In the world of horse nutrition, the word “vitamin” is used very broadly (and often incorrectly) to describe many types of nutritional components, ranging from amino acids to minerals to herbal supplements. There is nothing inherently wrong with that I suppose, but as a responsible horse owner you should understand what vitamins actually are, where they come from, and why they are important to your horse’s health. Here is an overview that should help you along your path to better understanding your horse's nutritional requirements.
There are two classes of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Very simply put, water-soluble vitamins are not stored in a horse’s body tissue and are excreted through urine and feces when not used, while fat-soluble vitamins are stored in certain tissues in the horse and are retrieved and used as needed. Let’s talk about the vitamins in each of these groups.
The water-soluble vitamins include the B complex vitamins and vitamin C.
I have written in some detail about the B complex vitamins in a previous post, which would be helpful to review. But very briefly, all eight of the B vitamins are produced by the micro flora in a horse’s hind gut, and all but one of these eight can also be found in quality forage, including fresh grass, quality hay, and even grains. B vitamins play important roles in the metabolic functions of virtually every cell in a horse’s body.
Vitamins C can be found to some degree in quality feeds, but most importantly it is synthesized from glucose in a horse’s liver. A healthy horse should be producing adequate amounts of vitamin C with this process. Vitamin C is a critical anti-oxidant, helping to prevent the destruction of cells.
The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K
Vitamin A is found in fresh forages and in good quality hay. The amount of vitamin A is diminished when these forages are processed or are of poor quality. Most horses on a good-quality forage ration will be receiving adequate amounts of vitamin A in their diets. Vitamin A is important for, among other things, healthy eyesight, reproductive health, and a strong immune system.
Vitamin D is synthesized by the horse with the help of sunlight. A healthy horse living under normal conditions should be synthesizing adequate vitamin D for its needs. Vitamin D is important at helping the horse absorb and keep certain minerals at consistent levels, especially calcium.
Vitamin E is found in adequate levels for a horse in quality green forages, especially fresh grasses and quality, unprocessed hays. Vitamin E is an important anti-oxidant, helping cells maintain their structure. Horse that are on very poor quality forage can sometimes be deficient in Vitamin E, but improving the quality of the ration will generally solve this problem.
Like the B vitamins, vitamin K is synthesized by the microbes in the hind gut of a healthy horse. Vitamin K is critical for blood clotting, bone metabolism and heart health.
So there you have it. As you can see, a healthy horse that is fed a good-quality forage ration should be receiving sufficient vitamins for its needs. If you suspect your horse has health issues related to vitamins, don’t go it alone. Just throwing “vitamins” at a horse will rarely have any beneficial effect. Talk to your veterinarian or nutritionist to look for the actual cause of the problem.
As always, this article is not an attempt to diagnose or prescribe treatment for any particular equine health problem. If you suspect your horse is suffering from any health problem, consult your veterinary professional for testing, diagnosis and treatment.
Many horse owners feel intimated when discussing or reading about some of the finer details of equine nutrition, but they shouldn’t. The basics of equine nutrition are relatively simple to understand, and I think every horse owner owes it to themselves and their animals to know as much as they can about the nutritional needs of their equine companions. This is probably no truer than when discussing amino acids in the equine diet.
Now, don’t be intimidated. I am almost certain you have heard the term “amino acids” before and you may be very knowledgeable on the subject. In any case, it is worth a review of what amino acids are and why they are critical to the appropriate physical development and maintenance of your horse.
So what are amino acids? Well, all protein is made up of strings of amino acids. This is why amino acids are often called the building blocks of protein. A horse uses amino acids to create the proteins in muscle, bone, blood, skin, hair, hoof and a wide variety of other tissues that are critical to healthy growth and maintenance. All animals, including horses, get the amino acids their bodies require in one of two ways: they either consume them in feed, or they synthesize them in their bodies by breaking down protein and converting one type of amino acid into another. If an animal is unable to synthesize a specific amino acid, this is called an “essential amino acid” for that specific animal. This simply means that the only way that animal can get that specific amino acid is by consuming it in its feed.
