Monday, January 15, 2007

Back to Basics?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest horse ever recorded was born in 1760 and died in 1822. That's a life-span on 62 years! Yet, at that time, horse owners had many fewer feed options, and didn't add two, three, five or more "supplements" to each meal. Have modern owners made horse care more complicated than it needs to be (possibly to the detriment of their horse's health?) Is it time to get back to learning the fundamentals rather than looking for quick fixes in supplement canisters? How do you feel about getting "back to basics?"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Spring Fever!

Its mid January, but the low temperature last night was near 60 degrees! Of course, we never have a camera handy when we need one, so missed an exceptional opportunity this morning. Jeb, who is turning 40 years old this spring, was cavorting around the field like a teenager. We don't have any records, but have been told that our Old Man was quite the stunning show horse in his day. Any horse that has the presence this gelding has at his age was probably a show stopper.

There is nothing like starting the morning watching an "old" horse feeling his oats, showing the spirit and carriage that must have won him more than his fair share of ribbons. Jeb is shown in a quieter moment here:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Wintering Wisely

Under most circumstances harsh winters are more uncomfortable for horse owners than for the horses themselves. When living with seniors, though, it is prudent to practice a little more diligence in snow and ice season. We hope you find these tips useful (and that you will share with us any others you've found helpful in wintering your elders wisely!)

  • Water - water, water, water! Please remember that horses consuming large amounts of hay will need to drink more water than they do when on pasture. The moisture content of pasture grass is approximately 65-75%, while that of hay is only 8-10%.
    It is essential that the water source be kept as free of ice as possible. Not all horses will break through a layer of ice to access the water below. Yes, "wild" horses learn to do that as they grow up around other horses that know outdoor survival techniques. Your horse, however, is not a "wild" creature and may not know how to get to the water under that hard surface. There are several ways to deal with icy water:

  • One method is to break through and remove ice from the surface. If the ice is merely a thin "skin," a kitchen strainer works fine on small tanks and buckets. Thicker ice or a larger tank requires a larger removal tool. Find an old feed or water bucket and use a 3/4 inch drill bit to drill holes all over the bucket, making your own big strainer. After breaking the ice up with a hammer, simply dip the ice pieces out of the tank. CAUTION: Keep the bucket over the tank until the water drains out! (You will probably not make that mistake twice unless you enjoy working in wet clothes!) Pile the ice pieces where the horse will not have to walk over them to approach the tank. Check tanks and buckets for ice several times during the day.

  • A second option is to use tank or bucket heaters to keep the water temperature above freezing. There are several types available. Whichever type you choose, remember to keep all electrical cords out of reach of the horses. In addition, please use outlets not prop open waterproof covers on outdoor outlets, allowing water into the circuit.
    If your horses' normal water source is a natural source, such as a pond or stream, consider using a tank which is more easily maintained in frigid temperatures.

  • Tank or bucket location is another important thing to consider. Winter means less algae growth, but water tanks still must be cleaned regularly. Less algae growth means little when Toothless Wonders drop wads of hay into the water and the heater brews a strong hay tea. When relocating a tank for the winter, be sure to consider drainage in the new site. If you dump a tank for cleaning and the water freezes before it drains away or soaks into frozen ground, the horses may be hesitant to walk up to the tank.

  • Hay - Roughage is an essential ingredient in any horse's diet, playing a very important role in maintaining gastrointestinal health. During the winter, hay must be provided to replace pasture grass that has gone dormant. But, winter hay is more than just a replacement for grass. Metabolizing hay produces more body heat in the horse than does the metabolism of grains and other concentrates. When the outdoor temperatures drop lower, more hay will be consumed in most cases.

  • Dentally challenged seniors need special consideration when pasture is unavailable. Some marginally toothed horses can chew tender grass shoots but are unable to eat chewy, stemmy hay. In such cases, a commercial chopped forage may work. Wetting the forage may further aid in swallowing, but it also may create problems of its own. Wet forage will freeze into a solid block in cold temperatures, so serving sizes must be no larger than the horse can eat at one "sitting." A change in hay may make a difference in how well the horse can eat. A very leafy second or third cutting hay can sometimes be chewed when a stemmy first cutting will be wadded and spit out.

