It is often the little things that make a big difference when it comes to horse health care.
Have you ever noticed how some horses who have been doing poorly start to thrive when one or two little things are tweaked in their management program? Horses are relatively simple creatures and their needs are not complicated. The devil, as they say, is in the details when it comes to horse health care.
7 Little Things That Matter a Lot in Horse Health Care
As a zen cowgirl who has seen a lot of horses come and go, both performance horses and backyard pleasure horses, I've classified 7 areas of "little things that make a big difference" when it comes to horse health care. Take a gander and see if you agree with me.
# 1 – Basic Nutrition
Horses are phenomenal creatures in that a little nutrition goes a very long way. Horses are accustomed to eating lots of food that is high in fiber and low in nutrients, so when you add just a small quantity of power-packed nutrition to their diet, the results are pretty astounding. Do not you think it's amazing that you can change the health of a 1,200 pound creature by just adding 1 liquid ounce of nutritional supplements to your horse's feed?
I feed an ounce of my special horse goo, which I mix up on my kitchen table, to each of my 4 horses and the results are pretty amazing. The goo, which includes XanGo's mangosteen juice plus Simplexity Health's Essentials, is a wonderful maintenance tonic that keeps my horses healthy, happy, and symptom-free. The mangosteen juice is a wonderful antioxidant and source of trace minerals, while the Essentials have probiotics, enzymes, and blue-green algae. Together the combo significantly contributes to my horses' well-being, even in tiny doses.
# 2 – Plenty of Long-Stem Chewable Food
To stay healthy horses need to chew on something pretty much all day and all night. To keep both mind and body happy, horses need plenty of long-stem chewable material, like hay. They also need to be walking while they eat, as this helps their digestion and keeps them active. Since hay does not meet all of a horse's nutritional needs, I view it as entertainment. Chewing on hay all the time keeps a horse occupied and out of trouble. It is tempting to feed soaked beet pulp pellets and a Senior feed instead of hay when hay is in short supply, but this kind of diet does not offer the long-stem feeds that horses need to stay healthy. If you must feed beet pulp, choose the shreds over the pellets because the shred are longer-stemmed than the pellets, which are chopped up.
One thing that works very well for horses not on a giant pasture is Jaime Jackson's Paddock Paradise concept, which keeps horses walking and eating all day long. Just Google Paddock Paradise to get the scoop.
# 3 – Basic Body Maintenance
Basic body maintenance is an essential part of good horse health care, but does not need to be complicated or cost a lot. If you horse has its nutritional needs met and is kept out of trouble by having plenty to chew on, veterinary care boils down to hoof care, dental care, regular de-worming, possible vaccinations, and any bodywork that might be needed.
Depending on how much hands-on work you want to do, you can handle most of the hoof care, de-worming, vaccinations, and body work yourself. I would not recommend taking on the dental care. I do everything but the dental care for my horses. It is possible to learn bodywork (massage, acupressure, Equine Touch) from books or workshops. The same goes for hoof care, especially if you keep your horses barefoot. If you do not want to handle these chores yourself, scheduling one visit per year with your veterinarian should take care of dental work and vaccinations. Then add in visits from the farrier every 6-8 weeks and body work as needed, and you're good to go. Just keep it simple.
# 4 – Space to Roam
Wild horses travel up to 25 miles per day in search of food and water. Horses are meant to be on the move, all the time, so if at all possible give your horse plenty of room to run. If you keep your horse in a stall, schedule as much turnout as possible. If you have a choice between keeping your horse in a run or a stall, choose a run. It always amazes me that horse people pay more for a smaller space (stall) than they do for a larger space (a run) or for pasture care. A run or pasture ends up being cheaper boarding options than a stall, not to mention healthier for your horse. If you have limited room or no pasture for grazing, consider the Pasture Paradise concept (Google it) to make the most out of a small space and keep your horse moving.
# 5 – Match Your Horse's Job to His Personality
Every horse is a particular personality type, just as people have personality types. Each type wants to be loved in a different way. Veterinarian Dr. Madalyn Ward has developed a horse personality typing system that helps you determine your horse's personality type, and understand how best to manage your horse. Check out the Horse Harmony Test.
More importantly, once you've figured out your horse's type, see if your horse's job, management, diet, and so forth match his personality type (you can get all the details in her book, Horse Harmony). Tweaking your horse's management program so that it fits his personality can go a long way to keeping your horse healthy and happy.
# 6 – Other Horses to Play With
Horses are herd animals, which means they are not meant to live alone. Horses feel safe and secure when in a herd. To keep your horse happy, he needs to at least be able to see and hear other horses. Better still would be if your horse could interact with other horses in a herd situation. Of course, your job is to ensure that the herd is composed of suitable companions for your horses so that your horse emerges from a play session injury-free and happily satisfied. If you keep your horse where he can not see or hear other horses, consider bringing in some kind of companion, even if it's not another horses. Horses often get along with donkeys, mules, goats, or even llamas.
# 7 – Time Off to Be a Horse
This is especially true for performance horses who are campaigned heavily all year long. Most horses are more than willing to do their jobs, but they need down-time to just be horses. If you have a performance horse on the circuit, consider turning him out to pasture for a month or two during the winter. While he may lose some of his physical condition, his mental condition will be restored, and he will work all the better for you. This is a case of "less is more," where slightly less work equals more effective showing later in the season.
Horse Health Care – Why the Little Things Matter
These little "tweaks" to your horse's management program can matter a lot because at the end of the day, a horse is a horse, not a motorcycle. Horses are living, breathing creatures who have adapted remarkably well to domestication, but nevertheless have some basic needs that date back to their ancestral roots. You'll be amazed how much happier a horse can be when his basic physiological and psychological needs are met. For instance, many a wood-chewing horse has been restored to normalcy by simply having constant access to long-stemmed feed like hay or beet pulp shreds. Putting a round-bale into your horse's pen is a simple "tweak" that can produce big results (and equal less carpentry work for you)!
Got any other great "tweaks"? Leave a comment so everyone else can benefit!