There are a total of 22 amino acids. Your horse’s body is actually able to make 12 of these, when needed, by breaking down the proteins in its feed and converting their structure. There are, however, 10 amino acids that cannot be synthesized by your horse. These are the “essential” amino acids for horses. They are, in alphabetical order, arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
The three essential amino acids required by a horse that are most often deficient in the forage diet are lysine, methionine and threonine. Sometimes you will hear these referred to as “limiting” amino acids. This simply means that if a horse does not receive enough of them in its feed, certain protein synthesis processes will stop once the amino acid is no longer available. The process is “limited” by the absence of the specific essential amino acid.
Look at what each of these three essential amino acids does for a horse, and you will understand why a deficiency in your horse’s diet can have such a negative impact on growth and overall health:
• Lysine is responsible for promoting bone growth in foals and maintenance of the skeletal structure in mature horses. It also enhances nitrogen balance and the overall growth of young horses. Lysine deficiency is linked to a variety of developmental orthopedic diseases in young horses, especially in the legs.
• Methionine is critical for the growth and maintenance of coat, hair and hoof tissues. It also promotes the bioavailability of selenium, a critical trace mineral that is also, coincidentally, often deficient in the forage diet. If methionine is deficient in the diet, it will most often be manifest in poor coat, hair and hoof quality.
• Threonine promotes overall growth, muscle mass retention and the efficient use of feed. It also is critical in the production of adrenaline and other important hormones. Threonine deficiency can manifest itself in poor body condition and lack of energy.
Now, just because you are feeding your horse a diet that is high in protein does not mean it is receiving enough of the essential amino acids. Alfalfa, for example, is high in protein but is commonly deficient in the three essential amino acids outlined above. Some people call this “poor-quality” protein. Grass and grass hays, on the other hand, usually have “high-quality” protein. In other words, of the protein they do contain, it has a lot of the essential amino acids. The problem with these types of forages, however, can be that they simply do not have enough of this high-quality protein.
So although you may be feeding your horse plenty of protein, as in an alfalfa diet, or high-quality protein, as in a grass hay diet, if the essential amino acids are not present in sufficient quantities, your horse will still be deficient nutritionally and may suffer from things like a poor hair coat, weak topline or poor hooves. To solve these problems, the easy solution is usually to add a simple, good-quality ration balancer (such as Dr. Thornley’s Hay Balancer®) that specifically contains adequate amounts of lysine, methionine and threonine to your horse’s daily forage ration. It is a simple thing that can make a significant difference in your horse’s health.
This information is not meant to diagnose or prescribe treatment for any equine health problem. If you suspect your horse is suffering from any health problem, consult your veterinary professional for complete testing, diagnosis and treatment.
I'm not going to answer this question. Why? I think it is very important for horse owners to make reasonable decisions about caring for their animals based on sound information. So instead of telling you what I would do, what other people do, or even what other people say you should do, I’m going to give you the information you will need in order to decide whether you should give your horse vitamin B supplements.
Let’s start with the basics of B vitamins.
The B vitamins (along with Vitamin C) fit into a class of vitamins that are called water-soluble. Water-soluble essentially means that the vitamin is not stored in the body, but is excreted in urine and feces when there is more than is needed by your horse. There are some minor exceptions to this rule, but they are not important for this basic overview.
B vitamins play important roles in the metabolic functions of virtually every cell in a horse’s body. There are a total of eight B vitamins. When they are grouped together in a supplement, they are called Vitamin B Complex. They have each been called different things over the years since first being identified, but today they are most commonly referred to by their names. They are:
Now, if you ever read the ingredients on a horse supplement package, you will probably see one or more of the B vitamins listed, with biotin being a main component of many hoof supplements, and thiamine being prevalent in “calming” supplements. And even though biotin is very important in, for example, the production of keratin (an important material in hoof building), and thiamine is thought to increase feelings of well-being in a horse, the question remains: does giving supplemental B vitamins offer your horse any real benefits?
Again, I hope you will be able to make that decision on your own by the time you finish reading this. Understanding where a horse naturally gets B vitamins will be important in that decision.
