Thursday, February 23, 2012

Feeding Issues

Six colics in a month? Seriously? Yes. Six horses have colicked at my stables in the past month. One horse died, as nobody noticed until it was way too late to do anything but put the poor animal out of his misery. Qrac inherited his stable, which, for him, was a good thing, as it’s far nicer, lighter and roomier than his old one. But the thought of what that poor horse went through still makes me ill.

I only moved Qrac there in November, when the place where he lived before didn’t manage to build their indoor in time for the winter. Initially, everything seemed pretty hunky dory. The indoor is fantastic; it’s huge with a great floor. The new stable block (where Qrac now lives) is fab. There’s a solarium (pay per go) which I almost always use before and after a ride as it’s great for Qrac’s muscles, not to mention lovely to be under when it’s minus a bazillion degrees. There’s a nice, friendly crowd (although, like in every stable, there’s bound to be a little meowy stuff going on). Until very recently, I always thought that the only real negative point was the fact that it’s 60 kms from where I live.

But in the past couple of weeks it’s become blatantly obvious to me that this place’s giant negative point is that the horses aren’t fed properly. Feeding times are mega irregular; for instance it seems that last night the horses only got their grain at eleven o’clock. Hay is distributed at around six in the evening, after which the horses don’t get any more until eleven o’clock the next morning, when all the mucking out is over, which means the morning feed (I’m guessing around seven, give or take an hour) is served on an empty stomach. Lunch is served between eleven forty-five and twelve-thirty, although when Qrac was in the old stable block there were a couple of times when he didn’t get lunch at all. I complained and, as far as I know, it didn’t happen again. Also, since they don’t provide bran mash, I buy my own and feed Qrac three small portions a week. I’ve never been at a stable where bran mash wasn’t provided on a weekly basis, but maybe I’ve been spoiled. I don’t know.

The crazy thing is that, from what I’ve been told, whenever anyone has pointed out that horses need regular feeding hours to cater to their delicate stomachs, they’ve been blown off. Like, yeah yeah yeah, whatever. Insist a little too vehemently and you’re apparently given an earful. But in the last few days, when yet another horse developed a colic, people are getting worried. I’m very worried. Today, there was talk of calling a meeting and confronting the owners, as people who have been there for a long period of time say there’s no way anything will change unless everyone comes together as a group, and that, even then, chances are there will just be angry words exchanged, lots of eye rolling and maybe a slight improvement for a couple of days. Hmmmm.... Another worrisome issue for me is that nobody checks on the horses in the late evening to make sure everyone is alright. If someone did, the previous occupant of Qrac’s current stable might still be alive…

As you can imagine, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do. Qrac means the world to me and the idea of him being in danger because of ignorance/laziness/negligence/whatever really freaks me out. I’m going to drive up to look at another place closer to where I live early next week, since the yard where I’d like to end up still has no vacancies, and I’ve been told my chances of getting Qrac in there before next year are slim to none.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? What would you do? Should I sit tight, join in with "pestering" the owners, feed bran mash and hope for the best until I can get Qrac into the stable of my choice? I know that no place will be perfect, that there will be issues in every single yard, but, as far as I’m concerned, good quality food fed at regular hours is the foundation of horse care. Maybe things will change if enough people speak up. Maybe…


Laura Crum said...

Oh Francesca, I am so sorry to hear this. It had sounded like Qrac's new stable was great. I share your concern--feeding on a fairly regular schedule is important. I think not letting horses go too long between feedings is very important--and it certainly sounds like the lack of a good feeding routine is causing problems. I'm not sure what I'd do--probably look for a new stable closer to home. Then you could check on him yourself more often. Are there any private places that might accept you as a single boarder? I board one horse for my friend and it works well for both of us.

Anonymous said...

I have a similar predicament every summer. The only boarding facility in my town is known for feeding poor to bad quality hay on more than one occasion. Finding moldy hay at least once a season in your horse's feed is not unusual. Our favorite was the year the owners got hay off an interstate after a major car accident which included the trailer of hay. I believe the stable nearly revolted when one horse coliced and we were all finding asphalt and broken bits of glass at the bottom of our horses feeders. They are the only boarding facility in town and get away with it if you want your horse on the mountain during the summer months. There is one other facility which is open for an even shorter period of time, has other drawbacks, and has its own horror stories coming out of it. Every owner does our best to keep an eye on the feed when we are there during feeding and to check to make sure we don't spot moldy hay or other items. A lot of us buy our own extra feed so if we find a bad batch we toss it and feed our own food. Complainers are usually told to leave and not return - at least that is what I have been told. I have complained occasionally, but try to do it very tactfully so as not to get booted out. What's odd is sometimes they have gorgeous hay. What's said is I'm always surprised when my horse is getting high quality hay. And I'm a usual replier, but am posting this anonymous just in case one of the family members reads this blog.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura, thanks. The other big problem is that there aren't many stables in this area, at least, not many where I could go, for various reasons.Qrac being a stallion is an issue in itself, then there's the fact that I want my trainer to be able to come, want a good indoor with a good floor to work on,would like the horses to be taken care of by people who know what they're doing,. I'd also like Qrac to be turned out for a couple of hours a day with protections on his legs (where I am now they don't put leg protections on, nor fly hoods or fly blankets in the summer). I'm prepared to pay extra (within reason!) for all this, but it's so hard to find! And if you do find it, they're full with double digit waiting lists. But I'm definitely going to go and look at another place next week; maybe it will be suitable. Why is there always something to worry about?!

