Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Things I Do Wrong

                                               by Laura Crum

            The other day as I was feeding my horses and admiring what good shape they were all in, I had a startling thought. A lot of people would think the way I care for my horses is wrong—all wrong. And I decided this might be the basis of a reasonably interesting post. So here goes.
            I was raised in the horse biz by cowboys who fed straight alfalfa hay and shod their using horses as a matter of course. Large pastures were almost inevitably fenced with barbed wire, though most folks I knew were smart enough not to put horses in smaller barbed wire enclosures. The more enlightened also wormed their horses every six months or so and gave them tetanus shots once a year. The people I grew up with knew how to break a horse in the traditional way and they could teach an ill broke backyard horse to be a rope horse (sometimes). It usually wasn’t pretty, but a lot of the time it was effective. I was taught to warm a horse up thoroughly before I asked him to exert himself, to leg a horse up properly before I expected it to do regular hard work, and to monitor a horse’s breathing (by stopping him and watching the flanks) while using him, in order to be sure I wasn’t overusing him. We knew how to tell a lame horse from a sound horse and we didn’t ride lame horses. (Though we did bute them to make them sound and keep using them—sometimes.) I knew how to tie a quick release knot when I tied a horse up solid, and I knew how to make sure my cinch was tight before I mounted, and I was taught not to pull relentlessly on a horse’s face when riding. By the time I was a teenager I could ride a pretty snorty horse and get along with him. This about covers what I knew.
            In my twenties I worked on commercial cattle ranches, at mountain pack stations, and as an assistant to some well known cowhorse and cutting horse trainers. I rode a LOT of horses. I broke quite a few horses myself and helped train many others. I learned a few tricks and my riding skills improved. But for the most part, the things I listed in the above paragraph remained the basic bottom line of what I knew.
            In my thirties I trained team roping horses for myself and a few friends and competed at team roping. I learned a few more tricks and was actually, at this point, a fairly effective horse trainer. I wormed my horses every six weeks or so rather than every six months, and I knew all about vaccinations and how to deal with the more common versions of lameness. I no longer fed straight alfalfa hay as a diet. But still, the basic bottom line for me as a horseman was much as I described it above.
            In my forties I took a break from riding to have a kid and raise him. By the time I was fifty I was riding regularly again, this time with my kid—mostly trail riding. Around this time I started blogging and began interacting with other horse bloggers. And it slowly began to dawn on me that a great many people would think my basic bottom line of horsemanship was WAY off base.
            The fugly blog attacked people who kept their horse in barbed wire fenced pastures, even if they were large pastures (I began looking nervously over my shoulder when I fed my retired pasture pets). Many bloggers condemned alfalfa hay as being actively BAD for horses—and all my horses were fed at least some alfalfa every day. Tons of horse people seemed to consider shoes evil, and all my horses have been shod at one time or another for various reasons (and some are wearing shoes right now). The sort of traditional training methods I understood and used were demeaned as cruel by all sorts of folks who used “natural horsemanship” and “clicker training” and the like. People were also apparently feeding their horses boat loads of expensive supplements to address conditions I didn’t understand, had never heard of, and probably wouldn’t recognize if they presented in front of me. If I had paid serious attention to all this I probably could have convinced myself I was doing just about everything wrong.
            However, a lifetime spent with horses with mostly good results will (usually) give you a bit of confidence. I didn’t assume my methods were wrong just because a lot of other people seemed to disagree with them. Instead I started paying attention to what kind of results these “new age” horse folks were getting with their methods. And I wasn’t exactly impressed.
            I read blog post after blog post in which the blogger’s “kindly” trained horse disobeyed and resisted the blogger/rider in ways that were at worst truly dangerous and at best deeply frustrating for both horse and rider. My own traditionally trained horses continued to be excellent, reliable riding horses and seemed to like me just as well as the “kindly” trained horses liked their owner/riders. My horses were/are reprimanded firmly when they didn’t obey and they actually seemed to like this, too. So far, I wasn’t finding much reason to change my ways.
            If my horses had good feet, I often ran them barefoot, but I shod them if they seemed sore-footed, or were going to be ridden in the rocks or used very hard on abrasive sufraces…etc. My horses continued (and continue) to stay sound. Including into their barefoot, retired old age—after wearing shoes all their using lives, in some cases. I read blog post after blog post by “barefoot Nazis”, in which the blogger struggles with endless soundness issues with her barefoot horse. I’m still not finding much here to make me change my ways.
            And then there was the evil alfalfa hay. Not to mention the apparently even more evil molasses. Not only did all my horses get some per cent of their feed as alfalfa hay, but the equine senior feed that I had used (and still use) to keep my old horses healthy and happy into their thirties? The first two ingredients were alfalfa meal and molasses (the next being rice bran and beet pulp). Never mind that I had been feeding alfalfa meal and molasses to horses all my life to keep hard keepers and old horses in good flesh—with very good results. It was suddenly REALLY WRONG.
            I took a good hard look at my thirty-two year old horse, Gunner, who eats my equine senior delight feed twice a day. He is sound, happy, slick and shiny. Here’s a photo, taken a couple of weeks ago.

