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Horse Keepers

Everything in the equine body functions together, and functions to move! Horses and other grazing animals of the grasslands evolved to be nomads. Evolution perfected the nomadic life in the horse, a powerful creature built to sustain temperature changes ranging from extreme heat to cold, to travel from one grazing area and watering hole to the next, all while being completely aware of their surroundings and ready to take flight at any moment. Though we have domesticated the horse and they seem far removed from what they have evolved to be, their bodies still function in the same way as their wild ancestors, and movement is the foundation for their health and wellbeing. Every part of the horse is made to thrive in motion and so will wither in stagnation. Movement strengthens bone, tendon, ligament and hoof tissue, promotes healthy stomach and gut function, strengthens the cardiovascular and respiratory system and of course increases circulation and builds muscle. Mentally movement offers stimulation for the horse and the freedom to explore and play, which is equally as important as their physical health.

In terms of space, horses do not need a 100 acre pasture to have a large enough area to move, movement can even be encouraged on a half or one acre lot with some creative brain power and reorganization! Something very simple yet very effective in a small space is to place feed, hay, water and shelters apart from each other so the horse has to move from one to the other. For example if a horse is set up in a perfectly square half acre lot, putting hay, feed, shelter and water in each of the 4 corners will automatically set your horse on the move depending on what they feel they need throughout the day.

There is a particular pasture living concept that was specifically designed and developed based on the horse's need to move. This is the equine track system or paddock paradise! An ingenious design that can be as simple as an 8 foot path fenced around the perimeter of the paddock, to an elaborate winding system that includes obstacles and an array of stations, but no matter how the track is designed, they are all made to encourage the horse to constantly be on the move. Another benefit to the track system is preservation of pasture. The center of the track system is more often than not pasture space. Many of the at home horse owners do not have ample acreage to rotate pastures, but with the track system you now have two areas of turnout instead of one making rotation and preservation of your pasture a possibility!

Below is an image from Jamie Jackson's book Paddock Paradise (though in another language), showing an example o effective use of space for a track system.

Because a horse was made to be on the move their diet accommodates that lifestyle. Horses are grazing animals with a digestive system made to constantly take in food. A horse left alone will spend the majority of their day eating with occasional naps and play thrown in. Because of this their stomachs are continuously producing stomach acid, on average every 3 hours or so (every horse is different so this varies) regardless of if they are eating or not. This is why it is so important for horses to have 24/7 access to forage! If they are fed two meals a day and thrown a couple of flakes, more often than not they end up going hours before they are fed again, which can cause an array of issues. First and foremost this is an avoidable cause of ulcers in a horse. The ulcers themselves cause pain, aggression, reactiveness and unreliable behavior. Mentally the horse suffers through all of this and may attempt to cope with an array of behaviors that we deem undesirable. Cribbing, weaving, pacing, circling, pawing and lunging are all associated pain and anxiety developed behavior. This all is avoidable, but how do we transition horses to a 24/7 forage diet when there are factors that do not make it so easy?

We cannot be unreasonable and think that every horse owner has the means to make drastic changes for their horse when there are many factors to consider, such as the very easy keeper, if the horse is boarded at another facility, if the horse has to be in a stall and does not have access to being on a grass pasture for a majority of the day, there is no grass where they are turned out etc. Many factors have to be considered to see what may be the most ideal way to go about getting your horse access to hay/grass throughout the day.

Addressing the easy keeper. Often these horses have a quiet demeanor and on their own seem to not have as much energy and be on the move, but want to eat enough to fuel a racehorse. And so we often see these horses with grazing muzzles, or if that is not enough, they are taken from the lush green pasture and put in a dirt lot with a little bit of hay to control their weight. Unfortunately these horses end up going many hours without much to eat and are seen resorting to eating fencing, their own feces and sometimes even dirt if they are that hungry. Easy keepers are wonderful candidates for a track system lifestyle! Because a track promotes movement, your easy keeper will get the stimulation and exercise they need to burn off some weight and get fit. Using a slow feeder hay net, these horses can be hon hay 24/7 and not gorge on it. I have seen easy keepers transform on the track system and benefit greatly from it.