  • A final word on hay is QUALITY. Don't skimp on quality when it comes to this very important ingredient in gut health, nutrition and overall well-being. It was once thought that most winter colic episodes were caused by insufficient water intake. Researchers recently added poor quality roughage to the list of major culprits. When you feed poor quality hay to a horse that cannot chew well in the best of circumstances, and that may have a less than efficient digestive tract, you are tempting fate. Please don't take that risk.

  • Feed - Some younger horses are able to maintain good health and weight on forages (grass and hay) alone. That is not the case, however, for most senior horses, especially those with dental trouble. Most elders are fed a senior feed throughout the year. Most will also need larger amounts of feed in winter since maintaining normal body temperature requires more calories than are needed in warm weather. Some will need a larger increase, in proportion to summer rations, than others. Monitor the horse's weight closely and make adjustments accordingly. Because winter coats often hide subtle changes in body condition, feel for changes over the ribs, hips, withers and shoulders rather than depending on general appearance. When feed intake must be increased significantly for the winter, consider adding another meal to the daily routine rather than trying to feed enormous amounts less often. If the horse is not already eating his senior ration as a mash, consider soaking. Soaking is yet another way to add to overall water intake.

  • Shelter - Rainproof, windproof shelter is important for domestic horses' well-being in winter. Trees, especially trees with no leaves, just won't do the trick. Most horses can tolerate rain. Most horses can tolerate moderate wind. But a wet horse in a cold wind can lose body heat at an alarming rate. This is especially true of elders who may not be able to regulate their body temperatures as efficiently as younger horses. Free access to a three sided shed or the interior of a safe barn is ideal. Keeping the horse in a stall during bad weather is another option, but the ability to move about in a shed will help keep body temperatures up. A blanket may be useful during times of confinement when lower activity levels mean less internal heat production. (Remember, though, that prolonged confinement can contribute to respiratory problems and decreased gut motility.)

  • Footing - Icy ground can be a winter nightmare for both you and your horse. First and foremost, be extremely careful and keep yourself safe. If you take a bad spill, not only might you be seriously injured, but you will also not be able to care for the horses, and everybody will suffer.

  • No matter how careful you are, you will likely end up with ice in the area of a water tank. One way to combat this problem is to move the tank to a well drained area. If you are in a climate where the daytime temperatures routinely climb above the freezing point, empty and clean tanks early in the day. Doing so will allow water to drain away or dry somewhat before the temperature drops again that night.

  • If there is no way to avoid ice accumulation in certain areas, sprinkle the area with sand, fine gravel, old bedding or anything else that will help provide traction. One thing to avoid is cat litter. Clay cat litter will absorb a certain amount of moisture, then, especially in high traffic areas, begins to break down into a slimy clay layer that makes things worse rather than better.
  • If you must lead a horse over icy ground, give him his head, plenty of loose lead, and let him choose his own path. Remember that elders are less agile than they once were and may need a little more time to get where you are asking them to go.
  • Finally, whether walking on snow, ice or mud, maintaining balance on slippery ground is hard work. This is especially true in horses that have pre-existing unsoundnesses such as arthritis. They will want to rest more often and you may need to speak with your vet about adjustments in pain management until the footing improves.
  • Snowballs! - No, not the kind you throw at your brother. The kind that form on the bottom of horses' feet. The shape and health of a horses' feet and hooves, and the texture of the snow, are big factors in how much of a problem he will have with snow accumulation. Check you horses' feet often any time there is snow on the ground. Some horses gather so much snow in their feet that their hooves do not touch the ground at all. Under certain conditions, the weight of the horse will compress the snow into an ice ball, making a dangerous situation a very dangerous situation. Snowballs will usually pop right out of the foot with a hoof pick. To prevent snow accumulation, some horse owners coat the soles with petroleum jelly, or cooking spray. Results sound mixed. Try it and see what happens, but do NOT use anything that will make the hoof itself more slippery. (NOTE: In general, shod horses will have a greater tendency to pick up snowballs than barefoot horses.)
  • Blanketing - As with younger horses, elders vary greatly in the need for a blanket. Don't be tempted to use a blanket based solely on "old age." Many equine elders grow very generous winter coats. Keeping them clean and fluffy will ensure the coats maintain maximum insulating capabilities. Monitor for shivering. A horse can literally lose several pounds during a night of shivering. When blanketing is required, avoid the temptation to put the blanket on and leave it on until spring. Use it only when needed. If the horse is one with a heavy coat, one or two warm days can cause sweating under the blanket, and lead to additional problems.

