Monday, November 10, 2008

Fatten Up and Go Faster

As Brian mentioned in the last the last two posts, we've been going out to the barn a lot lately. We have been particularly motivated for two reasons. One is that, as I mentioned in previous posts, Steen is apparently not the kind of horse that will get fat on a pasture diet. I knew he was underweight when I got him, but everyone seemed to agree that putting him out with good grazing 24/7 would bulk him up in no time at all. Most of the other pasture horses are quite round (though now that I am looking, I can see some are significantly underweight), so it seemed reasonable to assume Steen would go that direction as well.

But he didn't. And after many weeks of worry and learning (and worming and dental work), I started Steen on grain. Then, when that had no noticeable effect, upped his grain-intake significantly. For a while, this was working. Steen was gaining bulk and a roundness to his belly, which was then gradually distributing across the rest of his body.

But then we went to Tucson, and my brother visited, and we went to Chicago, and I got sick. And I didn't go to the barn for a week. The thing about pasture boarding that I normally like but is sometimes inconvenient is that if we don't handle our horse, nobody does. I had no idea that a horse could lose so much weight from just a week without grain, but Steen did. When I returned to the barn after my hiatus, he seemed to have lost all his gained bulk, and I was a little beside myself with worry.

So, Brian and I have made a collective effort to get and keep the weight on him, and after a solid week of grain every day, I think he has made up the progress he lost. His back is still bony, and his shoulders are a little hollow, but he has a nice round butt and even his legs are looking beefier. Our plan is to keep up with the high-grain intake until he is nice and plump all over, and then slowly back it off to keep him from getting fat.

Once again, I can now look back on my horse knowledge six months ago and marvel at how much it has increased since my purchase of Steen. I tended to think thin horses were better-off than round ones, but having now read more about horse physiology, particularly in colder climates, I have learned my opinion was completely backwards.

The other reason we've been getting out more is the weather is getting decidedly colder and frequently wet. These are not good conditions for biking, but it is not ski season yet. This has left Brian in search of something to do, and since our board-fee includes the use of our lovely, lighted indoor arena, he has devoted himself more fully to Steen - a state I couldn't be happier with.

As he mentioned, we've been working on the lope a lot lately. Up until now, we have mostly been focused on manners and relaxation and getting Steen settled in. Since every horse I've ever ridden is made more excitable by loping, I have often kept Steen walking and trotting to keep his nervousness level down. However, Steen is now what you might call very relaxed in his environment (particularly when we're not riding), so we've decided to make his rides a little more demanding. Since introducing the lope to every ride, I have definitely noticed some back-sliding in the areas of "stand still when stopped" and "walk until told to trot," but as he is always still easily controlled in his moments of misbehavior, his trot remains usually slow and smooth, and his overall demeanor relaxed, I am hopeful this stage will pass as he learns the lope is nothing to get worked up about, just another thing we do. And the gait itself is already benefiting from the extra time we're putting into it. In just a week, he is smoother and more balanced, less likely to drop out of it in the corners, and more consistently picking up the right lead.

So, I continue in my mode of teacher who is learning rapidly. As Brian also mentioned, we've got a bareback pad on the way, and although I have never found a bareback pad I liked before, this one appears to be very carefully designed and I have high hopes it will be helpful and functional. Until the weight-gain pads Steen's spine a little more, I might even use it.


  1. Yeah, I agree with your comment on boarding. I feel like I need to go out there almost everyday anyway to take care of various things with the horses, so why not just have them at home? (Admittedly, I'm not in a position to do that right now...but if I were.) Having them at home would also give me greater control over both their diet and living space, which I'm not entirely happy with. My stable is pretty willing to take care of some of the "extra" things, but they charge for it (not that charging is unfair, but I just can't justify the extra costs right now).

    Just out of curiosity, what grain are you feeding? I've had good luck with Strategy (by Purina), and the stuff they feed at my barn seems to be working well too (I forget the name, but I keep meaning to ask again). My horses did well on just hay for awhile, but around the time they turned 10 they just didn't seem to keep weight on without grain.

    Good luck with it all.

  2. Certainly, if we ever have our own land, I'd rather have my horse closer to me than farther. Although depending on where we end up living, this might mean building our own indoor arena, or boarding during the winter months, because most horses in Iowa don't seem to get ridden December - March because of bad footing, and that wouldn't work for me.

    I have been feeding SafeChoice, also by Purina. It is supposedly formulated particularly to be easily digested, and my vet recommends it because it is consistently high-quality and doesn't tax the stomach. I think it is quite similar to Strategy, though. Thanks for the input. It's always nice to have a few options in mind.


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