The Long and Winding Road to Le Lion – The Final Day

The last day…

Quantum came off xc yesterday dragging Doug back to the barn and still full of run.  He lost a shoe (maybe on the drop off the roof?) and had a couple small scrapes on his legs.  We jogged him after the shoe went back on, and he looked absolutely great.  So, we all went home.

The jog up was supposed to be at 8:30, but the French seemed to have a vague concept of time, so when we go to the barn at 9:30, it was just in time to see him jog up and aside from spooking at stuff, he looked ready to go.

I went up to stadium to watch the 6-year olds go.  The stadium was held in the same place dressage was, so on grass and I think the fences were at most 6 feet from the rail.  We estimated 4-5000 spectators – all the seats were filled and they were 3 deep on the rail.  It was quite closed in feeling compared to what we see in the states at the big events.

The course was beautifully decorated – lots of plain jumps, with tons of plants, a Liverpool, and 2 double combinations for the 6-year olds.  And I was wrong – it was not just a dressage contest.   We saw maybe 6 double clears, a lot of rails, a fall of horse /rider and some unpleasant rounds.  These horses are still green, and the atmosphere overwhelmed some of them (and to be honest, some of the riders too). Now, I’m an amateur rider and I make plenty of bad decisions on fences, so I get it, but I really didn’t expect so much at a Championship. There was a lot of hardware in these horses’ mouths, and some of them were overbitted and a lot were just strong and running through all the aids.  Lots of pulling and yanking.   Kitty King’s ride was lovely – soft and forward and deserving of the win.

The crowd was great – watched every horse, groaned when rails came down, cheered when a clear round happened and although they did cheer a little more for the French riders, they were appreciative of everyone.

I did, however, hate, hate, hate the light plastic jump poles.  If horses hit them, they bounced up and caught at least 2 horses between their legs, causing one to fall and another to make a heroic effort to stay on its feet.  Pretty is as pretty does and safety needs to come first.

At noon, they had a parade of the winners of the 2 and 3-year old Selle Francais youngsters, who were also competing somewhere on the grounds for the free jumping and under saddle jumping   national titles (at least the 3-year olds were. Not sure what the 2-year olds did).  If you thought the atmosphere was a lot for a 6-year-old, just imagine the 2 and 3-year olds.  The Spanish Riding School would have been proud of the airs above the ground.  However, not one person got hurt and no horse got loose, surprisingly enough.

Then, much to my surprise, they totally redid the jump course for the 7-year olds.  They didn’t just add a triple, or increase the height, they moved all the fences, and made a totally different course. That’s something I’ve never seen before. Again, it didn’t look too bad from my vantage point but again, very few double clears. Maybe 12?    The biggest questions were in asking the horses to move up to a bigger jump (a triple bar and a square oxer off a tight turn) then come back quietly for a skinny/Liverpool and a double set short.  The quality of the riding was much better, but some of the horses looked tired and some just looked like this was the end of their scope – hard as they tried, it just wasn’t going to be a clear round.

Quantum was still fresh and was still not a fan of the close quarters.  He was jumping way over the fences, but a spook down the triple line caused Doug to ride him forward and he got too far in and pulled the last rail in the triple and then had the last fence down.  Even with 2 rails, he moved up several spots and ended up 29th out of the original 69 starters.

I want to thank   Christine Turner and Tim Holekamp for making this trip possible for Quantum, and Dave and Susan Drillock for supporting him as owners   And I especially want to thank Doug Payne for buying this horse as a yearling and bringing him along to this point.  No, he didn’t win, but that isn’t the point of the grant. The point is to further a horse’s education to be a 4 star horse for the future.  I know Quantum experienced stuff he has never seen before in the US, and that will only make him a better horse, and hopefully a team horse.

I also want to add that being over here makes you a little more appreciative of what we have at home, like Diet Pepsi and gas that isn’t 8$/gallon.  And, despite all our differences in the US right now, we are lucky, lucky, lucky.  One of the things we saw this week was not only the armed police and mounted police who were very visible, but army regulars in full body armor with automatic weapons who were patrolling the crowds.

Thanks everybody for reading.  Au revoir from France and go US Eventing!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

The Long and Winding Road – Part 5

The true test – xc day!

Well, what can I say about the crowds… I think unbelievable might be the answer.  I have never seen so many people on a xc course in the US – Ever – I’m not sure even at the event formerly known as Rolex. I think the estimates for other years were at 60,000 and I believe it.  And it seemed to be a much different crowd than we normally see in the US.  It was people of all ages – riding bikes, walking ALL over the course from one end to the other.  Lots and lots of baby strollers, small children, families who had picnic lunches all over the course.  No tailgating – these people walked.  On foot.  No shuttles and no complaints. There were large parking areas that were several miles away that had large shuttle buses, but once you got to the event you walked.

