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My horse is a hard keeper. He is a very picky eater and won’t eat his feed. Help!

“I have an 8 yr old that is such a hard keeper. I’ve tried everything and nothing works, he is a very picky eater and doesn’t like to eat his feed. I am currently feeding him blue bonnet feed and he is on uguard, someone please help.”-Kaitlyn J.

A horse that won’t ‘eat like a horse’ is a concern. When I was in college and a horse showed symptoms of illness such as a fever, or snotty nose one of the strongest indicators of the degree of the illness, and the first question the vet would ask, was ‘is he still eating’? A horse with a lack of appetite has a strong correlation with not feeling well. For this reason horsemen and vets usually look for physical causes first.

Physical causes can include problems with the horses teeth, ulcers or other digestive pain. Even if the horse has had it teeth floated yearly I would still encourage you to get a second opinion. A friend of mine bought a five year old mare from a professional who assured them the mare was up to date on her dental work. When our equine dentist took a look he found that, yes, work had been done…but the previous ‘dental professional’ had mistakenly left fragments of a wolf tooth during an extraction. As a result the mares mouth had never healed properly. He was able to repair the damage and the mare had a remarkable improvement in her overall attitude. I encourage second opinions.Lack of appetite in a horse can be caused by stress,%0Aulcers, dental needs, or other digestive pain

Ulcers and other digestive issues can be a nightmare to detect. This is an area where getting your vet involved is a must. In the past, vets would recommend ‘scoping’ a horse to look for ulcers but many now say that it is possible to have ulcers in areas of the digestive tract where the cameras can’t reach. Because of this I have heard vets recommend treating the horse for ulcers and using the improvement, or lack of improvement, as part of the diagnoses. This is something that you should discuss with your vet because they will have the most accurate and up to date information and can tell you which treatment is right for your horse.

Mental stress can also manifest itself with physical symptoms. If a horse has changed living situations, had a buddy die or leave, or anything that they see as stress they may change their eating habits. Try looking at your horses situation through his eyes to find a hidden cause of stress. I have seen horses lower their stress levels after receiving ground work training which then improved their mental health even during general life.

I feed a low volume ration balancer because I have also found that some horses don’t want to eat large volumes of concentrate. The one I use is made by Buckeye Nutrition and it is called Gro N Win. I like it because it meets all of the horses vitamin and mineral requirements while feeding a low volume. Depending on my horses weight, age and use I am feeding between one pound to 2.5 pounds of this ration balancer per day. I have looked at other feeds and to receive the same nutrients the same horse would need to eat 8-10 pounds per day. I have had horses that have shown improved interest in grain when there was less of it to consume and I like knowing they are getting everything they need.

This last one may seem counter-productive but exercise often improves a horses appetite. Yesterday we took our horses for a long trail ride and last night they ate half-again their normal amount of the free choice hay they have hanging in hay bags. A few months ago when I took Al, the Thoroughbred, from New Vocations for a short time one of the things I observed before leaving their facility was that he had a habit of not finishing his grain. I questioned them and they said that he tended to eat more on the days he was worked. After a few days of adjusting to life with me Al’s appetite steadily increased and leaving grain behind was a thing of the past. He even adjusted to the fat supplement that I gradually added.

There are other ways to improve a horses appetite that may be unique to each horse. I once had a horse that would leave grain behind but if turned out in a group to eat they took it as a challenge and finished everything. Other horses find group feeding stressful and will eat less under pressure. With our current travel I have noticed that the horses prefer to eat the new hay…always the new hay. If we are carrying one type and start to switch over to another batch they pick out the new first. It doesn’t matter if the ‘new’ is a 1st cutting or second cutting or if the ‘new’ is a step up or a step down from what they have been eating…the only thing that stays the same is that it is new. This leads me to think that maybe they are enjoying the changes, like trying a new restaurant can be refreshing. When I think about it though I have seen horses in a pasture go around and pick one type of grass…all the clover first, then the timothy so maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise.

 

 

 
10 Comments

Posted by on January 5, 2015 in Life, Members Question

 

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I love the idea of a big open barn or run in for shelter but how do you feed if they chase each other?

During the huge response to yesterdays blog titled Where do you live and what shelter do your horses have? Cindy asked the following question.

“I love the idea of a big open barn or run in for shelter but how do you feed? I have a piggie who will chase the others off if I try to feed together. Having the stalls lets me separate them.”-Cindy

I have done several things in this situation but I would also love to hear how others have handled this.

