks Be?

At the moment everyone is monitoring their horse`s weight, and looking at the spring grass (especially after today`s downpour!), but how do you find the balance between quantity of grass and paddock size?

The first thing that people think about when looking at restricting the horse or pony`s diet is strip grazing. This works by every couple of days giving the animal another strip of grass. The width given depends on the horse, quantity and quality of the grass, and time of year. However, it is important to ensure that the initial area that the horse has is big enough for him. It can be easy to break a paddock down into strips, and initially give the horse just one strip. In terms of quantity of grass, this is sufficient, but in terms of space, it is insufficient. Once strip grazing has been set up, it is usually a very economic way of ensuring your horse utilises all of his grass, and that his intake is limited.

Horses need space to cavort and let off steam, so you should ensure that the piece of land to be grazed allows the horse to have a good canter or buck without hitting the fence. Someone I know had problems with her mare in the winter as the mare was full of high spirits and kept having fun in the field, but her paddock wasn`t big enough. The mare was able to gallop half a dozen strides, before slamming on the handbrake and spinning around to gallop back. I`m sure you can imagine the twisting and turning effect on her body, and she was always injuring herself, be it a knock from a leg, or a slightly strained muscle. This made me think about the fields we had when we were young. The yard was on the side of the mountain, and we turned the horse`s out behind the yard and they would gallop up the hill, bucking in high spirits. However, we rarely had any injuries and I`ve recently realised why. The hill wore the horse`s out quickly, and the fact they were going in a straight line meant there were fewer twisting or turning injuries. So perhaps it`s worth thinking about the terrain your field is on, when considering how to divide it, as it will impact the space needed for your horse to let off steam.

If your allocated paddock at the livery yard is not big enough to divide, then it is worth limiting turnout time as opposed to restricting the grazing area, but then you have the problem of keeping the energy levels at a controllable level.

A friend of mine uses the Paradise Paddock setup for her fat ponies – here – and finds it provides enough space for her ponies to cavort and burn off energy, whilst encouraging them to move around naturally, thus mimicking their grazing style in the wild.

I guess that finding the balance between the quantity of grass available to your horse and their paddock size is an individual decision; dependent on the time of year, horse`s weight, type of grass, exercise routine and fitness. Even if your horse is on a strict diet he should still have some forage available to him so that his digestive system continues to function and he is not at risk of colic or stomach ulcers. In order to maintain the horse`s current weight you should aim to feed him between 2 and 2.5% of his body weight, and if you are trying to get him to lose weight it should be between 1.5 and 2% of his bodyweight. It is hard to estimate how much grass he has ingested during his turnout period, but I guess you need to extrapolate from the quantity of grass and the length of turn out.

I always feel that if you are concerned that your horse doesn`t have enough forage to keep him occupied overnight then soaking hay is a useful alternative as it washes away most of the nutrients, so you can afford to feed an extra kilo or so. Making the hay difficult to eat, by putting it in small holed haynets or even one haynet inside another, and in several different places around the stable or field, can help slow down his munching.

You often see ponies who are being strip grazed, and in a bare paddock, being supplemented by hay. This is because it has a lower nutritional level, as well as fewer carbohydrates, than fresh spring grass so is preferable by many owners, as the pony will be less at risk of laminitis.

 

 

Turmeric – the be all and end all?

Since last year Turmeric has become famous amongst the equine community for it`s healing properties.

I haven`t had the need to use it, hence why I haven`t blogged about it yet, but more and more people around me are using it and finding the benefits.

Turmeric is a spice in the ginger family, which is native to India, and has been used for centuries in their medicine and cooking. Studies have shown that it is more effective than many pharmaceuticals in people suffering from chronic conditions, and now the research is diverging into horses and other animals.

So why are people suddenly raving about turmeric for horses?

Turmeric is well known for it`s anti-inflammatory properties, so logically it is a useful long-term supplement in the diet of arthritic horses. As it has no side effects it is more advantageous than bute, which degenerates the liver over time. In the short term, it could be useful to feed to an injured horse, or one on box-rest, to help reduce any inflammation. Inflammation is also associated with insulin-resistance, so turmeric would be a useful supplement for those suffering from Cushings and perhaps even laminitis.