            This is the second horse I’ve taken into his thirties looking pretty damn good. My old horse Burt lived to be thirty five and was trotting about, sound, bright-eyed, shiny, and lively-- the morning he died of a major stroke. He ate the same diet I’m currently feeding Gunner. What more exactly do you want in the way of good results?
            In contrast to this I read blog post after blog post written by apparent nutrition experts whose horses were/are endlessly struggling with obscure diseases, lameness problems and behavioral issues, and rarely seemed to make it to their thirties, let alone stay sound and happy. I realize that luck plays a role, and I have lost horses before they were thirty, too. Nonetheless, I’d say my methods have overall had as much success as most folks—including those who damn alfalfa and molasses. Now this is not to say that all horses will thrive on alfalfa. But every horse I have ever owned has benefited from a certain amount of alfalfa in the diet. I have tried straight grass hay—and grain hay—and it just doesn’t work as well. Of course, if I had a horse that was allergic to alfalfa, I wouldn’t feed that horse alfalfa. But I have never had such a horse.
            Below you see my son’s horse, Henry, in a photo taken about a week ago. Henry is 24 years old and a completely sound, healthy riding horse today. He went through colic surgery when he was 20 to remove stones. (I bought Henry as a 19 year old, and previous to being with me, I’m pretty sure he ate nothing but straight alfalfa—which probably contributed to the stones.) Right now he eats a diet that is more than 50% grass hay. But he gets some alfalfa hay and some equine senior delight every day. On straight grass hay, which I tried, he didn’t thrive. I’m pretty happy with how he looks right now. In fact, I’ll match him for overall soundness and health against anybody else’s 24 year old horse.

            So far I have to conclude that my track record when it comes to having consistently sound and reliably obedient riding horses is as good or better than most folks, including the ones who brag on their extra-kind methods…etc. My horses look happy, and cooperate with everything I ask, whether its being caught, loading in the trailer, or going for a ride. My track record when it comes to shepherding my riding horses into a sound healthy old age/retirement is, again, as good as those who would castigate me for my old-fashioned choices of feed or the iron shoes I sometimes choose to use. Maybe I’m not doing everything entirely wrong.
            This is not meant as a criticism of those who use other practices—far from it. If what you’re doing is working for you, more power to you. But it IS meant as a defense of methods that are sometimes very harshly criticized. If you like to attack shoeing and alfalfa hay and traditional horsemanship loudly and vehemently on your blog, even though you’ve been in the horse biz a few years at best and have NEVER taken a horse into his sound, happy thirties (after a good long career as a successful performance horse who never once dumped his rider), then this post is meant as something for you to consider—not an attack on your own methods.
            So how about you guys? Are there others out there who don’t follow the new “wisdom” and find that their horses are consistently doing just as well or better than the horses of these more new age horsemen? Or am I just a lone wolf?
            PS—This blog post was written awhile ago—I put it up today because, being busy with 4th of July family fun, I didn’t have time to write something new. I’m not trying to target any other blog in particular with this post—honest. But I have heard this sort of attitude (critical of traditional horsemanship and “old-fashioned” horse keeping methods) expressed many times over the years I have been reading horse blogs.
            Happy 4th of July to all—keep your critters safe on this holiday which can be scary for animals and results in SO many lost dogs.


