I love learning, reading, researching. I do it all the time. It drives my family crazy. I’m sure my handsome hubby would love all the reading, researching and learning if I was busy learning how to be a millionaire from home or how to be a master chef… BUT I am busy learning about – you guessed it – horses!
Two things I won’t give up… keeping my feeding program as natural as possible and listening to my horses and not just science. Sometimes the feed companies, that have put so much time and money into ‘researching’ their feeds, are still not making a feed that agrees with my horses. So I won’t feed it. I have learned what my ponies are sensitive to over the last year and a half, just as I spent years figuring out what Billy was sensitive to. This involves adding one thing at a time so I can study the effects of it on my horse(s). I start with my base, which is a grass hay, tested so I know exactly what is and isn’t in it, then I add one thing at a time to my horse’s hard feed. I wait at least 3-4 weeks before adding something new. Sometimes I have to stop feeding the added ingredient before the 3 weeks are up based on how they respond. Especially Bonnie as she is super sensitive to many different things. She doesn’t filter chemicals and additives well, whether that is because of her IR or as a result of it, I’m not sure. All I know is she is a very good barometer for what is natural and what isn’t.
I have lots of people ask me what and how to feed their horses. Of course I am not a vet nor am I an official equine nutritionist, though sometimes I feel like I’ve done enough research to be one, so when I give my opinion, it’s just that, my opinion.
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the last year.
If you want to offer your horses access to hay 24/7 make sure it’s GRASS hay tested, low sugar/low starch. Offering grass/alfalfa hay 24/7 just seems to make them super fat. I understand that alfalfa will often be lower in sugar than grass hay, but it’s still a bit rich to be fed 24/7 to very easy keepers and ponies. I have been reading a lot about keeping “native ponies” and follow a wonderful group on Facebook called “Equine NO Sharing Group.” The gal that runs that group is busy doing lots of research about feeding metabolic horses and ponies. I’m amazed by what she has shared and learned. You do have to be invited to be in that group, but her articles are really good.
One thing about native type ponies is that they have evolved over the years to be VERY efficient. Typically they live in areas where the grass is sparse and they have to browse the shrubs, trees and bunch grasses. Winters can be hard on them as they have work very hard digging down to find their food. They will get thin during the winter which sets up their bodies very well for spring when everything starts to blossom and grow again. HERE is one article I read about this. HERE is another.
Miniature horses are a man made height breed of horse. However they are bred from Shetland pony stock and the Shetland pony is one of the most efficient ponies out there!
It’s a tricky balance… The thing people get hung up on is this idea that minis and ponies can get fat on air. I know this is just a turn of phrase and not a fact, but too many people take that to heart and basically starve their ponies. All equines are meant to graze. Their bodies were designed to browse 18-20 hours a day. We must keep this in mind when feeding our easy keepers. A low quality hay (that isn’t moldy or dusty!) is the key. You really can’t help your little guys manage their weight if you are feeding a high quality hay. You can absolutely offer handful or half a flake of alfalfa hay once or twice a day, but I wouldn’t free feed it.
I am always adjusting the amount of hard feed my minis get. In the winter I lower it some and completely quit feeding any fats at all. They get a little bit in the 2 Tablespoons of Crypto but not enough to alter their natural response to it. Because of Bonnie’s IR I can not quit feeding the minerals. She needs them to balance out the high iron in our hay or she will get footie/laminitic. And she needs her meds (Thyro-L) every day as well. My horses get their hard feeds in the morning as that is when their blood sugar can be the highest.
I give them some hay spread out over the day. Depending on how bad the weather is they will get about a flake each, loose in the mornings, then I put a flake or two in their slow feed nets for the night. When I feed the loose hay I spread it around the track in small piles which encourages them to move around and eat instead of just standing in knee deep hay. This also helps with hay waste as they will not poop or pee in it if there is just enough for them to snack on in each pile. Typically a pile is 1/2 a flake or a 1/4 of a flake. If the wind is blowing I will have to make the piles a bit bigger or all the hay will just blow away. If it’s blowing more than 30 mph then I put the hay in the nets or they are chasing it across the pen. So it’s important to be flexible. I also don’t feed my horses at the same time every day. I change it up a bit. I don’t want them to get upset if I can’t show up at a certain time.
I like to watch them out the window. They will be wandering around browsing on the track. They will look at the house, but continue to do their own thing until they hear a door close. If it’s my husband or one of my boys that comes out, they ignore them and continue browsing. If it’s me that shows up they come running!
I definitely don’t know everything and hope I never do. I do know when things are working for my horses and when things aren’t. The biggest thing to remember, when you are changing up your feed program, take it down the bare minimum and add in supplements one at a time. Carefully read the ingredients so you aren’t doubling up on anything and give the supplement time to work before adding anything else. One week is not long enough unless your horse is having adverse reactions to it. You must stick with it for at least three weeks to a month to know if anything is going to change.