Wintering with Horses

Hi Folks,

Those of you that live in a climate where the weather can change in a moments notice understand how difficult it can be to take care of your livestock, especially hard-keeper horses.

We had a snowstorm that hit without much warning. The weather forecast claimed a dusting of snow and temps above 32 degrees. I left all my horses in their shared paddock without blanketing. I woke up the next morning to one of the worst blizzards I’ve experienced in this area. I couldn’t see 20 feet in front of me when I first stepped out of the door in my pj’s. I ran out to check on the goats, gave them some paths in their pen so they could access their water and rotate huts and gave them some extra hay. When I made it out to the horses, I felt so horrible. I found the dominant horses in their shed, but shivering. The horses lower on the pecking order were standing out in the brutal wind and snow. They were covered in ice and shivering. I got the halter on Rio, the coldest and most at risk horse and lead him to the shed closest to the house with the most wind protection. Next was to get Remmy, Buck, and Joe moved over. It was a long process. Once the horses were over in the more protected area, they were able to huddle together to warm up. About 3 hours later, they were finally dry enough to get blankets on. The dominant horses in their pen had to get hand dried for their blankets, and they were fed ample hay to help warm them up from the inside. The eldest and mini’s were moved into the hay barn to warm up, then they got their blankets on once they were dry enough. It was a brutal day for everyone with livestock in our area, and many people lost power during that storm. We were fortunate to still have power.

What I took from that experience is to always just do the best you can, especially dealing with horses. Having the knowledge is key. Knowing which horses get along to put into a tight space or area; which horses are spooky that wouldn’t handle a situation as well; and which you could trust with your life. I didn’t know if Rio would follow me through 3 foot drifted snow, but I had to try. I kept coaxing him along. He trusted me enough to follow me through the nasty blizzard to the better protected pen.

When cold happens unexpectedly, make sure to feed plenty of grass hay. Alfalfa is too rich and gives them too much energy too quickly. Drying the horse off with towels when they’ve been soaked is ideal. Give them a good rub to increase circulation. If you have power, and the horse is calm enough, a hair dryer can be used too. Once the horse is dry enough keeping them dry will be the key to getting them warm enough. Feeding warm water with a sweet taste, such as apple juice mixed in, will help warm them up and get them hydrated. In storms or bad weather horses usually don’t drink enough water.

If you don’t have adequate shelter, proving enough hay for them to continually eat along with keeping fresh warm water available will help get you and your horses through a nasty storm.

All the horses, goats, and dogs on the property made it through the storm without any bad injuries or illness.

May you stay safe and healthy with your loved ones through the year.

Warm Regards,

Kate with OCHS

 

 

 

 

Body Condition

How much we feed our horses is determined by how much they weigh, their overall body condition, and the condition we want them to be.

Measure your horses body weight by measuring his heart/girth area and his length. Be sure you measure from the same spot each time to get an accurate reading. Your horses weight will equal his heart-girth times his heart-girth times his length divided by 330.

Heart-girth X heart-girth X length / 330 = Weight

Heart/Girth and Length

Heart/Girth and Length

While important in determining your horse’s overall nutrient requirements, knowing how much your horse weighs still doesn’t tell you if it is too fat, too thin, or in good overall condition with respect to fat coverage.

Since the 1980s, veterinarians and horse owners alike have been using the Henneke Body Condition Scoring (BCS) system to estimate fat coverage of horses. This system uses a scale of 1 through 9, determining body weight and ideal condition where 1 represents an extremely emaciated horse and 9 represents a grossly obese one. Areas of the body that are examined include the shoulder and elbow region, the ribs, the withers, the loin and tailhead region, and the crest of the neck.

