Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Feeding Fizzy, Excitable Horses Throughout The Firework Frenzy!

Bonfire night is looming, and for those of you with especially nervous or excitable horses, the idea of a ride following a festival of fireworks overnight, may not be a welcome one. Below are a few tips to help you try to avoid any undesirable performances from your horse or pony.

How can feed affect excitable horses?
Whilst many factors can have an effect, nutritionally a high fibre, controlled starch diet is the best way to feed excitable horses as it is the high starch content in some feeds that we most commonly associate with fizzy behaviour. Although many horse owners also try to avoid high levels of sugar in their horses feeds, in fact the largest contributor of sugar in our horses and ponies diets is their forage (grass/hay/haylage) – think of the ‘spring grass effect’!

So, what can I feed my fizzy four legged friend?
In practise, when offering hard feed, we would recommend avoiding all mixes, due to their cereal content (cereals are high in starch) and choosing fibre and oil based feeds containing a maximum of 15-20% starch. It is useful to remember, the definition for a ‘non heating feed’ is one that is ‘less likely to produce an excitable response in some horses and ponies’ so there is no guarantee. The amount of starch tolerated can be very variable between individuals and for more sensitive horses, it may necessary to reduce the level of starch further. Another factor that can sometimes lead to excitable horses or ponies, is over feeding energy. Should you be unsure whether or not you are providing the correct levels however, get in touch with a nutritionist.

Calling all horse calmers for back up!
Many horse owners also find the use of a calmer helpful. There are several available on the market and often it is a case of finding one that suits your horse.  Numerous ingredients have been associated with helping to reduce nervous/excitable behaviour in horses anecdotally, including herbs such as chamomile and lemon balm. A 10g daily serving of magnesium has now been scientifically proven to have a positive effect on the flight response of horses, which may therefore help to reduce spooky/fizzy behaviour in excitable horses.

Useful tips to easing excitable horses!
  • Keeping your horse or pony in a familiar environment with the same routine to avoid stress.
  • Providing distractions when fireworks are going off overhead such as; licks, snack balls and hanging root vegetables. Playing a radio in your barn or stable block can also help muffle loud noises.
  • For owners with especially anxious horses, it may be a good idea to stay with them at all times, or even speak to your vet about sedation.
  • For horses who live out, try to look out for and remove anything your horse could injure themselves on should they become distressed.

Post Bonfire Night recovery for you and you horse!

If you are aware of any displays close by, look for firework debris once the event is over. Although it may seem obvious, riding near or whilst a display is going on is probably best avoided and riding in company for a week or so if possible may also be a good idea!

By taking some of these tips on board hopefully Guy Fawkes will be the only one who lands up in a heated situation this bonfire night and the rest of us can enjoy the glitter and bangs!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Feeding Your Laminitic Horse or Pony This Autumn and Winter

As the days shorten and temperatures drop, many of you start to assume that due to decreasing quality of the grass it is safe for your lamintic horse or pony to go back out to their paddock, however beware this may not be the case! There also several key points to remember when managing your laminitic during colder temperatures ahead.  
First of all, even as pastures appear to be losing their lush green colours, it is impossible to know what levels of water soluble carbohydrates (WSC) are contained, in fact we often experience what many refer to as an ‘Autumn Flush’. Additionally turning out on grass that has been exposed to cold temperatures in conjunction with bright sunlight i.e. sunny frosty mornings, should be avoided, as these conditions can result in especially high levels of WSC. For this reason we recommend continuing to restrict access by making use of stables/menages/bark paddocks, strip grazing or a grazing muzzle, so long as there is a sufficient covering of grass.

Providing a balanced diet is key for any horse or pony, so it is vital to ensure they are receiving the correct levels of vitamins, minerals and quality proteins. If maintaining weight on forage alone (grass/soaked hay), provide a balancer, a small nutrient dense pellet which contains a negligible level of calories, starch and sugar. If on the other hand your horse needs the help of a hard feed to maintain weight, consider a fibre or cube suitable for laminitics with added nutrients. Remember, even in Spring/Summer months, we cannot be sure what level of vitamins, minerals and quality proteins our horses and ponies are receiving, therefore feeding a balancer if providing less than the recommended amount of feed, is still advisable.

Secondly when continuing to turn out onto bare paddocks or strip grazing, these areas can quickly become bogged down with mud. In the wild, horses would roam the land continually, foraging for food, it is important therefore to provide continual access to forage. For our laminitics this involves offering either soaked hay or alternatively a suitable hay replacer such as SPILLERS HAPPY HOOF®/SPILLERS HAPPY HOOF® Molasses Free. All horses and ponies require a minimum of 1.5% (dry matter) of their bodyweight in forage per day, however it is difficult for us to know how much of this ration is being consumed as grass. As a guide, when being stabled for 12 hours, offer a minimum of half this ration, but those prone to weight loss may require more and of course when stabling for longer periods, a larger quantity will be required.

Finally, winter can provide the perfect opportunity for those horses and ponies who have been doing a little too well in warmer months to finally shed some extra pounds. If your laminitic does in fact struggle to maintain weight however, harsher conditions can pose a problem. Start by checking that you are feeding the recommended ration of your horse’s current feed as a simple increase may be all that is required. If this isn’t enough however, look for a feed with higher level of digestible energy and protein but always avoid cereal based feeds with high starch content and opt for fibre and oil instead.

This autumn, as we start cooking up soups and stews for ourselves, there are several points that need to be considered when considering your lamintic’s winter diet. Taking these steps now however will hopefully avoid any set backs for next spring!