Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Horse Needs to Lose Weight

Barbara wrote to ask about getting her horse to drop weight..."I spent about two months recovering from a broken ankle so I enlisted some friends to feed my horse. I left some detailed instructions and consistently talked to the two ladies who fed for me. Imagine my suprise whern I finally made it out to the barn and discovered my mare looking nine months pregnant! I usually feed alfalfa, smaller amounts of grass and one large coffee can of sweat feed which is about three pounds, but only in the evenings. Can you give me what your ideas would be on how to get my horse to safely drop weight? Thank you, Barbara."

Hey Barbara, I hope you are not writing me thinking I am an expert on horse feeds, because I am  not. I have just experienced many people impacting horses, usually in a bad way, by following feed routines and not knowing either why they are doing or what issues their feed practices can cause.  And many horse issues can feed issues.   

I don't feed sweet feed, primarily because of the high sugar content and chance of the feed to go rancid or mold, and I think my horses' nutritional needs are being met without it. I am not saying that Sweet Feed is dangerous for horses, I just don't use it, and think most horse's don't need it. I do use a pelleted feed from ADM called Patriot.

I'd make sure your horse is over weight, sometimes their looks will just fool you. If your horse can stand to drop some weight, there will normally be fat deposits on the neck and in the shoulder -above the shoulder area.

Other areas to look at would be the ribs - you should feel them with your hand and/or see them when the horse moves - if not your horse is probably over weight. Also the spine area where the fat may be higher than the spine, and the butt-tail head area where fat also usually deposits. The horse in the picture can stand dropping some weight. This mare, in the pictures and bottom right), falls between the fleshy and fat category and needs to lose some weight.    

To your question about getting your horse to drop weight,......safe weight loss is more about activity or exercise than feeds. The more exercise they get, the more calories they burn and given the same amount of feed they will lose weight. A moderate amount of daily exercise, riding, lunging or even turnout can be effective without changing your feed amounts, at least changing them too much.

Changing feeds and/or your fed routine is a gradual process. If you are planning on reducing your horse's feed, without increasing exercise, to get her to drop weight then I would suggest a very gradual reduction in her feed. I had a horse that was a little too heavy that I couldn't get to for a month or so, so I reduced his hay by about 1 to 2 lbs day and within a few weeks, maybe four weeks, I could tell he lost some weight and did so safely.

If you do decide to lower the feed amount, then gradually is the key. 

According to Equine Clinical Nutrition, by Lon Lewis, an average 1,100 lb horse needs 16.4 mega-calories (Mcal) of digestible energy per day just for maintenance. When light work is added that 16.4 Mcal can be multiplied by 1.25 and hard work can increase that factor to 2.0. That doesn't mean after a long hard ride that you need to give your horse twice as much feed, but I'm quoting Lon Lewis to pain the picture that added exercise will often solve the problem.

One more thing,...a good feed resource is a book called The Horse Nutrition Handbook, by Melyni Worth,...might help you pass the time as your ankle fully heals. Good luck Barbara.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

More on Ground Driving

I received a couple of questions on ground driving and thought I would answer them here to clear up any questions from the previous article on ground driving.

Yes, Jack, I think this is something you can do with your colt prior to your first ride. I would make sure your colt was giving to lateral pressure or following your reins or lead line when you ask him to tip his head to one side and the other. The pressure or pull coming from the driving lines, run through the stirrups to either a bosal or halter is going to be different as it comes narrower angle than when you are using a lead line and standing at the horse's shoulder asking him to give to the pressure because you are normally pulling at a much greater angle in a more lateral manner giving the horse a clearly signal.

Lynn asked is she would be able to use her  driving lines just by attaching them to the bottom part of the bosal? Or should be get smaller diameter bosal like I was using in the video? 

I wrote Lynn separately but did not include any pictures. Sometimes bosals are fairly thick where the bolt or other snap on driving/lunge lines can't connect to them,.....at least the size bolt snaps I use on the lunge lines/driving lines that I make.  So I was throwing feed yesterday morning, thinking about how I would connect driving lines to one of my thicker bosals, when I had what people back east call an epiphany. It's not like I get these often. In fact, I clearly remember my last epiphany when I caught my wife's favorite oven mitt on fire and my epiphany was that "I'm in big trouble."   I ended up blaming it on the cat (believe me - he deserved it) and everything was okay. But back to driving lines,....... I thought of making a small set of slobber straps to go around the bosal where I could connect the bolt snap of the driving lines to.   About 30 minutes later, using some scrap leather, I came up with the connectors in the picture above where you can see the bolt snap on the white driving line is connected to the mini slobber strap around the bosal just above the heel knot.        

As far as tying up the reins, if I had mecate reins, I would loop the reins part of the mecate around the saddle horn, then tie the lead line portion of the mecate around the horn. I use a clove hitch knot for this and snug it down.    

This keeps the rein portion of the mecate from bouncing over the saddle horn and becoming a problem such as the horse stepping through it.