So where do B vitamins come from? All eight of the B vitamins are produced by the microflora in a horse’s hind gut. This is a kind of symbiotic relationship where the horse provides food to the beneficial microbes within its digestive system in the form of fiber. In return, the microbes then (in addition to several other important functions) produce B vitamins critical to the horse. In addition, a horse that is on a quality forage diet receives more B vitamins from plant matter, including fresh grass, all types of hay and even grain. The only exception is B12, which is not found in plants, so is only available to the horse via production by the gut’s microflora. In addition, there is strong evidence that a horse can synthesize niacin from the amino acid tryptophan, which is also abundant in quality forage diets. It is therefore widely agreed that a healthy horse receives more than sufficient B vitamins from the combination of gut microflora, feed and internal synthesis.
(Here’s where I unfortunately cannot avoid mentioning what some people might tell you to do, because I think it makes some sense.) There are circumstances under which some professionals would recommend the use of B vitamin supplements, the main two being, 1) when a horse is on a diet of very poor forage, or 2) when gut health, and hence the vibrancy of the microbial community has been compromised by heavy use of antibiotics or feeding too much starch. In these two cases, however, it seems the supplementation would act purely as a stopgap until the horse’s diet is improved and/or the gut microflora return to a healthy state.
So, a brief summary:
Have you made your decision about B vitamin supplements for your horse? If not, let me ask one final question:
If your gas tank already has gas in it, will adding more make your car go any faster?
As always, this article is not an attempt to diagnose or prescribe treatment for any particular equine health problem. If you suspect your horse is suffering from any health problem, consult your veterinary professional for testing, diagnosis and treatment.
You can probably say whether a horse is a sorrel or a bay. And you can probably readily tell the difference between a palomino and a buckskin. But what about a perlino versus a cremello? And what about all those paint variations – overo, tobiano, tovero, sabino? And forget about breeding! How many people can tell you what you might get if you breed a bay roan to a dunskin? Probably very few. Horse coat colors can be complicated, and even the most experienced horse owners might not know some simple facts about horse coat coloration.
But it can be very fun to study horse coat colors, even if you’d just like to be able to say with some certainty what color a certain horse is. If you are breeding, it can be particularly exciting to understand what color foal you might get from a certain cross. So here are some handy resources available to anyone to learn more about horse coat colors:
Each of these books is available online at Amazon.com and some of the other major book retailers. I like each of them for different reason. I hope these very short reviews will help you decide which ones might be best for you.
Horse Color Explained: A Breeders Perspective by Jeannette Gower
Of the several books about horse colors, breeding and genetics I have in my library, I think I enjoy this one the most and find it most useful. It is easily understood and simply written, yet it offers an overview of genetics and how color traits manifest themselves, and how they are passed to offspring. It includes sections on the base colors and the dilute colors, as well as the many patterns of these different colors, including interesting information about roan and grey horses. I think any horse lover would find this book very useful, enjoyable and informative.
Equine Color Genetics by D. Phillip Sponenberg
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Gee! I wish I had taken a college course in horse color genetics!” but never had the chance, this is the book for you. It is a college text book. It feels and smells like a college text book. It weighs as much and costs as much. Nonetheless, it offers you everything you ever wanted to know about horse colors, particularly how they are related to genetics. I promise: if you want to know almost anything on the topic, you will find it in this book.
Horse Color by D. Phillip Sponenberg & Bonnie V. Beaver
You will notice that one of the authors of Horse Color is Sponenberg from the previous text, but this book is not as intimidating. It is, however, somewhat dated and probably only available in used copies. It offers readers the knowledge to identify and classify the colors of horses, but does not dive into genetics. It has an extensive collection of pictures as examples of each of the colors described. If that’s all you are looking for, this may be the book for you.
The Color of Horses by Ben K. Green and Darol Dickinson
This is a beautiful book. Like Horse Color, it is a little older and only available used, but you may find it worth hunting down a copy if you appreciate horse art and love to look at wonderful paintings of horses. The book contains more than 30 full-color illustrations by Darol Dickinson of the various horse colors. It is a great quick reference, but does not describe inheritance and genetics.