When I have had horses turned out I tried to put them in similar groups. I often had two pastures, one for the ‘easy’ keepers and one for the young and growing who required more calories. In those pastures I often fed different types of hay due to the calorie needs and also different amounts of ration balancer (a type of grain) or fat supplement if needed.Feeding horses with similar needs together makes things easier.

I fed the horses far enough apart that it was not very effective for the horses to move each other. If fed too close together one horse could ‘guard’ more than one feed pile but with more distance they would maybe switch once or twice but frequent switching wasn’t worth it. On the occasion that one horse was a real trouble maker we have also stood and guarded the horses that were being pushed during the grain feeding time, which is the only time this was an issue. I feed a low volume ration balancer so standing guard doesn’t take that long.

Another thing I have done is to tie the horse that pushed the others during feeding time. While tied I could then do other chores such as cleaning and then untie them when the feeding time is over. Most of our horses have free choice hay and share it well. The few easy keepers we have had were feed together and if they tried to guard the hay we just spread it out further…and they got more exercise moving around.

Unfortunately, I have seen horses in situations where people have ‘let them work it out’ and the ‘low’ horse in the pecking order didn’t get enough to eat. It is especially easy for people to over look this during the winter when the horses are very fuzzy and the human doesn’t realize how much weight the horse may be losing. Be sure to run your hands over the horses frequently to feel, rather than see, what their weight is under all that hair.

How would you answer Cindy’s question? Do you have one horse that will chase others? How did you handle it?

 
34 Comments

Posted by on January 4, 2015 in Life, Members Question

 

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What is your opinion about hand feeding treats to horses? Jac Review Week

“Hi Stacy,  In the Jac videos- Episode 9-you talked about the youthful stallion drive toward dominance and biting.  What is your opinion about hand feeding treats to horses?  I’ve seen other opinions stating that one should never hand feed because it puts us submissive to the horses while others disagree.  I’ve got 9 horses whose ages range from 24 to yearlings.  Two of my three yearlings like to try to get in my bubble to get at the treats, so I’m working on this personal space issue.  Interestingly, the two are stallions while the third more respectful youngster is a mare.  What’s your opinion on treat feeding?  (PS  The other six in the herd take treats respectfully, although we have a special needs gelding who suffered brain damage due to an accident before we got him so care is needed feeding him because he’s simply uncoordinated, even with his mouth!)”-Joan J.

I am not opposed to feeding treats to horses but I do set rules and conditions. Over the years I have made some observations that I turned into general rules that I use with my horses.

#1- You can’t buy love…so don’t try to with treats.

I want my horses to engage with me, respect me and, yes, even love me but I don’t use treats to get this behavior. In fact, I don’t use treats at all until the horse is already respecting me. As a general rule I don’t give treats to a horse until they are pretty well trained both on the ground and under saddle. The age of the horse really isn’t the key here, but rather the amount of training time. Personally, it is rare for me to feed treats to a horse that I have had in training for less than a year. I make exceptions to this occasionally based on the horses previous experience and individual personality but I would rather delay giving treats than start too early.

#2- Treats can be a distraction and get in the way of the relationshipRoxy loved peppermints

One reason I wait to give treats is because it is possible for horses to become ‘all about the treats.’ If the horse becomes so focused on ‘do I get a treat, now? now? now?’ then it is a good sign that the treat is becoming a distraction. If relationship is what you are trying to build then you need to ask yourself if the horse is thinking about you…or the treat. If the answer is the treat then the relationship will suffer. Have you ever seen a child who was given more and more toys? Or expected a toy every time a parent returned home? The giver may have generated interest in the child through buying stuff…but usually with a cost to the relationship.

#3- The horses that demand treats…don’t get them.

If a horse is searching the human for treats then it is likely that treat giving has gone too far. Too many horses cross the line from curious to demanding. This is usually the stage where biting begins to occur. Not all horses that are given treats progress to this stage but some do. Other horses can eat treats for years and never become pushy or demanding while others seem to become a problem after a short time. This is because the issue isn’t really the treat…it is the individual nature of each horse coming out. The nature of the horse combined with the leadership of the handler is TESTED when treats are given.

#4-Treats can be used for a reward if respect is gained and not lost.