  • Getting snowed upon - If you step outside one morning and see four inches of snow perched on your horses back, don't panic. The fact that the snow is not melting proves that the horse's coat is an efficient layer of insulation between his body heat and the layer of snow. It is a good idea, though, to brush the snow off before the temperature rises above freezing. Once the snow begins to melt, it will make the horse wet. Wet + cold = NOT a Good Thing.
  • Plan ahead -- With today's weather forecasting technology, we usually know of a winter storm well before it arrives. Keep feed, hay and bedding well stocked. Do not run out just before a storm and buy just enough to get you through the storm's predicted lifespan. First, the storm may last longer than expected. Second, maybe (key word is "maybe") you can get to the feed store the moment the snow stops falling, but can the feed distributor get there? If you depend on well water and don't have a generator, fill your water tanks to the brim in case of a power outage. Fill extra tanks and buckets if you have them. (Keep the buckets in the house to prevent freezing.)
  • Heat - Heat lamps and space heaters in the barn. DON'T.
  • Keep yourself safe -- Finally in our list of winter tips: Take care of yourself. Use caution on icy ground. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Don't risk hypothermia or frostbite, even if you'll "only be out there a minute or two."

Winter's here!

That's not news to most people but, one week ago, we had temperatures in the mid 70's! (Normal for this area in early January in mid 40's.) This morning, however, we awoke to a temperature of 20 degrees. Not necessarily frigid, but a sudden, big change for us.
Its puzzling that so many in the region have been complaining about the mild winter. We are feeling quite thankful. Not surprisingly, many of our residents have arthritis which is often aggravated by cold, wet weather. In addition, walking on frozen ground for days on end seems to add to soreness, both in joints and muscles. This winter, so far, has been a blessing. Our elders won't complain if it stays warm right through 'till April.
But, since we won't be able to post any pictures of a beautiful snow covered farm this year, we offer this photo from December 2005. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

More on Manure

In answer to Rion's question of Jan 5, we offer several reasons for daily pick-up in paddocks and fields.
An average 1000-pound horse (Jubal, here, is 1100) produces approximately 50 pounds of manure a day. (That's over nine tons in one year!) Multiply that by the number of horses in a particular enclosure and the numbers can be staggering. Now add the fact that many horses are kept at stocking rates higher than one on every two acres (recommended by the Virginia Cooperative Extension,) especially in urban and suburban areas, or on farms such as boarding facilities, and it becomes more obvious why dragging or harrowing manure in the field may not be enough.

Parasite control is the most often cited reason for keeping fields clean. Horses grazing in areas where manure has been allowed to lay are likely to ingest parasites such as stongyles or bots. External parasites find manure a very attractive breeding ground as well. One female stable fly can lay 20 batches of eggs in one month (that was just one fly, remember.)

Loafing areas, in the shade in the summer or sheltered from wind in the winter, often have more manure present than other parts of paddocks or fields. In warm weather, this attracts more flies to the places in which the horses are trying to find shelter from uncomfortable conditions. In any weather, standing in manure for days at a time encourages foot infections.

