Saturday, February 28, 2015

WTH is Brockle?

Death of the Yeti

I messed up Brockle's DNA test and had to do it again. 
Here's one last look.
Cast your votes on what breeds have joined to create this beast.
Prizes for the closest guess.
Write up your thoughts in the comments.
I'm posting my guess next weekend, after you guys have made your picks.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cold Weather Care

Sometimes I wonder if Colorado is the colic capitol of the world. This time of year is the worst. Starting in February or so, temperatures fluctuate like crazy.
This month we had a high of 64 degrees on Valentines Day, and this morning it was 3 degrees.

This is not unusual weather around these parts.

Mort was a notorious weather change colic-er. If the temp changed more than 40 degrees in a 12 hour period, he would colic. It could go up or down and he'd react. Once he started showing symptoms he was in trouble. He always pulled through but it took a call to the vet most of the time. I gave him two hours of walking and then would call.

I learned to keep hay in front of him 24/7 when severe weather was predicted. It cut his colic episodes by at least 50%.

In my thirties our horses lived on my husbands family ranch. They had 1200 acres of high quality mountain pasture. I didn't have a single incident of colic. Mountain lions, bears and barbwire, but no colic.

My first job as a full time trainer and riding instructor was at a small boarding and breeding facility 20 minutes up the pass, in Green Mountain Falls. We had a lot of colic. I mean a shitload. After my vet admitted he was called to our barn more than any other for colic I started searching for reasons. Our horses had excellent care. Their water buckets were always full, they were fed like clock work and the barn was meticulous.

One thing stood out. The horses were fed a large amount of complete feed and one flake of hay, 2x a day. They were all bright eyed, shiny and maintained a great weight.

I started to research the feed requirements for a healthy horse. Horses have miles of intestines jammed into their inefficient bellies. They can't throw up. Poop is really important. What makes a horse poop? Roughage. Anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds (alfalfa vs. grass) of it per day. I started feeding my horses an all hay lunch. My colic incidents became fewer, but there were still too many.

Sonita was the worst. Loki would colic, but not as often Sonita. Annie, my old mare, never had a problem.

I started my education in colic by studying poop. Sonita's manure was small, hard and infrequent. Loki's was average. Annie dropped huge, grassy piles. I mean, you'd a thought there was an elephant living with her.

Adding more hay created bigger, looser poop. Sonita's were still dry and hard and her colic incidents were high. I kept asking questions. The B.O. told me she drank very little water. On average less than five gallons a day. Loki was good for almost two buckets or ten gallons a day. Annie lived outside in a pen with a creek and had free access.

I had learned to water Sonita out of white or yellow buckets when we went to shows. If she couldn't see the bottom she wouldn't drink. Her bucket at the barn was dark green. I switched out her bucket and she started to drink like a normal horse. Then, I added an extra water bucket so they had ten gallons available at all times.

My colic issues dropped again, but still were statistically higher than normal. Several years later I learned that recent city expansion upstream had turned the beautiful creek that supplied water to my stable into a polluted mess. I have come to the conclusion that water quality was the primary problem.

I never completely solved my colic issues at that barn, but by the time I switched to another facility I put my hard earned colic education to use. I reduced my complete feed, doubled their hay and made sure each horse had constant access to a clean, half barrel (thirty gallons) of water. I checked our water source to be confident in the quality. I had a few minor incidents of colic during my time there. Annie was kept on pasture. Again, she was colic free.

After a three year stint I went to work with the Big K. My education really intensified there. We had four barns with a total of 30 stalls. We also had kind of a catch-all -- an open pen with shelter for babies, horses out of training, rejects, etc. There were anywhere from two to ten head at any given time. Then there was a herd of six buffalo, and anywhere from 10 to 20 head of cattle.

We watered out of tanks, tubs and buckets. We did not have heaters and Eastern Colorado is windy and cold in the winter.

Colic was extremely rare at K's place. We were crazy ice choppers. Horses drank just fine as long as their water was ice free. The cattle were like the horses. They wanted clean, ice free water. The buffs didn't care. Don't get me wrong, all animals in our care deserve clean water, but I think the buffs would be cool with sucking dirty ice out of each other's beards.

The biggest difference was the amount of hay we fed. We kept them knee deep in hay. Hard keepers and horses in heavy training were supplemented, but many horses ate nothing but hay.

I started to feed my own horses a combination of alfalfa and free choice grass. They had thirty gallon tubs and individual salt blocks. My colic dropped to zero.

Over the years I have noticed a few things. Anxious, crabby and depressed horses colic more than calm, happy horses. It can be their nature or their life style, but how a horse sees the world affects their digestion.

Regular exercise keeps the hay running through them.

Being able to eat small amounts of roughage 24/7 keeps a healthier gut than large feedings a few times a day. Alfalfa is calorie dense so I don't free feed it. Ideally, I like to feed alfalfa twice a day and slow feed grass all of the time. I don't grain or supplement my horses at all. I make sure their hay is top notch, they have salt and clean water. They are gorgeous, have all the energy and stamina I could ever need and have been healthy for a very long time (yes, I am knocking frantically on wood).

The last place I trained out of had pasture, pens and stalls, depending on the situation.

The absolute healthiest horses I have ever known are horses on quality pasture. They need a wind break, access to feed in inclement weather, clean water and salt. They graze and travel all day. They are living like a horse should and colic only comes if the grass is poor, water is scarce or dirty, the ground is wormy or another illness creates the symptoms.

