Spot Turns Thirty!

We horses are generally longer lived than our four-legged, human-companion counterparts, the dog and the cat. Dogs get the short end of the stick (pun completely intended) with a life expectancy of just seven to fourteen years, depending on breed and size. Although, there was one little Cattle Dog (good news, Chico) who lived to twenty-nine and a half. Cats live longer, in the fifteen to twenty range, with one outlier named Creme Puff living to thirty-eight years old.

Horses, on average, live to be anywhere from twenty-five to thirty, but many live into their thirties and a handful have lived decades beyond the average age. Three reached fifty-one, a pony named Sugar Puff lived to fifty-six, and a guy named Old Billy made it into the record books when he lived to sixty-two. Wow, right? Based on Creme Puff and Sugar Puff both living well beyond the majority of their species, I just might change my name to Storm Puff. What do you think?

Enjoying his birthday meal and party hat.

Nevada isn’t registered and there’s no record of the month and day of his birth, but, as a horse born in 1991, he officially turned thirty on the first of January. It’s likely he was born between April and July like the majority of Alberta-bred horses.

He was added to T and Nollind’s then collection of one horse and three cats in 2002. As T tells the story, Nollind started taking riding lessons that year and in the fall started shopping for a horse. Nevada was advertised as a well-trained, eleven-year-old, Appaloosa gelding. Another horse named Jack, advertised at the same time, was in his teens and reported to be a very experienced trail horse. Since the two horses lived in the same area, a day was set aside to go and see both of them.

Still likes showing off in the snow.

They saw Jack first. T loved him, thought he was perfect. Great temperament, good age, lots of trail experience. Nollind thought he was okay until they drove up the driveway of Nevada’s home and the big guy came loping along the fenceline through the deep snow, looking majestic and impressive, as he does. Nollind’s eyes lit up, and the two rides that followed, one outdoors, one in, were really just for T’s satisfaction. Fortunately for Nollind, Nevada passed her scrutiny and has been part of the clan ever since, moving here to the farm with Alta, T’s mare, in the spring of 2003.

Nollind’s new (and first ever) horse at Park Stables west of Calgary.

In case you’re wondering what happened with Jack, T liked him enough that she sent a student down to see him and then buy him, and years later, when that person was ready to sell him, recommended him to a friend who was shopping for a husband horse. In 2010, T, Nollind, Nevada and I went trail riding with Jack in the Smithers area of BC where his new people had moved. By then he was in his mid-twenties but still rocking it on the trail.

Jack in the lead, where he most liked to be.

Nevada’s name was Snowflake when they bought him, usually just called “Flake” for short. I won’t comment on whether or not Flake suits him, but Nollind didn’t think so. Since we horses are more inclined to come for the sound of oats in a bucket or maybe a whistle with a bucket of oats to follow, name changes aren’t really a big deal.

T and Nollind had learned some Spanish while travelling in Central America so started searching for a good Spanish name that was a translation of something snowy, to keep the spirit of his existing name. When they landed on Nevada, Spanish for snowfall, they’d found it. Little did they know they’d be spending quite a lot of time in Nevada a decade down the road.

Lunch break on the trail.

Somewhere along the way, he earned the nickname Spot, sometimes Big Spot, which is how I tend to think of him. He’s the biggest horse in the herd and has spots. I like things that make sense.

Spot was Nollind’s mountain horse for about ten years, until he was in his early twenties, and he really excelled in his trail boss role. Strong, brave, and setting a good pace, I couldn’t have asked for a better leader when I started out on the trails as a youngster.

My first big, multi-horse trail ride with my trusted leader as coach.

When he began to show signs of hind end challenges on steep hills, Nollind retired him and started riding Rosa. On Spot’s last trip to the Rockies, he was ponied behind me without a rider and that didn’t sit with him too well. On one narrow, downhill trail where the hill rose and dropped steeply on each side, he climbed the bank and went around me, accustomed to his front-of-the-ride position.

There was another creek stop that wasn’t this peaceful, but that’s for a future “adventures on the trail” post.

So, the big guy is thirty this year, which puts him on the back edge of the life expectancy range, but other than some of his incisors being worn down to nearly the gums, and a bit of a hitch in his backend, he’s in great shape. He needs a little extra feed to keep him in good condition through the winter months, but he keeps up with the rest of us just fine. Maybe he’ll find himself in the record books with the horses mentioned earlier. Nevada, you up for another twenty or thirty years?

How many?

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….

Spot Check

It’s been a year since I told you about Nevada’s (aka Spot’s) near-death experience of late last summer. You’ve seen him in the photos, so you’ve probably surmised he’s still around, but I thought I should give you an update on the old boy’s condition.

In short … he’s awesome, amazing, and very fit for an almost 29-year-old horse. We had more pasture time than usual this summer and, although it resulted in some extra heft on both Rosa and me, it was great for Nevada. He flourished with the combination of fresh food and plenty of exercise. T arranged things so that we had to do a lot of walking, and movement is so important to horse health. Our whole system is designed to walk and eat, walk and eat, repeat ad infinitum.

Our fall pasture at the back of the property. Oh, those idyllic autumn days.

Since last September, Spot had only the one health incident that I told you about in my Winter Whoas blog in February. Although that one got serious enough for the vet to be called, I think it would have passed on its own, and Spot will be more careful about complaining of a belly ache in future. Nobody wants a gratuitous colic tubing for a little gas.

All summer, Spot was relegated to pasture horse with the rest of us, only getting a cup of oats once a week with some probiotic in it, just as a little insurance. But, as the weather has grown colder and the pasture less robust, he has been going in every afternoon for grain and alfalfa cubes and some extra hay. He looks great but T wants to make sure he maintains his weight going into winter.

Enjoying a mostly indoor snack on a wet, wintry day. Chico likes to keep things tidy.

The rest of us don’t need any extra, there’s still no sign of our ribs following the summer of grazing, but T always throws us a little loose hay while Nevada enjoys his buffet. She doesn’t like to play favourites, even when the favourite is as old as Spot. But really, I don’t mind. One day I’ll be the old guy needing special treatment.

Me sporting my ready-for-winter weight and coat.

I’m seeing more of a hitch in Nevada’s backend since the weather turned colder and I know T has noticed it too. I think it’s a combination of old bones not liking the cold and less moving around when there’s snow and ice to navigate. I’m sure T’s started adding supplements to his winter ration and she was measuring him up for a new blanket last week. He’s adequately woolly, but he does feel the cold more than he used to, especially on those high windchill days, and a blanket does help him out in those conditions. If it fit him, I’d be happy to loan him mine, but there’s a rather significant size difference. He’d look like he was wearing his little brother’s jacket.

Snow on the ground means hay in the feeders!

So that’s the good news from the farm. I’d best get back to my pile of hay before one of the girls gobbles it up!