There are horses out there that benefit greatly from receiving treats. Ironically these horses often don’t want treats. I am specifically talking about horses that have been trained with methods that discourage the horse from expressing themselves. I wrote an entire article about retraining these ‘robotic’ horses (click here) but I didn’t go into detail about using treats. I use treats with these horses specifically because it breaks the structure of the way they have been handled by humans in the past. The treats give these horses the hope that humans may have more to offer them than work alone. In essence the treat is used to enhance the mood…a bit like the difference between a candlelight dinner vs florescent lighting.

When Roxy was on the Ellen show they bought her a bucket full of these treats...she was one happy pony! Just after the show went off air she dumped the entire bucket on the floor in the studio to the amusement of the entire audience:)

When Roxy was on the Ellen show they bought her a bucket full of these treats…she was one happy pony! Just after the show went off air she dumped the entire bucket on the floor in the studio to the amusement of the entire audience:)

If I had to sum up my strongest reason for using treats it would be that it can be fun for both the horse and the rider. I fed Roxy countless treats while hanging out or waiting around for our name to be called to show. I didn’t give her any treats early in training. I never used them directly as a reward for a specific maneuver; for example I DID NOT ask her to spin and then give her a treat. I DID use them as we were waiting to show, sometimes for an hour, to keep ourselves entertained. We had both worked hard and then we both enjoyed a peppermint while waiting.

To sum it all up and give you the short answer: I do feed treats to horses…but only if they are respectful.

 
 

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What is the most effective fly spray for horses out there right now?

“Hey Stacy. How about a poll? What is the most effective fly spray out there right now? Anyone got a special mix they are using? I need to control/repel mosquitoes, horn flies, deer flies, and the occasional horse fly.”-Carla V.

How about it? What do you use to control flies around your horses? What flies are a problem for you?

Do you use feed through or spray on or both?

Mud: the all natural fly repellent.

Mud: the all natural fly repellent.

Water based? Oil based? All natural?

Please, leave a comment and help us all learn what you use and why.

Feel free to use product names and what you think the product works best for. Do you like it because it stays on a long time or because it controls mosquitoes? Details please!

 

 
115 Comments

Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Members Question

 

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Stops with Stacy: traveling with horses; horse motels brought to you by Tekonsha

We frequently travel with our horses to far off places. We have trailered horses from Maine to California, Florida, Texas, Nebraska, several times into Canada to name a few.

To keep both horses and humans safe, on long trips we stop for the night. Recently, I have made several trips between Texas and Ohio. The drive takes about 20 hours which I break into a two day trip.

The nice thing about traveling the same route is that it is possible to become familiar with certain amenities…including the horse motels along the way.

If we are traveling an unfamiliar route and need to find a place to stop we go to www.horsemotel.com. The website features a map that gives an idea of where the stable is located so I can quickly see if there is one on my route.

My favorite feature of the website is the comment area. It is a section of the website where people who have stayed at each horse motel can rate the stay and leave comments. We have been using the site for years and have stayed at dozens of the stops. By reading the descriptions and the comments all have been what was described.

Some places can handle a large number of horses and other might only take two or three. We try to call in advance to let people know we are traveling through the area and to ask if they will have room. There have been time, however, when we have hit bad weather and could not make it to our original horse motel. The original hotel has always been understanding and the new hotel, with as short as one hour for notice, has also been accommodating.

Some offer lodging for the humans also in the form of cabins, apartments or RV hook ups. If they don’t they can give valuable advice as to how far human hotels are and what they recommend; much of this is already listed at horsemotel.com.

Cindy Ruprecht and Circle R Horse Lodge has been my go-to stop between Texas and Ohio. Her place is close to the highway and her stalls are big, sturdy and clean. Like most horse motels Cindy checks the horses health papers and coggins, which I like. Stopping at Cindy’s place already has the feeling of visiting with a friend and I like knowing that she checks on the horses while I am headed to my human hotel and again in the morning before I arrive.

Many of these places could be destination trips. Some have miles of trails or easy access to other horse activities and others can offer invaluable information for things that might occur on the road. For example Cindy has a local horse trailer shop and RV store nearby if you need repairs as well as a feed dealer and tack store.

Traveling with horses is extra work but it is also a great way to get to know other horse people around the country.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Stops with Stacy, Video

 

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Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac- Episode 28- Jac goes to the All American Quarter Horse Congress 2013

Total training time- 65 hours 50 minutes

pre show warm up

Stacy warming up Jac and Newt before the Congress freestyle 2013.

