Horses are strange critters. I am thinking I should change the name of my blog to "Horses are Strange Critters". Case in point - weight control. All winter long Beamer, the Arabian, looked good. He had healthy layer of fat and had no trouble staying warm. As we came into spring I cut back on the grain a bit within a few weeks I could play the Xylophone on his ribs and I am afraid that his hip bone will punch out of his skin. Same with Ebony. She cam to us in February with a health layer of fat and now I can count every one of her ribs as well. Mariah, on the other hand, is at the perfect weight. I can feel her ribs but I cant see them. Nuts. Someting had to change.
I decided that I needed to change the feeding regime. Horses prefer to eat about 25 hours out of every 24. It is much easier for us care givers to feed them twice a day. Great for us, not so great for the horse. Their stomachs are empty after about 15 minutes. There is a lot of research the indicates allowing horse to graze is by far the best way to feed them. Our normal feeding schedule was 6am and 6pm. This has worked well for us and the horses have been healthy over all. But we are now on summer schedule for Westernaires so this schedule does not work on Thursdays. On Thursday we have to be at Westernaires by 5:30 and ready to ride at 6:30 and its a two hour ride. When you have horses on a feeding schedule they get to know that schedule and they wait for you. They stand by the gate and stare at the house willing that funny looking two legged horse feeder to come out and feed them. When you interrupt that schedule they get cranky. Ever try to ride a hungry horse? Lets just say that they lack focus. Well, that's not true, they are VERY focused. On getting food.
After chatting with a few people I decided that putting the horses on free hay made the most sense (for the horse - terrible economic sense with current hay prices!). My local feed supplier had just gotten is some great little round feeders. I cannot handle big rounds or even large squares. This little feeder will hold a little over two small bales.
It took a few days to ease them into the idea that they will always have food around. They have gotten the idea and now they are working out the pecking order which usually means Ebony has to wait for a bit before she eats. I have also noticed that seeds from the hay settle to the bottom and Beamer loves those seeds. So he digs his head down to the bottom and munches on those. To make access easier, he pushes hay out on the ground. This works well for Ebony and Mariah seems to think it makes perfectly acceptable bedding for a quick nap.
So far, I am really pleased with the results. When we want to go riding the horses are much more attentive to us, much less focused on trail snacks. I worked with Mariah last night from 5:30 to 6:30 on collection and speed control and she was a different horse. She was really listening to me and we made good progress. After the ride was fun too. Usually when I take the halter off she dashes for the food. Last night she put her head against me for a good scratch. So I scratched her. I scratched her nose, her cheeks, her ears and her neck. For about 5 minutes I just scratched her. Her bottom lip went all limp which is horse talk for, " Ahhhh"
Here is a picture of the three of us as we headed off for a little ride. We had a ball. Mariah still has a bad habit of trotting off if I give her any slack at all. When she does that I turn her into a circle to slow her down and collect her. Once she was collected I put her back on the trail until I feel her pick up her stride when she shouldn't. So I circled her the other way. We did A LOT of circles. What made it fun is that we were playing follow the leader and I was in front. Beamer and Ebony were following so we were all doing circles down the trail. There was much smiling and laughter.
See Mom, I DO have a helmet!!