|Harley: Don't interrupt me. I am trying really hard to keep.|
Please note the rounded hindquarters and filled in hips. I always get a kick out of his stifle muscles, too. Yeah, Harley!
He has gained meat over his back and behind the shoulders, another dippy place which can make saddle fit a challenge. My vet says that he loses his neck muscle as soon as he starts to drop weight. His neck is looking much better and he has retained his beautiful definition.
|Sunny and warm. This is February? I like.|
The last time that I wrote about Harley's feeding regiment, alfalfa was the topic of discussion. However, Harley was only on alfalfa pellets for a short time. Once alfalfa pellets were added to his meals of beet pulp and complete feed, he started to put on weight, much to my glee. The vet came out for follow-up blood work after his virus and noticed that the alfalfa was working. Her immediate instructions were to up his grain (complete feed). What?! I was really confused. Increasing his grain has always been so far at the bottom of my trouble-shooting list that I never really went there. When the vet saw that my horse could gain weight, if given more calories, she wanted to give him exactly what his body demonstrated that he needed.
So we doubled Harley's pelleted feed. This increase in feed was introduced gradually over many days. He continued to receive his beet pulp and alfalfa, but as the food quantity increased he began leaving all of the alfalfa and most of the beet pulp. He could not finish his food, even when given several hours in front of his bucket. The beet pulp was reduced first and then the alfalfa. When only a quarter scoop of alfalfa remained and he refused to eat it, even when offered the left over pellets later in the day, we removed them from his menu altogether. This is how my horse finally started packing on the pounds, and in the winter no less!
Owning a hardkeeper is not easy, hence the term. Not only is it difficult to maintain his condition, but bystanders seem far less tactful when a horse is thin. Obese horses may be labeled as "voluptuous" or "fat and happy", while the lightweights' owners get sideways glances that say, "Your horse needs groceries." They are not always glances. Sometimes people will just blurt things out, not realizing that they can be hurtful, especially when they are not informed about the lengths (financially and emotionally) that an owner may be exhausting to try and put weight on a horse with high-metabolism.
I have tried many strategies over the years based on input from my barn manager, vet, trainer, and general research to try and bring Harley up to standard, the elusive "5" body condition score:
- Switching pelleted grains
- The change was initiated by me years ago (three or four?) after hours of agonizing over nutrition facts and brands. I was limited by the availability at our local feed store, but I was happy to find that Purina's Ultium was available. I was less happy to find that it was at the top of the price-list ($20+/bag...gulp). Don't worry, the barn owners did not absorb the expense. Sigh. Ultium is not ideal (what is?), but it did provide slow-burning, fat-based calories, which was a big improvement on the Senior feed. Although both were complete pelleted feeds, Senior did not give him enough calories for all the riding we were doing. Besides, as a ten-year old, he was not really a "senior" horse, but he is getting closer every day! Ultium is also lower in starch than Senior and some other common choices at the store. I like the health benefits (and hoof benefits) of putting him on a truly low-starch feed, but I think that would be like putting him on a diet. Not a good idea for Harley!
- More hay
- This is always the best way to put weight on a horse, however, the quality of the hay is a major factor and we just cannot seem to get consistently good hay around here. It is an on-going problem. I have upped his quantity over the years (at a per flake expense), but since he shares his food with a buddy, there is never a guarantee that he is eating his share. Ironically, the hay that we have now is the best that I have seen in a long time, but the grass is still so coarse that my vet suspects that Harley (and another older draft-cross at our farm) is unable to get the nutrition that he needs from our hay. Giving him more hay does not improve his condition, which is where the complete feed comes into play. He is able to get what he needs from the complete feed and then gets his roughage and keeps warm by eating hay.
- Beet pulp
- I consider beet pulp a hay-stretcher of sorts. It is very easy to digest and presents no problems regarding calcium and phosphorus levels. I started giving him wet, beet pulp shreds, without molasses around two years ago. This was supposed to be the fail-safe for hardkeeping racehorses. The results for Harley were "minimal improvement", which I learned to accept as par for the course. Harley ate them happily until the recent feed increase. My vet says that racehorses who require an enormous caloric intake have the same problem. At some point the horse runs out of room. The equine stomach is small, so we have to put the best quality nutrition in the space available and then let him pass the time and manure with forage.
- Slow-feeder/hay net
- Last spring, more hours behind the computer searching the "internets" led me to discover slow-feeders. I carefully read through every variety that I could find and made a selection with great care. My wallet was less $75, but I felt at ease knowing that my horse was eating hay all day long. I pictured him munching from his hay net as I ate lunch at work. Unfortunately, reality did not match my fantasy, and this turned out to be an abysmal failure. Harley lost weight considerably and I spent all summer playing catch-up with supplements.
- Weight-gain supplements
- I tried a couple low-priced brands this summer with no noticeable change in his condition, although it is amazing how your mind can play tricks on you (I think he is a teeny bit rounder!). I figured that it was worth a try and adding to Smart Paks is fun (i.e. addictive). My wallet did not agree, but I still like Smart Pak and think that they are a great company with reasonable prices and hard-to-beat shipping rates. Where do you think I got his cooler and winter blanket?
- Digestive supplements
- My teacher is a dealer for a particular brand and raves about them. All her horses are on them with all sorts of benefits. The cost was reasonable, but I had Harley on these particular supplements for over two years and, again, I had to squint and tilt my head to notice any improvement. The supplement certainly did not do him any harm and probably did benefit his gut, but I have limited funds and I want to see results. I quietly gave up, although she does mention that she has noticed that he is not on them anymore.
- Soaking his food (Remember he has a dental issue, too?)
- This is supposed to help horses that may have trouble chewing. We soaked Harley's feed for years, because he has a nasty overbite, although his dentist tells me that his molars are balanced with good occlusion between the grinding surfaces. He drops his food like crazy, but he always picks up the lost bits with his prehensile, nimble lips and eats them right up. I always thought that soaking his food was kind of a food safety issue, because the bucket gets pretty disgusting and is susceptible to mildew. We are not soaking his food presently and he seems to be very happy.
- Alfalfa pellets
- They were a short-lived strategy, which started after his viral infection in December. He did put on more weight, but quit eating them as soon as we increased his feed.
- The blanket
- I love it! Harley is very happy and I secretly feel bad for his paddock mates on cold, blustery days. This is coming from a horse owner who did not own a blanket before this winter.
|Winter coat scruffiness post-ride|
Did I cover everything?
Regular vet visits.
Regular dental check-ups and extensive procedures to correct a formerly-neglected mouth with a serious genetic flaw.
His simplified feeding plan (two scoops of complete feed twice a day and hay).
The mild winter we are having.
They are all factors in Harley's present body condition. I hope that we have found a recipe that can stand the test of time. My barn owner mused, "Wouldn't it be great if he were fat by the summer?" She was not speaking literally. She understands the struggle of owning a hardkeeper, because she is Harley's day-to-day caregiver and understands the lengths we have gone to make him round and wonderful.
Maybe 2012 will be the year of the round horse! The year of the "5".