Monday, February 1, 2010

science VS tradition: Questions

I do a lot of stalls in a day.
A lot.
I am usually by myself at a barn so I have a lot of time to think and this thinking sometimes gets me into trouble. Today I was thinking about my blog and horses. I mean, I almost always think of horses but my blog has been a little blah as of lately.
I don't do much in the winter, the horses stand around looking like big hairy yaks and I shovel sh*t, clean barns and take care of others horses from before dawn till dusk. Not that I am complaining.

Which brings me to todays thoughts. The whole point of me starting this blog was to talk about my horses, other horses I rode and people I met that had horses and what we all had in common: being bitless.
I realize now it's not about bitless, but rather the science behind it.
I want to prove that science and rule out tradition. Having got my diploma in equine science I learned a thing or two. Okay maybe more like a million things but I think it's time for me to start talking about them more, give me something to write about.

So from now on I am going to do a (hopefully) weekly post. I want you to send me in questions mostly pretaining to horses, but they can be anything; Questions you want to know about me, maybe my opinion, about my horses, about how the weather is here ANYTHING. I need to get out of this winter blogger blah and I think you guys can help

Leave a comment in any post and I'll address it in the weekly Science vs tradition post. Even if you don't comment I want to hear from you feel free to e-mail me epona_64[AT] (replace the [AT] with the sign, I do this to prevent spammers) and put in the subject line Science VS tradition.

This weeks question was e-mailed by a reader identifiying herself as seba.

What are some common mistakes that owners do with their horses feed?

I see a lot of problems with horses feed because I work at many different barns in a week. I could go on all day about feeding problems that irk me and do no good for the horse and it shows.

The worst one is not knowing whats in your hay. Forage should make up minimum 50% by weight of your horses total daily ration.

I do not mean what plants are in your hay but what nutritional content your hay holds.

The simpliest way to figure this out is to find your local feed mill or equine nutritionist and send some of your hay away for a hay analysis. This costs $25 to $45 usually and will give you the low down on exactly how much grain you need and what vitamins should be in it.
This is especailly important for horses prone to laminitis and preventing insulin resistance.

A good example of this is a lady who has welsh ponies that I do several times a week. She had five ponies when I started. Now she has three. Three of them have foundered, two so badly they are barely sustainable as pasture puffs. She thought the first two (a very lovely team of blacks) were eating grass through the fence and had foundered off that. I pointed at the grain and alfalfa hay they were getting. She ignored my suggestions. When the third pony foundered for the second time finally she listened to me and tested the hay.
Sure enough the hay was not only hosting a very large amount of fructan (Carbohydrate like sugars, to read more look up my post on grass founder) it was incredibly high in protein. Protein does not equal energy and is not a good energy source, especially when in excess.
This was an eye opener for the pony owner. She rushed out right away and found someone to trade her alfalfa for a more nutritionally suitable grass hay.
The pony has not relapsed since and is driven regularly with special farrier care and getting their hay tested every time they get a new batch in the summer.

By getting your hay analized you can assess how much or how little grain you need to feed, what vitamins may need to be supplemented and how much hay you really do need to feed. Believe me you save a lot of money by getting a hay analysis. You use the right amount of hay for your horses body condition and weight and usually less grain than you would think for your horses fitness regime. It's an all around win-win deal.

One other would be bran mash. A lot of the barns I am at still feed a bran mash once a week under the assumption it keeps their horses "regular". Theres a lot of problems behind bran and I will explain.

Bran is the byproduct of the milling process when wheat was processed. It is the reddish outer shell of the grain that was normally discarded by mills when processing flour(of course theres other types of bran too) . Horses love the taste of bran and it is very cheap to buy so farmers started feeding it in place of a lot of grains.

Theres a little problem with bran. See bran has an inverted calcium to phospherous ratio. This means that for every 1 calcium theres 12 phospherous. To compensate for this imbalance the horses body would begin to take calcium from other places of the body, specifically the bones. This would lead to a condition called "big head". An ideal calcium to phospherous ratio in a horses diet should be 1:2.

