Harley has always been a very hardkeeper. He has seldom scored a body condition score above a four, although always with good muscle tone and a shiny, healthy coat. This winter, under my vet's instructions, we tried a couple things to get some bulk on him. This was partly spurred on by the fact that he contracted a virus in December, which compounded the weight issue. A blanket, alfalfa pellets, and finally a large increase in grain were in order. Fast forward to the spring and he looks AMAZING. I get feedback from everyone, including the vet, and their sentiments are the same.
Harley looks great! The best in his life probably.
Now the problem is that he is starting to refuse to eat all his grain. This started a few weeks ago with a possible low-level colic. This is very atypical for Harley. The vet came out and did an exam, we reduced his grain and he was fine up until this weekend. Now, he is backing off his grain again.
|The ultimate guessing game.|
I went out yesterday and hand-grazed him for about 40 minutes. He seems totally normal. Alert, eager to eat and friendly. I cannot say that he is displaying a "poor appetite". He really wants to eat, but he is more interested in hay and grass than he is grain. I brought him in for dinner and breathed a sigh of relief when he immediately began chowing down on his dinner. Less than 15 minutes later, he was standing as his door ready to go out for his hay. I looked in his bucket and he had left about half of his grain. Hmmm. I looked into his eye and stroked his nose.
"Are you okay, Harley?"
He stared back at me with bright, social eyes. He did not look sick. Did I fill him up on grass? I think he knew that I wanted him to eat more, so he walked over to his food and nosed the wet grain around a bit, but then returned to his door with the same expectant look.
"Time to go out!"
I got out the stethoscope and listened to his gut. Noisy and easily heard without the physician's instrument. I tried rubbing his belly and even drumming on it a bit to see if he would kick his stomach or show any signs of discomfort. Nothing. He really did not look sick at all. As per my vet's instructions, I gave him a low dose of Banamine by mouth, just in case, and he proceeded to put on a comedy act putting his lip in the air and turning away from my hand when I offered him a cookie to chase the medicine. The more his audience laughed at his antics (some friends were nearby), the more he played up the dramatics. He was not acting like a sick horse. I decided to put him out with Cisco and he immediately dove into his hay.
Back at the barn I checked his unfinished dinner and estimated that he ate about 3/4 of a scoop. If we have a 3-quart scoop, which I believe we do, then he ate about 2 1/4 scoops of Ultium. If Ultium weights about 1.25 lb/qt, then he ate about 2.8 lbs of grain. Ultium is a high calorie feed at about 1900 cal/lb. The protein, fat, and fiber ratios are 12%, 12%, and 19% respectively. I have not been riding him lately, it is no longer winter, and his body condition is about a "6" according to my vet.
Is it crazy to think that Harley is meeting his energy requirements with much less feed?
Most other horse owners would probably balk at how much he was eating before. I sure did! He was consuming two full scoops at each meal during the winter. I have already mentioned that I would never have given him that much grain without my vet's instructions. For years, he was eating a full scoop of Ultium and a full scoop of beet pulp at every meal. I was not comfortable with giving him anything more than one scoop of grain, but he also was not able to maintain above a 4+ body condition score. This weekend, I tried substituting some beet pulp back in his food and he turned his nose up at it, eating all around it and leaving every shred behind.
So I have all these questions going through my mind:
Is something really wrong with him and that is why he is backing off his feed?
Does he have ulcers?
Has all that grain caught up with him and caused a problem?
Or is he finally able to maintain his condition on a "normal" grain ration?
I have been shoving food into him for so long that now my perspective on what a horse should be eating at each meal is skewed. I never liked giving him tons of feed. Forage is healthiest for a horse and many horses sustain themselves on high quality forage with minimal grain or a ration balancer. We did just switch to a new hay shipment: orchard grass and timothy. The hay looks much finer then the coarse stuff that we had before. It looks good. Is he getting more calories from the hay now, too?
I bought some Neigh-lox (an equine antacid, everyone gets a chuckle out of the name) at the local feed store, as per the vet's instructions. He ate it out of my hand at first, but I think he is leaving it behind now. I have ordered Ulcergard, which I will try when it arrives in a few days, and SmartGut pellets. The SmartGut pellets seem to use the shotgun approach, with antacid, prebiotics, probiotics, and herbs.
I have been reading up on ulcers, because poor appetite is a symptom, but he does not seem to display any other likely symptoms. He is not stall bound. He has 24/7 turnout with a buddy. He is not traveling or competing. His coat is shiny and healthy. He is not irritable or resistant to work and, for the first time, he is not thin.
|Harley, the happy enigma.|
There are a few factors that could be making him ulcer-prone or disinterested in eating.
- His busy, high energy personality
- He is only fed twice daily. (Free choice hay is not an option. Neither is a lunchtime meal.)
- He has allergies.
I have wished a thousand times over that he could have free choice hay. I tried to make it happen last year with the Nibble Net, but that was an abysmal failure. He could not eat efficiently out of the net, probably due to his overbite, and he subsequently lost weight. It is really tough when you board your horse. I want my own farm some day, but I do not see that happening in the near future and probably not in New Jersey. Besides, my husband and I work full-time. We would not be around during the day to keep an eye on him (or give him lunch) and we would have to buy a second horse to keep him company. Oh yeah, and we would have to win the lottery. ;)
Did I ever get to the rejoicing part?
Maybe Harley only needs the amount of grain that he is willing to eat at mealtime. Can a hardkeeper get easier? That would certainly be something to celebrate.