Grazing itself is affected by manure left in the field. Horses, unlike most other types of livestock, often choose specific areas of the field as manure "repositories." Usually, soiled areas are then rejected as grazing sites. The grass around the manure then grows to a stage most horses consider unpalatable, while cleaner sections of the field become overgrazed. Meanwhile, the overgrazed portions become home to more and more weeds, making them less desirable for grazing too. In addition, in the heat of summer a hefty "dropping" can turn the grass under it brown in 24-48 hours, reducing grazing even further. Depending on stocking rates, these pastures can have as much as half of the area standing unused due to manure build-up.

So, while some folks in the neighborhood smile to themselves when they see us obsessively shoveling manure every day, we smile too, knowing our residents are the better for it.

More information on manure management:

Friday, January 5, 2007

Manure Management

" I dunno..............
Why do you think people collect it?"

"Goodby to a Friend"

Our condolences to Blue Horse Mukwa Equine Retirement and Rescue Center following the recent loss of their 35 year old palomino mare. "Goodby to a Friend"

Blue Seal Carb-Guard

Blue Seal recently introduced a new formula designed as a "low starch and sugar diet to minimize the risk of starch overload..................may be recommended for hyperactive horses and horses with certain health conditions such as Tying-Up, EPSM, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Cushings, Chronic Laminitis and Obesity"

Since we house several residents with Cushings and Metabolic Syndrome, we went in search of some Carb-Guard. Our local feed dealer was not yet carrying this new feed, but immediately ordered some for us. We picked it up yesterday and will now begin gradually changing a few diets to see if the symptoms of Cushings and Insulin Resistance become easier to manage.

Carb-Guard is 12% protein, 8% fat, 25% fiber. First several ingredients are: soybean hulls, corn germ, dehydrated alfalfa meal, corn distillers dried grains, corn bran. More in Blue Seal's info sheet on Carb-Guard.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Presenting.......In Person.........

That 15 hand bundle of dynamite.............
Country Sunshine!

Sonny is one of the sanctuary's older residents, turning 36 this spring. Don't let this sedate picture fool you, though. This horse is king of all he surveys. When Sonny arrived, we took some time deciding which group of horses would be best suited to his temperament. He seemed a little timid, so we wanted to be certain he would not be intimidated by more dominant horses.

Apparently we were worried about nothing. The moment Sonny was introduced to his current small herd, he took charge. Now, before you think "Well, yeah, he took charge of a group of feeble old horses," you should know that the previous herd leader is a 17 year old Thoroughbred gelding. The coup was peaceful, but unquestionable.

Sonny is in good health, but does have one unique feature. He has, literally, no molars in his upper jaw. The bottom teeth are all there, but not one molar on top. This, of course, means the bottom molars have nothing to grind against so are basically useless. Sonny eats a diet of softened feed and soaked alfalfa cubes.

Sonny will soon face the challenge of "taming" our newest arrival, a 32 year old Arab mare named Belle. They are like peas in a pod except for their color, so it remains to be seen whether or not one field is big enough for the both of them.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Nap Time

We didn't have a white christmas, but there are some advantages to a warmer than usual winter. Many of our residents' regular routines include naps in the morning sun following chilly nights.

Full Moon

Aha! This must be the explanation for yesterday's explosion of Elders With Attitude. (Not that we don't deal with a little of that every day, but yesterday and the night before were hideous.)
TREES often receives calls from people looking for an older horse for their children or grandchildren. The assumption is that every senior horse is well-behaved, bombproof, and "kid-safe." You know the saying. "Never Assume........" Elder horses have different temperaments just as younger horses do. Elder horses have received different levels of training, just as younger horses have. And on a windy day......or under a full moon......elder horses are more likely to have Attitude.....just as younger horses are.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Happy New Year! Welcome to Traveller's Rest

Another year begins and with it a new blog to celebrate the residents of Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary. TREES was created as a haven for some of the most senior members of Virginia's horse population; those who have "fallen through the cracks" or whose owners encounter hardships making it impossible to continue caring for old equine friends. Jeb, the gentleman pictured in this entry, is currently TREES' oldest resident, entering his 40th year this spring.