Nyquist Wins The Kentucky Derby! Let’s Talk Thoroughbreds.

So Nyquist strolled down the field today and won the Kentucky Derby. I have to admit that I missed it; I was on a horse. One that is 3/4 TB (see above photograph of him and my lovely daughter)  so not quite exactly the “real deal” but he might as well be. I’ll catch the replay later.

TB’s and OTTB’s have always been my horse of choice. I love the way they think; give them a question and they try to answer. The answers might be eclectic but they sure try. Being patient with their method is key. I love the way they want to work, and work hard. The trickiest thing in getting a TB fit is to NOT overwork them; I have to remind myself of this constantly. Doing too much on a horse who feels good today makes a sore horse tomorrow, which can begin a vicious cycle. It’s hard though when they keep insisting that an extension here would be a really great idea!

I grew up riding them. I learned to train on them. My training philosophies evolved from working with horses who were forward, who were sensitive, who wanted to please and wanted to understand but wouldn’t tolerate being held on to or overly controlled. It taught me how to create a partnership through freedom and showing the horse how joyfully we could create movement together. TB’s like to move. Tap into that and you’re going to have fun.

It has always bothered me to hear the stereotype that TB’s are crazy. Sure, there are outliers in every breed. But I’ve found my TB’s to be the most sensible horses I’ve ever trained and ridden. I sincerely believe that the reason so many TB’s struggle to accept training, to be able to be calm, to be able to focus on work, is because they are being fed a diet that simply doesn’t work for them.

Growing up we fed hay. Lots and lots and lots of hay. We fed oats. Then sweet feed came along, and then pelleted feeds. I wish I had been observing closer but I can say that it seems like the arrival of the crazy TB started around then. Until then, that’s all we rode and some were hotter and some were calmer but for the most part, they did it all – hunters, jumpers, dressage, eventing – and when I lived out west, they barrel raced and even cut cattle and did ranch work.

Today I read constantly about how quirky they are. How hot they are, how untrainable they are, how all the want to do is run. And yet, I don’t have that experience with mine. I sincerely believe that TB’s are being made nutty by being fed incorrectly. It makes me sad because this is an incredible breed with amazing drive and heart and so many of them are like kids on sugar highs – too much energy being generated. The “hard-keeper” concept drives this. Give them more food because they need more calories because they are thin. So the calories go in, the energy goes up and the horse burns even MORE calories, resulting in the “hard-keeper” phenomena. I don’t believe it. No matter what condition a horse is in when it gets here, we feed it for nutrition first. Once you sort out what the deficiencies are (and yes, OTTB’s come from the track very nutrient depleted) most horses calorie requirements – even in average to moderate work – are covered by forage.

Feed companies are in the business of selling feed. If they can convince the consumer that their horse needs 12 lbs of whatever-it-is, they have succeeded in their job of selling feed. Remember this has nothing to do with the well-being of the horse. My opinion, based on a lot of fact, is that TB’s are being made to feel crazy by what they are fed. In general, horses want to be quiet and relaxed in their lives. If your horse is not please consider that perhaps what he is being fed is not in his best interest. Going back to basics and reevaluating what your horse really needs to eat to thrive is the first thing you should do if you don’t have a quiet, willing partner.

Everyone Has An Answer?

I’m not quite sure what to title this post, so if anyone has a better one, feel free to leave it in the comments.

I’m often tagged on people’s requests for feed advice on FB forums.  I usually just post my blog address and move on.  Today I checked back on one of them and found no less than 42  advices on what this person should feed her horse to put weight on it. The only information given was that it was a mare and a TB.

To be fair, some of them did inquire as to the horses health and deworming status.  But the majority of them said something like “Tribute! Love the stuff” or “Safechoice and Cool Calm, worked for my horse!”

I suppose you get what you pay for but I was sincerely alarmed at the sheer number of answers, all different. What truly stood out was that there are A LOT of choices out there and clearly people don’t understand what questions to ask and how to sort through the information out there.  That is a daunting task; with all the processed feed sources available I don’t know how anyone could keep up. I suspect most decision are made based on what the feed store sells and a hit or miss approach to feeding.  The amount of trial and error documented in that single thread also made me believe most people would come out better off, financial and for their horse, if they simply consulted first with someone to help them figure out a solid nutritional plan for their horse from the beginning.

