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.

Probiotics – worth the money?

Some are. Some aren’t.

Gut health is finally being recognized as an essential, if not vital source of well-being for horses.  A tremendous amount of time, energy and money is spent by owners trying to figure out how to prevent ulcers, how to cure ulcers, how to fatten horses up, deal with elderly horses and malabsorption issues and more.

Many horses are put on Gastroguard (omeprazole) without any plan for what to do when they come off of it. This is unfortunate because all gastric acid pump inhibitors cause a rebound effect when they are stopped.  Often horses go right back on them and sometimes even stay on them – sometimes at half or quarter doses – forever.  For what it’s worth, they were never designed for humans or horses to be kept on for long periods of time because you and your horse really do need stomach acid to digest food and they inhibit uptake of calcium.

So what can you do?  If you haven’t considered the link between processed feeds and ulcers, you should. Forage first, nutrition second, calories third.. can all be achieved without a bag of processed feed.  Grass is the ultimate ulcer cure if you have the patience for it to work its magic.

Other things besides ulcers and omeprazole cause gut issues.  Antibiotics are the obvious one.  They kill all bacteria including the good ones.  When you need them, you need them – but afterwards you need to do something to fix the damage.

An often overlooked issue in the gut is laminitis. Laminitis – unless you’ve bedded your horse down on black walnut shavings, or your horse is PPID, or has something like a vaccine or steroid reaction – begins in the hind gut.  Horses who are laminitic need gastric support also.

I do use and recommend a probiotic.  I tried things like Probios.. I saw no change.  I stumbled across this stuff more years ago than I can remember and gave it a try. I liked that it is made by a small company ( was VERY small at the time) that bred dogs and specialized in supplements. I liked how accessible they were and how their product actually worked.  15 years later, I’m still using it.

The Probiotic I Recommend

Nature’s Farmacy Website

I like it so much I’m just going to leave the link here.  I hope it’s of use to ya’ll.  I don’t rep for Nature’s Farmacy like I do Uckele.  They do have a referral cash back program so if you tell them Gayle Dauverd sent you by using one of these links I get a 5% kick back.  That’s nice.  But it’s nicer if your horses stomach doesn’t hurt and a small business makes a solid living.  Cheers!

Why yes, that is a fat OTTB!

One of my frustrations is the stereotype that Thoroughbreds, and particularly OTTBs, are hard keepers.

At one point in my life I rehabilitated and resold horses off the track.  I still do it when a connection has a horse they think would suit my market, but it’s no longer my day job.  But I have a tremendous amount of experience feeding OTTB’s.

Feeding OTTB’s processed feeds creates a vicious cycle. Not only are they prone to being reactive to soy, flax, corn and wheat, they DO metabolize feedstuffs into energy easily. Perhaps energy you aren’t interested in dealing with during the retraining process or perhaps never, depending on your riding goals.  Sadly it’s been accepted that Thoroughbred and particularly horses off the track are spooky, nutty and reactive.

There is a definite adjustment period necessary for some of them to wind down from a busy lifestyle and some of them truly are hardwired for high energy, I won’t deny that.  But the majority of them are not, and I have found that many eventually have ZERO interest in galloping again, sometimes even cantering is a stretch!  And quiet – wow. These horses have seen everything from a young age. If they make it out sound, no amount of riding through pool noodles and “desensitization” clinics can equal what they’ve seen, done and been expected to handle.

In short, the reason OTTB’s are challenging is usually because of what they are fed, how much turnout they receive and the experience of their handlers and riders.  I’ll save that last sentence for another post but I will add that what most OTTB’s want is what they had – a firm expectation of good manners and professionalism. Horses on the track are not abused; but bad manners are not tolerated.  Horses can be and are ruled off the track for bad behavior.

So if you have an OTTB and he’s hot, ulcer-prone, difficult to train and keep weight on – you should start with revamping his feed program to one that is  forage and nutrition based first, calories being focused on last.  The usual recommendations to put weight on an OTTB focus on calories fed through processed feeds and this backfires – so much that there is a fortune being made in selling supplements with names like “Cool Calories”.  The amounts required to be fed to meet all the nutritional needs of any horse in a processed feed are designed for you to feed A LOT OF FEED – so you buy more feed.  Horses stomachs cannot process more than 5 lbs of feed at a time – and this is pushing it – so it’s a recipe for ulcers and malnutrition, not weight gain and a quiet minded horse.

I hope if you are struggling with an OTTB you’ll contact me. I love the American Thoroughbred and would like to help you enjoy yours.  I can be reached at TheWholeHorseNC@gmail.com

Ownership credit of above gorgeous, fat OTTB goes to Amy Bissinger.

Let’s Talk About Forage

My feeding philosophy is simple:  horses weren’t designed to live the life we’ve put upon them and it’s our responsibility to feed them in a way that duplicates their natural lifestyle when at all possible.  Let’s look at forage requirements on this page.

The first hard and fast rule about feeding horses is this:  THEY NEED FORAGE.  Horses should have 24/7 access to forage. If your horse is an easy keeper, then this might mean low quality forage that is low in sugar and starches, perhaps even in a slow feeder bag, or grazing in a field that has little grass available.  If your horse is metabolic or prone to laminitis, you might have to soak that hay in order to provide 24/7 forage and still put it in a slow feeder bag.  If your horse is in work and you’re always struggling a bit to keep him in good weight, then higher quality forage is necessary.  If your horse is in hard work then the best quality, free choice forage will be essential.