Francesca Prescott said...

Anonymous, gee, I thought my place had problems! Broken glass in the horse feeders?! That's criminal. One woman at my stables told me today that she found mouldy hay with rose stems in her horse's stable last year and threw a hissy fit. It hasn't happened since, which I guess is a good sign of how things might go if enough people speak up. I considered not posting my blog today because I worried I might be "discovered" and kicked out, or that they might take it out on my horse, then I figured I was being paranoid, and that I'm only telling the truth, anyway. The sad thing is that the guy who owns the stables is really nice, very friendly, very helpful, and I really really like him. I just think he's a bit clueless about what's important when it comes to horses.

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--Whether you board or keep your horses at home, it seems there's always something--from time to time, anyway. You're not alone. This is just what its like to have horses. But we wouldn't be without them, would we?

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. I've been in this situation before, with a horse that is/was a frequent colicker, and I GOT THE HELL OUT.

It started with the automatic waterers not being checked and cleaned daily. A bird had drown in my horse's waterer, and of course he didn't drink, and of course he colicked. I was assured that waterers were checked weekly and why would I need more than that? I added my own buckets and checked and refilled them daily, but was told I could not do that. Then I discovered he was not being fed the $pecial ex$pensive feed I had supplied the barn with. That got straightened out. The final straw was after several horses had colicked, and one died, I found NIGHTSHADE IN THE HAY. And I don't mean a piece or two, I mean half the hay bale was nightshade. When confronted, the BO simply took the hay out of my horse's pasture and put it in another pasture. ?!?!?!?! I found a new barn that night, packed my boy up the next day, and moved. I told them what they could do with their deposit.

Thanks to their poor care, my horse colicked six times in as many months. He almost died (like, the vet called me after a long night and told me to come say goodbye) on one of them. Getting him out was the best thing I ever did.

If the owners aren't able to resolve the issue together SOON, I'd go with your gut. A pricey vet bill or a dead horse just aren't worth it.

(Sorry if this is strong, but yeah, I'm bitter.)

battleshipdestroyer said...

That really sucks francesca! I would defs be a part of the group complaining, strength in numbers, you know? Also it is just too important to not say anything. What if something happened to your handsome man, and you hadn't said anything? I'd never forgive myself.
I came out to the barn once, to find my horse eating a pile of brambles. Like huge thorns, fresh green, with the roots on. brambles thicker than my thumbs together! I was so mad - why would they throw those to the horses?! i was pretty sure it wouldn't hurt her, but still... those thorns! they were like a cm long and so sharp!
Went and talked to barn owner, turns out they've been pulling them away from her, but she goes and hunts for them along the fence line and pulls them up. my horse is a masochist.

RiderWriter said...

Holy moly, Francesca, that is NOT good! I've never had my own horse, so never boarded, but I will always remember some of the pointers another blogger posted re: what to look for in a boarding situation. One of the things was how many colics were taking place, because colic is often indicative of the care. What your barn is going through is simply UNACCEPTABLE. I would absolutely join with the other boarders and (at first) politely, respectfully insist that a better feeding schedule be adhered to. If the problems continue, it may take a number of you threatening to walk with your $$$ to achieve anything. I'm so sorry you are stuck in the situation.

Another thought I had is for you to invest in a slow feeder, so Qrac will at least be able to "graze" on his hay more appropriately. Not sure what is available in Europe, but over here we have products like the Nibble Net (
or this:,com_ezcatalog/Itemid,27/

Something like this should be not a problem in any barn because they are no more difficult to fill than a hay net (easier, in fact).

Good luck, and I hope Qrac stays well!

Val said...

I was going to suggest a slow feeder, too.

Boarding is so difficult. I am at a great place, but even the best situations have their drawbacks from time to time. If you are worried about your horse's well-being, then I think that you should make arrangements to leave. If something happens to him, you will always wonder why you didn't go with your instincts.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

That is a bad situation, I am sorry to hear about it.

From what I have seen, there are three route causes for barn problems: greed, lack of horse care skills and financial incompetence. Most of all I've seen the first and the last of these - especially the last as people get into running barns imagining that is an easy way to make money. It isn't, and then everything slips. My latest experience is with a barn run by nice well-meaning people who just cannot seem to get the financial side right, so money is wasted on resurfacing the arena whilst the fences fall down and the water pipes leak and break. But the horses are in good condition, fortunately.

Alison said...

Wow, I am SO glad my horses are home. After reading these posts, my lack of an arena doesn't seem like such a bad thing!