Mikey said...

Happy 4th of July! Great post! I think it's the owner's common sense that works best. If you know animals, and you know your animals, you do what works for them.
I feed my old donkey alfalfa pellets, plus grain (with dreaded molasses in it) and straight alfalfa hay. He would starve to death on grass and frankly he won't touch it. He won't touch much, so now that I've got something he WILL eat (I had to try all kinds of different grains to find a brand he would eat too. Picky!) I know that it doesn't matter, so long as it works for him. I consulted a donkey expert who told me for this donkey's age and dental condition, if he wants alfalfa and that's what he'll eat, give it to him. Wade said the other day "That donkey looks better than he ever has".
I think we all learn as we go along. We make mistakes and we learn. But common sense will always prevail. What works for one may not work for another. I love the communication we have these days, and ability to share ideas and knowledge. We learn so much every day and I cherish my online friendships for what they've taught me.

Laura Crum said...

Mikey--I've learned a lot from the horse blogs and online friendships, too. And I agree, what works for one may not work for another. I think I just got tired of hearing certain practices bashed--over and over--when I have used them (fairly successfully) all my life.

Happy 4th of July to you, too!

Anonymous said...

A lot of ways of working with horses, and feeding and caring for them, work for most horses. All my horses are currently barefoot, because it works for them, but I'm far from a barefoot fanatic - it's good for many horses in many conditions (provided you've got a good trimmer, which is a big if - there are a lot of very bad barefoot trimmers), but not for all horses in all conditions.

I come from a pretty traditional riding background, and learned some good things and some bad things as a result. I'm at a point now with my horse where I'd rather have a partner than a slave (I'm nots saying your horses are slaves), and I think that's achievable and I'm achieving it with my horses. Just because something works - either training wise or feeding wise - doesn't in my mind mean it's optimal - it doesn't mean it's bad, just that maybe I can do better (again I'm not referring to you). Mark Rashid and I had an interesting conversation at the clinic - he said that a lot of people, in the search for softness, err on the side of being ineffective and poor leaders for their horses - this isn't soft and isn't effective. I'd like to be effective, but using the least that I can - sure I could use more and maybe that'd be easier, but if I can do better, why not - why shout when you can have a quiet and effective conversation? I do have a problem with a lot of the NH stuff I see - endless groundwork, very little riding, and way too much being tentative or else just not getting any of the timing and feel right.

On supplement - I do use a few, very few. I think most supplements are a waste of time and money. I do use probiotics when a horse is on antibiotics, and I use raspberry leaves for my (very) marish mare with good results. The only other supplement I use is a custom chromium/magnesium supplement for horses with insulin resistance - it's not needed for all but makes a huge difference for those who need it. I feed grass hay by preference because I prefer the mineral balance - some horses need alfafa for nutritional reasons. I feed no supplemental grain, except for seniors or hard keepers in winter - just a vitamin/mineral balancer pellet.

I hate barbed wire - I realize many people use it and their horses are fine (for now), but I've seen horrific, and even fatal, injuries caused by wire. I'm in a situation where I can avoid it, which I'm happy about.

All that said, I value the fact that we all come from different backgrounds and experiences with horses, and that adds to the richness of the dialog.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I always enjoy your insights. I think you are looking for something slightly different than I am looking for with horses--and I think that's totally fun and interesting. I have enjoyed watching your path unfold through all its ups and downs and am tickled to hear how well all your horses are doing right now.

No, my horses are not slaves--they all feel free to express an opinion. Yes, I am the boss--and I like it like that. They seem fine with it, too. My horses cooperate with me and come through for me--and we are partners in the sense that we listen to each other. But I remain the boss. I don't think this is the way you approach it, exactly, and if your way works for you, that's great.

I do get a little bored/fed up by stories that involve endless drama over something (say trailer loading) that I can't remember ever having had much trouble with--with any horse. Yes, it might take me awhile to get a green horse to load--and I'd take my time. But by the time my horses have been hauled a few times, they get right on the trailer. By my lights, if person and horse are frustrated and spending much time on something that can be pretty simple if handled the way a traditional horseman handles it--then I'm not impressed with the method.

