Old Horses & Hard Keepers

The topic that seems to come up the most in every horse discipline is feeding. People are always asking how to put weight on their old horse or hard keeper. With the unlimited amount of supplement and feed companies out there, you can find an endless list of articles and advice on how to feed horses.  If you ask ten different people what to feed your horse, you’ll get ten different answers.

There have been many times that I’ve run across a skinny older horse whose ribs showed and the response has been, “Well, he’s just old and won’t keep weight.” The owners have bought into the misconception that once a horse gets over the age of 20 they’re going to be skinny. While that may be true for some ancient horses, and by ancient I mean over the age of 30, that’s not necessarily true for all. I have seen too many fat and sassy old horses to know better!

It is true that as horses age, factors like tooth loose and a decreased ability to digest foods impacts how well they keep their weight. But it doesn’t mean that the impact is so big that they can’t maintain a healthy weight. What makes the determination of whether or not an old horse, or a hard keeper, maintains their weight is simply management.

Quite frankly, one of the biggest reasons I’ve found that keeps old horses or hard keepers from gaining weight is simply that they’re not being fed enough. The next reason is that they’re not being fed a good enough quality forage.

When you ask owners how much does your horse weigh, how many pounds of feed and how many pounds of hay do you feed your horse, many simply don’t know. They can tell you what volume they feed, but they don’t know what that volume actually weighs. When they put a weight tape on their horse and then actually weigh their feed and hay, they often find that they are feeding a good bit less than what they think they are.

So rule number one in feeding the hard keeper and old horse is know  your horse’s weight and actually weigh your feed and your hay. By the way, a 3 quart scoop of Equine Senior weighs 3.8 pounds on a postal scale – and not all feeds will weigh the same!

Since we’re talking about pounds, the average horse requires a minimum of 1-1.5% of their body weight in forage sources per day. That means that a thousand pound horse needs at least 10 to 15 pounds of hay per day. Most hard keepers will require around 2% or 20 pounds of hay per day. Keep in mind these totals do not include feed, only forage or hay.

If you’re feeding an older horse with teeth problems that can’t chew, many Senior feeds are formulated to be at least a partial replacement for hay. Be sure to verify if your senior feed is a Complete Feed.There’s also other options such as Chaffhaye , cubes and beet pulp, and chopped hay that provide high quality sources of forage for horses that can’t chew well.

In order to keep weight on an average horse, a decent amount of excellent quality forage is still required. When feeding an older horse or a hard keeper, feeding at least some top quality hay is critical to maintaining their weight. Personally, I’ve never seen a hard keeper that could keep weight on just hay but good hay or forage does play a crucial role in their feed program in order to maintain a certain level of weight and condition. Without it, it’s impossible to keep the pounds on.

The bottom line is that you can’t feed a minimum amount of feed and mediocre hay and keep weight on your hard keeper or your older horse. You also can’t just add a supplement or just change feeds and watch the pounds miraculously appear. It takes making sure your horse gets enough poundage, not just volume, of good quality feed and hay — and that’s after you’ve made sure they’re on a good worming program, their teeth have been floated, and they don’t have any other underlying health issues.

Do you have a hard keeper or an old horse that’s in excellent condition? What do you do to keep them at a good weight?

Here’s a picture of my 23-year-old Appendix horse that I’ve had since he was 3 years old. He’s on 3 pounds of Chaffhaye , 1.5 pounds each of alfalfa cubes and beet pulp (soaked!), 10 pounds of mix fescue grass hay,7 pounds of Strategy feed, and a cup of rice bran and flax seed. He weighs 1250 pounds.

bluff 2014

 

 

 

Is Your Colt Broke?

The million dollar question…. Is a colt broke if it lets you ride it around on its back?

The million dollar answer…. Depends on who you’re asking.

 

In my book, it doesn’t matter how well they carry you around. If you have to pull them around, they’re not broke.

For me, getting one soft through the face and through the body is the critical step in breaking horses. You can’t move forward until you have those elements in place. For a lot of people however, it’s just the opposite – the critical step for them is getting the horse to stand still or move without bucking. Reining comes later.