If my horses don't have a free choice hay situation, when bad weather comes, I bury them in grass hay. An eating horse is warm, an eating horse gets thirsty and drinks, an eating horse is digesting. Water heaters are wonderful. I want the water cool, not cold, or warm. If I don't have them, then I want all of the ice removed at least twice a day.

I spent years blanketing my horses because of that stinking show deal. I don't anymore. I don't ride them into a lather when they're hairy. If they get wet, then I'll dry them with a cooler or six. I don't stall anymore. They have lots of room, each other and a shed.

If it's too cold, horses will sometimes not drink enough. This can lead to dehydration. If I'm worried about a horse, I'll feed them sloppy soaked warm beet pulp with some molasses and salt. The molasses gets even the picky ones to eat it, the salt makes them thirsty and the little bit of water they get from the mash encourages them to drink.

I don't like automatic waterers because I can't monitor their water intake.

I'll salt all my horses feed during extended periods of cold. Again, it encourages them to drink.

That's it. Simple, maybe, but it's worked for me for a very long time.

Keep the gut moving with hay, salt and water.

Good health before the cold hits is key.

Keep the ice out and your eyes peeled.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Manners Matter

I moved my horses a few weeks ago.

Madonna, Odin, and my friend Kathy's mare, Rosie are living together in a safe pen with plenty of room to play wild mustang if they want.

I received a compliment about them that kept running deeper the longer I sat on it. At the end of the first week I was visiting with the barn manager.

"I have to tell you," she said, "those are the most well mannered horses I've ever worked around."

"Well thanks," I said. "considering Odin bit a chunk out of that gelding his first day."

She shrugged. "It was his first day,the gelding's owner should have known better than to shove her horse's face at him."

I knew I liked her.

"You're just throwing hay, how much trouble can they get in?"

"When I come to the gate, they stand clear and don't crowd me," she said. "I can swing the gate open, push the wheel barrow in and not worry about one pushing past. If I need to move one, I just raise my hand and they move off. I mean, your horses are pretty rowdy, but while I'm in here, they don't fight or anything. I haven't had a single butt turned towards me, not one. I love your horses."

I thanked her again and we went about our business. Her compliment has been percolating since then. My horses aren't angels, believe me. Madonna has been known to run barn help out of her stall or pen. Odin will completely dismember anything made from panels if he feels they're in his way. Rosie is the queen of the mean face. All three of them will paw and whinny if they feel they've been tied too long.

I'm tickled to death to hear they're being well behaved, it secures out position in the new place. They have not lived in as open a situation as this one before, so it isn't specific behaviors they've been taught. The basic training I put on every horse I either own or was paid to train has paid off.

It's not just about getting a feel good pat on the back, it's knowing, if circumstances change and take them from my care, I have given them a better chance for a good life. They have different talents, are at different levels of training, and have wildly different temperaments, but they share one thing in common, they are respectful and safe to handle.

I have some rules I instill and maintain from the first day I start with a horse. Most of them are about personal space--mine, not theirs.

My horses can't step closer than, oh, three or four feet to me. If I want to be closer, I'm the one who steps to them.
When I approach towards, next to, or past their hindquarters, I expect them to take one step away from me. Always. Forever.
They can't lean their shoulders towards me.
My horses may not step into me. Ever. This includes spooking. I'll let them spook and get behind me, but they better not bang into me.
They never, ever crowd a gate. This fits under the respecting three feet of Janet's personal space rule.
They don't fight when I'm in their space.
They lead where I tell them to.
They don't kick, bite or make ugly faces at people.
They stand tied.
They behave for the vet and the farrier.

These are my basics.

I try to respect them too. Personally, I feel like if I acknowledge their likes and dislikes, they trust me more and work harder to comply.

Madonna doesn't like her ears touched. So, I don't. Don't get me wrong. If I need to doctor them, I do. She drops her head for a bridle and is fine with having her ear folded into a one ear. If I need her ear, I get her ear. But I leave her be. I don't try to touch them without reason. I don't clip them.

Odin is as sweet and snugly as a gelding can be. If he knows you. Unfamiliar hands reaching for his face send him spinning away. I let him be wary. I warn people off when they want to pet him. He'll let them ride him, but he doesn't want them up in his grill.

Even though I let them have their quirks, I can still trust them to be non-threatening and quiet around people.

Which leads me to my next point.

My horses are broke.

They are as safe to ride as they are to handle. I have to stick a caveat in here. They are safe to ride if you have the skills needed to ride them.

 Rosie is the most tolerant. A green rider doesn't faze her. She'll pack anybody around an arena, but she won't give up any cool moves until her rider knows how to get them.

Odin is almost as laid back. He's still young enough to need support from his rider periodically, and could become frightened without it. But it doesn't take much to get him rode. He's going to be as awesome as Rosie as the years go by.

Madonna is a snorty, high wired, bug-eyed, hot mess. It's easy for someone who doesn't ride cow horse to frighten her. I've never seen anyone who rode her step down without a big grin though. She's cool.

Each horse is well trained for a market that's always looking.

I feel I owe each and every horse I work with at least that much.

As far as I'm concerned, the greatest disservice possible to a horse is to not educate them. I know way too many 7-year-old geldings that still aren't started. They'll eat carrots and rip hay out of your hands, but you can't ride them around an arena.

When I think about my animals welfare, I always consider what will happen to them if something happens to me. So far, I've been able to make arrangements for all of them. It hasn't been any trouble either, because they come with the best possible safety net I can offer them. They're broke.

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