If you are a breeder and want to determine what a specific cross will result in as it relates to coat color, there is a great Horse Coat Color Calculator from the company Animal Genetics at: http://www.animalgenetics.us/Equine/CCalculator1.asp
It is very easy to use and gives specific genetic statistical probabilities for the coat color of foals resulting from specific crosses. The more information you have about the prospective sire and dam’s color genetics, the more accurate the results. After entering the color and coat patterns of the parents, it asks for additional information about specific color genetics and then calculates the probabilities of the resulting foal color. I love it!
If you want information about the genetics of a horse you own, Animal Genetics (www.animalgenetics.us) also offers various color tests for a very reasonable fee. All you have to do is pull a few hairs from the mane or tail of your horse and mail them in along with a simple form. I was able to use one of these tests to find out that a particular paint horse I owned was actually a sabino pattern, after everyone I knew had told me it was tobiano. These types of tests can also be performed by several other labs, such as the lab at U.C. Davis (http://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/coatcolorhorse.php)
One more great internet find is a fantastic poster by Majnouna at: http://majnouna.deviantart.com/art/Guide-to-Horse-Colors-and-Patterns-243666224
I have never seen a more complete graphic representation of all the possible horse colors and patterns on a single infographic. I am going to buy the poster and hang it in my office!
Winter is setting in across the country and forecasters are predicting it may be colder and wetter than normal. Here are some ideas to consider when it comes the care and feeding of your horses during the next few months.
To Blanket or Not To Blanket? In fairness, I won’t try to answer this question. It continues to be discussed year after year among horse owners of all types, sometimes with pretty strong feelings on both sides. But let’s at least be practical on the issues of blanketing.
If you choose to blanket your horse in the winter, make sure the blanket you choose fits your horse well and is good quality. An ill-fitting or poor quality blanket will be inconvenient at best, and at worst can be a real danger for your horse. The right blanket should fit the horse’s body well and have no loose or broken straps or buckles. Take the time to check your horse’s blanket prior to using it for the season. Repair any damage or buy a new one if needed, and once in use check every day to be sure the blanket is still in place and comfortable for your horse.
The right blanket should be an appropriate weight for the conditions your horse will be in. A blanket that is too warm and causes the horse to sweat can be far worse than a blanket that is too light. Once a horse is wet, even from sweat, it has a much harder time keeping itself warm. In this same vein, outdoor blankets should be water resistant so that they do not become water-soaked and heavy in rain, sleet or snow. In fact, a horse out in the cold wearing a wet blanket is probably worse off than a horse that is not blanketed at all.
Inside or Out? Another tough question. But whether you choose to keep you horses outside, inside or a combination of both during the winter, consider these issues.
If your horse will be stalled indoors, perhaps the most important issue is to make sure the space is well ventilated. Enclosed spaces can have increasingly poor air quality if they are not properly ventilated to allow dust, ammonia and other respiratory irritants to be replaced with fresh air. If you have to sacrifice some heat in order to keep the air in the barn fresh, you are almost always better off to do so.
I think the best housing for horses in the winter is to have a run-in area that is covered and has at least three sides, like a loafing shed, yet with access to outdoor space. Your horse is then free to manage its own comfort by getting out of the weather when needed, but still has the benefits of open air, open space and sunshine.
If your horses must be exclusively outside in the winter, provide some type of cover if possible. Protection from the wind may be just as important as is cover from precipitation.
Having said all this, horses can and do live outside all winter long in very cold climates all over the world. It may not be ideal, but a horse that is well-fed and in good health will be able to thrive outdoors, even in very cold conditions.
So What About Feeding? If you have your horse on a good feed and nutrition program, you probably won’t need to make many changes during the winter. Depending on the horse’s living and housing conditions, he may need some additional calories to make up for those being used to keep warm. Feeding additional high-fiber forage may also be helpful, as horses generate internal heat in the process of digesting the fiber. You should also continue or start feeding a high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement, just as you should at any the time of the year. This, combined with free choice white salt, will help drive thirst and promote more water consumption, which is a very important part of your horse’s health. Lastly, make sure your horse has access to a fresh water source that will remain unfrozen at all times.