I don't like barbed wire either. I replaced all the barbed wire in my own pasture with smooth wire. But my neighbor's pasture--that I have used--has barbed wire, like most pastures here in the west. I can't afford to replace all her wire fence--so some of my pasture pets have lived with the barbed wire for many years--to no ill effect so far. But I do know that serious injuries are possible. These horses are rescues that would have been dead by now if I hadn't given them a place to live out their lives, and if they hurt themselves seriously, I will euthanize them. Its not ideal, but its the best I can do for them while staying financially responsible.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

The fact is that there are peasants around the world working horses. Globally still more people farm using animals than tractors. The people that I encountered across poor countries Eastern Europe (where $300/month is a typical income - if one has a job) more or less kept their horses in good shape. Most of them. There was common sense, decent hay (some of it alfalfa), some oats or barley or maize, plenty of steady work, and the economic fact that a horse is an expensive asset. There were few fat horses out there, and even fewer with behavioural problems. My neighbour's 14yo daughter used to harness a pair of stallions and drive them to market without issues. But then she was an assertive young lady. Most people there who worked with horses were assertive with them. And so it was for a couple of millennia until leisure horses came to dominate the Western world.

Yes, if one can avoid barbed wire then all the better. But the worst wire injuries I have seen came from plain wire. (Horse jumped wooden fence, got onto railway and became tangled in a signal wire. But we saved her. She's still in work a decade later.)

Again, if one can get away with barefoot, great. But that isn't often an option for a working horse, and certainly not in a country where a set of Easyboots costs a month's income. The biggest problem with shoes is bad shoeing, not nailing iron onto feet per se.

As for the critics, I'll be blunt. Some places I've lived the likes of Fugly worked for the secret police and locked people up or made them disappear for the thought crime of the day. Be grateful her power is limited to a nasty blog.

A worked horse is a good horse. Same with dogs and children. My neighbours gave farm tasks to their children - feeding chickens, watering cows, pasturing all sorts of livestock. It taught them responsibility without spoiling childhood. (OK, I digress.) But horses need work. They aren't pets. I only wish that there were 30 hours in each day so that I could do all my work and ride daily!

Laura Crum said...

whp--Those are some very good insights. I haven't lived as you have lived, but the working horses on the commercial cattle ranches that I worked on in my twenties were treated similarly to what you describe (as were the kids and dogs). And yep, few behavioral issues. I think the basic set of ideas I still hold (when it comes to horses) came from these "cowboy work horses". Yes, I'm much more inclined to keep my horses and retire them and be be fond of them (as I treat my other pets), than those cowboys were/are, but I do believe in more or less that cowboy mentality when it comes to how to get along with a horse.

Anonymous said...

Laura - I think your choices for how you keep your horses make sense in the circumstances you're in. I couldn't afford to replace a whole pasture of barbed wire either.

I think one of the most important things for horses is to have a job, and a work ethic. That gets you a long way. And I couldn't agree with you more about stuff like trailer loading - most people dither around a whole bunch so the horse figures dithering around is in order. If a person is doing the same stuff - groundwork that's repetitive, trying to load the horse on the trailer, etc., and nothing's getting accomplished and the work just gets repeated over and over again (with the same results), it's not working. I think being matter-of-fact about things goes a long way with horses, as well - too many people dither too much and horses don't appreciate the lack of leadership.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--Yep, I agree with everything you said there. I don't love the word "leader" because (to me) it connotes some possibility for dialogue on WHO is the leader--human or horse. I prefer the word "boss" because its unequivocal. The human is in charge. Same for "big". I don't like it very much, perhaps because I'm not used to such a term and it seems ambiguous (to me). I prefer the idea of clear and effective reprimands that make sense to both horse and human and reinforce the idea that the human is in charge. But as you justly pointed out, this is really a matter of semantics. Were I to watch Mark Rashid get "big" with a horse it might appear to me that he was using what I would call clear and effective reprimands to deal with insubordination. And I totally agree that being matter-of-fact and expecting the horse to do what you ask goes further than just about anything when it comes to having a good relationship with a horse. I know this is a lot of what you mean by being a good "leader" and though I may not love the term, I agree with the concept.

