Saturday, September 22, 2012

Health Report: Hardkeeper Woes

First, Harley's allergies seem to be under control again.  I hope that he does not have another flare up, or at least not in the near future.  I definitely like to error on the side of caution, so the coughing he experienced was not like the horrible video clip that I have seen online of a horse wheezing with heaving sides.  Not even close, but I also do not want him to get anywhere near that scary situation

Second, fall shots and body condition evaluations are on the horizon.  I realized this when I looked at my horse and then looked at the large, new horse in our barn.  I think he looks like he weighs 1500 lbs, but the barn owner thinks he is closer to 1200.  We are going to have a little guessing contest and then tape him.  I do not think that tape is very accurate, but it will be interesting to find out.  I guess that I look at the new horse and figure that he could easily have 500 lbs on Harley, whom I think is around 1000 lbs, or, perhaps more accurately, he should be around 1000 lbs.

I think my horse is going to get a "4" on the body condition scale again.  Maybe a "4+", but that is probably wishful thinking.  I feel like I have made a huge effort to get him up to a body condition score of "5" this year, and we did accomplished it coming off the winter, of all times, but now he is looking boney again.  He is muscular and relatively fit, considering his coughing problem, but this horse will not build up fat stores.  He is even being ridden less since school started, but has not gained weight to show it.

Early October 2011: He looks particularly thin here.

September 2012: Not very good photos for comparison, but now I think that he actually looks better than last year.

Here are some things that should have improved his body condition since last year:
  1. More calories from grain: Last year he was eating 1 scoop Ultium and 1 scoop beet pulp at each meal.  Now he eats 1 3/4 scoops Ultium at each meal.  That is a lot of food!  I do not like giving him that much grain, but it is the only thing that has seemed to add some pounds.
  2. Prebiotics/Probiotics daily: We tried the SmartPak SmartGut supplement, but recently switched back to my trainer's recommended ABC's Plus, which contains less ingredients and costs less.
  3. He was blanketed during the winter, which we will do again this year.
  4. He gets extra hay at each feeding, which I pay for dearly.
  5. He is brought in before all of the other horses so that he has time to finish his meal without getting distracted or excited about barn routine.
  6. As always, he is on a regular worming schedule.
 Here are some things that do NOT help his body condition, but I cannot control them:
  1. He has a serious overbite, which makes him a very, very slow eater, especially with hay.  His dentist is awesome, but only so much can be done to correct the uncorrectable.
  2. His buddy is a very efficient eater and can mow down hay in record time.  They share hay.
  3. Only two meals a day
  4. Only two hay feedings a day
  5. We are at the edge of what he is willing and able to consume at each meal.
  6. He is a social horse and a busy body.  He does not like to be left in the barn after everyone else is put outside.  This can cause him to quit eating if he is not finished.
  7. Irregular feeding schedule and feeders: Since we are giving lessons several afternoons a week at our barn, Harley's nighttime feeding schedule becomes disrupted.  I also suspect that this affects the quantities that he receives and late feedings cause him to pace at the gate.  His buddy is usually busy in lessons which leaves him alone.
Here are some things that I could control, but may not be viable options:
  1. Alfalfa pellets: He ate them for less than three weeks and then refused to eat them, wet or dry.
  2. Beet pulp: He ate wet beet pulp for years, but I never saw an improvement in his weight.  He also started refusing it.
  3. Equine Senior: Harley is fourteen and has a dental "imperfection", so senior feed may be easier for him to eat, but his energy requirements demand that he eat obscene amounts of Senior to stay at a "4".  Forget about gaining on Senior.  I tried it for years and it didn't work.
  4. Hay net: Tried it.  Epic Fail.  He dropped below "4", because he could not eat effectively out of a net with 1.5" holes.  His buddy had no trouble and gained weight.
  5. I could wet his grain to make it easier to eat, but this makes a big, unhealthy mess, because he drops wet feed all over the floor of his stall.  He also started refusing wet feed this year.  He wants and needs to chew to produce saliva and buffer gastric acid.
  6. I pay for extra hay, but his buddy eat its.  Hay quantities also change do to differences in flake size and weight.
  7. Harley needs a slow-eating paddock buddy, but he loves his friend.  He would be miserable is we kept out alone.
  8. Harley would probably benefit from a softer, leafier hay, but I cannot control which hay is purchased.  I already ask that the hay not contain fescue and rye, because he is allergic to them.  A boarder can only make so many demands, if you know what I mean.
  9. Harley is a mover and a shaker and he likes to investigate and keep up with barn activities.  He has great work ethic under saddle and I love riding him.  He is exercised 2-5 hours per week and has 24/7 turnout.  These things make him a fast calorie-burner even though the workload is pretty light.
What is left to try?
  1. Move my horse.  I do not want to move and there is no guarantee that another barn will benefit his condition, in fact, the stress of change could makes things worse.  I do not think that I could possibly find a barn that would cater to his needs the way my current barn does.  They basically treat him like their own horse and they love him.  I am very, very lucky.
  2. Put him by himself and pay for constant hay in front of him.  This is not really realistic due to space, finances, and his need to socialize.  Having his face in a hay pile all day will probably not help his allergies and he may be so lonely and upset that he will not eat.  In addition, my vet thinks that he may not get adequate nutrition from hay alone, due to his teeth.
  3. Bring him in and put him in his stall early on lesson days so that he can eat early and not stress out.  (I tried this and it does help in some ways, but a horse with allergies should not linger in his stall.  Usually the aisle is also swept between lessons which will make him cough.  No good.)
  4. One new recommendation I received this year was to reduce Harley's grain meal and add a 30% protein ration balancer.  I understand the creative thinking and the good intentions, but decided that this was not something I wanted to try.
  5. Hay cubes?
I am thinking about the last option.  They are expensive.  I am concerned about quality control.  He would still have to consume them in his stall separately from his paddock buddy and during meals.  I am not sure how much time he will need to eat them.  I do not want to wet them for stall hygiene reasons.  There is no room to increase his meal size, so I would have to cut back his grain to accomodate some hay cubes.  If the cubes can do what the grain is doing at least as well, I would prefer that he have more forage over more grain, but...