Providing horses with forage 24/7 can be very expensive. For example, I break out the feed costs of all my horses and one of mine eats $4.50 in hay every day.  That’s $135.00 a month in hay costs alone.  If you are boarding your horse, please understand that the biggest upfront cost your barn has to handle is hay.  Many barns keep costs down by not feeding adequate forage.  The ultimate cost of this is passed onto the consumer, who then often has a horse with ulcers that is difficult to keep weight on, has behavioral issues and truly is mentally focused on getting food instead of work, because that’s how horses are hard wired.  This then translates to buying ulcer medications (cha-ching!), weight gain supplements (cha-ching!) and behavioral supplements and extra training (cha-ching!), vet bills for colicing horses as well as having an unhappy horse and an unhappy owner in general.  Hungry horses just really aren’t their best selves.

Many commercial barns do not have adequate pasture for horses to graze in the summer.  This can very region to region but where I live, in the southeast, we have optimum grazing situations if managed correctly.  For example, I have approximately 15 acres in grass and my pastures are managed for easy keepers, medium keepers and horses who need to gain weight.  I try to keep no more than five horses here at any given time so as to ensure adequate grazing.  In summer, when horses come in during the hotter, buggier part of the day, they have hay in their stalls.

An unfortunate part of horse keeping and horse ownership is that it is expensive.  However, where you choose to spend your dollars can be crucial to your horses health and it is worth crunching numbers to determine if you are boarding in a situation where you’d be better off paying more somewhere else and getting the forage your horse needs to be healthy.  If you keep your horses at home, you have complete control over this and should make it your first priority.  Once you are sure your horse is receiving adequate forage, you can focus on nutrition.

The bottom line is this:  forage should be the mainstay of your horses diet.  Since we have taken away the option of horses having the ability to go seek out their own forage, we have to provide it.  It’s not possible to have truly healthy horses and not provide adequate forage.  I am happy to refer you to hay dealers that I have found to be reliable and trustworthy.

The Whole Horse – How It Came To Be

Hey there.  I’m Gayle Dauverd and this is The Whole Horse.  I’d like to tell you how I got here and why it’s important.

My childhood was of the typical hunter kid barn rat; I moved on to riding dressage horses in my later twenties and eventually began training and teaching.  But it wasn’t until 15 years ago that I began becoming more involved in what my horses ate, and the big awakening came when I bought my own farm and could not only control what they ate, but had the opportunity to live with them and really, truly observe them.

During that time I also began trimming horses feet, and that has also brought me a tremendous amount of knowledge about how what goes in a horses mouth affects every aspect of its body but that’s a side note to explore later.

What I began discovering through the journey of becoming very ill myself and having to take a hard, close look at my personal diet was that I was feeding my horses processed feeds that at worst contained mystery ingredients and at best, still contained things that horses tend not to tolerate well, like soy.

My attitude towards supplementation was willy-nilly. Need a shinier coat?  Feed flax, one person advised. But how?  Whole flax? Ground flax?  Stabilized ground flax?  Keep it in the freezer?  Really?  Ok, so how about oil.  Uckele makes a great supplement called Cocosoya, it will put shine on anything.  But it’s very expensive.  I began wondering, what causes a shiny coat?  Is this related to strong feet, since hair and feet are basically made of the same substances?

Then there were the gut supplements. Ulcers were the big ticket item then, and it seemed like every horse was on Gastroguard.  Even the smallest bit of research revealed that long term use of gastric acid inhibitors used in humans can cause serious secondary issues.  So why were we keeping horses on Gastroguard for what seemed to be forever ?  Why when they did come off of it were other supplements being recommended?  Why weren’t we trying to figure out why these horses had ulcers in the first place?

At that point I took a big step back and looked at what I knew to be true. Horses are made to ingest forage 24/7 and they are designed to move. I researched Jamie Jacksons work “Paddock Paradise” and everything else I could get my hands on.  At that time barefoot trimming was becoming a fad, and a dangerous one at that.  I was beginning to carefully trim my own but under supervision and training; but we were routinely seeing horses being trimmed in very destructive ways.   What I had not yet connected were the foot problems and the food problems. I had already understood how incorrect riding affect the feet but here was one more piece of the puzzle and I was determined to figure it out.

So as I said, I went back to forage.  The advice at the time was to analyze all forage and then base a nutritional plan around the results.  This seemed like the answer until I realized that not only could I not analyze grass, I did not feed the same hay all winter AND the hay I did feed came from many different places even if it was the same supplier. So for the most part I threw this idea away and went with generalized standards of nutrition for average hays.

Around this time the Chronicle of the Horse was running a free forum that was acting as an incredible crowdsourcing resource. People from everywhere were happy to discuss what they were feeding and why; what the results were and listen to others input.  That resource has since passed, but we also were able to do a tremendous amount of research on parasites, which is something I will talk about in a later post.  Be prepared, because I LOVE parasitology!

One thing I found was that there were people who were NOT feeding their horses processed feeds. Some were feeding only (copious amounts of) forage, some adding vitamins and some other form of protein.  Across the board these peoples horses had one thing in common – no ulcers.  Other people were feeding incredible amounts of processed feeds to their horses and while some reported no issues, many were commenting on behavioral issues and interestingly, their horses still being ‘hard keepers’.

At that point I knew that I had to learn what a horse RDA was for each necessary vitamin and mineral and how to make that work with a forage based diet, because the writing was on the wall.  How that all went is a story for another post, but I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing how I finally figured out where to begin this journey.  Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll be back for more!