There are things to keep in mind when evaluating a potential boarding stable as well as developing your own equine management practises at home. Recent columns on colic and hydration touched on a few of these principles.
A horse has three main necessities of good health: food, water and shelter.
Food has an incredible bearing of the quality of your horse’s health, not only in the nutrition it provides but the method it is delivered.
Horses have small stomachs, roughly the size of a football.
The equine digestive system is designed to ingest small amounts of food frequently. Horses in the wild graze and move on.
The horse’s stomach functions best when it is two-thirds full.
Because of the addition of digestive juices, food will double in volume by the time it reaches your horse’s stomach.
Large feeds of concentrates will not be properly digested and much of food value wasted. Roughage tends to be eaten slower and therefore satisfies the small portions often concept better.
The horse is an animal of habit. He begins to produce and secrete digestive acids in anticipation of food expected to be fed.
In nature random grazing throughout the day neutralizes these acids. Where this becomes a problem is in the domestic horse that is not being fed regularly.
It is speculated that horses on a feeding program (versus free choice or pasture grazing) are at greater risk of developing gastric ulcers because they are not able to pick at roughage at will.
Does that mean you should allow free choice hay to the horses typically living in the “diet” pen? Certainly not! It does mean that you should consider feeding smaller portions throughout the day.
Feeding breakfast, lunch, dinner and before bed snack would be ideal, but not always practical.
Horse’s living in a boarding facility should have access to such care, at least to be fed three times daily. Ideally, a larger portion would be fed in the evening to sustain him through the night.
If possible feed more of a lower calorie hay to horse that is on a restricted diet.
By lower calorie I don’t mean lower quality. Anything fed to a horse needs to be clean and mould/dust free.
Feeding poor quality food matter will compromise your horse’s health and potentially put him at risk for colic. You wouldn’t eat a piece of bread that had mould on it because you know that the spores aren’t always visible, so tearing off the affected part isn’t going to get it all.
The same goes for feeding hay that has mould on it to your horse.
Round bales should have the exterior round or two removed, if the bales have been allowed to ‘weather’, before being fed.
Changes to a horse’s diet need to be made slowly to prevent digestive upset.
As I mentioned above, horse’s produce digestive juices that aid in breaking down food matter.
If a new food is added to the horse’s diet that he is not accustomed to digesting, there will not be any digestive juices to help break down this new feed. Gradually phasing in the new food allows the body to start producing the appropriate juices and therefore ensuring efficient and safe digestion. It is critical that horses have ample roughage in their diet.
The digestion of roughage produces body heat, which keeps your horse warm in winter. The colder it gets outside, the more roughage your horse will need.
A horse’s body is composed of over 60 per cent water. A loss of 20 per cent can be fatal.
Even in winter horse’s drink between six to 12 gallons of water daily. Fresh, clean water needs to be provided for a horse to thrive. Expecting a horse to live on snow throughout the winter is not the kindest management practise.
The horse may survive, but certainly will not thrive.
Horses in the wild drink from rivers, sloughs or wherever they can find water sources, snow helps sustain them for periods of time but is not their sole source of hydration.
Shelter is also a necessity of life. Being able to get out of the hot sun or away from the pesky bugs is just as important as being sheltered from rain, snow or wind. Not providing shelter will take a physical toll on your horse’s well-being and longevity.
Every horse requires the necessities of life: food, water and shelter. Ensuring the quality of these will help your horse live a happy, healthy life.
Shelly Graham is a local rider, trainer, horse breeder and Equine Canada certified coach.