Lets talk hay. Where you live often dictates what hay you have access to for your horse. I am lucky to live near Aiken, a large equestrian hub in South Carolina where hay gets shipped in from as far north as Canada and as far west as Illinois, therefore we have a large selection of quality hay to choose from. Most of the hay shipped in is timothy, alfalfa and orchard grass hay with variations of mixtures and combinations and local hay is coastal Bermuda. With there being so much to choose from how do we know what is best to feed our horses? Well this all depends on the horse! Is it easy to keep weight on your horse, or is it a challenge, is your horse a top performing athlete or a weekend warrior, are they a fresh and playful 2 year old or an old soul who has taken you on many adventures? What may be best to feed to one may be harmful to another. But a very important thing to note is that the majority of a horses caloric intake should be from their forage, grain should be a nutritional supplement, not a reliance for calories.

Supplemental feed is also important, good hay provides the horse with many nutrients and calories, but does not provide everything that they need. Horses are foragers and so their diet does not solely consist of grass and hay. They will also eat seeds, berries, shrubs, herbs, flowers, leaves, greens and minerals found in the ground. So many supplemental feeds today are far from what the horse actually needs. Overly processed and stuffed with fillers and sugar, modern grain can reek havoc on the horse's digestive system and body. Luckily there are more and more feed companies offering more natural unprocessed feeds, but processed feed is still in the majority. I invite you to take a closer look at what goes into your horse and what nature intended to fuel these animals. Fillers such as corn are not a part of the natural diet of the horse and are not easy for the horse to process. A typical sweet feed is the human equivalent of frosted flakes. Yes horses love it, it tastes pretty good! But there is actually little to no nutritional value and the health of your horse will decline. These processed feeds high in sugar cause inflammation in the gut as well as joints and other parts of the horse. Imagine if you were kept on a feeding schedule that did not allow for access to what you needed to satisfy your hunger and so you remained hungry for several hours every day until your next feeding, but then you are given frosted flakes or something else very low in nutritional value. As time went on, your health would progressively decline because our bodies are not being provided with what they need to grow, heal and rebuild. The same goes for all animals and so ensuring that our horses get what they need will help them feel, look and perform their best!

Two feeds I have had great success with are Crypto Aero and Thrive feed. Both feeds were created with the health of the horse in mind and that feed should be used as a supplement to a forage based diet, and to never be the predominant source for nutrition and calories for any horses diet. More information on these wonderful feeds can be found on their websites, where they describe in great detail the vast benefits of each ingredient and why it was chosen to add to their feed. Check out and for this information and more.

A horse does not have one heart, it has 5. If ever you have heard this saying you know what it is referring to. If you have never heard this saying and have no clue what it means, I will let you in on the meaning! The 4 other hearts of the horse are their feet! We horse owners have also heard the saying, "no hoof no horse". Hoof care is so extremely important and should not be disregarded. The horse's hooves and interior mechanism are the building blocks and foundation on which the entire body relies upon.

A healthy functioning foot has a tight connection between the sole, white line and hoof wall, a substantial calloused sole with healthy concavity, a substantial frog, bars that only come to about mid way of the frog, supportive heel, no cracks and a balanced break over point. When every aspect of the foot is in function and balance, it supports the horse in more than one way. In movement the hoof will expand and contract and is able to compensate for uneven terrain. This function allows the capsule to draw blood down into the foot upon expansion and push blood back out in contraction with each step therefore aiding the circulatory system of the horse. Allowing for this blood flow also helps the foot bring vital nutrients into the capsule to continue growing strong and healthy horn.

A well functioning foot in turn supports the entire animal. The horse is able to take a full stride through their entire limb, allowing for the tendons and muscles of the limb and shoulder to move free of tension or restriction. from there the freedom of movement continues through the whole horse. How often do we see horses with less than ideal feet walk gingerly across rock or unsure footing, they are hesitant to move without care because it is uncomfortable and they are not well supported. But again, the horse has evolved to function in movement and so our horses feet benefit a great deal from the horse living in a way that they can move as much as possible. Horses who are stalled in a 12x12 box are unable to take even several strides from one end to another and so loose the stimulation that movement provides. Their blood becomes more stagnant and the constant circulation through to their feet is lost, they don't produce healthy growthy and seem to get more and more sensitive. So shoes are then applied to protect the hoof. But shoes even further restrict the natural flexion of the hoof capsule which is vital for circulation and healthy feet.

We expect the best of our horses, but they cannot give us their all if they are not feeling their best. As horse owners, we must try our best for our horses as well if we expect it from them.

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