Mud, Feet and Shoes. Maybe I’m just a stickler about my horses’ feet, but may I suggest you take extra care of them if your horse is going to spend any time outdoors this winter? Take the time to regularly pick your horse’s feet and remove caked-on mud from the feet and lower legs. This will help reduce the chances of irritation, rashes, fungus and infections in winter, especially if you have a lot of mud. If you will not be riding this winter, you should consider removing shoes as well. They can cause all kinds of annoyances for both you and your horse if they are not needed, including a lack of traction on wet, icing and snowy ground.
As always, use common sense when it comes to caring for your horse this winter. When you are unsure or in doubt about a particular issue, call one of your good horse friends, your trainer, your farrier, or your vet. And when you are able, continue train, work, ride and enjoy your horse. In doing so you will make the winter season better all-around for yourself and your equine companion.
If you’ve been involved with horses for any significant amount of time, you have surely heard terms like insulin resistant, metabolic syndrome and others, and maybe you are not always sure what they mean. The reason for this is that horse owners and even some veterinarians can use some of the terms interchangeably or indiscriminately, causing confusion. In fairness, it’s easy to do so because many metabolic conditions in horses have a similar set of symptoms, and some are treated in similar ways, but that does not mean they are the same disease. Let me try to offer some clarity by defining some of the most common metabolic conditions in horses.
Insulin Resistant or IR – An insulin resistant horse, often called an IR horse, is a horse whose cells are resistant to the normal hormonal signals given by insulin telling the cells to absorb glucose. This forces the liver to convert the excess glucose to fat. Horse that are insulin resistant don’t have a disease, per se, but rather a metabolic problem in the processing of simple sugars. Since insulin resistance is not a disease, there is no cure but only management, which consists of exercise and a low-carb, low-fat diet that is supported by well-balanced minerals. Horses that have other metabolic syndromes or diseases can also be insulin resistant, but in these cases the resistance is a symptom of the underlying disease or syndrome.
Before moving on to the next condition, it is helpful to understand that a syndrome is different than a disease. A syndrome is a recognized set of symptoms without a distinctly identifiable cause. A disease, on the other hand, may have a set of symptoms, but it also has an identifiable underlying cause that is known and can be identified
Equine Metabolic Syndrome or EMS – A horse with EMS is also generally insulin resistant, but the insulin resistance is one of several symptoms within the syndrome. Others include a propensity for fatty deposits in the abdomen, the crest of the neck, the eyes, and other areas; and chronic laminitis. It is thought that EMS originates when certain tissues produce abnormal levels of certain hormones. Like insulin resistance, there is no cure for EMS. It is treated in a manner very similar to simple insulin resistance; that is a low-carb, low-fat diet that is high in fiber, and supplements with proper levels of minerals and vitamins. A horse with metabolic syndrome is sometimes called a metabolic horse or Cushingoid horse. The term metabolic disease is also sometimes used to describe a horse with EMS, but its use is technically incorrect.
So now that you understand IR and EMS, it is easy to see how these terms very frequently get used interchangeably or indiscriminately. But it doesn’t stop there. Indeed, it starts to get even more tricky.
Cushing’s Syndrome – Cushing’s syndrome is a term often used interchangeably with equine metabolic syndrome. The reason for this is very simple: most experts agree they are one and the same, meaning they are the same set of symptoms, but still with an unknown cause. Equine Metabolic Syndrome has become the preferred term. Of course the symptoms are the same; insulin resistance, a propensity for fatty deposits in the abdomen, the crest of neck, the eyes, and other areas; and chronic laminitis. The treatment and management are also the same. Cushing’s syndrome or EMS is most often first recognized in younger horses. A horse that has Cushing’s syndrome (or EMS) is sometimes called a Cushingoid horse. This can be very confusing, because a horse with Cushing’s disease if also often called a Cushingoid horse, but the syndrome and the disease are different.