Additionally, turmeric is also known as a de-toxifier, in particular the liver. I haven`t come across any studies supporting this, but as turmeric doesn`t have any side effects then I can`t see the harm in trying.

I did hear last week about someone who has fed turmeric to a pony suffering from sweet itch, and when I looked online, I found that turmeric is known to benefit allergies and skin conditions – both are involved in sweet itch.

Turmeric is also said to be an antioxidant, and as an added benefit it also boosts the horse`s own antioxidant properties, so makes a horse more resistant and more able to cope with stress. This means that a competition horse could benefit from turmeric.

I`d be interested to know if anyone feeds turmeric to themselves or their horses, for what reason and whether they have noticed an improvement.

Turmeric-powder

If you are on a yard with liveries who feed turmeric then you may notice that they seem to be mixing up a magic orange potion. I wondered why fresh pepper was ground into the turmeric, but apparently it aids absorption. Some people feed turmeric with linseed oil, in a suspension, but I was surprised the other day when I saw someone heaping a couple of spoonfuls of linseed powder in instead. Making a suspension of turmeric and pepper makes sense to me because it will almost bind the two together so they will all be ingested. I`m sure linseed oil is also quite pleasant on the taste buds too. When I did my googling, I was interested to read that high quality vegetable oil, either in the liquid or powder form, can aid absorption too, which means that it doesn`t matter in what form you give it to the horse, and it also doesn`t matter too  much if you run out of oil. I was concerned that the three ingredients were essential in the potion, but it seems that turmeric works on it`s own; it just needs a catalyst to trigger it`s absorption.

I guess as there are no side effects of turmeric it`s one of those things that you can just “give it a go” if you think your horse may benefit from the spice. As it`s not had a huge amount of research the dosage is also very fluid. If you find that turmeric isn`t working then the advice is to increase the dosage, and check it has the correct levels of curcumin (the active ingredient).

I`m open to suggestions and other people`s views on turmeric – is it the wonder spice?

Feeding Garlic

I’m not that I to feeding supplements, I think they can be an unnecessary expense, but today I popped into the tack shop to pick up some garlic granules for the horses.

Otis suffers from sweet itch so the flies irritate him quite badly. Last year I found he was much better with a low-sugar diet and rugged up, however this year the flies seem to be much worse.

So why did I choose garlic? It is said to help deter flies from within, which in theory means that your horse becomes a fly repellent, which should reduce the introduction of chemicals into your horses environment from fly sprays and garlic granules are cheaper than fly repellent. Garlic is also supposed to be good for the immune system as it is a natural antibiotic, so should help the general well being and health of the horse. A further benefit of garlic is it’s anti-inflammatory properties and that is aids respiration, which is useful in this humid, hot weather were currently experiencing. Some claim that garlic is useful for reducing blood pressure and purifying the blood – isn’t that one of the reasons we eat it? It can also assist in deterring worms, so can be used in conjunction with a chemical wormer to destroy the life cycles of worms.

Unfortunately, I’ve read that garlic can kill off the good bacteria in the gut, so should only be used in the short term, otherwise your horse can end up with a compromised immune system. It also has the active ingredient allicin, which is known to cause Heinz body anaemia. Commercial products treat the garlic to remove the allicin, but this also appears to reduce the insect repelling qualities. Although, judging by the smell of the granules I picked up today, there’s no reduction in the smell!

I know many people who have fed garlic to horses for years; we used to have in hard feeds, and haven’t had a problem. So perhaps there is such a thing as too much garlic? This could then cause the anaemia and reduced immune system, otherwise the low dosage level assists in boosting the immune system. Whilst I was in the tack shop I also looked at the various sweet itch supplements. All of which contained garlic, which suggests to me that commercially produced garlic which has been treated still has some anti-fly properties, but in a mixed supplement it is harder to overdose on garlic.

Surely it’s a case of “too much is as bad as too little”?