Give a horse what he needs and he will give you his heart in return.
In last week's post I branched off my underlying theme (Natural horsemanship or Conventional –which training style is more effective?) in order to address a second, closely related issue: What causes such variable results within a given training method? I felt the need to answer this first, in order that riders could know why they might be having trouble obtaining satisfactory results with their current training method, and why finding a new training style might not remedy their situation.
In that post we discussed one of the greatest factors, the basis from which the training method was applied (you can read the full scoop Here).
Today I want to address a second major aspect that can have a dramatic affect on the results you might achieve with any one training style: Diet.
A horse can have the best trainer in the world and it won't make an ounce of difference to how well the horse behaves under saddle if the horse is undernourished or too richly fed. Just as an underfed horse will find it difficult to focus on your cues and provide the energy necessary for work under saddle, so will a horse with too rich a diet struggle to keep its attention on you when he carries a significant amount of excess weight and/or energy (Note: A horse can have much too rich a diet even if it does not show it in excess weight). Even worse, these would only be minor symptoms of a much greater consequence. When left uncorrected, improper diet will also lead to severe long-term health and behavioral problems in addition to general suffering on the horse's part.
Tailoring your horse's diet to match the level of exercise he receives will not only prevent these health issues but significantly improve your horse's performance and extend his working career. One of the biggest benefits of proper diet, though, is that it will prevent many illnesses and health problems that would result in large vet bills.
But how can you know if your horse has an inadequate diet? Where would you begin? A good starting place is to find out his body-condition score, using a chart similar to the ones found Here and Here. If you find that he is under-fed or overweight but are unsure how to go about tailoring his diet to remedy this, or simply want more information on horse nutrition, a good place to start is at this website. If in doubt, seek the advice of your veterinarian or a seasoned horseman whose opinion you trust.
Besides body condition there are several other signs you can look for that may indicate improper diet. A horse with inadequate nutrition will likely have poor hoof quality with cracked or broken hooves, or the hoof wall may be soft to the touch. Another good indicator is his coat. Horses that do not receive proper nutrients will also get a rough, dull coat, and may eventually develop patches of missing hair, flaking skin, and sores.
On the flip side of this, one of the best indicators of a horse receiving proper nutrition is an animal whose coat is soft and shiny and whose skin is supple and smooth. His eyes will be bright and clear, he will be attentive to his surroundings, and he will have an improved focus and work ethic under saddle.
Another point to consider is the manner in which a horse is fed. This can also have a great affect on their well-being. While feeding at ground level is natural and proves relaxing, it also stretches and strengthens the muscles along their topline. Feeding high off the ground, however, such as in a hay rack or net is not only unnatural, but it forces them to hollow their back and feed in such a way that fills their eyes and nostrils with dust and particles. This leads to health problems as well as sculpts the incorrect neck muscles required for a proper frame and headset while under saddle. When fed long term, it can cause your horse to develop a ewe-neck and sway back, as well as eye, respiratory, and soundness problems, which will negatively affect proper collection, extension, and vigorous exercise under saddle.
Many people use hay racks or nets because they reduce feed waste and prevent their horse from ingesting the sand or worms that come with feeding on the ground, but similar alternatives such as feeding in a shallow pan, low hay trough, or similar feeding bin can give you the same advantages minus the disadvantages that come from feeding high off the ground.
Other aspects of the horse's care, such as the environment in which the he lives and the tack with which he is trained also carry a great influence on his trainability and general well-being, but these I will focus on in my next post.
For further reading on horse nutrition and choosing equine feeds, this website has a very thorough glossary of helpful articles. Furthering your knowledge in this subject is very valuable for owners and riders, as it will give you a much greater understanding of how it effects the way your horse behaves or performs the way he does in hand and under saddle. This knowledge will improve your training skills because you will have a glimpse of what the root of a certain issue is, and you will know how to remedy some of these issues through his diet.
Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you!
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