Cushing’s Disease - Cushing’s disease is caused by a tumor that grows in the pituitary gland, causing severe hormonal imbalances. There is no known cure for Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease can have the following symptoms: weight loss, excessive thirst and/or urination, chronic laminitis, a curly, non-shedding coat, poor muscle condition, a propensity to infections, and irregular fat deposits. Cushing’s disease is most often diagnosed in older horses. Cushing’s disease is treated differently than Cushing’s syndrome or EMS. It can include both diet and specific medication to treat the hormonal functions of the pituitary gland. For this reason, it is critical for a skilled veterinarian to diagnose a horse with metabolic symptoms to determine if they are part of the syndrome or the disease.
So, in short, here is how I remember what these different terms mean:
Hopefully this will help you understand the most commonly encountered metabolic problems in horses more clearly, whether you are discussing them with someone, or if you happen to have a horse that suffers from one of them. For the sake of clarity, whenever I discuss any of these issues and people start throwing around words like IR, metabolic and Cushing’s, I always ask for clarification so I know exactly what we are talking about. Not surprisingly, I find that people are not always sure.
As always, this article is not an attempt to diagnose or prescribe treatment for any particular equine health problem. If you suspect your horse is suffering from a metabolic disorder or any other health problem, it is critical to consult your veterinary professional for complete testing, diagnosis and treatment.
I am always quite surprised when I read a question like this on one of my local equine social media groups:
“Hey guys. I need my horse’s feet trimmed. Does anyone know a farrier who can be out to my place tomorrow?”
At first, the question seems pretty simple, but if you think about it longer you should find it a little strange, if not disturbing. Why would a horse owner trust someone they don't know to come work on their horse’s feet simply because they are “available” or “in the area”? The simple answer is “They shouldn’t!”
As a responsible horse owner, you should have at least three people you know and trust with the health and well-being of your horse in your list of contacts: your veterinarian, your trainer and your farrier. In this article, I want to give you some simple tips on finding and selecting a farrier who you can trust to handle all of your horse’s hoof care and shoeing needs.
You should select a farrier with the same care that you would select a trainer or a veterinarian. A farrier can literally make or break your horse. A poor trimming or shoeing job can result in poor performance, temporary lameness, or worse. On the other hand, appropriate trimming and shoeing can improve not only the performance, but the short- and long-term comfort and health of your horse.
Here are some important things to consider when choosing a farrier:
Ask Around – Ask your trainer, your vet, your neighbors and your friends who they use and why they use them. This will probably be the best place to start. And don’t just settle for one person’s opinion. The fact is that a farrier who works well for one person may not work well for another.
Look for Experience – How long has the person been a farrier? Do they have any certifications? Are they a member of the American Farriers Association or other reputable organization? Do they continually update their education and knowledge through clinics and workshops?
Ask Good Questions – Make sure a prospective farrier is willing to take the time to answer any and all questions you have before hiring them. A farrier's unwillingness or inability to do so should be a red flag that they might not be a good partner for you and your horse.
Skills That Match Your (Horse’s) Needs – Does the farrier have experience with your discipline or style of riding? For example, if you compete in reining, even a great farrier may not work well for you if they have no experience with slide plates. If your horse has health-related needs like chronic laminitis or orthopedic problems, your farrier should be comfortable and able to assist with these issues as well.
Check Their Work – There is no reason a good farrier won’t give you references and let you take a look at horses they care for. I even like to watch a farrier work before I use them. I have had situations in which I liked the farriers actually trimming and shoeing, but I did not like the way they treated my horses. Watching a farrier work on a horse or two before giving them the reins (pun intended) to your horses should give you a really good idea if their style and manner will be acceptable to you.
Equipment – A professional farrier should carry top quality equipment and have what they need to get the job done right. This will usually include a truck or trailer customized specifically to hold a variety of shoes, anvils, a forge, and all the tools and equipment necessary for real farrier work. If somebody shows up with nothing but a hammer, nippers, a pocket full of nails and four horse shoes, they’re not what you are looking for.