Susan said...

If anyone objects to us having barbed wire fences, they're more than welcome to come replace them, but remember they have to hold cattle too. Until then, our horses are just gonna have to stay out of it.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

I think it's all a matter of common sense. Barefoot is not supposed to be a big deal, and yet with all the drama that goes into it from the barefoot purists...sigh.

I'd prefer to feed alfalfa over grain. Small amounts, 2/3 ratio to grass hay is what Mocha gets, and just enough grain to make her supplement (Trifecta, selenium plus other stuff she needs for her joints).

Shrug. I wouldn't get too excited about this stuff. Some of it also comes down to the sort of need the owner has. And hey, I've been told I'm doing it wrong a number of times. But for me it depends on who's saying I'm wrong and their level of experience.

jenj said...

As one of those people who have struggled (for far too long) to keep her horse barefoot and failed, I can grin ruefully at your barefoot enthusiast comments. ;)

Growing up in an eventing show barn, horses were *always* stall kept, with daytime turnout in the winter, and nighttime turnout in the summer. They were shod on all fours. Everyone was fed a molassessed sweet feed, because that's all the feed store carried. Later, we had a pelleted feed (that was new and cool - it didn't spoil as fast in the heat!!!). They ate whatever horse-quality hay was grown nearby. The only supplement they ever got were meds prescribed by the vet. Horses got carrots for treats, maybe an apple. Nobody had a saddle fitter or chiropractor for their horse. And you know, those horses were sound, competitive show horses, many of them into their late teens.

I like to think that as a community, we know more than we did 25 years ago. Sugar isn't good for horse's feet, ergo, feedstuffs that are high in sugar are to be avoided. Certainly one of my guys pretty much went lame when I tried to feed him the very high-quality senior feed (you know, the one with alfalfa, beet pulp, rice bran... and molasses?) that my 24 year old senior horse is doing fabulously well on. The same horse is simply uncomfortable without front shoes, although all my other horses are barefoot. I do feed supplements for keeping the flies down and because I know my hay is low in Mg, but otherwise I have a 2-3 month rule on supps - if I don't see noticeable changes in 2-3 months, I'm not feeding it any more. So far only ground flax has passed that test. ;)

I guess all this is to say that I'm glad we as a community are more educated now, more open to trying new and different things, and questioning the old "we've always done it this way" reasons. I'm glad there are more options - I can feed my fat horses differently than my senior horse who is yet different from my... sigh... special needs horse. Yes, you can go overboard, which I am definitely guilty of myself (just go look at my feed chart. Really, I'm fine. REALLY. I can quit any time I want.) But you can also experiment to find what works for you and your horse. That's kind of cool, IMHO.

I do sometimes wonder where we'll all be 25 years from now. Likely with free-range horses in 100+ acre organic hay fields, do you think? ;)

AareneX said...

Hoo boy, if you didn't post this on a holiday when people are busy, I wonder if the Interweb could actually *catch fire*?!? >g<

First off, your horses look awesome. What you're doing ain't broke, so there's no reason to fix it!

I recently had a "discussion" with a barefoot "enthusiast" (read: fanatic) who insisted that horses had *evolved* to go barefoot (emphasis his). My answer: my mare's pedigree goes back 17 generations (to the year 1544, I think) before a single desert-bred horse appears in it. Everything more recent was literally bred to trot a 2-minute mile and stay sound in shoes on cobbled streets. My mare is no more suited to go barefoot than she is to survive in the steppes of Mongolia. Just because some distant ancestor was successful doing that does not mean that the Dragon could do it--and it's cruel to cause her pain to try to prove a point. If she was pain-free barefoot, I'd leave her barefoot. After much study and consultation with vets and farrier, I've decided to keep her in steel. If booting technology changes/improves significantly (a real possibility), I might experiment further. For now, steel works just fine.

Supplements: I supplement with a 2-oz daily dose of probiotic + selenium...and that's all. Otherwise, they get hay and beetpulp and pasture and that's all. If you've seen the recent pictures of them, it's hard to disagree with this!