There were strategically placed food trucks around the course, (with wine, of course), serving pate, baguettes American (nope, not going there again) and hamburgers with goat cheese as well as French fries. Lots of loud speakers so you could hear well.  Unfortunately, although there were 2 announcers, the major speaker was French (well, duh), but my limited French knowledge was certainly an impediment.  It would have helped if the numbers were only 1-10.  The whole two hundred and whatever was confusing, so a lot of times I wasn’t sure who was going.  In an effort to go green this year, there were no paper programs- everything was on line so you had to stop and consult your phone to see what rider you had.  International roaming gets pricey (and more on that later!)

Doug didn’t go until later afternoon, so we got there early to watch the 6-year olds.  The course rode well for them and basically most of the standings were unchanged – time was easy to make, so unless the stadium is way, way tough, I expect the placings will be pretty similar.  The youngsters handled most things well.  I saw a few issues with them propping at the first landing in the first water and some scary hanging knees on the lion on the mound.  The lion ended up with enough leg grease on him to enter a greased pig contest. He caused at least 2 rider falls, even with the extra grease.

We watched the 6-year olds do the big drop off the roof with really no issues- that didn’t carry over to the 7 years old though, as that and the corner after it were the most influential fences on course.  As a matter of fact, the 7-year-old course had 10 riders get eliminated or retire, another 7 have refusals, 8 with time only and 1 frangible pin.  It truly was not a dressage contest!

Most of the issues were with the first water, then the drop to an angled brush with a separately numbered angled fence that caused a bunch of glance offs, and the following corner – upright and narrow that caught out a number of horses, as well as causing several falls. If you blasted into the drop with poor control or fighting to get back, you were done for.

Quantum looked great and Doug felt that he was up to the course.  Aside from breaking his lead shank and getting loose right before xc(!!), we were ready. (and I say that as if I had anything to do with the whole thing, which I did not!)

We decided that we would stay at the drop fence, and since there was live streaming we could watch Doug’s round and see that bogey fence in person.  So, as he started out, I excitedly tuned in to live stream, just to have my wireless carrier tell me that all the GPS I have been using has eaten up all my bytes, and my video would now run at half speed.  That means it doesn’t run.  So, as I cursed Verizon in audible tones, I thought I would miss the whole thing. Well, not to worry, because I did anyway, as Doug rode in between a French rider and a British one. That meant they showed nothing of his round (but did show the French rider refusing twice – once in regular speed and once in slow motion).  I’m still mad at Verizon though.  And the other thing is that no one except Americans cheer after a good fence.  They clap politely.  So, my screaming “Woo hoo!!”and jumping up and down was met with some odd looks.

Quantum was nothing short of spectacular.  He handled the crowds, the questions, and the tight quarters like a pro. And because of the TB in him, there was gas left in the tank and he went into the last run up to the finish on fire. He moved up 28 places by virtue of his double clear.

Someone asked me today if I would change my breeding program based on what I have seen in the last couple of days.  I thought long and hard about it and decided no.  There are horses that did well today that I think will struggle with longer courses. There were some good gallopers that weren’t good jumpers. I saw some really, really nice youngsters today. But mine was one of them.  I think I’ll stick with what I’m doing and I know we have more of these horses in the US. We just have to develop them- they are out there!!

On to the final horse inspection and stadium tomorrow.

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

Follow this link to see Doug’s YouTube helmet cam footage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJP6ApwuQBs&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0Zj5b1qqQYqYIaYIWbt8RWUeyIx-y5kMsAq97fP3UsjeFdjWS2gdqAN78

The Long and Winding Road Part 4

Day 4 (I think…)

It is hard to keep track of time when you aren’t in the “real world” but we did dressage today, so it must be Friday.  Courtney Carson had Quantum looking like the star he is, with a set of braids the hunter people would have been killed to have.  Quantum didn’t have quite the test we had hoped for, but he is for sure going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future.  The atmosphere was quite electric and he felt it (and being half TB, when he feels it, you know it.  No internalizing for this guy!).