If using spilt reins, I just tie the reins in a square know around the horn.  The picture at right is how I had the reins secured in the ground driving video.
However, if you were ground driving with as halter just remove the lead line.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ground Driving Your Horse

A computer crash did away with many questions people have sent to me along with pictures and videos that I intended to use to try and answer with. Someone wrote to me several months ago about ground driving their horse, which is basically moving and controlling your horse by using reins from a position on the ground and behind your horse. The first time I saw this was maybe 8 or 9 years ago when Craig Cameron demonstrated it.  It made sense to me then and ever since I have it in my tool bag to use when I think the horse can benefit from it.

Ground driving is something that can help a horse that is troubled by rein control under movement or having an issue with someone his back and trying to accept direction from pressure on the reins. It can be good preparation before that first ride or a tool on a horse that is still a little troubled after the first couple rides.

Using long lead lines or lunge lines, you feed the snap end of the line through the stirrups and connect to the halter. I would not use any bit when ground driving because there is a lot of rope to handle and an increased chance that the horse may get into trouble like stepping on the line and cutting his tongue. So I use either a halter or a bosal and I'll clip the bolt snap of the lunge line to the cheek piece of the halter or to the bosal just above the heel knot. I'm using 25 foot long lunge lines that I make from 1/2 inch diameter yacht braid rope putting a brass bolt snap on one end. Twenty Five feet is a pretty good length for an all around lunge line/driving line but some people ask me to make them shorter ropes in the 20 to 23 feet length,...just personal preference, but it needs to be long enough to allow you to stay at a safe distance from the horse's rear feet.

Before you start ground driving your horse be sure that he is okay with ropes across his butt, hocks and lower legs. Before I get to the point of ground driving a horse, I would have already sacked him out on ropes around his legs, hocks and butt. But it's important enough to check that he is good with it again before you ground drive him. If you have reins attached to a bosal like I do, either remove them or tie them up securely so it won't be an issue coming loose and having the horse step through them.

Make sure when you pickup the ends of the lines that you are far enough away from the horse not to get kicked - sacking him out on ropes across his butt and rear legs will help minimize a reason to kick, but be careful nonetheless. You are only really using one line at a time. The idea is to keep a loose line only putting a little pressure on one line to get his head tipped for a change of direction and using one line to flick it against his barrel, like you would use leg pressure, for a cue to go forward or to increase his gait. Start off at the walk and don't go to the trot until you and your horse are good at changes of direction and stopping at the walk.

Remember that if you or your horse gets into trouble at any time, let go of one of the lines and bend your horse to a stop with the other line.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

No Time for My Horse

Dorothy wrote me with the following questions: "I think I'm like many people out there having a horse and not having very much time to ride her. My children and husband take up almost all of my time and sometimes when I get a chance to ride it's only for an hour or so. The lady who keeps my horse turns her out almost everyday, but aside from bringing her back from the paddock and feeding her 3 or 4 times a week and riding only a couple days a month, I wonder if I am doing her a disservice by keeping her instead of finding her a good home. A good home would have to include an intermediate rider as my mare has some issues, some of time, LOL. She has her own strong will and the short amount of time I can spend with her doesn't seem to be making that big of difference. "

Hi Dorothy, what mare doesn't have issues some of the time? It says a lot about you to consider your horse and her welfare. At least you are cognizant that your mare needs more time than you can give her. I hope she is being kept with other horses, either stalled side by side or in turnout with others as horses are social animals and most of them need contact with other horses for a good mental state. 

I see many horses not only kept singular, but also kept in small pens. I think keeping a horse in a small pen can be mitigated somewhat when the horse is put in turnout at least a couple times a week, plus has more human interaction other than just feeding once or twice a day.

Some people think if they don't have time to ride their horse then all they can do is throw feed. I think that needs to be looked at from a different angle.........how can you maximize the small amount of time you do have to make your horse better?

I'm convinced that even if you only have 5 minutes to spare, you can do 5 minutes of training or re-enforcement with your horse. Work on having your horse back up and stand still, away from you when you throw feed; get her to drop her head upon voice command or a cue. Work on directing her feet: have her move her front end over; have her move her back end over; have her back up. And these are things you can do with or without out a halter or neckrope.

With a halter leading her to and from the turnout, you can work on her leading up correctly: stopping when you stop; backing up. See how light you can make the cue before she reacts. See how light you can pickup slack in the lead rope before she moves out. Watch for her anticipating and correct her. And when you do stop, watch her to make sure she stays focused on you - giving you both eyes. If she gets distracted just bump her back to two eyes on you.

Under the lead rope you can work on vertical and lateral flexion, and again, moving her front end over or her back end over. Pick her feet up. You can lunge her to and from the turnout working on having her change direction by disengaging her back end and crossing over on her front end. You can get her good at positioning up on the mounting block or the fence so she'll be easier to mount from here.

I'm reading between the lines that your children are not involved with your horse. I know that some children while having a interest in horses when they are young often grow out of it in today's digital world, but getting them involved can at least teach them empathy for animals which is sorely missing in this country today.