Dom said...

My thoughts on horsekeeping are as follows:
If the horses are fat, shiny, happy, sound, and well-behaved, I don't care how you did it.

My horses are all barefoot because they have excellent feet and I have the best barefoot trimmer in the world (ok, maybe I'm biased) but I certainly don't think shoes are evil. I feed straight alfalfa in the winter... free choice, at that. I don't feed anything in the summer because we have excellent pasture. This also means no supplements. *gasp* I work with problem horses, usually after they're done with the BNT's and the NH pros and I've found that... guess what... horses learn from the release of pressure. My horses stand tied quietly, pick up their feet, and can be handled by children.

I've been bashed on multiple occasions for 'sucking at horses', but then I see the horses who belong to the people bashing me and roll my eyes. I can't count the number of hard keepers who have fattened up in my care or the number of times I've read people's struggles with training only to boggle at how they can't see the answer.

I will admit that barbed wire is a big no no for me. My idiot horse would hurt himself in a plastic bubble. But I also know that it's a way of life in a lot of places and that hundreds of horses do just fine in it without ever getting hurt. I understand that we don't have the expanses of open land like you guys do and that I wouldn't be able to afford fencing for it if we did. So long as the horses get vet care when they need it, I don't say anything.

Excellent entry. Thank you for posting.

Val said...

Very interesting post and discussion!

Based on your traditional description and the comments, I employ middle of the road horse-care. My horse is barefoot, but I am also very lucky that he was born with nice feet. If I had control of the hay at my boarding barn, I would love to feed him some alfalfa as he is a lightweight. I tried for years to keep him in weight with various combinations of hay, grain, and beet pulp. Then I bit the bullet and doubled his grain. This seemed "wrong", but he looks the best he ever has, although he will never be fat and shiny in most people's eyes. He is fit and he works hard when we ride. Occasionally, someone will tease me by mentioning that my horse is spoiled. Not because he is ill-behaved, because he most certainly is not, but because I spend so much time grooming him. But when we go out to work, he moves out the entire time, takes my direction and tries his heart out every time. Horses don't build muscle any other way and I agree that a working horse is a happy horse as long as he is sound and healthy.

Laura Crum said...

Joyce--I feed alfalfa instead of grain, exactly as you say. I am amazed at folks who would rather use grain to give a harder keeping horse the necessary calories. That wouldn't be my choice. That's all I'm sayin there.

Susan_- I have that exact problem. I replaced my barbed wire with smooth wire for the sake of the horses and now I'm keeping cattle in that pasture and they're pushing through the fences. Sheesh.

jenj--Well, if I could keep all my horses in five acre pastures I would (using your future horsekeeping scenario). But I just can't afford the land (where I live, land is VERY expensive). And I do hear you about how hard some horses are to keep sound. My Gunner had feet like Saga--I had to run him in pads to use him.

Aarene--If it ain't broke don't fix it. Yes. That should have been the title of my post! Its probably good that I posted this when folks were busy. Otherwise the attacks could have been a little vitriolic than I would have cared for. And I agree that your horses look great.

Dom--That somes up my attitude exactly. "If the horses are slick, happy, sound and well-behaved I don't care how you did it." Yes! And I have admired (from here on the left coast) your own horses and think you do a great job.

Val--You just have to do what works--and we are all limited by our circumstances. My rescued pasture pets are in barbed wire pastures (big ones) because I can't figure out a better alternative, and if your barn doesn't feed alfalfa you are stuck with supplementing some other way. Me, I would try alfalfa pellets. But if what you are doing is working for you, than its good. Just like Dom said. Sounds like you and your horse are both happy.

Alison said...

Not much to say that hasn't been said--my "minimal" horse keeping would shock those who spend hours and big bucks on their horses, but it works for me and both horses, who are sane, healthy and-- except for the F%^&*#! flies-- happy.

Unknown said...

