Teaching your horse manners at feeding time

I am a firm believer in teaching horses ground manners and especially around feeding for ease of feeding and safety.  

Horses in a herd establish a hierarchy and pecking order for who gets to eat and when. Just watch a herd sometime. If the lead mare comes into the group, the other horses will give way to the lead mare. If a lower ranking member doesn’t immediately back away the lead mare or higher horse will pin ears, etc. to reinforce.

When you are with your horse, your horse should look to you as the leader. If you have a horse who pins their ears, kicks out at you or exhibits aggressive or pushy behavior they are telling you that you are below them in the hierarchy of the herd. This is a potentially dangerous situation, especially around feeding.

To begin training ground manners around feeding bring a whip with you to help establish your personal bubble of space. When you step into the stall, pasture or paddock and your horse approaches you with ears pinned you can swing the wip left and right in front of her legs. If your horse stops great, if he/she proceeds forward change the direction of your whip to up and down in front of his/her face to get his/her attention. Please note, the idea isn’t to make contact with your horse, just to establish your space and presence. Although your horse may walk into the whip… but they will likely only do that once.

Once your horse stops a safe distance in front of you, wait. Your horse will eventually lower his/her head and lick and chew, which is a sign of acceptance. WAIT for this shift in attitude and behavior before you place the food on the ground or in the feeder and turn to walk away, letting your horse move forward to eat.

Patients is really important when establishing new boundaries. Give them time to process and hold your ground. In the beginning, your horse may stop and look at you but not lower his/her head or lick and chew. He/she may even pace back and forth or toss his/her head in frustration and they will probably also try to just go around you to get to the feed bucket. Just be patient and persistent. These are learning moments. Your horse is trying to figure out what the right answer is. The lick and chew is acceptance of you as the leader so be patient and wait for it… it will come. When I first started working on this with my mare the first session took like 30 min and a big tantrum before she finally settled and accepted that she had to be calm and patient before she was allowed to get to her food.  But it doe get better with each session. Now, my mare calmly waits for me to put her food into her bucket and for me to back away. Every now and then she needs a reminder… But it’s so nice to not be feeding with her head in the bucket before I’ve finished. Good Luck! 

Forage options and how much to feed your horse

I recently moved Athena from a lovely 2 acre pasture, to a barn setting. The pasture, was easy with 24/7 turnout and unlimited grazing. It made life simple. I never thought too much about the nutritional quality of her grass or how much she was getting. It just fell into the category of “it is what it is”. She grazed when she wanted to, which I’m pretty sure was most of the time, so I never worried about her getting enough. In fact I was starting to be a bit concerned she might actually be getting too much grass. Horses are said to self regulate how much they eat. Not Athena… Nom Nom Nom. If there is grass to be had she is eating it!

In addition to grazing, I supplemented with a vitamin and mineral supplement, but as I said, outside of that I didn’t give her feed another thought….until we moved to the barn. 

At the barn Athena has a large stall to dry paddock that she spends evenings and early mornings in and then her paddock leads to a grass pasture for day time turnout. It’s a wonderful set up and Athena is quite happy and content in her new home. But, the grass pasture turnout isn’t enough to account for all of her forage needs like the pasture did, and with evenings and early mornings spent in her stall and dry paddock there are daily feedings to account for the majority of her forage requirements. Which brings me to the dilemma… what do you feed and how much should you feed your horse??????  

Oh my gosh, the PRESSSURE! There are so many different choices and combinations. Straight hay in the varieties of  Alfalfa, Timothy, orchard grass etc. And then you can add in oats, beat pulp, rice bran and even coconut husks! It starts to sound like a scene from the Wizard of Oz…. “Alfalfa, Timothy, beat pulp oh my!” The barn doesn’t feed hay so I couldn’t abide by the 1 or 2 flake rule. So now what!?

First of all, don’t panic. It’s daunting at first, trust me I know, and I am by no means a nutritional expert, but after some diligent research I have discovered the following guidelines to help get you started.  
A horses needs roughly 1.5 perfect to 3 percent of it’s bodyweight in forage a day. This is roughly 15-20lbs  or 6.8kg to 9.1kg for a 1000lb horse. This is, as I said a very rough average. Your horse may require more or less depending on their workload, metabolism, time of year and how much pasture turnout/grazing they have access to.

So how do you feed this amount of forage? Let’s look at a few options:
1.) Hay- this is a very common option and works well in many parts of the country.  Here in Hawaii all of our hay is shipped in, making it very expensive and the quality is not great soooo we have gone to other alternatives, which brings me to number 2…..
2.) Timothy cubes. We like to use Triple Crown Naturals Timothy Balance Cubes. They keep well, even in our humid climate, are easy to order and ship to Hawaii and easy to feed. Each horse gets three, 8 quart buckets of soaked cubes. Each bucket is filled to varying levels based on that horses’s particular needs.

