Hay for Horses

With all of you a little more focused on keeping groceries stocked up in the cupboards and finding everything you need at the store, I thought it might be a good time to share some information and history on what meal time looks like for this herd.

Truthfully, the phrase “meal time” doesn’t really apply to horses, or shouldn’t, as we’re designed to eat almost continuously throughout the day. In fact, if our stomachs go more than three hours without food, in addition to getting grumpy, there’s a danger of developing ulcers.

We need to eat frequently, especially when it’s cold.

I’ve been here since 2004 and I’ve witnessed the full range of feeding methods employed to keep us as healthy and happy as possible. In the beginning, we were free-fed round bales. We horses loved it. Endless food, all the time, and the side benefits of having soft bedding and a good place to pee (nobody likes to splash). But Nevada and I got fat, Alta the Thoroughbred mare got a lung inflammation that required some expensive medication, and there was a lot of wasted hay. Although I’m not sure I’d call a nice soft bed or a good urinal a waste. You?

A fresh bale (which is why it looks so tidy)

After the Alta thing, they moved on to small square bales, placing individual meals in tire feeders to keep the hay from blowing to the next acreage. A horse will eat anywhere from 1.5-3 per cent of his body weight per day, depending on temperature and our inclination to gluttony, which translates to 15-30 pounds of hay per day split into at least two meals. It takes a horse one to two hours to eat twenty pounds of hay, which makes for a lot of standing-around-with-nothing-to-eat hours, not to mention the agony of staring at the house and waiting for the door to swing open.

The boarder herd enjoying dinner.

Enter … slow feeder nets.

These are a relatively new addition to horse feeding programs and I wasn’t sure I liked them at first. There have been hay nets for generations of horses, but the old-school type have large holes, big enough to stick my muzzle into. The slow feeder bags have small holes, one to two inches square, so a guy has to work the hay through the holes with lips and teeth. At first, they seemed like cruel devices developed for horse torture, but, after a week or so, we were all sucking hay out of those nets like pros. The upside? Our feed lasted a lot longer. T and Nollind still use the net bags for hanging in the shelter when the weather is ugly, but they found a less labour-intensive way to keep enough feed out for four to five days.

We’ve become masters.

A few years ago, T went looking for the latest and greatest in slow feeders. There are lots of them out there to accommodate different types of bales and a variety of setups. When she ran across a photo of a plastic barrel hanging on a fence with a net hanging off the bottom, she and Nollind went right to work cutting up rain barrels and stringing nets. Since horses eat with our noses pointed down, she wasn’t sure how we’d make out with the barrel nets but, you know, we equines are nothing if not creative and we quickly sorted out how to eat from the side or tilt our heads slightly to bite straight on. A couple of test prototypes morphed into ten feeders that hold almost as many bales.

These feeders hold almost a full bale of hay, a two-day supply for one horse.

I still prefer to eat loose hay off the ground over any type of meter-it-out feeder, but I appreciate having access to food twenty-four-seven, even if I do have to work for it.

With a few inches of packed snow on the ground, the tallest horse in the herd can beat the system.

I sometimes wonder what the next incarnation of our feeding system will be. We had two round bales again this winter after not seeing them for over a decade, but I think that was just a stop-gap in a low hay year.

The cold weather buffet this past winter.

For now, it’s spring, the best time of year for us horses, because our buffet is sprouting from the ground. Nothing compares to green grass. And I’m sure T and Nollind will agree with you after almost seven months of carting bales around, filling feeders, and digging hay out of their clothes.

Soon. Sigh….

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

I have to confess to not possessing the strongest work ethic. But, I do like to be the centre of attention.  Herein lies the double-edged sword of horsedom for me, attention and work often come as a package. 

Nevada’s the one with the great gig. He goes out every afternoon for extra food, sometimes a grooming, and does absolutely nothing in terms of work. Although, he does have teeth that are wearing out and a pelvis that gives him grief so perhaps his life isn’t all sunshine and oats.

“Working” at our two different jobs.

Maybe it’s Gidget who’s got the sweetest arrangement. She doesn’t get extra food every day, but quite reliably every second day, plus a grooming and some hand-fed snacks. She has to do a few exercises and gets ridden some in the warmer months but, generally, she’s got the best of both worlds. She’s old enough for semi-retirement but not so old that chewing is challenging and things hurt.

A prairie ride on an autumn day.

If I could only pick and choose .. let’s see … I’d take the daily grain, the snacks, the brushing, but hold the workout. Don’t get me wrong, I do occasionally get pampered just for the sake of it, but my waistline can’t handle more food than I’m already getting so daily grain is out of the question. Damn my pokey metabolism!

Enjoying my Christmas grain.

But, full confession, once the saddle’s on, we’ve shaken off the cobwebs, and the joints get warmed up, I start having fun and can even get a little frisky. When that happens, I can just feel T smiling up there, which makes me smile and gives me the push to keep on doing whatever it is she’s asking me to do.

Summer evening ride, complete with trail dog.

