by Laura Crum
Kate’s comment on my last post got me thinking about how I keep horses and why I do it the way I do. She referenced the way that all one’s time can be taken up with chores, and I have so been there and am not wanting to go there again. Thus, when I planned my horse set up, I purposely planned it so that I would have the minimum amount of necessary daily chores. My routines with my horses are also based on this premise. At this point some of you may be wondering just how I manage this, and I’m perfectly willing to explain. I did it by parting company with some of the most revered and time honored thinking about horse care that exists.
I’m probably going to step on a few toes with this post, so I’m going to say first off that the things I’m about to tell you are just the things that have worked for me. I’m not saying they’ll work for everyone, or that those who do differently or think differently are wrong. And I welcome hearing what you think, especially if you disagree.
What I want to do today is talk about various “myths”—things that most everyone in the horse world seems to think are truths, which I have not found to be true at all. Some of you are going to think I am a lousy horseman after reading this post, so I want to point out that despite my practices, which you may not agree with, I have an excellent track record when it comes to having sound, healthy horses. Several of my horses have been sound in their thirties. All of the saddle horses in my barn right now are sound and healthy—two in their twenties, two in their teens, one six years old. So what I’m doing isn’t working that badly.
OK, here we go. Myth number one: a clean, freshly bedded stall is a good place for a horse to live. Uhmmm, I so disagree with this. I never, ever keep my horses in stalls unless they need the confinement and shelter due to injury or illness. All my horses live 24/7 in large turned out spaces where they can run, buck and play at their own choice. The older horses who are not ridden live in big pastures where they can graze. I do realize that my climate is condusive to this and some horses (like lopinon4’s horse) actually prefer stalls. But overall, horses are much healthier, sounder and better behaved living turned out in areas where they can exercise themselves. This is also much easier for the horseman, who does not have the daily stall cleaning chore. Its win/win.
Myth number two: horses need their feet picked out regularly. Yes, I used to believe this. Like everybody else, I picked those feet every time I rode. Then I noticed that my friend and boarder never picked feet. I mean never..unless his horse had a problem. His horses thrived. They did not develop thrush or other problems any more often than my horses. They were all sound all the time. Being a lazy person, I gave this system a try. Guess what? Fifteen years later, and I have had almost no problems related to the feet. I check in with my farrier every time he comes and ask how each horse’s feet look. Perfectly healthy. No thrush, all sound. I have very light sandy ground and few rocks, and, again, I’m not saying this would work for everyone. I think the fact that my horses move around a lot helps my system work. It might not work on a stalled horse. But it works for me. If I am riding in heavy ground and I notice a ball of clay-y muck forming under the hoof, I pick those feet. If a horse limps at all, no matter how slightly, the first thing I do is pick the feet. On the rare cases where I have a horse who is developing a touch of thrush or is sorefooted for any reasons, I pick those feet several times a day; I apply appropriate product. I monitor closely. When the horse’s foot is healthy and he is not the least bit sorefooted, I go back to benign non-picking. I have had only two horses on my place develope a mild bout of thrush in fifteen years of steady horsekeeping here. Both cases cleared up easily and did not recur. I know a lot of people will not agree with this, but in my experience, no, horses do not need their feet picked out regularly, contrary to what we’ve all been told.
Myth number three: horses need to be groomed every day. No, they don’t. Horses need to be looked at every day by a competent horseman who can tell if a horse is off in any way. If a horse does not look just right, said horseman needs (among other things) to run his hand all over that horse, including down the legs and under the belly and places where an injury can hide. But, unless the horse is having skin problems of some kind or is being saddled (in which case one must at least groom the saddle and cinch area), grooming is not a necessity.
Myth number four: Horse poop needs to be picked up every day. Bologne. If you keep a horse in a stall or a small pen, you need to clean it up regularly or it will be a smelly muckhole, yes. But I don’t believe in keeping horses in such a confined situation, anyway. If you keep a horse in a big turnout (mine average 100 by 100) you can clean it with a tractor once or twice a year, as I do, and no problems are likely to result. I can attest to this. It is a huge time saver. We pile the poop by tractor,compost it,and haul it up to fetilize our vegetable garden. The horses all have plenty of clean poop free ground to stand on and/or lie down on all year round. We’re all happy. Win/win. (And when I did have to keep Henry in a stall for three months post colic surgery, I cleaned that stall three times a day—I am not a slouch about cleaning up when it counts—I just know when it counts and when it doesn’t.)
Myth number five: Horses need grain. Some horses doing some jobs may need grain. Your average riding horse does not. Every single horse I have except the very old ones who need equine senior, do fine on a well chosen hay ration. Team roping horses, young horses in training, trail horses used for two to three hour rides included. No horse I have had in the last twenty years has needed grain on a regular basis. All my horses are slick and healthy with plenty of energy. They are all QH types, and I realize that other breeds may be different, but it is totally a myth that all horses need grain. Not feeding grain rations saves time and money. My feeding routine is really simple—a flake of hay to each horse. The fatter horses get a light flake, thinner horses get a heavy flake. One thing I am fanatic about is monitoring weight. I run my hands over every horse at least a couple of times a week and feel for slight changes in either direction (which are much easier to feel than see). The easiest rule of thumb is that one should be able to feel but not see ribs. If I can see even the faintest shadow of a rib, feed is increased. If I can’t easily feel those ribs, feed is decreased. I think that keeping a horse at the proper weight is vital to health and soundness. Regular worming is essential.
Myth number six—Horses need shoes. We could argue this one all day—and some folks do. But my experience has been that most horses can go barefoot and stay sound for medium riding on good ground. I have shod plenty of horses in my life, and there are situations when I would shoe certain types of horses again. However, I am far more likely to give a horse a chance at being barefoot now (thanks Mrs Mom) and all of the horses in my barn, including my boarders, including the competitive team roping horses, are barefoot, sound riding horses today. This saves a little time and a lot of money.
There you go—six things that many horseman think are true that I have found to be myths. Debunking these myths has saved me much time and money and I don’t believe my horses are any the worse for my practices. As I said, you may now think me a lousy horseman, and I will admit straight up that a lot of my choices are made because I simply do not have time to do all these things for all the horses I own. But my horses are healthy, sound and happy—they are all quite well behaved riding horses. So I must be doing something right, no?
Now, here’s my list of horse care stuff that I do prioritize. This is the stuff I think is truly important. All my horses get looked at carefully every day by someone knowledgable. Problems of any kind are addressed instantly. Thus the minor eye injury is healed, the slight lameness does not progress, the little colic (usually) does not turn into a big colic, the little swelling is diagnosed and treated before it turns into a big problem. My horses eat clean fresh hay (I’m fanatic about good quality hay), usually a grass hay blend, and if they do not have pasture, they are fed twice a day at minimum—mostly its three times a day. They are wormed and trimmed regularly. When possible, they go barefoot (they are all barefoot now). They have constant access to fresh water. If they are riding horses—they are not used day after day with no rest—they get plenty of days off. If they are kept in corrals, I try to turn them out to graze several days a week. They all live in corrals that are big enough for them to run and buck and play, and they can socialize over the fences. The fences are pipe corral panels, sturdy and safe, and worth every penny. The five saddle horses all look pretty darn happy and are always glad to see me and easy to catch. They are well behaved riding horses, even after plenty of time off. I think they like their lives. I enjoy caring for them, and even though I have five here at home and five retirees in the nearby pasture, the time burden is not too great, even with a life that is filled with other activities. Win/win.
OK, those are my horse keeping tips. Anybody have any other insights to share?