I am a pasture horse. Always have been, hope I always will be. Pasture horses live outdoors, have room to wander, use an open-sided, come-and-go-as-we-please shelter, and enjoy free access to feed as needed (or wanted). The other thing I am, is what the horse industry refers to as an easy keeper. Always have been, likely always will be.
Easy keepers can survive on very little feed, which is great if he’s a wild horse on sparse vegetation, but not so great in the type of grass-filled pasture often found on Alberta farms and acreages. You can probably guess what happens when you combine an easy keeper with a lush pasture (see pic below).
T has long been managing my easy keeperness—limited hours on pasture, limited amounts of pasture, regular exercise. But no matter how hard she tries, by the end of summer, the cinch on my saddle has to be let out a notch or two.
The past couple of summers, Nevada needed more access to grass and, since we’re a herd, we all benefitted. But then Rosa developed laminitis and had to be sequestered to a dry paddock. Sucked being her, right?
This year, she and I were put on a track system and fed hay for the summer. “What?!” I exclaimed. “No summer grass?!” I was incredulous. I fell into a deep despair. Or maybe I just pouted. Either way, I was not a happy horse. Nevada and Gidget were grazing on lush, green blades across the electric fence that divided the pasture, while Rosa and I nibbled at whatever tiny, green shoots we could find and ate our dehydrated food, aka hay that is normally saved for winter.
As the season went on, and it was a dry one, there were no more green shoots. The paddock and track were dry and brown and grazed down almost to dirt.
On the plus side, T put a tire feeder in the back of our track area and kept it filled with loose hay. It meant a quarter-mile walk for every meal, and a quarter-mile walk back for water or shelter, but at least we didn’t have to pull hay from the netted feeders. It would have been a lot easier for her if she’d put the tire feeder closer to the shelter and water, so I’m thinking there was a strategy afoot to get us walking more.
I’m probably the trimmest I’ve ever been at this time of year (although I don’t look it in my bear-like winter coat), and Rosa is trotting around kicking up her not-sore heels, so it seems the sacrifice of a summer of grass was worth it. As much as I hate to say it, T’s torturous plan worked.
But the grazing season has not been completely lost. When T and Nollind returned from a recent trip, she started letting us out on a little piece of pasture near the house for a short time each morning. First it was just fifteen or twenty minutes, then half an hour, an hour, two hours, and so on. By the time we could stay out all day, we’d pretty much eaten everything there was in that small area.
And that’s when my dream came true. T opened the gate to the big pasture, the big pasture that hasn’t had a horse grazing in it since last fall and is filled with grass. The grass isn’t green like it was in the summer, but there are some green shoots down low if you dig, and the dry stuff tastes pretty good too.
There’s still hay in our net feeders, but I think we’ll save that for a rainy or snowy day when it’s just too unpleasant out in the pasture. Until then, this easy keeper is a pasture horse again!