Nowhere in the US do you have the crowds so close to the ring, all the tents literally on 3 sides of the ring and the crowd moving and climbing right next to the ring.  He was tense, and his lateral work and canter work showed that.  There were no major mistakes, but the connection was not always there and he was penalized for it, rightly so.  I thought Doug did a masterful job keeping the lid on, and there were some very good movements.   His trot work in particular had such an improvement in the cadence and lift compared to a couple months ago.  When he gets strong enough to carry that, he will be fabulous.  What a learning experience for him – it’s going to make the event formerly known as Rolex a walk in the park when he is there in 2 years. 😊

I watched the 6 years old this morning, and there were still large variations in the scoring, with scores 9-10% points difference between the judges.  As I’ve said before, a lot of very heavy types, with a lot of straight dressage breeding.  I just can’t see some of these horses going xc at upper levels.  First not with their breeding, and second not with their type.  In the past, the 6-year olds have had more of a dressage contest here, so I don’t expect the standings to change much for them tomorrow.

The 7-year olds are certainly more of a type that I can see galloping, as they are on a whole, more of the type I expect to see.  I especially liked Birmane – just the type I expect to see going well xc.  I have heard that xc is more influential with the 7-year olds, so hopefully that will be the case.  There are a lot of scores packed in between 25 and 35!

The amazing xc elves have been hard at work overnight with finishing touches.  The dragons at fence 1 laid an egg overnight, and some wooden horses were corralled next to the big drop.  I have to admit I didn’t walk the whole course again, so tomorrow there might be even more surprises.  The very influential corners at fence 21 have been softened with a black flag option that will takes some time due to the roping, but at least you have an option because they are both pretty narrow.

As far as dogs, apparently it isn’t all about Jack Russells.  The French have a lot of dogs here (just like the US).  I saw a bunch of whippets and French Bulldogs. (breeds I don’t usually see at events in the US) and not a single Lab.  That’s weird.

The trade fair is a little quieter than ours.   As usual, saddles and horse stuff, but fewer “crafty” things. Socks seem to be the “in thing” to have, judging by the number of booths.  Oh, and of course, wine.  Boy, is there wine.  But no chocolate anywhere, which I find both sad and disturbing.  As is the lack of pastries – I was expecting an epicurean delight of pastries, and no, not a single place selling them.

The wine comes both by the glass and by the case, and there is a very strange baguette you can buy that is labeled “American” which contains ham, cheese, lettuce and sliced hard boiled eggs with butter. My husband says one try of it was enough – and he is usually an omnivore, so I’m guessing the taste was exactly what it sounds like.  Apparently, he hadn’t sampled enough wine.

So, after drinking more wine tonight, relying on GPS to get us home yet one more way – we haven’t taken the same way home yet, we are looking forward to a great day of xc tomorrow!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

The Long and Winding Road, Part 3

We got up early and had a very French breakfast made by our host, which beat the piece of tongue I had last night (it had hair on it, so I’m not sure what part it came from, but I can assure you as a veterinarian, it was NOT tongue).  Then we headed out to watch Doug school early, then watch dressage and walk xc.

The horses are all feeling a little fresh – it is pretty cool in the morning and it was reassuring to see several riders head out to school flat work with neck straps.  I feel a little less like a weenie. Quantum schooled well, but may need a bit of a gallop before dressage tomorrow. He goes at 2:40 so hopefully will be a little more settled by the time we get to that.

Next up – dressage watching. The 6-year olds went in the morning and we were able to watch the top couple of riders go.  The scoring was a little difficult to understand at times – it didn’t seem the judges were all looking for the same thing and seemed to be rewarding opposite sides of the spectrum.  At one point, the final scores for 1 rider were off by 11% – that’s a pretty big range and it continued across the day.  It varied as well – not one single judge was always high or low.  I did get to see a 10 though – for a leg yield by Cooley Moonshine who is currently leading the 6-year olds.   I was impressed by Michael Jung’s ride – he rode his horse in a longer frame which I thought was better for his horse, as it is not the most elastic mover and it allowed him to show relaxation instead of cramming the horse together.  The youngsters did well in the environment – some were tense, but they handled it well and no major malfunctions seemed to occur.

The 7-year olds are quite impressive.  Ingrid Klimke is currently leading and had a lovely, forward test that wasn’t rushed, as some of the others I saw today were. The horses again handled everything well, and most of the tension was seen in the connection to the hand with some unsteadiness evident.  There are some very heavy movers though – I wonder how they will hold up over a 4* course.

I did see the Diarado, who is currently in third and although he wasn’t as relaxed as he could have been, I continue to like him.  I also liked Bogosse du Levant, an Anglo- Arab who though unsteady in his connection, was a loose, elastic mover and I think his gallop will be effortless.  I guess I’ll find out!

