Spring is upon us - yay! Bring on warmer and better weather for riding and having fun outside (where we will probably spend even MORE time in the paddock!)
But hold the phone, what's happen to your horse? He was going just beautifully 3 weeks ago, and now he seems to have turned into a mad man. Jumpy when tied at his regular spot, touchy when you brush him; more girthy than usual and super reactive to your leg aids when you ask him to go; jumping at bushes that have always been on your hacking route; messing up his canter leads, and even throwing in a few pig roots or bucks!
If it's a behaviour that only recently just popped up, it could be due to the change in season. In both spring and autumn the weather throws out bouts of rain, mixed with warm sunny days. This makes the grass begin to grow fast and in 'flushes' and will likely be causing your horse to be experiencing the side effects of being 'grass affected'.
"But horses are meant to eat grass", I hear you say. Well not the short sugary stuff, close to the ground. The ideal grass scenario for a horse is old pasture, which is long, stalky and more fibrous - where the grass has already used all of it's energy growing, and is not so full of sugar.
To first counteract and combat the effects of grass, take you horse off the grass.
Usually at this point there is all sorts of complaining and whining as to why this is not possible, but just decide if your horse's behaviour is dangerous - for you or your child (who will be riding?), not to mention the irritation your horse must be feeling!
Two options are:
1. sectioning your paddock right down to a small area where multiple horses are still able to move around each other without getting in each other's way/likely to kick one another - you will know the dynamics of your herd and how they tend to interact.
2. fence a 'race track' type set up all the way around the outside of your paddock, wide enough so a horse could easily pass another horse if need be. This is the preferable set up, as your horses get to keep moving around all day, which is what they are designed to do. Then the inside, closed off area of grass can be fed out in small doses.
The thing to bear in mind is that the grass is particularly 'potent' at its shortest length. This is because it is the most full of sugar now, while it is trying furiously to grow. So even if to you it doesn't look like much, for your horse, it is a sugary nightmare waiting to happen.
Swap out the grass you have removed with hay. He still needs to eat.
If your horse has no issues with being overweight, feed ad-lib hay, all day. If he doesn't need the weight, adjust the amount of hay according to his needs, but feed smaller amounts frequently. It is not good for a horse to go for long periods of time with no food in his gut, as he is designed to be constantly eating and constantly has stomach acid being produced; this is one of the causes of gut ulcers in horses. There are slow-feeder hay nets on the market, these are great.
Next, you can help counter the effects of consumed grass with plain salt and magnesium oxide. If you'd still like to see more weight and condition on your horse, check out my post a basic but effective horse diet.
If you're not needing your horse to gain weight, but are still wanting to reduce the negative effects of grass try this proven diet plan:
I hope this helps you understand why your horse may have suddenly changed and gives you more tools in your belt to make him happier & healthier, and your rides and time together safer and more fun.
Thanks for reading!
PS. Let me know if there is any training, feeding or confidence question you have that I may be able to help with; other people are probably experiencing it with their horse too.
Isn't it funny. You were young, fearless, would jump anything, and I mean anything - man how resourceful were you when you were a kid; mum's picnic table; dads saw horses with a plank laid across the top; road cones... we had to invent our own jumps! You found dressage a chore - merely the necessary bit so you could get on with the fun stuff.
Time goes on and you grow up, sometimes that's enough of a handbrake in itself. Then you have a baby. Maybe even a few...
Right, time to get back on the horse. But uh-oh, what's happened here? Suddenly your once trusty steed has grown what seems like 3 hands taller, he's moving too fast, he's turned from bomb-proof to a complete ninny, and time to do some jumping? Forget about jumps - a 60cm jump looks like a grand prix fence! Stuff that.
I'll tell you what's happened - it's the baby (or multiple babies, if applicable). But how does such a small human hold such power over you? How has becoming a mum turned you into a wuss? You've just gone through one of the craziest, hardest things ever required of you when you gave birth - riding a racehorse should be like a walk in the park.
I'll tell you what happened - you started to have to worry about someone other than yourself. In the back of your mind you know if you come off and brake your arm, you can't hold your baby. If you carry out an ungraceful, unauthorised dismount, you don't get any judges' points for style, it just leaves you wondering how you're going to get your kids to school. And you know what? Those niggling little thoughts in the back of your mind, start making riding a nerve-racking task, rather than the worry-free, pleasurable pursuit it once was.
But here is a secret I feel I absolutely must share with you: Every rider gets nervous at times. Yup, ALL of them. It may be at different times for different reasons, but nerves hit us all. Sure there are different thresholds which trigger nerves, depending on the level of experience and current riding regime. But they all feel it. All of them. Truly. The difference between someone who looks like they have it all together and how you feel?
Even the greatest of the great Olympic riders have hairy moments. How do they cope? If in doubt, they go back a step, regroup, and then try again (and again and again).
How can you apply this 'good management' technique to yourself, at home on your own hack, who would quite frankly rather be eating? Well, there is always something basic that you know you and your horse can do. If something gets hard or scary, go back a step and concentrate on concreting-in the basics until you start to find them boring. While you're in a state of nervousness or apprehension, your horse can feel it - don't let that stop you from getting on, just be aware of yourself and what is triggering your feelings.
Here's an example: You feel like you want to go for a canter. You know that you can do it, and you feel silly for being worried about it, but regardless, you are secretly freaking out inside (or maybe you're an extrovert and are quite open about how you feel!)