I concur with everyone--go with your gut before Qrac has problems with his. Horses are grazers so they need lots of small feedings. This is not acceptable. (PS I bet if all those people handed their vet bills to the owners, something would be done.

Unknown said...

Move your horse to a facility less convenient, with less nice stuff, with more turn out.

People like that don't change. If they aren't freaking out with six horses colicing they NEVER will, in my experience. I know you don't have many choices, but surely there is something that will be safer for him.

I have been in two barns, visited three, and while are facility is bare bones, the horses come first, always.

AareneX said...

I've never heard of anything so...egregious. Are the people involved aware that SIX COLICS IN A MONTH IS REALLY A LOT???

Now, I don't feed my horses at exactly the same time each day--purposely. They get fed in the morning before 9am. They get fed in the evening between 7 and 9pm. They spend all day on pasture, which in the winter is more recreational than nutritious, but I do feed a flake of hay mid-day if I'm home. My schedule is erratic enough that if I tried to adhere to an exact "feeding schedule", the horses would be uptight when I run late. So, they get a ton of hay when I know the next feeding will be late, and it's never been a problem (10+ years).

I did have a boarding situation with a barn manager who fed both of my horses EXACTLY the same ration: the tiny, easy-keeper Arab and the hard-working gigantic Standardbred. You can just imagine how crazy that made me, and how hungry my big mare got! It took months(!) of weekly notes on their stalls to change this--plus, I was there 4 days a week so at least the larger mare had extra meals on those days.

It was good to leave that place behind.

Mikey said...

That is unacceptable. I believe it's very important that your feeding be on a regular schedule and feed be consistent. I've heard that more than a few times, that people were 5 or 6 hours late feeding and their horses coliced.
I do hope you switch facilities and quick!

Francesca Prescott said...

Everyone, thanks you so much for all your thoughts and comments. I spoke with the owner of the stables on Friday, explaining my worries, as did at least two other people that I know of (all at different times), so I guess they have got the message. I visited another place Friday morning, but it was a dismal dump with terrible riding conditions, so that's a no go.

People are going to keep a sharp lookout on feeding times, and I'm hoping the owners will feel the pressure to improve their feeding schedule. However, I was told point blank that hay before grain in the morning is out of the question as they need to muck out first.

I've got a couple of leads on two other places that I will check up on. I've also heard that the place where I want to go to whenever there is space is building more stables, so maybe we'll get lucky before too long.

I spoke to a few people and learnt that fewer and fewer stables are actually providing three meals a day; many now go with two, one in the morning and one at night, with hay distributed twice a day. Many offer no turnout during the winter months.

I worried less about all this when I was less knowledgeable about what horses should get! The more I know, the more I worry. Sometimes I really think that ignorance is bliss.

By the way,Anonymous, that story about finding a lampshade in your horse's hay takes the cake. Pff! How on earth could that happen?

Karen Briggs said...

Francesca, I'd be looking for a new place if I were you. No way six horses should colic in such a short space of time. Makes me think fresh water is in short supply as well ... I can't believe how many boarding stables don't think liquid water is really a necessity in winter!

However, as an equine nutritionist I thought I should also reassure you on the 'no bran mash' thing, which is actually healthy. Bran mashes are junk food for horses. Taste great, but have no nutritional benefit and often cause mild gastrointestinal upset (thanks to their being a sudden change in the diet) which is misinterpreted as being a 'laxative'. Also, bran has a severely inverted calcium:phosphorus ratio (not a problem if only fed once a week, but can be a serious issue if fed daily).

I manage a little boarding stable myself, and instead of bran mashes I feed soaked beet pulp -- soaked with warm water in the winter so everyone gets a nice hot meal for dinner. No Ca:P issues, highly digestible, good source of fibre, better bet all 'round.

Unfortunately most boarding barns won't bother with beet pulp because it's 'high maintenance', but that's how I roll here, and I hope you can find someone in your area who wants to put some effort into what they offer their boarders. Good luck!

Francesca Prescott said...

Karen, thanks for commenting for your advive. I have new information this morning. It appears that all but one of the horses who have colicked in the past month were being fed huge amounts of bran mash by the owners, some even on a daily basis, as well as being given extra vitamins and supplements. They also were not being given enough exercise. Therefore, they were being fed their regular grain and hay by the barn owners, then being give additional food (the bran mash) by their respective, well-meaning owners. Too much food and not nearly enough exericise: these horses maily just go for gentle one hour trail rides.

The horses that get good, regular exercise (including Qrac) have all been fine. Of course, the stable owners need to keep their schedule more regular, but it does appear more and more likely that the horses who colicked did so because of excess food. Add extremely cold weather conditions into the equation and voila. I must say, I'm breathing a little easier today. Nevertheless, it's something to keep an eye on.

Greenie in WI said...

I think the reference was to Nightshade, a toxic plant, not lampshade, a home furnishing. I wouldn't want to find either in my hay, but the lampshade would make a better story and might even be safer!