We then walked xc with Doug, Jess, Hudson, Marilyn and Richard Payne, and some of their friends here for the event.  It was kinda like a class trip, with people going ahead, having to wait for others and people falling behind to take pictures of the jumps.  They are truly amazing. The course is along galloping paths which are roped off pretty narrowly, so twisty and turny with some open spaces. It is really dry here, but they continue to water and aerate, so I think the footing will be fine.   The first couple of fences are pretty small (like even I would jump the first 4 or so!), and then they get harder.  I gave up thinking I could ride them after about fence 6.   There are a lot of accuracy questions and some very skinny corners and lines late in the course when the horses are going to be tired.  I’m also unsure what the course will look like with 60,000 people roped in close – I think that might be the toughest part for Quantum.

As far as the jumps, my favorites were the snails (escargots, for you French folks) and the dragons which are jump #1.  They are fairly innocuous dragons, but I like them anyway.  I’m not sure which is going to be the hardest combinations on course – there is a big drop off a house roof (yes, I did say a roof), 4 strides to a skinny to a 2 strides skinny, all down a pretty good slope, and a turning question which involves a skinny ditch and wall to uneven terrain and a corner, so….

So, looking forward to tomorrow and dressage.  Quantum is just starting to mature into himself, so I’m hoping this is not going to be a dressage contest. Watch the live stream and cheer us on!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

The Long and Winding Road, part 2

So, we flew over to France Saturday night/Sunday morning, afternoon, evening.  It seems like that day goes on for a week.  Of course, you all know how much work is involved in leaving horses when you leave home, so I spent the last day shipping some horses one place and some another, writing out instructions, and taking care of all the other animals as well.  Whew!  And I feel really guilty that I’m missing the YEH Championships this week at Fair Hill, as I have a young TB mare in the 4-year-old class and won’t see her go.  Can’t be in 2 places at one time though!

We spent 2 days in Paris, not much horse related except for the 3 degrees of equine Kevin. Bacon.  We were invited to a dinner party Tuesday night where one of the guest’s daughter had spent the summer riding with Adrienne Lorio, who had come to try a 3-year-old of mine last year.  Small equine world indeed! We walked all over Paris, and although it is a beautiful city, it is way crowded for this person.

We left Paris this am and drove down to Le Lion, which was about a 3-hour drive – other than some major confusion about the tolls, and no earthly idea how to figure out what we were going to owe at the end, it went well.  Thank God for credit cards. The country is beautiful, rolling and lots of trees.  It looks pretty dry, and I’m not too sure how the footing will be.  The towns are small, the roads narrow and they look a lot like small town rural America – boarded up buildings and store fronts.  The difference is that the towns here have older stone houses that are boarded up, and the cost of redoing them to today’s expectations must be staggering.

We are staying in an Air BnB about 15 minutes from Le Lion and it is a house that was built in 1650 (or so!)  and has been totally redone. It is fabulous, and thanks to GPS, we can actually get back and forth with only minor discrepancies.

I didn’t get too much of a look at the course yet – a few fences were visible from the road and included a giant set of brush snails(!), a violin, and the spider.

We got here in time to watch the jog up and I’ll share my impressions with you.  First, the horses were all beautifully turned out. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the braided tail look, – mostly because they look half way done to me after looking at hunter braided tails.  I won’t say it affected the jogging or how they carry their tail, but I prefer the pulled look myself.  The riders were neat – most of them – but not ostentatious.   I only saw a few dangerous looking footwear choices and mostly the horses behaved.

It really is a who’s who of eventing – a lot of them were at the WEGs, so it will be really interesting to see them riding the youngsters.  Michael Jung, Ingrid Klimke, Rosalind Canter, Piggy French, Thomas Carlisle, Sandra Auffarth, Andrew Hoy, Christopher Burton, and of course the USA’s Tiana Coudray, Liz Holliday Sharp and Doug Payne.

As for the horses first let me tell you that the horseflesh is amazing.  The quality that is here is superb. However, I thought a few, generally in the 6-Year-old divisions, could use a little more weight and shine.  Conformationally speaking, not all of them would be winning the conformation classes, which just goes to show you that it isn’t everything, since these guys have already done a CCI* and a CIC** with no xc jumping faults. I was surprised by the loin connection in a few – they looked weak in the loin and back, with poor hindquarters. There were some pretty low set short necks as well, which could affect front end and shoulder freedom.  But who am I to judge?

Now for the breeding junkies.  If you don’t care about the breeding or where your horse comes from, you might want to skip this part ‘cause it is going to be ALL about it!

I liked both the Diarado’s a lot – Rebecca Howards 6 yr old Cooley Convinced and Nicola Wilson’s 7 yr old JL Dublin. The best mover of the day might have gone to Gentleman FRH, the 6 yr old stallion by Gray Top. Is he going to have the blood for a 4*?  I also liked Aoife Clarks’s Celia D’ermac Z for Ireland and Thomas Carlisle ‘s Birmaine for France.  The Mighty Magic’s were different in size, but all the same type and have the same eye. I was surprised at how small Figaro de Consessions is – my MM’s have all been big horses. Not the biggest movers, but very similar.  Michael Jung’s horses, with the exception of the Contendro, Choclat ‘weren’t the biggest movers either.