Solution: Trot. Trot fast, trot slow. Trot big, trot small. Trot circles, trot lines. Get on that horse everyday (or at least as much as you possibly can) and trot. Trot until your horse is well-worked, and you are bored of trotting. At the point of boredom, curiosity and bravery start to creep in. So trot, just a bit more. Then, when you think you can't stand going out for one more ride of just trot, you are ready to canter. Pick a calm day, when it's warm and your horse is feeling relaxed and go out and trot - just so he doesn't think something is up. Then pick a marker - a tuft of grass or a fence post - then at that point, sit up, be strong and canter for 6 strides, then go back to trot. Depending on how you feel, you can try it again or leave it for that ride, and just aim to canter for longer the next time too.
The same thing applies to apprehension about jumping the bigger heights that you feel like you should be jumping, but don't feel confident enough to tackle. Don't worry about what you should be doing, just pop over tiny little baby fences, until once again you become bored, because closely following boredom is curiosity and bravery. Little by little, you will build yourself up in confidence and security, in a safe manner.
I know first-hand, because I am a horse nut, and I had a baby - two in fact, I love them both to pieces. I would jump on anything and everything. Having my babies made me re-evaluate things, perhaps a little too much at times; and for a period of time I felt pretty overcome with nerves - my younger, 'gung-ho' self scolding me on a regular basis. So I took it right back to basics and re-built from the ground up.
I still think before I leap more than I used to, but we can't let our babies take away our passion and the thing that makes us happy. And heck, if they grow up and love riding too, we can all go out together! I have seriously got my fingers crossed there - my babies out with me and my horses doing what we love together? Jackpot.
A guide to non-heating weight-gain for Thoroughbred horses and other breeds that need to gain weightThis basic-but-effective diet plan is for anyone looking to add weight and improve horse condition, to keep your horse happy, healthy and probably most importantly, sane!
To get the best results from the below feeding plan, it is wise to ensure your horse's worming and dental care are up-to-date, as both of these factors will influence the effectiveness of your horse's ability to utilize the feed you provide him. Also, I've said it before, but I'll say it again, make sure he has adequate shelter and warmth so he his not burning up too much energy trying to keep himself warm; this can be in the form of a man-made shelter, good tree shelter and of course a warm, dry cover.
OK, in to the feed.
First up, hay. Hay is the number one thing that you need to focus on when first trying to put weight on your horse. To the untrained eye, hay can look like 'wispy, dry nothing'. But to your horse, hay is weight-gain gold.
Horses need fibre to convert to fat stores and hay is fibre. So if you come out in the morning and your horse has well-cleaned up all his hay from the night before, your first step is to feed him more hay. Same thing if you come out in the evening and he has no hay left over from the morning. Rather than just standing around waiting for you, he could be eating hay and gaining weight.
A good rule of thumb is that you need to feed about half a bale of hay, per horse, per day. Obviously you need to take into consideration the weight per bale, as they do vary a lot, but it's a good place to start. Bear in mind that is for weight-maintenance, so if you trying to get your horse to gain weight, you will need to feed more than that.
Let me repeat this, because it is super important: the first thing you should focus your money and efforts into for weight-gain is in feeding hay. In an either/or situation of hay vs hard feed, hay will put more weight on your horse than any hard feed will without adequate hay in the diet. Feed your horse hay hay hay.
Right, now moving on, the next thing to consider is hard feed. Hard feed is pretty much any food that is not grass or hay, that you feed separately to your horse. Below is an actual example of what I recommend, and what I also feed to my own horses. It can be varied to make it more or less 'heating', depending on your actual horse's requirements, and I'll give you those options too.
NOTE: This diet is also designed to reduce anxious and hot-headed horse behaviour in times of high grass growth eg spring and autumn, and at these times it is best to ALSO reduce grass access right down and up the hay, so your horse is less affected by the sugar spikes the grass causes (like kids eating lollies at a birthday party, who then go a bit nuts).
In some cases of full on, horrible horse behaviour, which is hard to deal with and potentially dangerous, you're best to remove all grass privileges and replace with hay while the grass is rapidly growing, then only return horse to the grass when it drys off, eg when the summer sun starts to stunt the grass growth and turn it a bit dry-looking.
Example of daily feeding plan (of course in conjunction with meadow hay!)
TIP: scoop = approx 1x level 2L ice cream container
>Iodine (so don't include IODISED salt in diet)
>Essential trace elements
Swaps, add-ins & notes:
>For extra non-heating fibre as an addition for more weight gain, add soaked beet pellets (sugar beet pellets with the sugar removed).
>As mentioned, lucerne haylage - this be quite heating, and can be swapped out for 2x scoops meadow chaff to keep the fibre content, however SALT will help cancel-out the 'hotness' it can cause in your horse
>You can also add up to 1x cup of vegetable oil for extra weight gain. Rice bran oil is natures natural steriod, and so will provide the best results, but other vegetable oils are also effective.
>If the final feed you mix up is heavier than 2kg, you are better off to split it over 2-3 feeds, so your horse had adequate opportunity to digest everything fully, and not just poo it out!
This feed regime is not the be-all and end-all for all horses, but is a great place to start. If in doubt, seek the advice of a professional equine veterinarian. The only way to know for sure what your horse is high-in or lacking in, is to have a comprehensive blood test taken and analysed.