Tuesday, October 7, 2014

When An Easy Keeper Isn't

Every once and a while, I realize how much I take for granted when it comes to the care of Gem.  The things that LA does are transparent and just "happen".  Recently, she had her hay tested to see exactly what it contained (it's very good hay).  She has the hay tested regularly and then adjusts the feed to complement the hay.  She felt that she could do better when it came to the feed she was giving our horses and decided to try something different.  After deciding on a new supplier, she asked the feed rep to come in and give us a presentation on horse nutrition and answer any questions we might have about what our horses are eating.

Holy crap, horse nutrition can be complicated!  When I was looking for my forever horse, my wish list included "easy keeper".  In my mind, "easy keeper" translated into a horse that was not fussy on what he ate and didn't require any special additives.  When the Cheval Canadien was first developed in the late 1600's, they were used to clear lumber in the forests of Quebec.  They needed to be smaller than the usual draft breeds to be able to maneuver in the trees and bushes, but strong enough to pull out the lumber.  There weren't a lot of open fields on which to graze and in the winter they were turned loose to fend for themselves.  Quebec winters are harsh.  They survived by eating whatever they could find on the forest floor and tree bark.  Whatever they ate, they were able to efficiently extract every single bit of calories and nutrition and store it for long periods of time; they could survive on very little food.  Those that survived were used as breeding stock.  As the breed became more refined, the Little Iron Horse became a strong, muscular, sound horse and very "easy keeper".  Sounds pretty good, right?  Well, maybe not.....
These vintage photos are of "working horses" in Quebec.  Although not specified, in all likelihood the horses are Canadians.

Surviving in the wilds of Quebec is one thing.  However, when your "easy keeper" is part of today's normal animal husbandry routine, where food is plentiful and provided in nice round bales or square flakes, it can be a challenge.  Who knew?!  That trait of being able to store calories/fat for longer periods makes easy keepers prone to weight gain.  This is quite common in ponies and draft breeds.  And, weight gain can lead to other problems, like joint issues, metabolic disorders and laminitis.  Yikes!!

After the presentation, the rep volunteered to give horses a body condition rating.  Wow.  This was really interesting.  She used the Henneke body condition guidelines, which was developed back in the 1980's, in part so that there was a standard guideline for law enforcement agencies to judge horse cruelty cases.  

The horses that were examined were all Quarter Horses and one TB/QH cross, all bright-eyed, shiny and healthy (thank you, LA!).   As it turns out, the majority of the horses she looked at were around a 5-6 body score, which is good.  To be honest, I thought one of the horses would have been scored higher because her belly was big.  The rep explained that what we were looking at was a "hay belly", where fermentation has occurred.  This could be caused by poor quality hay (not the case), not enough protein in the feed or perhaps this horse's digestion had slowed a bit due to her age (21).  This will be rectified with the new feed and mixing yeast in her portion.  The TB cross mare was a 4-5.  She's a barrel racer and a bit high strung.  LA will work with the owner now that show season is over to beef her up a bit for winter. 

Then we came to Gem.  :-)  She took his breed and the amount of "work" he does into consideration when she examined him.  He scored "7".  He does not have a hay belly or fatty deposits....his weight is evenly distributed.   While scoring a 7 is not bad for his breed, there are two things that we decided to do to ensure that he would never get above 7.   There was a major change to his routine back in June;  Gem no longer has a turnout roommate to compete with when it comes to the bale of hay (DH is now out with the herd).  He has the luxury of being able to eat all day, without fuss.  Going forward, LA will be rotating him between his turnout area where the bale is and the large round pen, where his intake will be flakes of hay at specific times during the day.  He will continue to get his "taste" of feed when the others get their scoops.  In addition, he will be worked a little more during the week; either LA will lunge him once a week or I will try to make it out one more evening a week.  Gem was actually much bigger when we first partnered up, so there is hope.  :-) 

There is an extreme cowboy clinic that is happening next summer and I am very interested in participating.  To be honest, I don't think either Gem or I are any where near being in condition to participate in this all day event; I believe I am also a "7" on the Henneke body condition score.  :-)   You never know....if winter weather cooperates and I am able to keep up the routine, come Spring we could be in good enough shape to do the clinic.   I have signed us up for weekly lessons over the next month to get us back into a routine.  Giddy up!!