And my personal favorite, of course, was Quantum Leap, who certainly is in the minority with a full TB parent.  Michael Jung has a TB sire on one of his, and there are a few with TB grandsires, usually on the dam’s side

Couple other observations…  First, the ISH breeding is no longer the dominant breeding that we used to see.  There is a lot of warm blood in most of them – in fact they now resemble the different European studbooks – seems like everything is being consolidated. You could pick out a few that were the older type ISH without a doubt, but on the whole, they weren’t much different looking from the warmblood.  The Selle Francais that France has were of many different types – there did not seem to be a clear consensus – some were heavy and short, some were tall and long. I was surprised   to see that dissimilar a type for a breed that is becoming more dominant in eventing breeding.

So on to dressage tomorrow, and hopefully a chance to walk the xc course and also thank my lucky stars and my stomach that I am not riding it.  I’ll try to get the snails’ picture close up.  Any of you at the YEH Championships in the next 2 days, cheer on those babies so that they might make it here to France in the future!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

The Long and Winding Road to Le Lion D’Angers

So, the nice folks at the USEA asked me if I would do a blog of my time in France at the World Championships for Young Horses at Le Lion dAngers. I told them I’d be happy to, although creative writing was not necessarily a talent of mine.  So, here’s what you’re getting!

I think breeding horses is a lot like evening.  It’s expensive, time consuming, back breaking labor, with a lot of bad moments. Really bad moments.  There is a reason breeder are called the eternal optimists.   Sometimes the rewards seem minuscule, and the forward steps so small, both in training and in breeding. I think it’s a lot like the two minutes before you enter the start box- you’re thinking “Why the hell did I think this was a good idea?”.  Maybe that’s when the bills come in for the breeding that didn’t take, or the mare that aborted, or the foal that is at the ICU.   But then in eventing there’s that magical moment when you’re finished cross country and you come through the finish flags and you think yourself “That was just awesome! I can’t wait to do it again!”.

So that awesome moment for me as a breeder is the fact that one of the horses I bred is the US representative and winner of the Turner Holekamp grant to compete at Le Lion d’Angers at the World Young Event Horse Championships in France later this month.   It’s pretty darn cool, and awesome, if I do say so myself. Yup, eventing and breeding have a lot of similarities.

That horse is the 7yr old RPSI gelding Quantum Leap. Quantum is owned by Doug and Jess Payne and Susan and Dave Drillock and ridden by Doug. Doug had the foresight (or the luck), to buy him from my small breeding program as a yearling six years ago. He had bought another one of my horses form another source and called me to ask if I had anything that I thought would be an upper-level prospect.  I sent him pictures and despite the pictures (because yearlings are generally hideous), Doug bought him.

He has campaigned him up the levels and into this world championship.  He’s there because he was the highest placed and qualified horse from the YEH Championships in 2015 and received the grant. The grant’s purpose is to develop and reward the breeding of future US team horses.   This is something we need here in the US.  We have the horses and the bloodlines to be successful on the world stage.  What we don’t have is the program and financial support to develop these horses.  The Turner – Holekamp grant is a step in the right direction for the development of quality event horses.   Being able to compete at Le Lion is a true yardstick. This year, over 34% of the event horses at the WEG had participated at Le Lion.  That’s a pretty high percentage, when you consider that the completion is capped at 70 7-year olds and is held once yearly…. So, it is hopefully a prediction for the future.

It’s a pretty tough competition. The crowds are usually about 60,000 on cross country day, and the course is a work of art and a lot to look at. The course is 10 minutes and it’s a true Championship course. So, it is going to be a real test for him.

I have a pretty small breeding program – I usually only have 1-2 foals a year and now am on my third generation. I started breeding 30 years ago which means I’m either very experienced or old or a little bit of both. I also started eventing about that time, and managed to actually compete at prelim, and even tried a couple (as in 2) Intermediates, but that was actually way too nausea inducing for me to keep going at that level.  Currently, I’m on a second generation homebred and have made my way (slowly, slowly,) back up to prelim after a 10-year gap at the lower levels.  I think 3’7 has gotten taller than it was 10 years ago.