What exactly is “soft” and why is it so important?

Through the years there have been many great horseman try to define what softness is in a horse. Quite frankly, if you’re a horseman that loves to learn, your definition of softness will evolve and grow deeper as you learn.

Giving just a basic definition of softness so that you get the idea, softness is being able to get the horse to do something or move something without a lot of effort.

For instance, you ask a horse to bring its head around by pulling on the lead rope or the rein. A soft horse, you don’t have to pull in order to get the head around – they require a lot less effort. You only have to pick up. There’s a big difference in effort between pulling and just picking up a rein and that’s basically the beginning idea of softness.

Why is softness so important when it comes to progressing with breaking colts? I’ve found that it can literally mean the difference between staying and hitting dirt.

By now you’re probably asking how in the world getting a horse soft can keep you from falling off. It’s quite simple, actually. It boils down to timing and effort.

It takes more time to pull a horse’s head around than it does to just pick up. If a young horse starts to buck or rear, in order to control the feet you need to get control of the head quickly. If you’re having to pull instead of pick up, your horse has a better chance of getting a jump in on you before you get control.

As mentioned earlier, it takes more effort to pull than just pick up. It also requires more balance because of the leverage needed in order to pull. If your horse is acting up, most likely your balance is already in danger. Add the fact that you’re having to struggle to get your horse’s head around and you’re setting yourself up to quickly become unbalanced.

Those are just two elementary examples of why getting a horse soft prior to getting on is so important when it comes to breaking colts, just riding horses in general. True softness goes much deeper than that but it’s the foundation of everything that goes into an upper level finished horse that’s easy to ride.

 

Does your horse require a lot of effort to ride? If so, what can you work on to make your horse easier to ride?

MO FIRST SADDLE RIDE GROUND STAND Mo

 

 

 

Train Your Horses Well

“Train your horses well because it means their future.”

When I’ve been asked about breaking horses or working through a problem, I’ve always said those words and I’ve always believed them. This last week or so in going through an unexpected family crisis and having to thin my small herd drastically on short notice, those words have hit home harder than I ever imagined.

In working with my horses through the years, I’ve been competition focused. I’ve trained for good manners but have primarily focused on things like taking leads well, consistent movement and speed, softness, body control, etc. While those things may make for a great show prospect, the majority of good homes out there are not looking for a show prospect. The majority of good homes out there are looking for a horse their five year old can ride – that requires a whole different set of skills.

Although I’ve spent a lot of hours in bringing each of my horses along, when it came time to finding them good homes, it’s evident that some of them could use even more time and work. Suddenly things that you just deal with without thinking about become a bigger issue of whether or not the horse will find a good home – not everyone can handle what you just deal with.

For instance, one of my horses has been shown quite a bit in Ranch Trail, Ranch Riding, has sorted cows, and even has some ARHA and EXCA points on him. He’s pretty solid on a lot of things. You can throw a rope unexpectedly around his back feet all day long yet this same horse will cow kick if something hard like a rake suddenly touches his back legs. Although he’s been hauled a lot, if he gets excited he can be pretty explosive.

I’ve had this horse since he was a yearling and although I’ve put a lot of time into him, the things that I need to put more time into suddenly become big issues when trying to place him into a therapy or lesson program. It’s clear he’s not a horse you can place just anywhere so where does that leave his future?

Having to make the decision to get rid of horses I’ve had for ten years has been a heart breaking process but it’s also been a learning process that I think in the end will improve me as a trainer. While I’m sure I’ll still focus on skills needed for showing, the primary goal will be to produce a horse that could be used for therapy or for children so that emergency placement into a good home would be much easier.

Could your horse be a therapy or child’s horse? If not, why? What changes can you make in your training to change that?

Bubba Extreme cowboy race bubba rope

Setting Goals

Setting a measurable goal is important if you want to accomplish certain things in life. Working with horses is no different. While measurable goals are necessary for the big objectives, they’re also necessary for the small steps you take with your horse on a daily basis. If you don’t set goals every time you handle your horse, you run the risk of not only losing focus, but upsetting your horse as well.

