Sunday, November 16, 2008

Changing Our Ways

It's been another few interesting days out at the barn. For one thing, winter is finally setting in. We have had genuinely cold temps and rain, which means the winter pasture is one solid expanse of slushy muck, and Steen is looking more than a little bedraggled.

More worrisomely, Steen has also continued to seem more than a little too thin. For a while after we increased his grain intake, he seemed to bulk up, but then he just suddenly lost all the weight again, for no apparent reason. Lately, perversely, he has dveloped a pronounced disinterest in the hay always available in the pasture, preferring instead to attemp to eat anything green that comes within reach while we're trying to work with him. Today, I went to the barn, extracted him from the pasture, took him to the grooming area and became so alarmed at his thinness that I didn't even ride, just gave him several flakes of hay and groomed him while he ate.

So, after a number of conversations with the owner of our barn, Brian and I have decided to bump Steen up in the world. Instead of passing the winter in the mud lot with the pasture horses, he's going to become a stall boarder. This means he'll spend his days in the large, mostly empty pasture up by the road, where there is still some grass and plenty of round-bale hay, and his nights indoors in a stall. I do have somewhat mixed feeling about the change. His status as a stall horse will certainly make everything more convenient for us. We will no longer have to feed him after we ride, which means we won't have to worry so much about how long we ride him to make sure we have sufficient time afterwards to wait for him to cool down completely before he gets his grain. Also, on a superficial level, the upper pasture is closer to the barn and thus faster to walk to. Furthermore, it does not get muddy because so few horses stay there, so Steen won't have the opportunities for caking himself in mud that he often avails himself of now, and we won't have to wade through the muck every time we want to ride. He will look nicer, because he won't get as dirty or be in such close quarters while eating with other horses, so won't have as many bite marks on his neck and rump.

As far as horse health goes, he will also be given his grain twice a day in smaller amounts instead of one big feeding with lots of callories, or none at all if we don't come to the barn. He will be given higher quality grass hay twice a day which should hopefully fill in for the forage he's not getting out in the winter pasture.

Of course, all this convenience and health-benefit comes at twice the price tag, plus Steen's partial confinement to a stall. Luckily, it is still a reasonable fee, and there is the added benefit that I won't worry about him nearly as much as I've been doing lately.

So, he'll start enjoying his elevated status tomorrow, and we'll see how it goes from here.


  1. I totally know where you're coming from on this one. I deliberated pretty heavily on exactly what kind of boarding to do for my horses, and in the end the choice I made was mainly based on diet (including not having to compete with other horses) and overall convenience.

    As for him staying cleaner, don't be so sure. A lot of "stall horses" end up getting dirty when they lie down in their stall at night. But a dirty, healthy horse is definitely better than a dirty, unhealthy one. :)

    Just out of curiosity, if he's getting fed separately now, why not feed some alfalfa hay?

    Anyways, hope everything works out with the upgrade.

  2. I suppose I meant "clean" in a relative sense. I know he'll still manage to get dirty, but he simply won't have access to vast expanses of mud anymore,and that will help. For instance, yesterday the bottom 4 inches of his tail was one solid block of mud which I had to intermittently soak in water and work a brush through to get clean. He'll be logistically incapable of achieving such a state in his new environment. =)

    As to alfalfa, no one here feeds it. There isn't a single flake of alfalfa in either the barn where I board or the barn where I work. I asked my vet about it, and he says in his experience it is too rich for horses and has led to founder and colic. I fed my first horse nothing but alfalfa, but now the horses at my parent's house get grass hay and compressed pellets (which incidentally I can't find here either) because our vet in Tucson has started saying the same thing. So, I guess in short I don't even know where I'd get it here, but if he's still thin after these changes, I might see about getting ahold of some and supplementing his diet that way. I have been surprised, since moving here, how many practices in keeping horses do seem to be somewhat regional...

  3. Practices in horse-keeping seem to vary not only by region, but discipline as well. In some cases this makes sense (i.e. there's a lot less pasture out west since they require a lot of irrigation to stay green, or working cattle horses having different needs than jumpers), but sometime I think they're based more on "this is how we've always done it...".

    I do find it strange no one feeds alfalfa at all out there. Here most the horses get grass/alfalfa mixes. Some horses get more of one than the other, depending on activity level/health/etc. I can definitely see not offering alfalfa as a free-choice thing, but for scheduled feedings I'd think it was fine.

    Some of the concern may depend on the quality of the alfalfa itself. I remember back when we bought hay by the truck-load we always bought 3rd or 4th cuts because the first cutting was too rich for horses. There was also a lot of fuss about leaf-to-stalk ratios and flower content, but I don't remember all of it. Maybe for some it's just easier not to feed alfalfa at all than to try and determine the exact quality?

    I agree tho, if you find something that works with Steen, just stick with it. If he's still skinny, or not really eating his grass hay maybe try to find some alfalfa.


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