I didn’t start out breeding event horses on purpose. I just wanted to breed something for myself to ride. Or at least what I think I would like to ride… Event breeding is a pretty small market and I think it is difficult.  You can’t breed the heart we need in event horses, but you can try to breed the best athlete you can.  As the years have gone on I’ve pretty much concentrated on that type of horse.  Most of my mares are at least half thoroughbred and I cross them generally with good moving jumper type horses. Quantum is a good example of that as his sire Quite Capitol jumped to the 1.6 m level in Europe and his dam is an OTTB who just happens   to be a half-sister to John William’s 4* horse, Sloopy.

As a breeder, first of all you want your horses to be in a home where they’re going to be taken care of and second, you’d love to see them doing what you’ve bred them for and reaching their full potential.  There’s a lot of hopes, dreams, and plans all caught up in that creature that’s in front of you. So, to see Quantum win this grant and to be able to go to watch him go is really one of the things that helps make up for all the not so good things that happen with breeding and with horses.

I can’t want to see him compete and to see the breeding on these top event horses. To have all that dedicated breeding in one place!  It’s like being a kid in a candy store.

So, I hope that I can convey some of this excitement to all of you when I am over there.   Not just in the competition itself, which is going to be fabulous, but hopefully in what I can get in rubbing shoulders with all those breeders.

Of course, that’s all provided we (my husband and I) can navigate successfully through the streets of Paris with a stick shift…. and stay married while doing so…

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

 

 

To see pictures and related information follow this link to the USEA website:

http://useventing.com/news/race-le-lion-long-and-winding-road-0

Vaccinating the Geriatric Horse

Aged horses are becoming a larger portion of our country’s equine population; many of these horses are still being used for riding, showing or as companion animals.  Our standard of veterinary care for this population, especially regarding vaccines, is changing due to recent research.

            Just as we see with elderly people, horses experience aged related changes in immune function. This decline in immune function is known as “immunosenescence.” This population of horses is less able to resist infection and may not respond as well to vaccines. This is because immune cells in the horse may be blunted or dysregulated leaving them vulnerable to disease. We don’t know exactly why immunosenescence occurs but studies suggest that some of the immune cells become exhausted from exposure throughout the horses life, they stop replicating, and become less responsive over time. Other factors that can contribute to an impaired immune response are chronic disease, age associated inflammation, stress and nutritional status. These factors decrease the ability of the immune system to respond appropriately to vaccination, which can lead to increased incidence of disease in this age group.

So what does this mean for vaccinating older horses?

            Some studies have shown that the response to some vaccines in aged horses is less robust than seen in younger horses. Vaccines are only effective if the horse’s immune system is competent and vaccine strategies may change as a horse ages and their risks change.

            At VMC we want to tailor each patient’s vaccines to their individual needs using their age, exposure and other co-factors. A study published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science found that using a combined vaccine for West Nile and EWT (Eastern/Western Equine Encephalitis/Tetanus) caused a decreased immune response to both the West Nile vaccine as well as the EWT vaccine. Due to this research we currently recommend splitting the West Nile and EWT vaccines into two separate injections for geriatric horses rather than vaccinating with the combination West Nile/EWT vaccine. 

 Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.

Caitlin Hutcheson, BVMS

VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 5 – Ration Balancers

In the last segment of our nutrition blog, I want to talk about ration or diet balancers.

In many cases, they are the perfect feed to feed our easy keepers or laminitic horses, as well as our horses on poor quality hay.

Why do I like them so much and what are they?

If the forage supplies adequate energy, horses will either maintain their weight or gain weight, and this may seem as though all of the other nutrient requirements are being met.

Unfortunately, with today’s forages this may be a false assumption. Many times, there are inadequate amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals in the forage required for the work asked of the horse, whether it is performance, growth, or reproduction.

Easy keepers are sometimes fed lower nutritional quality hays at lower amounts to reduce calorie intake. They may need additional protein just to meet requirements.

But beyond just meeting requirements there is the issue of protein quality.  Even a grass hay that provides adequate crude protein might lack adequate levels of some essential amino acids.

Ration balancers not only provide crude protein, they tend to provide guaranteed levels of the most limiting essential amino acids, such as lysine and methionine, that are vital.

The advantage of using a balancer pellet is that the horse owner can meet the horse’s requirement for protein, vitamins, and minerals.

A balancer pellet can be used three ways:

1) alone as a low-calorie source of protein, vitamins, and minerals;

2) combined with straight grains, such as oats or corn or

3) as a top-dress for a concentrate fed at less than the recommended feeding rate.

There are two different kinds of balancers: one to feed with grass diets and one to feed with alfalfa diets. This is because the nutrients are formulated to complement your horse’s diet.

If your horse consumes more than 50% of his forage in grass, pasture or grass hay, he should have the grass formula. If he consumes more than 50% of his forage in alfalfa, then he should have the alfalfa formula.

