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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

VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 2 – The Feed Tag

Welcome to the next segment in our VMC Equine Feeding Blogs!

So now we’ve picked the right feed company.  You are satisfied that you are getting quality ingredients from a horse feed specific mill.  What next?

Pretty much when I ask a horse owner what they are feeding, I get the answer: “It’s a 12 % feed”. Or “I feed low starch feed.  2 scoops a day because my horse is fat”.   When I show them the feed tag, people are usually really surprised to find out that they aren’t feeding the correct feed, or the correct amount.

Let’s start with basics. 

 The Feed Tag

Why read the feed tag?

Well, it’s pretty important.  Have you read the tag on your horse’s feed and do you really know what it says?

First what IS the feed tag?

It’s that little bit of paper attached to the bag.

It tells you:

  • Product name and weight
  • Purpose statement identifying the type of horse intended to be fed. Checking that your feed has been specifically formulated for your class of horse is critical. For example, you would not want to feed a product designed for a “mature horse at maintenance” to a “young growing horse.”
  • Guaranteed analysis of certain nutrients (required by law) – Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Crude Fiber, Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), Calcium, Phosphorus, Copper, Selenium, Zinc, and Vitamin A, and for feeds that include carbohydrate claims (i.e. low starch, etc.), the sugar and starch levels (when added together, the NSC or non-structural carbohydrates)
  • Ingredient list – this listing may include individual ingredients such as oats or corn, or terms like “grain products”. There is NO information regarding quality of ingredients in a feed. Ingredients are required to be listed in descending order of amount present.
  • Feeding directions – Horse feed manufacturers formulate feeds to be fed at a specific range of feeding rates; when a product is not fed according to the directions, the nutritional benefits of that feed won’t be met (as in the example above, if you are feeding 1 lb of a feed designed to be fed at 5 lb daily, you will not be meeting the nutritional values on the bag)

What a horse feed tag does not tell you:

  • Additional nutrients needed by the horse but that aren’t required to be guaranteed
  • Nutrient and ingredient quality. The percentage of protein on the bag (i.e.12%) tells you nothing about the quality of that protein. There are countless ways to blend various ingredients to make a feed with 12 % crude protein. A feed containing 12% crude protein made with high quality ingredients will supply more total protein, and more essential amino acids, to the horse than a feed made with lower quality ingredients. The same principle holds true for fat, fiber, vitamin and mineral sources. Not all ingredients are the same quality, stability or availability for the horse.
  • Just because something is included, doesn’t mean the level is high enough to be meaningful or useful. Even though an ingredient is listed, it could be that just a trace amount was included (yeast cultures for example).
  • Whether or not the guaranteed levels of nutrients are appropriate – when reading horse feed tag guarantees, many horse owners look for the tag with the “most” of everything listed. Sometimes more is not better. Sometimes more is just more and sometimes more is worse, possibly even toxic, as in Vitamin A.
  • Quality control – Feed manufacturers have widely differing quality control standards. It’s up to the horse owner to investigate each individual manufacturer’s approach to quality control (see horse feed blog post #1)

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

The VMC Equine Feeding Blogs – Part 1

I see a lot of horses, and I see a lot of owners who want to make sure their horses are being fed well. However, I also see a lot of confusion as to what my horse SHOULD be eating, and a lot of incorrect assumptions.  For this reason, I will be presenting a series of blogs on equine feeding. If you have questions please email me at drcallahan@vmceaston.com.

How do I pick the right feed company?

Selecting the right feeds for your horses can be a time consuming and often confusing task. There are multiple options – low starch, high performance, mare and foal, ration balancer, high fat… It makes your head spin!  And the manufacturers, the list seems endless…

To help to narrow down your choices, here is a checklist you can use to help find companies that make high quality, safe, and consistent horse feeds.

Horse dedicated manufacturer

Only a handful of feed manufacturers run a horse dedicated mill. Being horse dedicated means that the risk of anything that could be harmful or even deadly to horses like ionophores (monensin), or antibiotics is eliminated. IF a feed isn’t coming out of a horse dedicated manufacturing facility it is immediately put onto my ‘no’ list. There have been catastrophic mix ups in mixed species mills that have resulted in the deaths of many horses over the years so it just isn’t worth the risk. Choose ones that have dedicated mills.

Set recipes for feeds

There are two main ways a feed can be formulated and made. These are:

  • Least cost mixing, where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels of the feed are set but the manufacturer can choose from any number of ingredients at hand to make up the feed at least cost to them; or
  • The use of set recipes where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels AND the exact ingredients used are never changed.

To work out which method your feeds are currently being made by look at the ingredients list. Feeds made by least cost will have a statement something like ‘Ingredients selected from’ or ‘contains grains including…’ or they will list obscure ingredients like ‘vegetable protein meals’ which can be anything. Because of the way they are made, least cost feeds can have widely varying protein quality and starch contents from batch to batch which is not ideal for horses.

Choosing products from companies that make feeds using set recipes guarantees you a more consistent, higher quality product.