Jac’s first trip to a horse show was a visit to the All American Quarter Horse Congress…during the freestyle reining.

Jac wasn’t ready to show, but I wanted to introduce people to Jac…and introduce Jac to people.

Jac’s training has progressed well to this point but I decided that it wasn’t fair to expect Jac to handle the emotional pressure of over 5,000 people in the crowd by himself, so I decided to pony (lead) him in from an older horse.

Notice at 3:35 how Jac reacts when the crowd begins to applaud. Eventually, I will have Jac trained to listen to me under pressure. The process of training a horse to handle the pressure from the crowd will involve gradually increasing the pressure on Jac in varying ways at home; example of this already exist including:

  • whipping with the stick and string
  • using a plastic bag to sack him out
  • getting Jac’s attention back when horses are running in the pasture while Stacy is riding

Notice at 9:50 when the crowd applauds again how differently Jac responds. This is because during the first occurrence of the ‘crowd pressure’ he was handled in a way he was accustomed to at home. This gave him confidence in the leader, in this case a combination of me and Newt. Eventually that leader will be the rider alone. The choice to pony is also a great example of prevention; I prevented a potential problem with creative thinking.

This was an emotional moment for me with Jac because it had such a feeling of ‘coming full circle’. You may remember from watching the pilot episode that I trained Jac’s grandmother. Then I trained Roxy and competed in the same arena I was now leading Jac in. Roxy impacted the world…but she was still my personal friend. Although the memories often bring me tears they are not often sadness anymore, instead they are gratefulness that I was able to experience the intimate knowing of a horse like Roxy, tinged with joy, wonder, and an intensity of emotions I cannot put into words.

Although nobody can replace her, Roxy’s spirit lives on, not only in our hearts, but in Jac as well.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Stacy's Video Diary: Jac, Training, Video

 

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Why the internet isn’t the best place for horse training questions and answers (Q & A’s)

This blog title seems a bit strong considering I spend many hours each week answering questions and supplyingRoxy 2006 information over the internet. The internet is a great tool but almost every question I receive involves at least two, living-breathing-thinking beings…typically a human and a horse. Some days I think giving mechanical advice would be easier; pull out the hard drive, replace the clutch…

But I have a passion for horses and the people that go with them. The difficulty is there are so many things involved in the questions that are asked; the riders experience level, the horses training level, the riders interpretation of what the horse was doing, soundness of the horse, soundness of the rider….

I try. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. I am sharing the interaction below between myself and Caryn in hopes of illustrating this point.

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“Stacy,I have a 9 year old Arabian gelding. My problem is he will not go ‘forward’ willingly and with enthusiasm.  This applies mainly to the extended trot and canter.   He is in very good condition and does not have any health or confirmation  issues.  He is a quieter temperament than most arabs I have ridden. Once he understands he accepts things very well – he is not lazy.  He is sensitive – but not.  I stopped riding with spurs about 3 years ago- didn’t make any difference. I think he is actually doing a mild version of sulling with me every time I use my legs or a dressage whip to move forward. I have tried making S’s and squares and getting his hind leg to come under and drive him out of the turn but that doesn’t seem to work for me. I have tried roll-backs but that is hard since I don’t have the forward to begin with.   I think the simple answer to his problem is ask and if I don’t get a response ask harder but I can’t get that to work as I end up feeling like I am “beating” him (which I am) and he just accepts it.  I cannot get much of a response when I use my leg or a dressage whip on him. I’ve been told he is passive-aggressive.  He is a kind horse obviously and I love him so much and am frustrated that I am unable to communicate what I want to him – I am sure if I communicated it correctly he would willing go forward with enthusiam.  One more thing – in the pasture with other hot arabs he is quietly dominant. When they run around he is usually not the one with the most fire – he is a little quieter in comparison to them.  I hope you will help me.  He is truly a beautiful animal from the inside out.”

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Caryn,

Sorry this has taken me so long to get to, maybe you have already solved this issue!

What you are describing reminds me very much of a horse I knew when I was a teenager. For several years I worked at a resort for the shipping company, Maersk, where guests would come and visit for one week at a time. Most had little to no horse experience and I would teach them the basics in the arena and on the trail. One horse, Tate, was sweet but creative. For the first year or so he was fine. I also rode him to maintain his training but….