Why are they good?

  • They are low calorie and low starch
  • They are meant to be fed in small amounts (1-2# day).
  • They have little grain content
  • They have added high quality proteins such as lysine and methionine, which aren’t present in lower quality hay and pasture

Common misconceptions

  • They cost more and are too expensive
  • They have too much protein (Egads – 30%!!!)- my horse will get high or it will stress his kidneys

So, first the expense

A bag of balancer is going to cost around $30, while a high end sweet feed costs somewhere around $16. How can the balancer be cheaper?!?

It comes down to amounts that must be fed.  Feed 2 # of balancer per day (what the label says for your horse – remember that label!), vs the 7# of feed the sweet feed bag label says.  The bag of balancer will last you 25 days, the sweet feed 7 days. So, you will spend 3 times as much on the sweet feed, and be feeding your horse way more grain – not an ideal situation.

If you reduce the amount of sweet feed, yes, it will make your bag last longer, but remember that label?  That feed is meant to be fed in the minimum amount on the bag.  If you aren’t, you aren’t feeding a balanced diet.

Ok, how about all that protein!?!

Use a comparison in protein levels between ration balancers and performance feeds. Most performance feeds have crude protein levels around 12% and a daily recommended intake upwards of 5 pounds per day. At 5 pounds per day this would provide 0.6 pound of protein or the same as two pounds of the 30% ration balancer. In fact, performance feeds given at the upper ends of the recommended feeding levels provide far more protein a day than the ration balancer.

When should you not use a ration balancer?

  • If you are feeding adequate amounts (i.e. label amounts) of a high-quality feed and forage.
  • If you need more energy in the diet (to increase weight, to add more energy), you will need to add a source of calories such as fats or grains. Increasing the ration balancer does not add more calories and here is a case where more does not equal better.

When should you use one?

  • Poor quality forage or hay
  • Poor muscling, poor toplines
  • Dieting horses (laminitic, Cushings)
  • Easy keepers
  • Whenever you are not feeding the given feeds according to label directions

Thank you, and let me now if you have any questions!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan, MSOL, DVM, DACT, DABVP

drcallahan@vmceaston.com

VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 4 – Natural and Non-GMO Feeds

How about “Natural” feeds – is this a better option for my horse?

How about non-GMO feeds?

Surely, they are better – after all, they are more natural!

Well, maybe not…

The horse’s natural diet is composed of forage and forage alone, but since we ask our modern horses to perform a variety of unnatural things, we have to provide the additional calories they need. Our grasses and pastures are on depleted soil, so the hay, grass, or pasture is not balanced in itself.

Some people seem to think feeding unprocessed grains, and non-GMO grains is better for the horse. But, generally, the advantages of feeding straight grains (without additional fortification) are few and the “non-GMO” label has to be taken with a grain of salt.

First, let’s discuss the unprocessed grain diet, i.e. “Natural”

What are cereal grains?

  • Oats – Oats are palatable and easy to chew, less susceptible to mold and are considered a safe grain since starch from oats is easily digested in the small intestine. However, they don’t offer all the nutrients needed, cannot be considered a complete feed, and processed oats have a short shelf life.
  • Corn – Most horses like the taste of corn. But it’s high in starch (70%), low in protein, may not be completely digestible in the small intestine in large amounts, and undigested starch can trigger colic or laminitis. Also, it molds easily if not stored properly and moldy corn can cause death in horses.
  • Barley – Barley contains high energy, moderate protein and low fiber. Crude protein from barley is easier to digest than corn, and the energy is higher than oats, but barley starch has low digestibility in small intestine, and it molds easily if not stored properly.

The problem with just feeding cereal grains is that they vary widely in their nutrient profile. Some have adequate protein for a mature horse when paired with grass hay, but others do not. Cereal grains do not contain a balanced nutrient profile, and they must be paired with some type of additional fortification.  A straight cereal grain diet is unsuitable for young, growing, or geriatric horses, due to the lack of the essential amino acids especially lysine and methionine.

In order to make grains digestible for the horse, they must be processed in some way such as crimping, rolling, steaming or cooking. Cereal grains also are a high starch meal. The horse’s digestive system is easily upset with high starch meals, and big swings in insulin can result, leading to insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome and in young horses, possible links to OCD development.

Hard keepers may not be able to take in enough calories from a cereal grain ration; the use of fats and fibers in commercial feeds allow them to condense the number of calories per pound.

Why a Concentrate?

