Spring is around the corner! While we're still in winter I thought I'd hit upon the subject of: Horse attitude, for better or worse.
Winter is a hard time for horses... at least most of the time. You might be fortunate enough to have an easy keeper who seems to get fat in the winter on air, or maybe you've got one that you feed and feed and they still look like a rail. Either way, what you're feeding can have an effect on their attitude.
Case in point: Cookie. This winter has been harsher than the previous. She's generally an easy keeper, however this year because of 2 main factors, she's actually lost some weight. 1 last years, last cut hay was long and stemmy. It was not a good year for hay growers. The rain was great, but too much, too long meant they couldn't cut when they needed to. The second reason it was much colder this winter than last year. Another reason, I didn't start feeding Alfalfa cubes soon enough.
So this winter, I opted to "help" Cookie out a bit by adding some sweet feed to her mix of goop. She gets: 1 lb of Alfalfa cubes, 1/2 lb of sweet feed, 1 scoop of multi-vitamins, 1 scoop of milled flax seed, 1/4 cup of pure vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon of DE for breakfast. For dinner she gets 1 lb of Alfalfa cubes, 1/2 lb of sweet feed, 1/4 cup of pure vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon of DE. The DE I'll drop off at the end of February and take a fecal sample in to the Vet at the end of March. The rest I'll drop when the ground temps remain close to 50 degrees. When the temps are higher, she won't need that extra protein to stay warm.
Now here's the interesting part and where it can get a little controversial. Some experts, including Vets will say: Neither alfalfa or sweet feed will make a horse "hot", while others say it will. I'm here to tell you it's true. It may not affect other horses the same way, and I can't guarantee you that feed is the reason for your horses mis-behavior, however I can tell you it does affect them one way or another.
Here's the deal... Protein is energy. Sugar is energy. The difference is how your horse utilizes the 2. Maybe your horse has come up lame and you can't figure out why. It could be the sugar in the sweet feed is causing laminitis or founder. Any feed with molasses in it has the potential to cause these 2 diseases. Maybe your horse has started having behavioral issues, like spooking, or being jumpy when they weren't before. Maybe they seem jacked up and raring to go with no signs of being that sweet calm horse you knew before winter and the feed came along. Chances are it's your feed causing these issues.
Horses need 2 basic ingredients to survive and do well. Good quality hay and fresh water, period. Considering I am not able to get good quality hay, I have (in good judgment for my horse) to make that up somewhere. I do this by giving her wetted Alfalfa cubes. Alfalfa is high in protein which helps her to maintain body heat during cold weather. This high protein is high energy and in the hind gut means heat. She only gets 2 lbs per day by my choice. The reason for this is because if she gets too much she'll have diarrhea. A lesson learned by trial and error. The added bonus of getting Cookie to drink warm water comes with adding a handful of sweet feed to 2+ gallons of warm water. She'll drink it down to get to the sweet feed thus improving hydration and warding off colic.
I'll give you an example of how feeds can affect your horse;
Saturday the trimmer was coming by to trim Cookies hooves. I figured I would help her out and pick Cookies feet and clean off some of the mud. Then we went for a short walk in hand to the lot down the street. I figured she could walk through the damp grass and really get her feet clean. When we got to the lot, the rodeo commenced. Cookie took off in a head throwing, half rearing, half bucking trot in a circle around me. I stopped her, made her stand there a moment to get her attention on me. Then we began again and this time she was snorting and squealing along with all the acrobatics. I stopped her again and this time we walked back home. I took her to her paddock, put the lunge line on her and let her run out that excess energy. She did her rodeo moves at a canter in both directions. I just let her act the fool until the trimmer showed up. When Cookie stood still on the whoa command, I knew it was safe for the trimmer to do her job. Now Cookie could have gone around longer on the lunge and it would have helped her to expel that extra energy better, but I didn't want to waste time with the trimmer. Cookie was feeling good, full of herself and wound up tight with energy.
So consider this with your horse the next time you go to work with them or ride. I know what caused this behavior right away because she acted similar last winter with just the alfalfa cubes. She just happened to be extra hyper due to the sweet feed.
Always check with your Vet before adding or subtracting anything from your horses diet and any changes you make, spread them out over a period of a week or 2 so you don't run the risk of stomach upset and colic.
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