April 6, 2011
What goes into your horse shows up on the outside.
By Carolyn Heinze for The American Quarter Horse Journal
Even when you’re not competing in halter classes, keeping your horse’s coat clean and shiny is a crucial part of your overall presentation. Not only does it demonstrate the time and effort you take to pay attention to details; it also lets observers know that you are concerned with your horse’s diet.
What, then, should you be feeding your horse to establish and maintain that sleek, enviable shine?
The good news is that if you’re covering the basics, you’re most of the way there already.
Beauty magazines the world over counsel woman that the key to healthy, glowing skin is drinking enough water – and the same goes for horses, notes Eleanor Richards, an equine nutrition consultant in Bulverde, Texas.
“If a horse isn’t getting enough water in their system, they’re not going to be able to utilize the nutrients in their feed,” she says. “Water is the most important nutrient and probably the most neglected, too.”
If you’re confused about vaccinations, equine nutrition, first-aid or anything else relating to horse health, then check out the “Your Horse’s Health” DVD collection. On this three-disk set, veterinarians Dr. Thomas Lenz and Dr. Kenton Morgan expertly guide viewers through the basics of keeping your horse healthy.
The average, 1,000-pound horse should consume five to 10 gallons a day, depending on his individual constitution and the temperature of his environment. Eleanor estimates that horses with grueling exercise schedules can consume 15 to 20 (sometimes 30) gallons a day, depending on how much they are sweating. Lactating mares must also drink a large amount of water.
The problem is that in many barns, water buckets may go for a long time without being cleaned out properly, which discourages water intake and can eventually promote a loss of appetite.
After all, when you’re thirsty, how much do you want to eat if you have no access to clean, refreshing liquids?
This is an issue in facilities with automatic-waterers also; and in this case, unless the unit is connected to a gauge designed to measure water consumption, it’s difficult to tell how much a horse is drinking.
Aside from judging water intake by the number of times you change the water in the water bucket, there are a couple ways to discern whether your horse is getting enough water by analyzing his physical condition – the old “pinching the neck” trick to see how elastic the skin is the most popular.
“You need to do that frequently so that you know what your horse’s normal skin elasticity is,” Eleanor says. “If you think your horse is dehydrated and you pinch, but you don’t have anything to compare it to, then it’s going to be hard to determine.”
Pressing your thumb against your horse’s gums to monitor capillary refill time is another way: Simply push your finger against the gum, hold it for a second and then remove it. The gum should be white, but it should fill in within one or two seconds. If the horse is dehydrated, his capillary refill time will be slower.
We all know what might – or might not – happen when we lead a horse to water, and one way to ensure that he’ll drink is to include salt in his daily diet. Eleanor advises a daily intake of two ounces, and she favors loose, granulated salt as opposed to salt blocks, which make it difficult to monitor how much salt the horse is consuming.
“Of course, there is some salt in commercial feeds, but depending on how much grain you’re feeding, whether they are getting enough salt from the grain is questionable,” she says.
If the horse doesn’t eat the salt you mix into his feed, she suggests sprinkling a bit onto his hay, taking into account that some will slip down through it and onto the stall floor. If you are mixing electrolytes into your horse’s water, you should provide a second bucket of fresh, clean water beside it, in case the horse goes off his electrolyte-treated water.
“Remember that prevention is as key as is early diagnosis and treatment,” advises Dr. Thomas Lenz. From diseases and disorders to soreness and injuries, the “Your Horse’s Health” DVD collection will help you keep your equine partners out of trouble.
Whether you are feeding electrolytes or salt, however, it’s important to ensure that the horse has access to water at all times. Otherwise, all the efforts you are making to promote hydration will work in reverse.
There’s a reason that horses in nature rely on grass as their primary source of nourishment, and Brian D. Nielson, professor of equine exercise physiology at Michigan State University, thinks there aren’t enough good things that can be said about the benefits of fresh forage.
“In the springtime, if you get the horse out there, they will be eating some good grass,” he says. “That’s when horses begin to slick off and get some dapple into their coats.”
Protein is one of the main factors in maintaining healthy skin and hair, and it’s rare that horses – especially adults – are protein-deficient. A combination of fresh green grass, good quality hay and commercial feeds designed for horses generally contain all the protein that the animal requires.
Fat is also associated with healthy, shiny coats, and one of the best sources of fat is, once again, fresh forage. Unfortunately, not all farms boast expansive pastures, and some horse owners choose to incorporate essential fatty acids into their horse’s diet through the administration of supplements. Eleanor cautions people to carefully read the content of these products before feeding them, because they might not contain the type of essential fatty acid that the horse requires.
Check back next week for part 2!
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