Concentrates, or commercial feeds are formulated specifically for the needs of a horse and a certain class, type or usage.  If chosen and used properly, commercial feeds represent the total nutrition package. Benefits of commercial feeds include:

  • They’re uniform and consistent.
  • They’re generally easy to digest.
  • They have an extended shelf life.
  • They guarantee a consistent intake of nutrients.
  • They simplify ration balancing.
  • They give the owner options for horses with problems such as poor teeth or respiratory tract disorders or poor forage availability.

How about non-GMO feeds – are they better?

Non-GMO means that the ingredients do not contain genetically modified organisms. A GMO is a plant, animal, microorganism, or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing), gene modification, or transgenic technology. Virtually all the soybean crop, as well as corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, and cotton in the US is now GMO.

Certain crops grown in the U.S. are not genetically engineered, and these include oats, barley, wheat, rice, sorghum, and millet.

Unfortunately, the term “Non- GMO“ product is not federally regulated; therefore, companies are on the honor system.

The problems?

  • Sourcing non-GMO product is difficult and these crops are more expensive, which raises the price of the feed substantially.
  • The feed is produced in mills that also use GMO products, so the feed will have residues (or more) GMO products in them.
  • Some products, such as soybeans, have no non-GMO alternative. That means that soybeans are not included in non-GMO feed.  Soybeans are rich in lysine, an essential amino acid.  For that reason, the non-GMO feeds are not suitable for young, growing horses or broodmares, as the lysine content is too low, and the protein is made up of lesser quality amino acids.
  • These feeds tend to be higher in starch and sugar, and usually are not suitable for horses with Cushings, equine metabolic syndrome, or those who are starch sensitive.

So, if you are willing to pay at least $2-$3 more per bag, and you are feeding a mature animal with no health or weight issues, the non-GMO feeds may be suitable to feed.  If you don’t want to feed them, be reassured that long term studies in multiple species have shown no difference between those fed GMO and those fed non-GMO feeds…

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

VMC Equine Feeding Blog 3 – What Type of Feed?

So, you’ve researched the grain company, looked at the labels and you are more confused! Which is better for my horse- the low starch and sugar feed, the high fat feed, the ration balancer, the 12%, the 10%, the organic feed?  Argh – how do I choose??

Take a deep breath.

Let’s start with the most important thing, which is: What type of forage is your horse eating?

Forage is the most important part of the horse’s diet and your concentrate should complement the type of forage that you are feeding.  For instance, you might have great pasture in the summer, but in the winter you are feeding so/so hay. You might need to change what concentrate you feed between the winter and summer from a higher calorie, more fortified feed to a ration balancer.  A change from an alfalfa mix hay to a low-quality hay might mean a change in concentrate as well.

Does this feed meet my horse’s age and use requirements?

The feed requirements for a 10 year old pasture puff and a growing 6 month old weanling are completely different. Geriatric horses are another special population. There is no one feed that will meet the needs of all age and use, despite what you see in the ads!

Does this feed meet my horse’s metabolic needs?

Just like people, horses can vary in their individual needs for calories.  We all know people who can eat all day and never gain weight and the opposite.  Horses are no different. Every horse is an individual and you may need to increase the calorie content of the diet for some, and reduce it for others.  Higher fat feeds supply more calories without supplying more starch and sugar, which is healthier for the horse in general.

Is the feed lower in starch and sugar?

The higher the starch and sugar (NSC), the more the risk associated with metabolic problems, such as laminitis.  The NSC is especially important in feeding horses with equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, Cushings, or history of colic. Unfortunately, some manufacturers are very reluctant to share this vital piece of information.  Also, just like with human foods, the definition of “low” varies from one company to another. Low doesn’t always mean low. Another thing to consider is the volume of feed that you are feeding.  If the label directions are for 6# of a 12% NSC, it might actually be higher in total starch and sugar than 1.5# of a 16%NSC. Another reason to read the label and the feeding directions!

Can I feed it according to the label?

As we discussed in blog 1 and 2, if you are not feeding in the amounts on the feeding direction label, you are not supplying the horse with the minimum requirements of nutrients needed in the diet. So, feeding 1# of feed, when the minimum is 5, or feeding 20# when the maximum is 10, is not optimal for your horse.  I see this all the time when people are feeding a pound of low starch feed to their 1000# horse, because he is already too fat.  If you can’t feed according to the label amounts, you need to change feeds!

 

The take home message is that you need to take your horse’s needs into consideration when choosing a feed and you can change feeds as those needs change.  It’s ok to change feeds seasonally or if the horse’s energy or growth requirements change.   Just do so gradually over a period of 1-2 weeks. If you are not sure, ask your vet or contact a nutritionist. Most feed companies have nutritionists available to answer questions at no charge.

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan