Spring is officially here in good old OZ and earlier than I can ever remember. The grass is just running away.
We have just separated our herd for spring grass growth – with the miniatures, the Connemara Stardust, Mel’s horse 3/4 Arab but very heavy Bucky and Simone’s Morgan Sirocco unfortunately put into the pony paddock for the duration of spring.
The pony paddock here means restricted grass but as much hay as they can eat.
We cut hay last year, deliberately for low sugar content and have some organic, hand weeded, low sugar hay available for sale if anyone is looking for it around the Warragul area. It is VERY suitable for getting horses who are at risk of founder through spring!
I am a passionate believer in feeding horses as much as they can eat – even the tiny ponies. Horses digestive systems are designed to have roughage passing through almost constantly. They are at major risk of getting stomach ulcers when their last roughage feed is 4 hours old or longer.
Yes you read that right, but I will repeat it a different way to make sure that you are all quite clear on this.
If your horse last ate roughage 4 hours ago or longer, they are in danger of developing stomach ulcers, i.e. for stabled or yarded horses or horses on bare dirt diet restrictions – if they run out of hay for 4 hours or longer, they are in danger of developing stomach ulcers.
I know, I know, we were told differently back in the old days – we were told to lock them up and keep them hungry and we had to harden our hearts and do it for their own good. It feels sooo… much better to do it like I do it these days – kind AND effective.
Kentucky Equine Research did the study where they stuck a camera down into the stomachs of a fairly big number of horses. (Sorry I can’t remember how many now, 100 horses sticks in my memory but don’t hold me to it.)
These horses were stabled, so the results may be slightly skewed by the added stress of stabling, but when we lock ponies away in yards to control their grass eating, they are stressed too.
The Centre scoped horses with clean stomachs and no ulcers. These horses were fed no hay and had visble stomach ulcers already started when they were scoped 4 hours later.
On top of the stomach ulcer problem, I believe that one factor behind Cushings Disease is a restricted diet. So far, every horse I know that has had Cushings, has had periods during the day of no food. Now don’t chew my head off anyone! I know we were taught to restrict ponies’ food intake in that fashion, but from what I have learned in my years as an alternative therapist specialising in horses, I have changed my mind from what I was taught.
So how can we do what has to be done, reduce their sugar intake, reduce the amount of “goodness” in the feed they are getting so that they don’t founder from being overweight and keep the little beggars happy?
- I always have them with a friend when they are locked up in smaller areas for spring. A friend is essential to a horses’s well being and happiness. Always assuming that you are not up for sleeping in the paddock to keep them company and help them feel safe enough to sleep, then another horse or pony is the answer.
- I try to have plenty of room for them to run around and get a bit of movement happening. Horse’s bodies are designed to move around and standing in a small yard all day is a seriously unhealthy thing for them to do. It also makes them very sad. A long narrow laneway is often a good spring paddock for our smaller and fatter friends.
- I always give them as much plain grass hay as they can eat, with some minerals to lick occasionally. Preferably low sugar hay, definitely low or no clover, no lucerne or alfalfa or any of the fancy high protein hays. I also don’t think oaten hay has enough nutrition in it for ponies to live off under no grass circumstances. I haven’t had to do it personally, but I am told that you can soak most of the sugar out of the hay by putting it into water and feeding it out AFTER discarding the tea coloured water.
- At our old farm we had a heavly treed paddock where I had the grass very long and dry and put the horses in for spring – that was quite successsful for the bigger horses, but I was never quite game to try it for the miniatures.
- If your ponies or overweight horses can’t move around enough in your circumstances, then start walking folks! I have hand walked my little guys in the past, then I got sick of that (there’s 4 of them and I have other things to do in a day!) so I taught them to lead out the car window to get some excercise. They loved it!
- Some of you will need to get creative to follow these sugegstions – but where there is a will there is way. If you only have one horse at risk, what about finding someone else with the same problem and put your horses together for spring?
Play with them at liberty?
Another creative idea – Sirocco and Bucky are seriously unimpressed at being locked away from their herd mates, so Simone came up with the idea of a “playdate”. We are going to let them out for an hour each day that we can manage. Playing time – good for the body, good for the mind! We’ll have to rethink that if they just stand there and gorge on green grass though!
A playdate indeed! What will we come up with next?!
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