Hi, My four horses are all barefoot but they are not working hard. One of them has a deformed hoof (rescue) and the farrier will shoe her when it is grown out enough to trim properly.
I feed hay that is grown by people I know so I see it in the field. It grass and alfalfa grown together. My horses are doing really well on it and are fat and shiny. The get the same hay in the winter and do great. When I fed them grain in the winter they seemed to lose more weight. So this past winter I just kept feeding them the same hay and no grain and they ended the winter in very good weight. They like to be outside in almost any weather. They always have the option of going in but most of the time they stay out, sometimes even when it is snowing hard. A real blizzard they will go in or a heavy rain but not always. They also like the sun a lot and it surprises me sometimes to see them snoozing tin the hot sun when there is good shade just a few steps away.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Being judgmental is being judgmental, no matter how you choose to keep your horses, or what training style you preach.

There's a lot of trial and error involved. Every horse is different, and some have been at it much longer than others.

Barefoot. Run in shelter with braided electric wire (capped t-posts).

Orchard grass hay year round (no grazing available). A senior feed / beet pulp / ration balancer combo that I have to adjust seasonally.

Supplement magnesium and top dress with cocosoya, both because my hay source changes so often and the lack of grazing.

Val is shiny, fat and happy, albeit a little on the lazy side.

Laura Crum said...

Alison, Bev, CFS--You are all illustrating the point that everybody keeps horses a little differently and many ways work well. Its is exactly the "judgmental" approach I am objecting to, CFS. As in, "my way is better than your way." I think Dom's point really applies. As long as the horse and horse owner are happy and thriving, then its a good system. Even if it quite different to what "I" am doing. I don't think my way of keeping horses is better than other ways--I just think its working OK for me and I get a tad annoyed when I hear these practices severely criticized by those whose results may not even be as good as mine.

So yay for many different ways of keeping/training/riding horses--all of which involve healthy, happy, well-behaved horses and happy owner/riders.

Anonymous said...

I had a horse for over 17 years who I struggled to keep shoes on. He had had every kind of shoe and every kind of pad on his feet at one time or another. He went barefoot for the last 4-5 years of his life and was sounder than he had ever been.

Now I have a 6 year old gelding who has never worn shoes, and never taken a bad step in his life. I have to say, it's a lot easier if they start out with healthy feet and stay that way.

If I was going to compete, I would probably have shoes put on him. I also don't feed much grain, no molasses, but I do feed a supplement that is made of alfalfa pellets.

I'm beginning to believe that less is more, as long as your horse stays sound, sleek, and shiny. I'm sure I do a lot of things wrong too.

If you're happy with your horses, I'm happy too. I'll even pay you the biggest complement I know, I would sell a horse to you and feel sure that he would have a long, happy life. You probably wouldn't want my gelding though, he's over 16 hands and I need a stool to get on him.

Laura Crum said...

redhorse--That is a HUGE compliment. Thank you! I have been reading your comments long enough to know that you are a very caring, responsible horse owner. And you're right--no 16 hand horses for me. I can just get on my Sunny horse from the ground (Ok, I struggle a bit if I can't get him downhill from me) and he's only 14.3. I'm short (5 foot 2) and I have resolved that its 14.3 horses from now on (or smaller).

So redhorse, do you have a blog? I tried to find it once and couldn't. I don't know if its just me or you don't write one. Anyway, I enjoy your comments very much.

Anonymous said...


no, I don't have a blog. I've thought about it but I figure I would a) get writer's block b) offend everyone at some point c) cry hysterically every time a troll attacked. I do enjoy your writing and your blog a lot, and I think you also sound like someone I would enjoy in real life. I know I'd love the trails you ride on. If Michigan was just a little closer.

Laura Crum said...

redhorse--All my inlaws live in Michigan, so I have been there many times. We do a lot of swimming when we're there as my mother-in-law lives on a lake. I love Michigan.

Mrs. Mom said...

Couldn't have said it better myself Laura!

And I'm with redhorse-- I'd entrust one of my nags to you anytime ;)

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Mrs Mom. A comment like that from you means something. And I do let them go barefoot most of the time. If you were here to watch over them, it might be all of the time(!)

FD said...

Ho hum. Received wisdom changes all the time and I try to take it with a liberal pinch of salt.

For instance, I'd be, when in the UK, one of those people who firmly limit alfalfa intake (I suspect we have more consistently available good horse grass hay which helps.) because I've had problems with it. But these things are often local and you can't apply them across the board. For instance, I'd never in my life fed a horse sand clear before keeping horse in the US, and I know people in the desert states who would be horrified at my lacksadaisical attitude to 'colic management'. And then in NZ, I'd never supplemented mag-cal before, yet it's absolutely necessary to prevent staggers in some areas. A lot depends upon your local area a bio-flora & fauna - I think there must be some reason, biologically, why so many horses in the UK fed alfalfa have reactions, or metabolic problems, and then not in other countries.
So I'd (almost) never say never. Same with shoes - I think we over shoe, and that a lot of horses genuinely don't need shoes for the work they do, yet I wouldn't say shoes are unnecessary - there had to be after all, in an age when iron was bloody expensive and difficult to make & work with, a good reason to start using shoes.

I'm cynical, but I suspect some of the now verboten horse things worked OK when horse were doing a lot more work than they commonly do now, and so we've had to find new ways to manage them. For instance, the amount of oats old timers fed their horses!

Call me lazy, but I'm a big believer in 'if it's not broke, don't fix it'. I also like 'if you always do what you've always done, you get what you've always got', but then, that's fine if you're happy with the status quo.

Laura Crum said...

FD--You are so right about the wisdom of the day changing constantly. When I was young we were all told to feed our horses wheat bran--now we're told not to cause it causes stones. When I was in college and took a class on horsekeeping, alfalfa hay was described as the "perfect" feed for horses. Well, I bet they don't say that any more. I would not choose to feed straight alfalfa hay to any horse. But I do have good luck using it as 50% or less of my horses' diet. I have never had a horse that showed metabolic issues as a result of being fed alfalfa--and apparently such horses are quite common. And then again, mine are all QHs and the people I have talked to with alfalfa intolerant horses have other breeds. Who knows? Anyway, yes, I am not fixing what isn't broke and am happy with my current results.

Good to hear from you. I always enjoy your comments.

Unknown said...

Great post. I feel similar to you, though from a slightly different back ground.

I started riding at an English barn in Maine at 5 yrs old (1 lesson a wk), then at 10 moved to CA and re-started and rode the bejesus out of the old grey Arab mare next door. This mare had the biggest sway hay-belly you've seen in your life and an OPINION. So at this point I wore a helmet but was more or less learning about horsemanship from tearing around the neighborhood on Pretty Lady the mare, sometimes saddled, sometimes not. I was fortunate enough to get my own horse in high school, start riding AERC LDS, and worked for a couple of years as a trail guide/wrangler for a well known endurance rider on the north coast. So the endurance training/diet etc was flowing my way in my teenage years.

BUT, so was survival. Life as a trail guide/wrangler can be hairy and there was often no time to have quiet discussions or time on the ground with the horses you were riding. 4 rides a day and up to 40 horses in and out of the gate each time packing tourists who had never ridden before..well, I was the BOSS of my horse or sh*t might go down (and sometimes still did)

I think that BOSS attitude has really stuck with me in my relationships with my current herd, and as I started blogging and reading and learning a lot more about natural horsemanship and the broohaha over all the big name trainers...well I'm frankly not very interested in big names, but I am interested in getting things done with happy, healthy horses. I don't think one way or the other is the absolute correct one, I've had to change and rethink my methods quite a few times with the diverse group I've got right now (Arabs: a 6 yr old greenie, 2 15 yr olds, and a yearling!). I am entertained by their personalities and am often affectionate with them, but I am BOSS and that isn't up for discussion.

Sorry that was so long! Um did I mention, great post? :p

Laura Crum said...

Bird--I so agree with you. I want my horses healthy and happy and I try VERY hard to keep them that way. I honestly feel that being the BOSS in no uncertain terms helps keep my horses happy, if you know what I mean. They feel safer and more confident in me.

I really enjoy reading about your Arabs and your endurance adventures. All your horses are lovely (OK my QHs are no match for those Arab heads when it comes to looks), but your six year old greenie (Joey) is spectacular. Doesn't hurt that bay is my favorite color.