Micro-Managing Horses’ Diets
When I first thought of a title for this post and googled ‘horse micro-manager’ to see what came up, I found several articles about micro-managing horses while riding or training. I guess I never thought about people micro-managing a horse in that respect, but I can see how it would happen.
Since I’m not a trainer and this isn’t a training blog, I’m going to focus on a different type of horse micro-management though. More specifically, as it relates to your horse’s diet.
I will admit, where diet is concerned, I am a former horse micro-manager. And you know what? It’s quite stressful, and from what I’ve now learned, unnecessary. I thought I would share a little about my experience.
It all started with the best intentions, of course. During my equine acupressure education, I took several nutrition courses. I learned so much and I’m very glad I took them, but in taking taking those courses, I also became aware that I wasn’t doing nearly enough to ensure my horses’ were getting what they needed nutritionally.
Thus, began the fretting. I began having my hay and pasture analyzed each year (which I still recommend, by the way). Then, as I learned to do in my courses, I carefully balanced each horse’s minerals in order to determine which ones were lacking in the forage. I ordered individual (inorganic) minerals and then measured them out into weekly extra-large pill containers. Do this times 5, and it’s quite a bit of work.
Now some of you have been following this blog for a while and may well remember my posts on balancing minerals. I’m not saying balancing minerals is a bad thing, and I commend those of you who do it. I did see a difference in my horses’ hair coats and hooves when I started supplementing zinc and copper, especially. But with two kids, a husband, a part-time job, and a whole menagerie of other animals to care for, I was wearing myself out.
In time, I went to a custom blend based on an average of what each horse needed (according to the hay/ pasture analysis), but, I still constantly worried that I might not be getting things just right. I also noticed that while my horses had made some improvements on this regimen, they still weren’t completely healthy. Even after lots of research, the answer as to why still eluded me.
I’ve had several ‘Aha’ moments in recent years, and two people stand out in my mind as helping me come to certain realizations. One was Karen Eddings (The Equine Nurse), who did a hair analysis on Hershey. Among other things, she recommended adopting a KISS philosophy–Keep It Simple Stupid (or Sister!). At the time, I wasn’t sure how I could keep it simple when Hershey’s problems seemed so complex, but I soon began to see the beauty in this philosophy.
Another ‘Aha’ moment came from Pete Ramey. When I hosted a barefoot trimming clinic a couple years ago, he talked quite a bit about zinc and copper and how a lack of these two minerals can cause hoof problems (which I knew). But when he trimmed Hershey’s hooves and I explained about my careful balancing regimen and also mentioned other complete mineral supplements I’d tried, he said something like, “Do you think maybe he’s not absorbing it then?” This idea had crossed my mind, but I think that’s when it really hit home for me. No, he probably wasn’t. The question became why not? (which I have my own theories about now.)
Over the last year or two, I’ve gradually lessened my grip of control over my horses’ diet. It was hard at first and I felt like I might just be getting lazy. But I also realized being a micro-manager wasn’t good for me or my horses. I began experimenting with other supplements and incorporating more herbs (organic mineral sources) and whole foods as well. There are many great supplements out there, but two of my favorites are Big Sky Minerals and Iron Horse. I also like to switch it up throughout the year. (Remember–variety is good!)
Another thing I like to experiment with is different types of feeds, and this also changes depending on the season and my horses’ needs. But right now, I’m feeding a soft alfalfa cube with oats and flax called Omni’s Complete Performance Cubes by a small Canadian company called Danco Forage. I don’t feed much, but my horses are doing well on it and I have no complaints.
Since I’ve stopped micro-managing and have adopted a simpler, more natural feeding program, I’ve actually noticed some positive changes in my horses.
- Hershey has gained weight (he’s always been on the thin side);
- Lee Lee’s skin allergies have improved significantly;
- Katy’s top line has filled in a bit more (She’s in her upper 20’s); and
- All four of the horses are slick and shiny.
Micro-managing probably isn’t a good thing no matter what it is we’re trying to control. I know I realized it really wasn’t necessary when it came to my horses’ diet. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t worry about a thing or that it’s better to be uninformed, but stressing over every little thing won’t do anyone any good.
Now that I’ve given up micro-managing, I’m definitely much happier. And I think my horses are happier now, too.