Horse Care Basics – Part 3

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Part 1 of Horse Care Basics was about horse behaviour, Part 2 about stable management, grooming and training. Part 3 tips on horse care are dear to my heart as I am passionate about equine nutrition.

I hope this summarised information regarding feeding horses will be valuable to you and your horse.

Horse feeding

Horses are creatures of habit. Their life is made of events which repeat every day. This daily routine brings them comfort and safety. Feeding is part of their routine, therefore they must be fed at a fixed time. Having had-oc feeding times cause distress to horses. They become inpatient, and sometimes aggressive. It is even more prominent with a horse who has been starved in the past. Once a feed regime has been established for your horse, it should not have any radical or dramatic changes. The program must be very carefully examined and must be changed gradually only if the horse’s response is not satisfactory such as losing weight, showing signs of extreme hunger or putting on too much weight. Horses have a highly sensitive digestive system which digests a fixed set of food items in a well organised digestive cycle. Any sudden change in the horse’s feed may bring about colic and he may die. The introduction of new food (except hay and chaff), should be spread over a two week period, starting from about 50 g or 50 ml (solid or liquid form feed) the first day to increase to the desired amount at the end of the period. It is important to keep the digestive balance in place.

A person should never feed a horse without the owner’s permission. This includes treats as well. When your horses are agisted with others, ensure you don’t leave unfinished bucket of feed lying around so other horses don’t feed on them as they may get ill.

Horses graze about 20 hours a day. Their body and digestive system are designed to eat small quantities of food many times a day. Therefore it is important that they have access to pasture. If they don’t, then they should be given plenty of hay to compensate. When a horse cannot eat, the acid level in the stomach rises causing inflammation of the stomach lining and eventually destroying it. Long term, this means the horse will develop a stomach ulcer, also known as Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS). The constant grazing and production of saliva regulate the acidic fluid to a normal level. Restraining a horse from grazing or having access to enough roughage like hay, will cause stress to the horse. Research have shown that stress triggers the production of stomach acid to increase and lowers the PH level in the stomach. Stress may come in many forms to a horse: exercises, competition, travelling, moving from one owner to another one, and the list goes on. Studies have proved that as many as 60% of the horse population in the USA has some form of EGUS. Even foals can develop it! 90% of horses in training have shown some evidence of EGUS. And over 90% of racing Thoroughbreds are affected by this illness. So having a horse in a stall who is fed twice a day with no access to grazing or constant hay is likely to develop EGUS.

The horse’s stomach has a volume of 5 to 7 litres in a normal size Thoroughbred. This means that feeding a horse more than 7 litres in one feed will only cause issues over time. First of all, any excess of food will not be absorbed properly as it will be undigested. Secondly, excess of food that cannot be digested correctly may cause colic. These are reasons why your horse should be fed at least twice a day with 2 smaller feed instead of one huge amount once a day.

Equine digestion is a vast subject and this article cannot cover all of it. However, it provides you with enough information to avoid wrong feeding management for your horse.

Horses drink between 30 to 60 litres of water a day, depending on the weather and the size of the horse. Water must always be clean and fresh.

Horses’ feed should be offered at ground level because the horse is designed to eat with his head down, not up. Some people put feed bins high enough so the horse needs to arch his neck to eat. They believe the horse will build up his neck muscles. Yes he will, but it upsets the normal design of his digestive and respiratory tracks! This posture may cause the horse to choke or even to colic! The natural stance of the horse eating also promotes the expelling of matters in their nasal passage. Many horses blow their noses when eating to force out dust, dirt and nasal discharge.

Veterinarian care

Like doctors, not all veterinarians are equal. It is important that you find a good, well known equine veterinarian who will not only provide your horse with excellent vet care but also with whom you can establish a sound relationship. Trusting your vet is half the battle. I found it extremely useful to have a vet you can call and share your concern about your horse. This person should be willing to talk to you over the phone to provide basic assistance, and decide whether they need to come over to look at your horse. The vet should also be willing to give you advice on preventative measures if necessary. Prevention is much better than cure and may avoid the danger of losing the horse’s life.

All the vaccinations should be provided and up-to-date to keep the horse healthy.

The parasites must be controlled by a good worming regime. Depending on where the horse is located, the time of the year and which worming you use, he should be wormed every 6-12 weeks. Consult your vet for advice on worming products and how to rotate them. Certain products only treat certain types of parasites, others are effective for multiple worms. Horses ridden with internal parasites will become underweight and may have internal bleeding, which may become fatal.

Part 4 of Horse Care Basics will discuss horse flies, rugging horses, cooling your horse down after exercising, hoof care and sleeping habits of horses.

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