Forage Intake

When packing for this weekend’s riding club camp I spent more time than normal planning how I was going to manage Phoenix; being stabled and ensuring she ate enough forage mainly.

Usually, I’d just plan to bring plenty of their usual hay or haylage, a daily hard feed, and plan to hand graze a couple of times a day. However, after her stresses over the winter, I was keen to avoid upsetting her gut. Particularly as she’s been far more relaxed since living out all the time.

I filled three haynets with hay from home, the same as she’d have if she had to come in for any length of time, such as for the farrier. I then bought a small bale of haylage, the same brand I’d used in spring when she wasn’t eating much overnight. I then packed a large bag of low calorie chaff.

My plan was to mix the hay and haylage, topping her up throughout the day, as I suspected she would leave the hay if she could. Then I would hand graze her three times, if not more, for at least half an hour each time. Phoenix is only used to one feed a day so I didn’t divide it up, so I planned to give her a bucket of chaff a couple of times a day, which would hopefully line her stomach if she was off her haynet.

I wasn’t really sure how she’d react to a big change, so I wanted to be prepared with numerous options.

We arrived on Friday morning, and I had a lesson almost immediately upon arrival. In the fifteen minutes she was first in her stable, she was calm and taking it all in her stride, nibbling on her mixed haynet. She was lovely to ride, and very focused so afterwards I left her quietly in the stable for an hour before handgrazing her at lunchtime.

There has recently been articles published trying to raise the public’s awareness of the colic risk of hand grazing at stay-away shows. The grass is almost certainly going to be a different composition of grasses, herbs etc, and there is a risk of it upsetting your horse’s digestive tract. It’s not really something I am being too concerned about because I think the articles are more aimed at high level competition horses who may spend several hours being held out to graze at a big competition. I can’t see that me letting Phoenix munch some grass for a few minutes at the end of a low key competition or at camp is going to cause colic; the amount she will ingest is a small percentage of her daily intake, and the psychological benefits for her outweigh the risks.

After lunch on Friday she was happy chilling in her stable and had eaten a reasonable amount of her haynet prior to our afternoon lesson, so I was happy that she wouldn’t be working on an empty stomach. Then in the early evening I hand grazed her again before giving her her bucket feed at 6pm and topping up her haynet with haylage. Before I went to bed I gave her a bucket of dampened chaff, and she has one ready for breakfast.

Phoenix seems to have taken camp in her stride, and seems settled, so I’m not too concerned that she will go off her food in stress. I will continue with my hand grazing schedule, adding in a breakfast session today, and see how I think she is later as to whether she needs chaff last thing at night, or if I think she is content eating her net of haylage and hay.

I had her weighed on Friday too, as it’s useful to have a record for travelling and worming, and I was pleased that she came in just shy of my estimation of 500kgs at 495kgs. She was given a body score of 6, but as she’s now coming to the end of the spring grass in her field and is only really carrying fat on her neck, I’m happy with her condition.

I’m hoping that this weekend helps us bond further, and already I feel us coming together more in the ridden work, both of Fridays sessions complemented our regular lessons. Phoenix is being as loving as she knows how by nickering to me whenever I come round the corner, which shows how she has bonded with me, even if she isn’t forthcoming with physical cuddles like Otis!

Bring on today’s cross country!