Tate began to figure out things about the different riders. One common statement made by the new riders was “I don’t want to hurt him” when instructed to use more leg for forward motion. It was a gradual change but after about two years Tate officially wouldn’t move for someone if he sensed that they were not committed. I could jump on and he would move forward on the slightest cue, then they would mount back up and…..nothing.

The interesting part, for those of us who worked there, was thinking back over the progression. It had been slow but by the end a guest could kick him-I mean REALLY kick him and he wouldn’t move. He had learned that he could out last them. And compared to being kicked by his pasture mates the humans best kicks were a joke. And really, who wants to KICK a horse a bunch of times when on vacation.

I am sure your horse didn’t have the same exposure but it does sound like he is applying the same kind of thinking. Unfortunately the answer is that you must outlast him, be more persistent than him. I would recommend going back to some groundwork and making the ‘kiss’ means lope cue. The verbal cue is the warning and then, if he doesn’t respond, follow through without guilt. Actually use the stick and string as firmly as you can.  Don’t be surprised if he kicks out in protest at the string making it happen. Once he knows you’re serious he will respond instead of protesting. And you have been fair because you warned him.

After several days of success with the groundwork then you would move to mounted work. The difficulty will be that he is also likely to protest here.

Ride with Faith,

Stacy Westfall

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Hi Stacy,

It was fascinating reading your reply to me – especially since it has been a year since I asked this question.  I wanted to tell you what ended up happening with this horse so hopefully other horses don’t have to endure what my poor horse did.  Also I would like to add that I am an experienced rider and this is not the first horse I have had that has had to “endure” pain because vets and trainers did not “listen”.

If you re-read my question to you, you will note there were so many conflicting statements that I made.  I said he is not lazy, he is willing and learns quickly, and he is sensitive but he won’t go forward.  What I didn’t say was that I am an experienced rider. Maybe that would have changed your answer and of course you were never able to see the horse AND I had told you he had no health issues.  I should have said no apparent health issues.

Anyway – after extensive testing – ultrasounds, scoping, x-rays, belly taps, blood and liver counts – it was found that a small part of his intestine was inflamed.  Kind of like Irritable Bowl Syndrome.  As soon as we changed him to an all pelleted diet he improved daily. He immediately started moving forward and his movement was so gorgeous I had people hanging on the rail to watch him perform.

I am now struggling with feeding him as I know what makes him feel good but it is so hard on him not to be able to eat and graze like a horse is meant to.  I am experimenting with different feeders and consumed with feeding him and keeping him healthy but the bottom line is he is and always was a willing beautiful animal but his poor tummy hurt and I nor anyone else suspected it.  I feel so badly that I didn’t recognize it.

I had another phenomenal performance horse with PSSM.  Although he was with vets and trainers for 3 years no-one figured it out.  Again,  this horse had a huge heart and simply endured.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me.  I was so desperate when I wrote – and I so appreciate your answer.  I hope I don’t sound ungrateful for your response which made perfect sense.  I know you have a lot of influence and work with a lot of horses and I just had to respond to your response.

Thank you again,

Sincerely,

Caryn

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I appreciated Caryn’s response to my response because it helps me to illustrate the complexity of internet Q &A’s. One of my standard questions is, “Have you had him checked by a vet? Is he sound? Have his teeth been done?”

I should do vet and dental referrals here….because it is true. Look for the physical issues.

But on the internet I have to trust the statement, “He is in very good condition and does not have any health or confirmation  issues.  He is a quieter temperament than most arabs I have ridden.” So I gave the most obvious advice. The advice that fits the largest percentage of horses….wrong in this case…but the most fitting due to the question.Vaquerospinaltap

As Caryn’s horse illustrates, you may have looked at the physical but don’t stop looking there. If you have issues keep asking question not only of trainers but of vets. Vets are no different than doctors. Some graduated at the top of their class…50% didn’t. Some specialize in lameness, others in breeding, others in nutrition. Some make mistakes.

To some it may sound cheesy but often it comes down to trusting your gut. Back in Episode 19 and Episode 22 & 23 when Jac had issues I wasn’t afraid to have him looked at and give him time off. If you don’t have enough experience to have a ‘gut feeling’ then keep going to the experts and for your sake and your horses don’t give up until you are satisfied.

 
15 Comments

Posted by on February 28, 2014 in Members Question, Training

 

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