Most of us that show have no problem setting a big goal for competition. That’s an integral part of competing, really. But sometimes what we don’t do is set a goal for every time we ride. Sometimes we get so rushed that we focus on warming up or doing our routine that we forget about the details. In the end, we ride mindlessly on our horses and /or we wind up drilling too much on certain things.

 Years ago a good trainer friend of mine said that horses have the mentality of a three year old child. That concept has come back to me time after time and it’s a good one to hold on to. While the image of a three year old child conjures up a limited understanding, it also brings up the subject of attention span. Most three year old children can’t concentrate on something for more than just a couple of minutes before they’re thinking, “Ooooohhhhhh…. Look at all the pretty colors!” Then most parents are struggling to get their attention back. Horses are absolutely no different.

 Your first basic goal should be to keep your training sessions short, especially when working with younger horses. You want to focus on the important stuff while you don’t have to fight for their attention. If you work for a longer period, they’re going to get frustrated because you’re going to have to battle that desire to “look at all the pretty colors.” Quit before that happens.

 You might think that short sessions don’t do any good. Horses learn by repetition and have a wonderful memory. It doesn’t matter how long the session is or really even how long it is between sessions. What matters most is the consistency and number of sessions.

Another goal should be to focus on only a couple of things per ride. Don’t start your ride thinking you have to accomplish everything that’s needed to do your class or event. Focus on only a couple of things and accomplish those. Then the next ride, focus on something else.

For instance, green horses don’t travel well in a straight line. They also don’t keep a consistent speed, and depending on how far along they are they may not know how to take a correct lead. The absolute worst thing you can do is go out there and try to make that green horse do all three of those things during your work session. Break it down and focus on only a couple of things, like a straight line and a good forward tempo at a trot. Then next time you can work on your canter.

A repetition goal is also important and needs to be determined before you ever step up into the saddle. How many times are you going to lope on the left lead? How many times are you going to ask your horse to back? How many times are you going to jump over that particular jump? Decide these goals ahead of time and then keep track of them while you’re riding so that you don’t over work your horse to the point of being sour.

Last, and probably the most important goal is to quit your ride on a good note. If you have to set your horse up to quit on a good note, by all means find something he’s good at and quit on that.This is especially critical if there’s something that your horse is struggling with because quitting speaks louder to a horse than drilling on what you’re trying to teach.

If I’ve got a horse that’s really struggling with something, I’ll make that the goal for the day. If my horse reaches that goal in just a few minutes, I’ll quit for the day right then. I can always ride tomorrow but that horse just tried and accomplished something he couldn’t before. Quitting on a good note tells him he did the right thing, and it boosts his confidence.

So what goals have you been setting for your rides? How do you determine those goals?

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In or Out?

There’s a lot of rain and snow in many parts of the country this time of year. Wet weather can make it a little tougher to manage your horses and usually the one question we all ask is do we keep them in or do we put them out?

When it comes to wet winter weather, there are generally two camps of thinking for managing horses. One is to keep them up and make sure they’re sheltered from the cold and wet. The other is to throw them out because they need to be out as much as possible and it makes them hardy. Which one is right?

For years if it did anything more than just a sprinkle, I kept my horses up for several reasons. I didn’t want my small pasture dug up. I didn’t want my horses getting rain rot. I didn’t want them getting cold and sick. I didn’t want them to be miserable – I certainly wouldn’t want to stand out in the pouring rain all day long.

Through the years, my thinking has changed, or maybe it’s just that I’ve got too many horses and I’m always looking for ways to minimize my chores. Either way, I’ve gotten a little closer to the camp that thinks horses should be out as much as possible.

One argument you often hear in our area is the general story about the worst storm of the century and how all the horses chose to be out the in the storm and not in the run in shed. By the way, I lived that scenario in 1993 when the blizzard hit and I was working at an Arab farm and all the young mares were out in the storm and not in the shed. But is that always the case and is that a valid argument to throwing horses out to the elements?