...but, that is another change.  Change is tough on him and I do not want to upset his eating if he is doing well.  Or annoy the barn owners.  Or try to find room for the hay cubes in the feed room.  I mean I want to do those things, but there have been so many attempts and reverts back to the original plan in the past that I am sort of feeling like staying in the same place is better.

...BUT, I want my horse to be as healthy as possible and live to be thirty or beyond.

Maybe we have hit the ceiling and I should just accept that.  Or maybe, I just haven't quite found the right combination.  Should I try hay cubes?


  1. I totally feel your pain on this one. Same problems too - my guy started refusing soaked BP, and takes FOREVER to eat alfalfa pellets. Senior feeds make him footsore.

    I am lucky in that he's out with a buddy who is also a slow eater, and they get about 3/4 of a bale between the two of them. It helps, but Saga is still not exactly plump.

    Other things to consider:
    * Add a cup of rice bran. Super high in fat. Also somewhat high in NSCs, so I don't give it to Saga any more. It helped a lot when he was on it.
    * Flax is also high in fat. A cup of that makes a difference for Saga.
    * Triple Crown makes a rice bran (and something else) oil with NO NSCs. Alternatively you might try Cocosoya oil as a top dressing. I'm not quite to that point yet, but I've heard good things about it and if I can't keep the weight on with extra hay, I will look into that.

    One final thought - be careful of the selenium quantities in Ultium. I fed it for a while and then realized I was giving Saga more than double the dose of Selenium. I saw it in his feet - they were sort of scaly-looking (VERY odd). Read the feed label carefully. And I'm not sure which senior feed you tried, but I can't say enough good things about Triple Crown Senior. At 24, Cash is nice and plump, and he's a hard keeper too.

    Good luck - getting their feed just right is SO FRUSTRATING!

    1. Okay, flax might be something I could try.

      I will check about the Selenium. Thanks for that.

      He has an allergy to rice. Not huge, but there is already some in his feed, so I do not want to add any more. Bummer.

      Thanks for commiserating.

  2. PS. I would not try hay cubes. They have to be soaked FOREVER (like 12 hours), and if they aren't soaked they are really hard to chew - even for a horse with good teeth. If Harley is already a slow eater, you need to find a way to pack in more calories fast - hay cubes probably won't do it.