Reliability – When you call, a good farrier should always get back to you in a timely manner. They should keep their appointments or let you know in advance if they need to reschedule. Of course, you should offer them the same courtesies, but remember a farrier works for you; you do not work for the farrier. If your farrier is always late, misses appointments, or treats you like your time is not valuable, it might be best to start looking for a better alternative.
Cost – Yes, it needs to be mentioned. For many horse owners, the cost of trimming and shoeing can be a budget challenge, but very frequently the cheapest farrier will not be the best. The costs resulting from a bad trimming or shoeing job can be much higher than paying a little more in the beginning. Remember the old saying “The stingy man always spends the most”? Well, that’s often true when it comes farriers.
So now that you have selected a farrier you like, you are happy with their work and with the relationship they have with you and your horses, there are some things you can do to make sure it stays that way:
As a conscientious horse owner, you should spend as much time and concern in selecting a farrier as you would selecting a trainer or veterinarian. In doing so, you will have a valuable partner and resource for the long-term vitality of your horse and your happiness as a horse owner.
There are two general methods of weaning foals: gradual and abrupt. As with most things horse-related, you will have a hard time finding two people who do things exactly the same way. I prefer the abrupt method, which simply means separating the mare and the foal all at once. You may prefer a more gradual approach, such as fence-line weaning or keeping the mare and foal apart for longer periods of time each day for several weeks.
Regardless of the method you choose, however, there are some simple things you can do to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible for you, the mare and the foal, with the focus being on the health and well-being of the animals you have invested so much time, energy and money in. The following suggestions are based on an abrupt weaning, but can easily be adapted to a gradual weaning method.
When to wean. Foals can be weaned as early as 4 months old, with most people choosing to wean in the 4 to 6 month range. There are several reason for doing this. They include the ability to begin working with the foal individually as part of its early training, making sure the health of the mare is not compromised by nursing too long, or getting the mare back into show or work condition. Regardless of the reason, you should make sure that the foal you are preparing to wean is healthy, eating forage well, is in good body condition and showing some independence from its dam.
Prior to weaning. Before you separate the foal and mare, the foal should receive appropriate vaccinations and worming. By the time the foal has reached weaning age, it needs to begin to develop its own immunity to diseases, hence the need for vaccinations. In addition, most foals will have been exposed to parasites, so will require worming. The other reason to do this at least a few weeks prior to weaning is so you are not compounding the stress of weaning with the physiological and psychological stress that can come with such treatments. Weaning by itself is stressful enough. You will want to eliminate as many other stress factors as possible during the weaning period. Always consult your veterinarian for appropriate vaccination and worming treatments.
Weaning time. When you are ready to wean the foal, make sure the area it is being kept in is safe and free from dangers. A foal can be quite nervous when away from the mare for the first few days, so make sure all your fencing, gates and other possible hazards are taken care of beforehand. I believe it is always best to take the mare away from the foal, not vice-versa. This insures that the foal stays in familiar surroundings – another stress removed. It is also best, when using the abrupt method, to make sure the mare is out of sight and hearing distance of the weanling. As many of us have experienced, if the two can see or even hear each other, the process can be longer and more stressful (and noisier!) for everybody involved. Lastly, I like to keep a dry mare, a young filly, or even an older gelding with my broodmares and foals. This way, even if I only have one foal to wean, it will have a companion to stay with once mom is gone. Of everything I have done over the years when it comes to weaning, I think this has been the most helpful. This year I have only one foal to wean, and she is already good friends with a two-year-old filly who will stay in the paddock with her when I take the mare away in a few weeks.
As mentioned above, there is no “one way” to wean. If you are new to weaning, ask a trusted friend, trainer or veterinarian for advice and help. Don’t get too worried. Lay out a plan and follow it. As it relates to weaning, remember that reducing the stress on the foal should be the focus of everything you do. By following a plan and focusing on the health and safety of the foal, weaning can be a relatively easy process that, within just a few weeks, will leave you with a happy and independent weanling ready for its first important steps in handling and training.
By this time of the year, most horse owners who were planning on breeding have done so, and with most broodmares checked safely in-foal, the long wait for that new baby begins. Now is a great time to start planning for the increased care and nutrition that broodmares need during pregnancy so you get the best possible result from your breeding.