Now that we’re at our new place we have one set of horses out 24/7, I have found the argument that horses had rather be outside is not entirely true. While some of my horses will graze out in the rain, I have one horse that insists on standing under the shed. Every time he starts to leave the shed, he’ll get halfway out and feel the rain and then immediately back under the shed again. He just detests the rain.

The horse with the blaze is the horse that backs up under the shed. 

Staying Dry

These guys go out in the rain all the time. They don’t care if they’re out. 

Like To Be Out

I don’t think the question, “In or out?” is a simple question. I think for one, you have to know your horse well enough to know whether or not he’ll be happy out in the elements. Some don’t pay any attention to the rain, and then others like the gelding that I mentioned are miserable. If a horse is miserable they’re going to be stressed and stress, as we all know, can cause health issues in horses. So in the long run is it really worth turning that horse out into the wet weather without shelter if he’s going to be miserable?

Another thing to consider is just how bad is the weather? Years ago I read an article that I use as a guide for managing my horses in wet weather. The article stated that if it’s raining and the temperature is below 40 degrees that horses require additional hay because they start losing body heat. If the weather is dry, that temperature threshold drops down to 20 degrees.

I’m fortunate now in that both my pastures have run in sheds and the horses can decide whether or not they want to stay out in the rain. If I didn’t have run in sheds, I’d still use the 40 degree rule for when it rain to determine whether or not I would turn my horses out.

Even though you may have ample shelter for your horses while they’re out, you also have to consider how well your horses get along. Do they get along well enough that everyone gets to go under the shed? Sometimes horses will pick on each other when they’re in close quarters. That usually means one horse will have to stand out in the rain. It’s important to know your herd’s dynamics for this very reason.

Your horse’s hooves are another thing to consider when asking whether or not you should turn your horse out. If your horse wears pads or special shoes and your pasture has a lot of deep mud, it might not be the best idea to turn your out. Deep wet mud can get trapped under pads and can also pull shoes off. You also don’t want a horse with severe thrush or other hoof infection or injury standing in wet ground all day.

“In or Out?” seems like a simple question. After all, it is only two options. When it comes to horse management however, it’s not that simple. When the weather gets wet, herd dynamics, horse temperament, hoof condition, and temperature are all things that you have to consider before you answer that question.

How do you determine whether or not you turn your horses out?

Sharing What You Have For Christmas

Christmas is right around the corner. It’s a time of giving but it should also be a time of reflection of how blessed we are. Often we get so caught up in the usual holiday obligations that we don’t stop and think how blessed we truly are to do what we do with our horses.

Most of us are pretty quick to be thankful for our horse. Our unique blessing actually goes a whole lot further than that, especially if you keep your horses on your own place. Most of us horse owners have a tendency to not even recognize just how fortunate we are.

Even at our old place that was just under 5 acres, I did feel very fortunate to be able to keep my horses at my house. It’s nice to just walk outside and dump feed and do stalls, etc. But as the new wore off, I complained about the barn, complained that I needed more pasture, complained that I wanted to be further out away from everything.

It wasn’t until some friends of ours from Pennsylvania came over that I began to see things completely different. They were from the city and lived in a subdivision. Our lifestyle, even on that small acreage, was completely foreign to them. What I thought was too crowded and too small was a rural paradise of quiet for them. They loved to just come and sit on the front porch of that old farm house and enjoy the country, or just come and pet the horses. What I had taken for granted was a great treat to them.

You might have competition goals and wish you had a more competitive horse. Keep in mind that while you’re wishing for another horse, some young kid or adult that can’t have one is just wishing for ANY horse. It doesn’t have to be a blue ribbon winner. As competitors we have a tendency to set our standards so high that we forget about the blessing of just having a horse in the first place.

As you stop and think about the blessings that go with owning your horse, also stop and think about those folks that don’t have that blessing but that would love to. Find ways to share that. It doesn’t have to be a two-hour trail ride through the mountains or an hour-long lesson in a dressage arena. It can be simple. Sometimes something as simple as inviting someone over to just pet your horse can make someone’s day. It’s amazing how a simple ride while you lead can bring a huge smile to a person’s face, adults and kids alike.

Pass the blessing on. Who can you share your horse with today?