  3. I don't remember if you ever tried the Blue Seal feeds I mentioned in one of your last posts about hard keepers, but the Performance LS might be worth a shot if you can find it. It's comparable to Ultium in price, but I find it works so much better at putting and keeping weight on horses, especially finicky eaters or those with dental issues. The extruded pellets are a lot easier to chew and digest than regular pellets or sweet feed.

    If you do try more beet pulp or hay products, there is a brand called Standlee that is consistently much higher quality than most of the generic feed store brands I've found. My boys are spoiled now and won't eat anything else, and frankly, I wouldn't want them to! Like the Blue Seal, it can be difficult to find, but it's definitely worth the effort -- if your boarding situation will allow you, of course!

    If nothing else, a cup of flax (whole or ground) has helped reduce the severity of Willie's seasonal allergies, and adds some healthy fat to the diet too.

    1. I am glad you left me this information again. I will look to see if our feed store carries the stuff. Fingers crossed, because if they don't, it probably isn't an option.

      The flax may be something to try, too!

  4. I'm thinking about changing Allie's feed too. Last winter I was able to pack on the pounds using a feed called Weight Lifter. At the moment (and all winter) she looks fantastic weight wise. I'm very happy.

    But her quality of hoof horn looks terrible! Same with Gracie (who is fed the same thing as Allie normally). You can see exactly where I started feeding them the weightlifter their hoof horn goes from shiny and beautiful to what looks like sandpapered hoof horn.

    I'm lucky that summer is coming up and she holds her weight better when it is warmer. But she is super friken fussy with her feed and goes off it regularly but she loves the weight lifter and has never left any of it in the feed bucket.

    Ah! What to do? These poor doers, honestly. I hope you find a good solution for Harley, I know what it is like to have a thin horse! Makes you feel like an awful neglectful owner when the opposite is true.

    1. That is frustrating. Conflicting benefits and detriments. Thanks for commiserating.

  5. Since I have an easy keeper I really don't have any suggestions but I will say that I agree with you that a ration balancer is probably not that right solution. Ration balancers tend to be formulated to give horses their nutritional needs without the calories of conventional feeds.

    1. I think the intentions were to put more topline on him. Sigh.

  6. If he's blanketed, he won't die or get sick from being thin - some horses are just this way. Ultium is a good, low NSC, feed - we're in a low selenium area so that's not much of an issue for use. Some horses gain weight well on rice bran - I think that was suggested.

    1. Blanketing worked out great last year! It also protected his skin from potential fungal infections due to the warm winter we had. His paddock buddy got ringworm, but Harley was fine.

      I think rice bran is out due to his allergies. I did try a rice bran based supplement last year with no noticeable effects. He is really challenging.

  7. Val dropped a lot of weight when I first got him, and the first few winters after. I made the mistake of using a product called Amplify, which made him super hot - way too much protein for our work load. Rice bran ups protein significantly as well if that is a concern for you.

    Now we use Cocosoya oil - a couple of ounces top dressing on his pellets (Triple Crown Senior) does the trick. He loves the taste and it makes shiny too! :D

    1. Cocosoya oil. Does is get messy? My concern is that he drops food, so the oil might go all over the place.

      Amplify is actually in Ultium and Purina Senior, I believe. It is a high fat pellet. The feed doesn't make Harley hot, but every horse is different. I don't think our feed store offers Triple Crown Senior. Hmmm.

  8. Val, I had a very hard keeper, my awesome endurance mare, Montoya. I agree with Story (above): they won't die from being thin. Don't give up, but it just might be that Harley is going to be thinner than what makes you happiest. If you can't move and can't change his hay quality/quantity, then he just might be thinner than his fatter neighbors.

    I struggled furiously with keeping weight on my 100 mile athlete. I was always embarrassed by her weight and constantly explained that she was on pasture with free choice alfalfa. I also gave her 5 lbs. of beet pulp a day with two pounds of rice bran. She walked away from anything that even looked like grain! By the way, she had an over bite as well that we watched very closely.

    All you can do is your best. Keep him warm in the winter, feed what he'll eat, and then go easy on yourself. :0) There have been some good suggestions though. Maybe you'll find a better feed option from some of the recommendations.

    1. Oh, the gorgeous Montoya. I remember her from your pictures on your blog. She was a very hardworking horse.

      I think you hit the nail on the head. No matter what I try to feed him, his teeth will be an obstacle.

  9. I hope you can find some solutions for Harley... I have an easy keeper, so I don't have anything useful to suggest. It is hard in a boarding situation to get everything sorted out. I know people that feed hay cubes to senior horses, but they are messy and I think they do have to be soaked for an hour or so with hot water.

    1. Thanks for the support, Laura.

      Yeah, I think hay cubes are not going to work due to the soaking requirement.

  10. you know I could have written your post myself. Irish is impossible to put weight on.

    I have been trying all sorts of things for him over the years (this will sound very familiar to you):
    1. rice bran. works well but after a while he started refusing it. Plus it can get mites in it really easily unless you buy the extruded stuff which is super expensive.
    2. Beet pulp- I've been up and down with this. He would not eat it soaked and then would leave it in his bin requiring it to be clean. I then tried him on dry. and no it won't cause your horse to explode if fed dry but he would pick around it. So I stopped. My new horse came eating BP so I gave some to Irish and he started eating it again.
    3. Canola oil- he will eat it but not if there's a big glob in his feed.
    4. alfalfa cubes- loved them but not easy to get here. 5. I couldn't get Blue Seal here but could get a similar feed by Purina. He loved it. But he lost weight on it and all he did was poop all day. the increase of 'output' was double. So I took him off.
    6. Flax. ate it for a while then went off it. sigh.

    I then bought my own place and brought him home. He was alone at first and stopped eating. We (vet and I) think he was starting to form ulcers with the stress of it.

    So now, he has a buddy and I have total control over his food intake and this is what he gets:
    1. 2.5 quarts 13% sweet feed mornign and night. I would prefer to feed pellets but he'll eat the sweet feed so I don quibble. I add about 1/2 cup of canola oil to each feeding.
    2. soaked beet pulp (about 2 cups then soaked). Less in the morning and more at night because he'll finish at night
    3. he's on grass from approx 8-5. My pasture is good grass.
    4. At night he has enough hay to last all night.

    Essentially this horse has food in front of him 24/7. He's a 16hh tb/qh. I use the weight tape about every week. What I found is that he stays around 1081. I think he should be 1150-ish. sometimes he goes up and sometimes down but it seems that for him, 1081 is his number.

    I have his teeth done every 6 months- he forms hooks at the back. Just recently I saw him spitting food out and figured it was time. I had to soak it until the Vet could come and do it. I also switched his stall so that his food bin was next to the other horse. This makes him eat more rather than having his head away.

    If I take him somewhere, like a show, he drops weight.I wish I could melt weight like he does!!

    So aside from joining the support group, I guess I'm saying that some horses are just 'difficult'. It sounds to me like you are doing everything you can. I have thought about alfalfa pellets.

    1. Teresa, thank you so much for posting your list. After I wrote mine I wondered who would want to read it all, but the frustration of trying to put and keep weight on my horse is illustrated beautifully in your comment, right down the teeth and social requirements of your horse.

    2. it's very hard. You start to think that others believe that they could get weight on. But I believe I have tried everything. I forgot that I tried some supplement from our local feed store. He went off it after a couple weeks.

      I had a couple thoughts- one is that Harley should be with Irish- since they are both slow eaters :) Another is that if you do move him make sure there's access to grass.

    3. Oh supplements! I tried a few different ones last year for several months each. No effect what-so-ever and they can be expensive.

      That is sweet to say about Irish! I am sure that Harley would enjoy a slow-eating buddy. He wouldn't have to defend his food as often. I would love access to grass for him and so would he!

  11. Coro is a harder keeper and has allergy and heart problems, with a similar build to Harley. He is almost ten years older, also.

    I had fantastic luck getting weight on him with Triple Crown Senior combined with Progressive Envision, a fat supplement. So successful, in fact, that I was able to eliminate the Envision this spring. I will be keeping a close eye on him now that he is on pasture and getting more exercise, will reintroduce the Envision if we need to.

    You can see in the pictures I posted today - I think this is the plumpest he has been in his whole life.

    I hope you find something that works for Harley - their weight is such a worry!

  12. Thanks for the suggestions. I do not think Triple Crown Senior is offered by our feed store.

    I looked at the pictures and Coro looks amazing!


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