I recently went to a feed seminar to observe and while the basic concepts certainly were correct, what it took to get to a complete nutritional profile was just as complicated as any custom feed program. In his defense, he was clear that one feed cannot fit the needs of all horses – in spite of the bag stating exactly that.

When I meet with a new client I get a history of the horses diet, health and work.  I do a physical examination of the horse and discuss its deworming history and dental care. I ask what concerns the client has and what their capacity is for dealing with feeding programs. We discuss hoof and hair coat quality and what those things mean in the bigger picture.  We discuss what their vet’s input has been and what tests might be appropriate to run.  After coming up with an initial plan, I run it through Feed XL to be sure all the major categories are fulfilled and then we do a trial run for 3 months.  There is usually some tweaking to be done after that and some horses change diets between summer and winter (grass, no grass).

Initially it can seem overwhelming.  If you are used to scooping out processed feed from a bag, it can seem downright daunting.  Many of the Uckele products I use can be sourced as individual items or as complete vitamin/mineral supplements; so this can be worked around if necessary .  Uckele will also mix custom supplements if required.  If the horse is kept at a boarding barn, extra care must be given to minimize supplementation or the owner must be willing to bag feed.  Personally I’ve gone this route and been pleased with it; there’s no better assurance that your horse is actually getting the diet you’ve chosen than counting out two weeks worth of bagged feed stuffs and having two weeks of empty bags returned to you.

In the end, the majority of my clients comment that once they got in the habit of feeding comprehensively rather than just scooping out of a bag it became easy.  A few are not able to make the adjustment and so I help them find a simpler solution that works for their horse and them, even if it’s not optimal – sometimes you simply have to meet people where they are at.  This is better resolution than “a scoop of Safe Choice and some Cool and Calm”.  It’s all about the horse and if moving to a quality ration balancer and oats is an improvement, then the horse benefits. And that’s what this is about.

 

Spring Is Coming! Wait.. It Already Did.

What on earth could I mean by that?

For your horses, spring began when the days started getting longer.  Hormonal changes are triggered by the sun shining later into the day.  This is subtle at first but as the year progresses we begin to see the things we associate with spring – shedding, sometimes allergies to gnats and – uh oh, the grass is growing.

If you have a young, high-metabolism type horse, the grass coming in is the happiest time of the year! However, if you have older horses, fat or metabolic horses (horses with crusty necks and fat pads) or PONIES, this means you need to be considering how to manage your equine friends now – NOT when the grass shows up.  Your horse is already gearing up for breeding season! WHAT, you say?  My gelding can’t breed and I have no intentions of breeding my mare! It doesn’t matter.  Your horses hormones pay no attention to what we want to do and continue to act accordingly. This is even true for geldings – not all hormones are affected by gelding. Ask your vet for more information if you are curious.

This means it’s time for you to consider what your horse has been eating all winter. Often we have upped feed sources to accommodate cold weather burning calories and a lack of grass.  Please take off the blankets and reassess your horses body condition now.  Consult a body scoring chart and be honest.  Does your horse have a cresty neck?  Does he have fat pads over his withers, ribs or tail head?  Is he just plain FAT?  Or alternatively, was winter tough on him?  Can you see ribs and does his neck look thin?  Step behind him *carefully* and assess his topline from behind.  Does he fall off from the croup?

Whatever the situation is, if it’s not perfect, the time to deal with it is now.  Horses and ponies who are metabolic or overweight need changes made to their diets immediately. Often a truly easy keeper can do perfectly well on a high quality vitamin/mineral supplement such as those made by Uckele and hay, with some sort of omega 3/6 supplement.  The horse coming out of winter thin needs accessible protein, attention paid to possible worm-load and careful calories and high nutritional value feed stuffs.  The metabolic horse needs a customized program that may include special supplements to help regulate insulin and decrease the inflammatory process present in these horses.  Extreme care needs to be taken in vaccinating this group of horses, please discuss this with your veterinarian.  If they are not aware of this, do some research on your own before vaccinating so you can make a plan with your vet.

Whatever the situation is, there is an answer.  I hope you’ll consider contacting me if you are not confident in how to handle what you find when the blankets come off.  Here at Dry Creek farm we have a pony who is one diet, a metabolic horse who is on another and two middle of the road TB’s who have yet another diet. I know that processed feeds say you can feed that one feed to all horses – but I feel sure that common sense tells you there’s something not right about that concept as all horses are not the same!

I look forward to hearing about you and your horse.