Protein quality and quantity

The quality of protein used in a feed is a major determinant of how well a horse does on that feed. Look for feeds that list high quality protein sources in the ingredients with soybean meal and full fat soybean being the most desirable followed by cottonseed meal, linseed meal (not linseed oil), brewers grains, distillers grains, alfalfa, and corn gluten. When choosing feeds, ask your manufacturer if they run any sort of testing for protein and what their protocol is for ingredients and feeds that don’t make the grade.

Independent laboratory testing

A company can write anything they like on their feed label with regards to the analysis of the feed. While most companies do a good job of this, some don’t, so it is a good idea to ask if the company regularly has its feeds tested by an independent laboratory to verify the contents of its horse feed. These results should also be made readily available to you on request if you wish to see them.

Further, horse feeds contain a high percentage of mineral ingredients including limestone, calcium phosphates and trace mineral premixes. These raw materials can be contaminated with heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury so it is also worth asking whether your feed manufacturer tests raw materials and their finished feeds for heavy metals. Their answer should be yes and they should have strict guidelines controlling their maximum allowed heavy metal levels.

 

While there are many other considerations when selecting horse feeds including cost, level of customer service and how well a feed fits your purpose, using the four criteria discussed above will help to narrow down your choices from 60+ companies to just a handful. Once you have your shortlist you can then move on to the finer points for the final selection of feeds for your horses.

That will be in our next blog… Stay tuned!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan

“Winterizing” for Horses

Winter is one of my favorite seasons when it comes to horses. I know that may be an unpopular opinion, everybody reading this is thinking “but it’s so cold and soggy, you have to break ice on water buckets, the ground is hard, and yuck it is actually snowing!” But what winter brings to mind for me is the best feeling of swinging into a cold saddle on a fresh horse, the blessing of the hounds on the opening day of foxhunting season, and let’s not forget dressing horses up for Christmas parades! Whatever your feeling on horses in winter, we always get a few questions that I thought I would address. How to minimize risk of colic, what is the “right” blanketing strategy, and do we need to be concerned about our horse’s feet when it snows?

1. Colic: A horse can colic at any time of the year but we definitely tend to see a few more in the winter, this is often attributed to horses not drinking enough water which sets them up for impactions (obstructions of the GI tract). Horses also often aren’t moving around as much or are stalled for longer periods of time.

To encourage horses to drink more water, water trough heaters are always a great idea. Make sure to get the correct kind for your trough, but these are great for keeping water at a comfortable temperature. If it gets cold enough for ice to form be sure to break and remove the ice chunks from the top. Some horses are willing to make their own holes in the water but others aren’t and we don’t want to give them any more excuses than they already have in the winter for not drinking. For my own horses I also include a dose of equine specific electrolytes once daily in their feed, again to encourage water consumption. This will help keep everything moving smoothly.

And lastly, even though it’s cold, keeping your horse moving will keep their GI tract moving as well. So remember to give them as much turnout as possible, or if they are being stalled for long periods take them out for a couple 15 minutes hand walks per day.

 

2. Blanketing: A topic which I’m sure has started a few wars in the past. I think the right answer, as with so many things in the horse world, there is no one right answer. Individual horses have different responses to the cold. My family has a draft horse that was raised in Iowa who could care less when it is 20 degrees outside, but we also have a half Arabian and I swear if it drops below 40 she better have a blanket on or you will walk out in the morning and the pasture will be full of freshly dug holes as punishment, her go to response for being chilled.

There are many helpful charts online to use as a guideline. A general rule of thumb is if your horse has  full winter coat and is in good body condition I wouldn’t even start considering a blanket until it is 25 degrees or below on a clear day.  If they are calling for precipitation then start considering blankets at 35 degrees. Old, thin, or clipped horses require blankets at warmer temperatures since they don’t have their natural defense system. Always remember to apply blankets to clean, dry horses.

 

3. The dreaded “S” word – Snow: Whether you love it or hate it snow always adds a little extra work to our daily routine for our hooved friends. Trudging through snow to feed has always been fun for me….for about 5 minutes, then it loses the appeal and I realize my feet are cold, the pastures will be a mess, and now we have to worry about somebody turning their ankle on a snow ball attached to the bottom of their foot. This last part tends to be just a concern for horses in shoes, so if you don’t ride during the winter, your horse has good feet, and no lameness issues that require a shoe to be on constantly then consider letting your horse go barefoot during the time of year that we expect there to be the most snow. Otherwise here are some tips to keep the snowballs to a minimum.

Ask your farrier about anti-snowball pads to be applied in conjunction with your horse’s shoes. These are pads which help push snow out of the hoof area with each step. The only caveat to these is you must be diligent about keeping your horse’s feet and environment clean as pads, which can encourage a wet warmer environment, can predispose your horse to developing thrush.

The only other remedy I have had any luck with is applying Vaseline to the bottom of the hoof, ideally done at least twice daily and not as effective as the pads, but it still should help limit the build-up of snow/ice balls. You can also plan to stall your horse during a snow storm or run out and pick out their feet several times a day. Sorry there is no easy answer to this one! Pick which solution works best for your farm and stick with it!

 

I hope these tips will help you enjoy winter with your horse as much as I do with mine! Happy Holidays!

Dr. Rebecca Bacon