Body Condition Scores

General Description Neck Area Withers Shoulder Elbow Ribs Loin and Tailhead
Score:
1 Poor No fatty tissue felt; bone structure obvious Very prominent Scapula prominent No fleshy tissue Ribs obvious Spine and hip bones prominent
2 Very thin Prominent bonestructure Prominent Prominent Minimal fleshy tissue Ribs clearly visible Spine and hip bones visible
3 Thin Lean Lean Obvious Little Fleshy tissue Outline of ribs visible Moderate visibility of hip bones
4 Moderately Thin Some fleshy cover Some cover Moderate blend into body Some fleshy tissue Faint outline of ribs Faint outline of hip bones
5 Moderate Moderate fleshy cover Moderate tissue cover Blends into body Moderate tissue Not visible but easily felt Back level, tailhead fleshy
6 Moderately fleshy Fleshy cover Fleshy cover Well-blended into body Extra fleshy tissue Spongy cover over ribs Soft tailhead
7 Fleshy Fat deposited along neck Fat deposited along withers Not obvious Obvious fleshy tissue Ribs felt with pressure Soft tailhead; ridge beginning to appear
8 Fat Obvious fat on neck Not obvious due to fat coverage Faint scapula Fat Barely felt with pressure SCrease down back
9 Extremely fat Obvious fat and potentially cresty neck Bulging fat; withers indiscernible Bulging fat; scapula not visible Bulging fat Difficult to feel ribs due to excessive fat cover Crease down back due to bulging fat on either side of spine

 

The scale is useful because it is easy to learn, but there are several drawbacks. For instance, it is very subjective; one horse owner might label a horse a 3 while another might label it a 2 or 2.5. This discrepancy generally isn’t an issue unless different people are keeping records. For example, if it wasn’t known that different people were scoring the horses, one might assume a horse has suddenly lost or gained weight. It is also difficult to use the scale when tracking a horse over time to observe small changes in body condition score. In this case, careful record keeping and photos can be helpful to monitor body condition score changes with dietary management.

Another problem with the Henneke system is that not all horses follow the chart smoothly. For example, some horses may carry more weight around their ribs but won’t have much coverage along the hind end. Therefore, it is possible for a horse to be a 6 at the ribs but only a 4.5 or 5 in another region. In these kinds of situations, owners and clinicians must average the entire body’s scores to obtain the horse’s true overall score.

So what is the ideal body score in horses? At this point, veterinarians and nutritionists aren’t certain. Most horse owners, veterinarians, and nutritionists agree that, in general, a leaner animal is healthier (within reason). In this sense, a horse with a body condition of 5 is generally considered to be in good condition. However, in some cases a leaner or fatter condition may be desired, as described below.

Determining an ideal weight for a horse is difficult, in part due to vast breed differences affecting bone and musculature. Muscle accounts for more than 50% of body weight in most athletic horses (and is usually still around 45% in non-athletic horses), compared to 30% to 40% in other species. As in humans, muscle weighs more than fat; therefore, a muscled horse will weigh more than a fat one for a given height and body type. Thus, it is difficult to make claims such as a 16-hand horse should weigh 1200 lbs. In reality, based on breed differences a 16-hand horse may weigh anywhere between 1000 lbs and 1800 lbs. This is another reason why body condition scores are useful.

In some cases it might be wise for a horse to have a slightly higher body condition score. The original work by Henneke studied reproductive efficiency in mares and found that mares with more condition (higher BCS) had higher conception rates than their leaner counterparts. So, it may be wise to keep a broodmare at a slightly higher condition (for example, around a BCS of 6), though keeping any horse at a body condition score greater than 7 may increase the risk of metabolic issues. It may also be recommended that older horses be kept in higher condition (BCS 6). As the ability to maintain weight during disease or times of stress becomes increasingly difficult with increasing age, having a bit of a “buffer” in body weight could be beneficial. However, the overall health of the animal should be taken into consideration, as an older horse with arthritis or a history of laminitis may do better without the excess weight.

Horse owners should work with their veterinarians and trainers to determine the ideal body condition for their horse and discipline, as serious consequences can result when a horse is too thin or too fat.

 

Hope this helps you understand the horses weight, condition and why it’s important to feed quality food to our equine partners.

 

Regards,

Kate with OCHS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q & A for Hauling Horses

Question: How should you tie a horse in the trailer?

Answer: With a quick release halter or knot. Use a nylon or leather halter for tying a horse in the trailer, not a rope halter. A rope halter can get caught on things too easily and it is so thin, if it does get stuck, it can seriously injure the horse. If you use a nylon halter, make sure you tie the rope in a knot that will come loose easily in an emergency; or use a quick release halter; or a lead rope with a quick release snap. Also, make sure to tie the rope short enough so that the horse cannot step over the rope.

Please note, if the horse does not know how to give to halter pressure, do not tie this horse. Please see hauling an untrained/wild below.

Question: Is it safe to leave a horse loose in the trailer?

Answer: No, I do not think it is very safe to leave a horse loose in a trailer, especially in a two horse trailer. A large horse can get to walking in circles and cause the trailer to move too much. An untied horse can fall or injure himself much easier if he is not restricted.  Horses may also try to nip or bite each other which can lead to a multitude of problems. Ponies and mini’s under 500lbs are okay for short distances without being tied as long as there are no dividers in the trailer. However, I still recommend tying them. A horse or pony that is tied will not be able to move about the trailer.

Please note, if the horse does not know how to give to halter pressure, do not tie this horse. Please see hauling an untrained/wild below.

Question: What is the safest way to trailer an untrained or wild horse?

Answer: Loose in a stock trailer. Do not try to tie this horse because they do not know how to give to pressure; doing this can put this animal in serious danger to injuring himself. A stock trailer is open and stable enough for these horses to move around. Drive extra cautious because there is a risk of an accident, however, this is the safest approach for hauling the untrained horse. Do not have anything (no, not even a halter) on untrained or wild horses when hauling.

Question: If hauling on horse in a straight two horse trailer, which compartment should the horse be loaded into?

Answer: On the left side, behind the driver (in most parts of the world). This is because roads are crowned by design to encourage good drainage. Your trailer will want to pull a little to the right when driving on the right side of the road. By loading the horse in the left compartment in a two horse, straight load trailer, the rig is better balanced to counter-act the crown of the road.

Question: Is it okay to haul a horse that is already saddled?

Answer: It is not recommended to haul a horse that is already tacked up. The saddle and bridle can get caught up loading the horse in and out of the trailer. If the rig is involved in an accident a saddle or bridle left on the horse can cause even more injury to the animal. Instead, plan to arrive early at your destination to tack up your horse.

Other Quick Tips:

  • Make sure there is the proper amount of air in your tow vehicle and trailer tires. When airing trailer tires, make sure the trailer is empty.
  • Be sure to have mats in the trailer so the horse cannot slip around while he’s inside.
  • Never allow a horse to stick his head outside the trailer while on the move.
  • Always check your spare tires (for both the two vehicle and the trailer), even for a short haul.
  • If you must get in the trailer with the horse to load/unload him/her, make sure the escape door is open AND/OR there is plenty of room for you to get out easily and safely.
  • If there’s a butt bar, clip it before you close the rear trailer doors.
  • Close the trailer doors quietly so as to not startle the horses.

May you have safe travels with your equine companion.

~Kate with OCHS

Halter Safety

HALTER SAFETY!

To safely halter a horse, we must catch him first. If he is in a field, we need to approach so that he can see us and does not become spooked by our presence. Walk up to the horse’s shoulder while talking softly to him. You may want to walk in a zig-zag sort of pattern or even walk right past him if he’s known to be hard to catch. (I will talk about hard to catch horses in another article.) Once you reach him, give him a good scratch on the shoulder, whither and neck. If you rub him first, he won’t think you are just going to rush the halter over his head and put him right to work. Horses learn quick, and often times, they won’t like to work unless they enjoy their job. So let’s try to make their job more fun! Now that your horse is thoroughly enjoying the attention; it is the time to drape the lead-line over his neck so that you have control of him if he decides to leave at this point. You want to be on the near side, or left side, of the horse to put on the halter. Start by holding the halter in your left hand, unbuckled. Take your right hand and place it over the horses neck. Your right hand should be near to where his jaw bone connects to his throat. Now grab hold of the crown piece of the halter with your right hand so that your left hand is holding the nose piece. In this position, you have complete control of the horses head. With your right hand holding the crown piece, gently ask the horse to bring his head towards you. At this point, you should be standing between the horses head and his shoulder. Bring the horses head towards you then gently slip the nose piece over the horses nose; and at the same time lift up on the crown piece with your right hand. The halter will easily slide over the horses face into position where you can secure it on his head. Be sure that the nose piece is up high enough on the bone of the horses nose when it is fastened. If the halter is too far down towards his nostrils, you can easily injure the horse. Now you have a safely haltered horse.

good&bad_halterfit

To the left is an incorrectly haltered horse. To the right is a correctly haltered horse.

Horse_ropehalterProper

Above is a correctly fitted rope halter. Below is an incorrectly fitted rope halter.

improper_roperhalterfit

Below is a drawing of the horses skull. Here you can see where the bone of the horses nose ends.

horse_teeth_face

If the horses halter is on too tight, there is no wiggle room in the halter. You do want to have wiggle room all the way around the halter.

Question: Is it okay or safe to leave a halter on a horse while he’s out to pasture?

Answer: NO! I cringe every time I see a horse with a halter left on unattended. This is one of the most common problems (let me translate that word to: Dangers) I see today. Here’s why I believe it is not a good idea, and is very dangerous to the horse to leave a halter on unattended. Halters can get stuck on anything. A horse goes to scratch his head on something (probably trying to get that itchy thing off!), well, when he brings his head back up… he can’t! The halter is stuck. The horse panics, begins to thrash and before you know it the horse is all tangled up in a fence, his face scratched, cut or worse.

Another problem is that horses can scratch their face with their legs. A horse goes to lower his head, and intends to scratch his ear with his hoof. Lets say he uses a hind leg to scratch, like a dog would, only the hind leg is now caught in that halter! You can see all kinds of problems this can cause, right? Same thing can happen with a front foot. Lets say you can free this horse, and the horse is basically uninjured. You now have a head-shy horse on your hands even though you didn’t hit or physically cause this horse pain. The fear of the halter getting stuck is now always in this horses mind. It takes a tremendous amount of training to teach a horse that halters and people touching his face, will not always be a bad experience. Horses use their ears, nose, and sight to survive, so having their face caught, I imagine, is one of the scariest thing for a horse to experience.

One more thought on leaving halters on… if halters are left on too long (thus they are tight enough not to come off) they will imprint into the horses face. There are plenty of horses out there that have permanent scars from halters being left on too long. The worst case horses are usually terrified of people, will not let anyone come close to their face. Some horses will even have missing ears and eyes because of halter accidents. In other words, please please PLEASE do not leave a halter on a horse unattended and share your new knowledge with your horsey friends.

Sometimes accidents happen, and they can be totally out of our control. However, we can try to prevent some serious accidents from happening by being proactive in how we manage and care for our horses.

Thanks for reading.

Regards,

Kate Thomas with OCHS

Winter Water

Hi y’all.

Did you know that horses need to drink about 10 gallons of water per day? That’s for an average horse (around 1,000lbs) at rest (grazing in the pasture) in normal conditions (the temperature outside is not too hot nor too cold). Did you know that’s how much they need to drink in all four seasons? Some horses drink less in the winter, for several reasons; but it’s important to get them to drink their normal amount even in winter. Here’s a great article about winter water for horses.

Please take a look: http://www.horsejournals.com/winter-water

Now, I have a tip on the types of water heaters to use. In the article they mention floating or sinking water heaters. I do NOT recommend the floating heaters if you have horses that are mouthy (they use their mouths to check out everything, they are usually playful and curious horses). Even the sinkable water heaters can be a risk because the cord is still inside the water tank. This means those playful / curious horses may bite and pull on it, and may even pull it right on out of the water tank. The best heater to use are the ones that plug into the tank and seal the hole. These water heaters do not have the cord inside the tank at all, less risk to the horse and to the heater itself! Horses are smart, so they won’t touch the heating element, but the sure wouldn’t mind play with a cord.

Here’s a picture of what I am referring to:

tank_deicer

That’s all for now.

Regards,

Kate with OCHS

Tips on Purchasing a Horse

Looking to purchase a new horse? Maybe you’ve done this before, maybe you haven’t, in either case, here are some really good tips and guidelines to help you in your search for the perfect new horse.

Questions you should ask yourself prior to looking at any horse:

  1. What are you going to use the horse for? Pleasure riding on flat land or mountainous terrain, barrel racing, show jumping, dressage, 4-H, driving, companion and etc.
  2. How much horse-knowledge do you truly have? You must be completely honest with yourself.
  3. Do you need to take riding lessons or learn more about horses from an equine professional (this can include a breeder, an instructor, a vet, a farrier, a chiropractor, etc.) or do more of your own research before purchasing a horse?
  4. After you decide what you’re going to do with your horse, do you have a good idea of what breeds of horses you’re going to be looking at?

For example, if you are a beginner (and there’s nothing wrong with that, everyone has to start somewhere!), look for breeds of horses that have a calm and steady temperament, some breeds are often more high strung and sensitive than others (though that is not always the case, just be realistic in your knowledge of horses – for your safety and for the safety of the horse!).

If you’ve had horses before or are getting into a new event; be much more specific of what qualities, conformation, and temperament your horse must have in order participate and excel in the event you wish to pursue.

  1. Are you going to board the horse or keep him at your location?
  2. Are you aware of your finances and how much the horse will cost including feed and routine care?
  3. Do you have a vet ready to give a pre-purchase exam when the time comes?
  4. Do you have a farrier lined up for when you get your horse?
  5. Do you have a horse-knowledgeable person to go with you when you look at horses or once you’re close to deciding upon the horses that are at the top of your list? This is not only for beginners, those that have been around horses could benefit from another horse-knowledge person to look for things you may have missed!
  6. When you have horses you wish to visit in person, try to line several up in the same area to save yourself a little money and time. Give yourself enough time to thoroughly check out each horse.

Make a list of following points that will be made below! (And anything else you might think of that will aid you in your decision to purchase the right horse.)

  1. The first thing you should do upon arrival at the location of the horse is to examine the property. (note: it might be good to arrive 15-30 minutes prior to your scheduled arrival time – you’ll learn the importance of this later)
    1. Is the property kept up?
    2. Is it safe for the horse(s)?
    3. Take note of the pros and cons.
  2. How do you feel about the sellers?
    1. Any bad vibes should be noted, as well as good ones!
  3. Why to arrive early:
    1. Is the horse already caught?
    2. Is he groomed?
    3. Are there signs that he may have been worked with prior to your arrival?
    4. Is he still out to pasture?
    5. Is he kept in a stall? With or without a run?
    6. Is he kept out to pasture? With or without other horses?
    7. Is there other livestock on the property, how close are they to the horse you’re looking at?
    8. Are there dogs or cats nearby? How does the horse react to them?

If the horse has been caught and groomed or worked with prior to your arrival – be cautious! The horse may have more spunk then you desire, a bad behavior, or something else could be seriously wrong. A seller may ride out the spunk or bad desire of the horse, drug the horse, and etc. to make the horse appealing to the potential buyer.

Have the seller/handler do the following and watch how the horse responds to what the handler is doing:

  • Catch and lead the horse to the grooming area.
  • Grooming – Does the handler groom all over, pick the horses hooves, touch the horse everywhere, or act cautious about certain areas. How does the horse respond?
  • Tacking up – watch how the horse reacts to the process.
  • Groundwork – does the handler do any groundwork at all? If yes, have handler demonstrate.
  • Riding – Always have the seller/handler demonstrate what the horse can do under saddle before you get on. Never get on a horse without first seeing how he responds to someone else, unless you are an experienced horse person.

A horse should be relaxed about what we’re doing when we are handling him. If he is tense and nervous, he will usually be even worse under saddle.

Keep in mind what kind of knowledge you currently have so that you can decide upon a horse that has a training level and personality that will suit your current needs. In most cases, the horse that matches your current ability will also allow room for you (and your horse) to grow in understanding and ability. In other words, don’t get a horse that has too much energy; that is too sensitive; or has a personality that will be hard for you to manage. Plan ahead and be prepared to spend the time that it takes to purchase the right horse for your needs. Doing so will save you (and your horse) many aches and pains both emotionally and physically.

Finally, when you have decided on a horse that you think you would like to purchase, there is one more step to take prior to giving any money to the seller: A pre-purchase examination by the veterinarian of your choice

  • Have your vet explain the different examinations he offers and the costs of each.
  • You will spend about 8%-20% of the horse’s cost on a pre-purchase exam. This money is out of your pocket; but it will be worth the extra money to make sure that the horse is healthy and sound.

Regards,

Kate with OCHS