We’re a good team, T and I. She’s not super dedicated to any type of horse sport or competition at this stage of life so we can just spend time together, get some exercise, and enjoy a sunny day. And, if I have to put on a few miles to be the one who comes out of the pasture for some one-on-one time, it’s a small price to pay.

Putting on a few miles in Kananaskis Country.

T took most of last year off from riding and I missed our time together. She had other things she wanted to focus on and I had a wee bit of lameness in one leg that she wanted to rest. I’m feeling good now and I think she is too ‘cause I’ve been saddled up twice in January. That might not sound like a lot, but it is for T when it comes to cold-weather, snowy-ground riding.

Winter ride.

She’s going away for a couple of months and, although that guarantees I won’t have to work, it also means I’ll be watching from the sidelines whenever Nevada and Gidget get out for some food and attention. Judy’s great about giving me a snack or two, but it’s not the same as having my own person around … even when that person does put me to work.

I’m a Regular!

It’s official! Despite my horse-ness, I am going to be a regular on the “dog blog”! Once I’m settled in and Chico realizes he can’t do it without me, I’ll start pushing for a name change. Maybe the “dog and pony blog” or “horse and hound tales” … something like that. For now, I’m happy to stay with the status quo.

Me at home … the first of many horse photos.

Since you’ll be seeing more of us, I thought I’d best tell you about the herd here at Almosta Ranch.

Nevada has been here longer than any of us. He and Alta, T’s thoroughbred mare, were the first horses on the place in 2003 when T and Nollind came to live here. Nevada had been purchased as Nollind’s first horse the previous fall.

Nevada and Alta in the early days.

Alta went on to a new home in 2012. I guess it was kind of my fault. After I grew up and was trained, T liked riding me better than she did Al, maybe because of my smaller size, but more likely because of my awesome personality. I just can’t help it. Alta went to a good home though, where she was spoiled alongside another senior horse and had the easy job of taking a newbie out on the trails.

She looked better in English tack than I do but I’m cuter overall.

I arrived on the scene in 2004 from the Innisfail Auction along with a buckskin yearling they called Dorado (or sometimes Earl – more about that another time.) T chose Dorado at the auction because she’d always wanted a buckskin and he was sweet and well-handled. Nollind liked my colour (lucky me) and bought me from a meat buyer. I told you my story back in 2017 when I had my first guest blog. We were the “project horses” for T and Nollind—Dorado for T and me for Nollind.

Dorado and me when we first arrived. Pretty cute, huh?

It turned out that Dorado was not the clever, sensitive type of horse that T prefers. But, guess who is? 😉 While Dorado was busily showing himself to be the dull, pushy sort, I was snuffling T’s hair and blowing warm air on her face while she was bent over doing some task around the barn. She was such an easy target for my charm. Long story short, Dorado was sold as a three-year-old and I became T’s main mount.

Teaching me to be a saddle horse.

There were a few other horses who came and went along the way—Sox, Calypso, Willow, Eddy—but I’ll tell you more about them in some future post. Now that I’m a regular (I’m a regular!) I have plenty of time to tell horse stories.

Rosa came along in December of 2007 at just a year and a half old. They adopted her from a place called Bear Valley Rescue who’d bought her at auction. Rosa is a registered Quarter Horse but ended up at auction when the people who owned her had health issues. When she first arrived at Almosta, she had never been handled by humans. She was like this wild thing that would move to the other side of her paddock whenever T and Nollind were near, even when they had food! (Chico and I share a love of all that is food so have little understanding of how this is possible.) I’ll tell you more about Rosa’s journey from wildie to complete mush-bucket another day.

Baby Rosa wanting to go home.

In 2012, when T and Nollind were down to just the three of us—Nevada, Rosa and me— they decided to put the extra space to use and started boarding horses. The first boarder, a Clyde-cross named Olga, arrived in September that year and by winter two years later there were eight boarded horses plus us.

Nevada and I are there by the post on the right.

More horses meant more problems including a stretch we were all afraid of the electric waterer because a new horse told us it was dangerous (seemed reasonable at the time), baby buggies in places they had no business being, and fence rails chewed through. And then there was the horse that brought in the winter scourge of 2015. That was the turning point. After the infestation was resolved, the boarders were no longer replaced when they left of their own accord (and I think one of them was given a not-so-subtle nudge when her son was caught tormenting the dogs for the third or fourth time.)

It took many baths to rid the herd of the skin scourge!

By the fall of 2017, the boarders were all gone but Gidget. She’s part of our herd now and is like one of the family, as is her owner Judy, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be here as long as they want to be. You probably think Gidget looks like a sweet little buttercup of a horse with her pretty blonde coat and sweet eyes, but the horse dentist nicknamed her Blonde Diablo and we, her herdmates, are sometimes inclined to agree. More about that in a future post.

Sweet, right?

I could tell stories all day but I’ve gone way over my Chico-stipulated, 500-word post so I’d best shut this horse’s mouth. Until next time … happy trails!