To determine how much to feed Athena I actually took a scale to the barn, I know…total geek moment. But, how else was I going to determine how much to give her using the above suggested weights?  I weighed out each of her food buckets and am happy to report that an 8 quart bucket filled just below half way is 5.4 pounds of dry cubes. So for 3 buckets she is getting 16.2lbs of cubes per day, plus light grazing.  We ride 5 days a week doing light dressage flatwork and hilly trail rides. She gets a snack of soaked alfalfa cubes for a little extra protein after we ride that is about a quarter of my 8 quart bucket. Athena is an easy keeper, and with her easy keeper metabolism and current workload, this seems to be working well. I’m sure she might disagree.. but her weight looks great and she has plenty of pep in her step, all signs that it’s working well. If and when her work outs get more intense I plan to add more to her feed. 

  • Just as a side note, Triple Crown does make alfalfa and oat hay cubes as well so you can really decide what works best for you and your horse. 

3.) Premium Chopped Grass Forage is another forage option. This product, also made by Triple Crown(other companies make it too) is chopped and then packaged. Unlike cubes the hay stems are slightly longer and less processed as they are not pressed into cubes.  I actually love the idea of a less processed product and plan to give it a try in the coming month. Stay tuned for our review! 


So there you have it, with 3 great forage options and a basic idea of how much to feed you can now start to plan the foundation for your horses diet.  Don’t forget to include a good multi vitamin or ration balancer to insure your horse is getting proper vitamins and minerals, and of course you can add in other supplements such as joint support, mare care etc based on what your horse needs. Additionally, if you find that hay alone isn’t enough for your hard keeper or senior horse you can also add in fillers such as rice bran, beet pulp or coconut husks. But that’s a conversation for another day!

Happy nutritional planning! 

Magnesium Supplement… what a difference!

MagRestore

Living in Maui, we are blessed with lush green pastures and lots of sunshine. It’s a great combination for a happy horse. Despite having such wonderful grazing options, I’ve needed to add in a few additional supplements to help balance the pasture nutrients and to help Athena function at her best.   

  One supplement that we LOVE is MagRestore®by Performance Equine Nutrition. 

  MagRestore®is a Magnesium supplement; Magnesium as Di-magnesium malate to be specific. It is formulated to be highly palatable and absorbable by the body, unlike other forms of magnesium.

Magnesium is vital for correct muscle and nerve function and regulates over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body. It is often overlooked in feeds and many horses suffer from magnesium deficiency as a result. 

Common signs of Magnesium deficiency in horses include sore and stiff backs, despite well fitting tack, muscle tremors, twitches, flinching skin and teeth grinding.Behaviorally, they tend to be over reactive to outside stimuli, resentful of being touched, and can become fractious, worried, fearful, unfocused and resistant to training. In some cases they become almost un-rideable. 

At the beginning of my journey with Athena, I was at the point of “almost un-rideable I began to research a reason for her crazy behavior. One day, she was pleasant and the next she was a nightmare to work with. I used to say she was consistently inconsistent. Every time I would touch her to say hello or brush her, she would throw her head up in protest and sometimes, she would try to nip at me. She was unsettled, spooky and over excited all the time, similar to how horses get in the middle of a windstorm. Under saddle she was hyper sensitive to my leg, jumping forward with the slightest aid. She was unfocussed and stressed. Trying to “push through” this behavior only made it worse and she developed a bucking habit. 

 My Dressage coach suggested I try a magnesium supplement to help calm her twitching wither muscles and nervous behavior.  After a lot of research, I found MagRestore and have been hooked ever sense. In conjunction with good training and this supplement, Athena is a different horse. She is much calmer and less nervous and spooky. She doesn’t try to bite me anymore when I brush her and is more focused in our rides. She is now willing to work through my requests instead of simply blowing me off. 

 While we still have our challenges and moody mare behaviors sometimes, I’ve found this supplement has really benefited Athena. A few months ago I decided to stop the daily supplement just to double check that it was still needed. OMG! The difference was night and day. Needless to say, I immediately put her back on the magnesium. If this story resonates with you on any level, I would encourage you to explore MagRestore® and see if it helps your horse too. 

 For more information on MagRestore® and to purchase check out: https://performanceequinenutrition.com

 Disclaimer: I am not a licensed veterinarian. The information in this blog post is intended to be a helpful sharing of knowledge and information for a product I have found to be beneficial to my horse. I encourage you to formulate your own health care decisions for your horse based upon your own research and in partnership with a qualified veterinarian.