In recent weeks, the weather has finally turned warmer and less wet. Spring has finally begun to break through the cold wet winter. Spring cleaning and planting are beginning in earnest. It is also a time when horse owners begin to want to "hit the trail."
Events like the Kentucky Derby put horses in the spotlight on a national level and the romanticism of owning a horse crosses all livestock owners’ minds. While owning a horse seems like an enjoyable and fulfilling endeavor, horse ownership comes with enormous responsibility. Horses represent some of the most demanding management of all farm species.
When my daughter was 14, she asked us to buy her a horse. Fortunately, we live a quarter mile from a custom fitter. This fitter specializes in exhibiting halter Quarter Horses. I worked out a deal with this fitter to let her come and work for him. Her daily chores would involve cleaning stalls, washing horses, brushing horses and help with feeding. It would also involve taking care of the grounds and making sure all the horses had hay. After the job description was presented, she decided her day was already too full to tack on these added responsibilities.
Another program closer to home that certainly deserves a mention is the continued success of the Auburn Equestrian Team. In 2015, Coach Greg Williams’ team made it to the quarter finals of both the SEC and NCEA competition. With three previous national championships, this quarter final appearance seems anticlimactic, but it demonstrates the continued success of their program. Other colleges with programs with competitive teams that involve horses are Judson, and the Troy and West Alabama rodeo teams.
On an even more local level, high school students are competing in rodeos on local, state and national levels. Many local saddle clubs are beginning their summer show circuit. Many team penning, ranch rodeo and barrel racing events are also showing up on local calendars. The warmer weather also increases the number of trail rides and people simply riding for pleasure.
With the increase in activity surrounding horses this time of year, I felt it would be a good time to touch on the athletes upon which we ride. In discussing the health of our horses, I will defer to the veterinarians on matters pertaining to vaccinating and deworming. I strongly urge all horse owners to develop a close relationship with a veterinarian.
As I always preach when it comes to beef nutrition, horses also require long-stemmed roughage in their diet to keep their digestive system in tip-top shape. By long-stemmed roughage, I am referring to hay that is at least three inches in length. The most common source of this in Alabama is Bermuda grass hay. This hay needs to be devoid of weeds and properly cured so that no mold is present. Other hays we see around Alabama include orchard grass, some timothy and alfalfa. As with Bermuda grass, these forages need to be clean and mold free.
This time of year, pleasure horses can receive the vast majority of their nutrition from grass, but, as activity increases, supplemental nutrition may be required. One should be careful in allowing brood mares to graze fescue. Research has shown that brood mares grazing fescue have a longer gestation period, increased dystocia and decreased milk production. In managing grazing horses, pay specific attention and try to guard against grazing your pregnant mares on fescue.
Horses’ nutrient requirements vary greatly depending on their activity, growth stage and stage of production. Horses will consume 2-3 percent of their body weight in voluntary intake. So for a 1,000-pound horse, voluntary intake would be expected to be from 20-30 pounds. With this in mind, realize that most commercially formulated feeds are designed to be fed at much less than full voluntary intake, thus feed should be limited and the horse should be fed plenty of long-stemmed hay to help satisfy this level of total intake.
To properly feed a horse, it is imperative its owner or manager be able to determine proper body condition. This is important because it is the only true indicator that the animal is being properly fed. Horses competing in athletic events can also give cues to proper feeding by how they perform. This helps demonstrate how difficult proper nutrition for the horse can be. A truly observant eye is a must in properly feeding a horse.
Horses of varying performance requirements and varying stages of production and horses with different palates require multiple types of horse feeds. Protein and energy vary vastly across feeds, as well as ingredients and textures. The owner may have to experiment with amounts and types of feed to find the one that properly fits each horse or program. Just remember, when trying new feed, to start slow and provide plenty of clean fresh water and hay.
Your local Quality Co-op store will have a feed to meet your animal’s need. So come visit and find the one that fits your animal’s needs and enjoy your time with your horse.