So horse owners started feeding bran only once a week in the tradition (yes traditon, notice where I am going here) that it was a laxative like humans used it for and would keep their horses regular.
See now looking into the science of things horses diets should consist of %50 or more forage. Forage is, you guessed it, very high in fiber. Moreso than bran. Another thing is bran is made of mostly indigestable cell wall lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose. This means it may produce more feces of fed regularly. Regularly of course is the way to feed bran if you are going to feed it (5-7% of a horses daily ration has been noted without ill effects). The reason why your horse may have runny stool when fed bran once a week is the sudden death of microbes in the gut. Introducing a new food causes good, and bad bacteria to suddenly die off. A lot of these microbes are those that would stop constipation, or in our case, diarrhea.
Having said that the best way to introduce anything new into a horses diet is gradually. I mean by 10 percent a day adding or decreasing until the desired amount is being fed to the horse.

I look forward to hearing your questions for next weeks science vs tradition.


Jo said...

I read these and learn so much. But I also realize I have no skillz

Jayke said...

Wow that's really interesting. Can't wait to see some other questions, hearing the science behind it really makes feed a lot easier to understand.

Pony Girl said...

Great answer about the feed. I certainly switched my horse to a better hay. He was previously on alfalfa, which he did not need! He's an easy keeper, he's not a performance horse, and pretty much a pasture pony all winter. His attitude is a lot better now, too! He's not as hyper as he was the first year I got him.
Looking forward to more of your answers and I will certainly send a question your way if I come up with one!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Sharing your knowledge is such a great idea! I will definitely send some questions your way.

Already, I have learned a lot about feeding. It does seem like a good idea to get my hay tested.

Desert Rose said...

I always buy the lowest protein feed I can, usually 9 to 11%. Jesse only gets 2 cups mixed with his supliments. I have not had his hay tested in the desert but they did in the PNW barn and feed a supliment to all the horses based on the results.
Look forward to hearing more from you!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

CONGRATS on winning the Ariat Boots Give-A-Way, Sydney!!!!!!!!!!

I wanted to win because my paddock boots' soles are now only being held on with Gorilla Glue. Riding in the snow and ice has done a number on them. lol!

But if I couldn't win, I can't imagine a nicer person winning! I'm glad it was someone I 'know', too. You deserve some new boots too, with all the work you do every day.

ENJOY!!! :-D

ps Now I need to go back and read this post. I was too excited to read through it before. lol!

tangerine said...

Which bitless type method would you suggest for eventing/hunter jumper? I'm training my young TB mare and have been shopping around for a bitless bridle. There's side pull, bosal, indian bosal, nurtural, and Dr. Cook's and I've yet to find a definative answer on which is easiest to learn with, most natural for the horse, and provides the necessary control for dealing with young horses. Thanks for any insight!

I love your blog because I am currently in an animal science program with an equine science minor. I'd love to swap fun science facts back and forth some time :D

LuLo Designs/Blue Eyed Tango said...

Hi there, I haven't been by anyone's blogs lately (doldrums) and love the idea of asking each other questions! How many stalls do you clean in a day anyway? I know nothing about bitless. I don't suppose you could start from the very basics? I have a two year old that I really want to start this summer (Romeo) and I mean fitting him for bridle, saddle etc....not riding but I want to do it differently than we have the others (JOHN LYONS METHODS). We have gotten fantastic results with his methods of round pen etc. but two of the three horses we had in training this year had issues with being tied down with the training forks (nothing abusive or anything like that) (I don't know if you followed us along in the summer with Derby & Maduro, who are full brother/sister) but they were not into the training forks that we never introduced to them in our training program....which was a J.Lyons snaffle? But they just didn't like the in your mouth stuff at all "training fork". Personally, I did not like using it but we didn't really know how to do it and the trainer was using we went out and bought them to train in when the horses arrived home. They were back in their own environment so they were ornery and not as worn out but come spring....want a fresh start without any issues. What do we need to get and do for the first few times in the training of using the bitless approach? Thanks! Luanne

Janice said...

It is so nice to go into these blogs and suck up all the free info. Thanks.

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said... interesting! I love reading more into nutrition ..especially trying to save my boy from a bad case of laminitis *caused by chemical founder) do you gather your info? Do u have an email notification for followers?

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