Friday, July 15, 2011

Trouble in Paradise

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.


Mrs. Mom said...

We all have to live and learn some. Next time (Heaven Forbid) something like this should ever happen, you CAN stand up and say NO! This is not right! FIX! IT!

To put weight back on horses on this side of the pond, I rely on beet pulp (soaked), with a good quality soy oil, free choice first cutting of a grass based hay, and mild exercise to help build muscle. I tend to break the feedings up, sometimes as many as five per day, depending on how bad off the horse is to start with.

Glad that your guy is gaining again! Now stop beating yourself up, Mom ;)

Alison said...

Ditto with the stop beating yourself up. I'd love to see some new photos of Qrac being his new, shiny self.

My horses have the opposite problem especially with the rainy summer. TOO FAT. Like Linda with Mr. Big and Mr. Chocolate, I have to keep them in small pastures until perhaps August when the grass begins to dry out.

Never a dull moment in the horse world.

Minus Pride said...

How many other horses does your barn manager take care of? As awful as it sounds, it's easy for a horse to get lost in the crowd, if the number is high. I hope that's not the case and maybe she just didn't realize it.
From what I know...Some people think protein alone is what makes a horse hot, but that's not normally true, I can tell you my horse is on a ration balancer with 30% protein, and she's a very relaxed horse. It's the starch and NSCs that typically do it. Also, some horses are deficient in Magnesium. Perhaps your barn manager was trying to cope with his "stallioness" by cutting back his protein and therefore feed...who knows! You can't blame yourself though, you realized it, didn't you?!! Horses come back from starvation all the time, and I am sure Qrac will gain his weight very quickly with such a great caring owner!!!

TBDancer said...

Had this problem about three years ago when the complete feed I'd been giving my horse was no longer available--the company stopped making it. It was 16 percent protein and I tried to replicate that with various other feeds. Horse was not exactly bony, but his coat looked terrible (I had body-clipped him, and the last of the winter hair was NOT coming out. It was also dull and lifeless). Eventually I noticed that he was losing muscle mass--the rump was starting to "sink in" on either side of his spine. Of course, I was looking at him every day, but finally the lady I ride with (also dressage lessons) said, "Your horse is not looking at all good."

So I asked the vet what he would recomment (should have done that in the FIRST place, of course). His advice: Alfalfa pellets, soybean pellets and rice bran. First two for protein, last one for fat. Took about 60 days and everything improved.

Horse is on alfalfa at night (so I'm not "riding the sugar"). Horse looks GREAT. I don't miss the complete feed (except that I have to do more scooping now ;o)

Mikey said...

It's always so hard when a horse loses weight. I totally know how you feel. With a wide variety of horses here (14) that are all ages and we do different things with, I'm always trying to look with "fresh eyes" at them. By the time you can see it, then you get upset, because you think you should have seen it earlier. But its hard to to tell when you see them all the time.
Right now we have the same problem. I switched to grass hay from alfalfa, due to the high prices lately. About half of my horses are not thriving. Ribs are showing, hip bones are starting to show. We've had to change a few things. A number of horses are supplemented with grain and have still lost weight w/o their alfalfa. So this last trip I bought alfalfa again, plus grass, and am transitioning them back. I figure it'll take a month to gain back what they've lost. I'm not happy with their condition, but I can change it. Easier to pay higher prices for alfalfa than to feed more grass that won't give them what they need.
I supplement the old horses with senior feed, soaked alfalfa pellets, plus rice bran powder. I've tried beet pulp and none of my finicky old horses will touch it.
Weight is a hard thing to find the right balance. The vet consult is always a must.

Francesca Prescott said...

Mrs Mom: I asked about beet pulp at the feed selling place (it's like a giant market for people involved in livestock) and the man told me it's used a lot in the UK but is more energetic than soy and linseed. Anyway, the vet had prescribed the soy and linseed and I figured I'd do as he said. But I've heard a lot about beet pulp.

The horses are our yard are fed eight times a day, which is long as they're getting enough!!!!!

Qrac is clearly far happier now that his tummy is full. I had another wonderful ride last night.

Thanks for your feedback :)

Francesca Prescott said...

Alison: the horse in the field with Kwintus is way too fat, don't really know why as he eats the same as Kwint...who is also starting to look too thin. Argh! Ribs showing a little. I'll have to keep an eye in him and be assertive!!

When I was riding Qrac yesterday it struck me as to how glossy his mane was looking. it's soooo thick, too! So something is working!

Francesca Prescott said...

Minus Pride: there are ten horses at my yard, so I don't think there are too many, as she's not alone to look after them. It's just one of those random unfortunate things, I guess. The grain she feeds is not particularly high protein, but I didn't know that until the vet pointed it out. Sure, Qrac was getting alfalfa, but initially not enough of that either.

Anyway, he seems to be picking up fast now, so I'm relieved. But I really have been so upset about the whole thing, plus questioning the whole chemical castration issue as well. It's been a rough couple of weeks. Thanks so much for reading and helping out!

Francesca Prescott said...

TBdancer: I know what you mean about rump sinking in; Qrac was getting like that. He still is a little sunken, but it's not quite as bad. Makes you feel so horrible, doesn't it! And that looking at him every day is also so misleading, as their weight loss just creeps up on you. I wish I could lose weight so quickly!!!

I'll have to look into rice bran, being in a French speaking environment I don't always know what the equivalent is.

How much alfalfa does he get at night? Ours get hay around 7 in the evening (most get alfalfa as well, but now Qrac has his other protein source so we took away the kilo of alfalfa he got at night), but as they are on wood shavings I sometimes think they don't have enough to get them through the night (to keep them busy when they're not sleeping).

Francesca Prescott said...

Mikey: sounds like you're having a tough time, I'm sorry to hear about that. It's a worry, isn't it, and such a guilt trip when you get it wrong.

And it's all getting so expensive; over here the lack of rain has sent prices through the roof, with farmers not knowing how the heck they are going to feed their livestock for the rest of the year. Worse, a giant reserve of hay and straw recently went up in flames somewhere in France, making the situation even worse. So sad.

Good luck with your horses, and thanks so much for your feedback.

TBDancer said...

Regarding your question about "how much alfalfa." The bales of hay are about 110-120 pounds. I pull apart a flake, which is about 3-4 inches thick. Have NO idea what it weighs, but the hay is very tightly baled. I'll have to get my bathroom scale, stand on it with and without the flake of hay to see what it weighs ;o)