Early pregnancy body condition. Broodmares should be in good to slightly-fleshy body condition at breeding time, and this condition should be maintained throughout the full term of the pregnancy. Pregnancy is not time to try to keep a mare lean.
Feed during pregnancy. Quality feed is always important to promote optimal health in horses, but perhaps even more important during pregnancy. You should be conscientious and use the best forage possible for your mare during pregnancy. Do not skimp and think that your mare will somehow get by with lower quality feed. One of the main causes of developmental orthopedic diseases in young foals is poor nutrition to the mare during the pregnancy.
Exercise during pregnancy. I once asked an old cowboy when he stopped riding his pregnant mares. He said he just made sure that they didn’t have the saddle on when they laid down to foal. Although humorous, this is not far from the truth. You can continue to use broodmares in a way they are used to being used throughout most of the pregnancy. If they are under particularly hard work, it may be advisable to ease up on the routine in the last month or two of the pregnancy. But a fit mare will almost always have a better pregnancy and easier foaling than one that has been left to fall out of shape.
Late pregnancy nutritional requirements. If is very important to understand that the nutritional requirements of a pregnant mare drastically increase in the last 3-4 months of her pregnancy, especially as it applies to minerals and amino acids (protein). It is critical that broodmares not only have quality feed as mentioned above, but they should also be given a high-quality ration balancer that provides sufficient calcium and phosphorous in the correct balance, as well as trace minerals and quality amino acids. This will insure that the growing foal inside her will not deplete the mare of needed nutrients as it undertakes its massive growth spurt in the last few months of the pregnancy.
Vaccines and worming. Worming and vaccinating are critical for the pregnant broodmare. There some diseases that are correlated with increased abortion in broodmares for which there are effective vaccines. Your veterinarian should advise you on an appropriate schedule for both vaccinating and worming. And remember, only wormers that are labeled as safe for pregnant mares should be used.
Nutrition after foaling. Good nutrition should not stop once the foal is on the ground. For the months that the broodmare is lactating, her nutritional requirements remain highly elevated. Not only is she trying to recover from a taxing pregnancy, but she must be able to produce sufficient milk to feed her new foal. Continue providing only the best quality forage and supplement it with a quality ration balancer for the entire lactating period. Carry this program over to the foal when it is weaned to insure optimal growth for the young horse.
Summer temperatures are here and you are worried about how the heat may affect your horse. Follow these simple tips to make sure your horse stays comfortable, safe and healthy during the warm summer months:
Make sure your horse always has access to clean, fresh water. A horse under work in hot weather can drink as much as 25 gallons of water a day. You also may need to clean your troughs and buckets more often in hot weather, as algae and insects grow and reproduce much more rapidly in standing water when it’s hot than when it’s cool.
Provide shade when you can. This might be a loafing shed, run-in shelter or just a good shade tree, but a horse that has shade available will tend to move out of the sun if it is getting too hot. If your horse is stalled, make sure there is good airflow through the area to provide heat relief – fans can be very useful. And if you turn your horse out for a portion of the day, do it in the morning or evening when the temperatures are cooler.
Make sure your horse has access to free choice salt. Salt drives thirst and replaces the key electrolyte sodium. Supplying other supplemental electrolytes via a good quality mineral (electrolyte) supplement will help replace other key nutrients for horses that are losing a lot of electrolytes by sweating. This can be especially important for horses under work.
You can provide extra cooling for your horse by bathing it with cool water. After a workout, spray your horse’s neck, back, rump and legs with cool water. Most horses will love a cool bath on a hot day.
The summer heat usually brings insects, too, so use repellant, fly masks and other insect control to keep your horses as comfortable as possible.
Modify your work or training schedule so that harder work with your horse is being done at cooler times of the day. If you must work your horse when it is very hot, decrease the time and intensity of the session to keep the horse from overheating.
If you suspect your horse is suffering from heat stress, consult your veterinarian. A rectal temperature higher than 103° F is a sign of heat stress. Other signs of heat stress include excessive sweating, heaving breathing or “panting”, lethargy and going off feed.