Everyone makes mistakes. And it’s no use fretting over shoulda-woulda-couldas; the problem has been dealt with and everything will be all right. Still, I wish I’d spoken up more firmly, insisted, taken a stand, pointed-out the increasingly obvious: Qrac was losing weight. But my lack of confidence, my fear of confrontation, my tendency to believe that other people usually know better kept me from doing so. Consequently, I’ve been worried sick, losing sleep, mentally self-flagellating. I’m feeling slightly better now that everything has been hauled out into the open and discussed, and that my horse is beginning to look better.
Qrac hadn’t been getting enough food, but I didn’t know it.
You see, Qrac was a tad chubby when I bought him in April this year. He was also a little full of himself when he first arrived at the initial, temporary yard, so my trainer cut two litres of grain from his feed, taking him from six to four. He still got plenty of good quality hay, and was doing fine, with plenty of energy yet a lot less mischief.
After five weeks, feeling relatively secure with him, I moved him to the yard where my other horse, Kwintus, is now enjoying his retirement. The owner of the stables put Qrac on the minimum food ration, claiming her feed is very high energy compared to “regular” feed, and since he was new and young and pretty fiery, this was the best way to go for the first few days. I figured she knew best, and didn’t argue.
What I didn’t realize it that she was feeding him an amount of food normally given to horses at rest. Also, she never put it up, at least not until ten days ago, when she finally admitted that Qrac’s ribs were seriously showing, his hip bones starting to protrude, and that his overall appearance was pretty poor.
What upsets me is that I’d told the owner of the stables quite a few times that Qrac was getting thin, but she didn’t want to up his grain, claiming he had plenty for the amount of work he was doing (I’m a dressage rider). We weighed him, and he was ok, just over 500 kilos, but I still figured he was about 20 kilos under his ideal weight. She agreed to give him an extra kilo of hay per day, but wouldn’t add more grain, assuring me it would just heat him up, make him more difficult to control.
Since Qrac had plenty of energy and was working well, I didn’t argue. Also, when my trainer came to give me my weekly lesson, she couldn’t see his ribs as they were covered by the saddle and the saddle blanket.
But I couldn’t help thinking that, considering the amount of work Qrac was doing, he should have been building muscle. This wasn’t happening. And when I weighed him a month later, he’d lost close to 30 kilos. That’s a lot of weight! Clearly, the poor guy had been burning his muscle reserves.
I called the vet and told him what has happening, asking him whether the fact that Qrac was losing weight might have something to do with the chemical castration (which is what the owner of the stable claimed). The vet assured me that all the horses he’d treated had always put on weight, and asked me to find out exactly what Qrac was eating, to get it all down on paper so he could take a look at it two days later when he came to give my horse his second chemical castration shot. This was when I discovered Qrac was still on an amount of food for a horse at rest. Stunned, I immediately asked the owner of my yard to up his grain to an amount suited to a normal working sports-horse.
When the vet came, we did a blood test to rule out any other problems. He also asked when the horse had last been wormed, which, as far as I know, was back in April, at the stables where he’d been temporarily, but I couldn’t be sure. He gave me some worming paste, and told us to add soy meal and flax meal to his diet to up his protein intake as, in his opinion, despite the alfalfa Qrac was receiving, his feed didn’t contain enough. He also prescribed a daily dose of vitamin C to boost Qrac’s immune system. And he gave my horse his second chemical castration injection.
The next two days were horrendous. Qrac had an even stronger reaction to the chemical castration shot than the first time (chemical castration is two injections, a month apart). He ran a very high fever, and clearly felt awful. Thankfully, his temperature went down slightly twenty-four hours later, and finally disappeared on day three. Riddled with guilt and worried sick, I walked him in hand for a few days, and when he looked well enough, saddled him up and took him for a quiet hack. He seemed fine, so the next day we did some light work in the arena.
Now, with the recent addition of extra protein to his diet, and ten days after his food has been upped, Qrac is beginning to fill out again. His coat is shiny, his ribs less obvious. He looks better. Yesterday evening, after walking him for half an hour, I headed down to the arena and worked him for about half an hour. He was fantastic, the best he’s ever been outside of a lesson with my trainer. He seemed more settled, more focused, more stable in his tempo, far less “scatty”. I was so relieved.
I don’t know why the owner of my stables kept Qrac on such a low diet for all those weeks. I don’t know why she didn’t notice Qrac’s weight loss, or listen to me when I told her he was getting thin. I blame myself for not putting my foot down, for being such a pushover, for letting my horse down. Assertiveness has never come easy to me, and I’ve always been aware that it’s something I need to work on. This awful episode with Qrac has given me one more reason.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Do you supplement your horses with soy or flax? Have they responded well to it, or has it caused digestive problems (such as colic)? Do you prefer to feed alfalfa? Have you ever called on a nutritionist to help you determine what to feed your horse? Thank you for your feedback.