Whether your horses live on hundreds of acres of rolling green pastures, or they spend most of their time in stalls, forage is the most important part of your horses diet. Forage comes in many forms. Square and round bales, compressed bales, hay pellets, hay cubes, hay shreds, and of course grass. Hay also comes in two main types, Grass and Legumes. There are many types of hay available depending on your location. Since we are based out of Texas, we will discuss mainly the types of hay available here, Coastal/Bermuda, Tifton 85, and Alfalfa, and we will brush on other types of hay as well, such as timothy and orchard grass. In addition, we will discuss option for forage and hay in a drought stricken area.
Let's start out with the basics. Why is forage important, what are ways to feed it, and just how much hay should you be feeding? It is a common misconception that horses need grain. In a world where barns are growing and pastures are shrinking, grain is seen more and more and in larger and larger quantities. Let's stop right there. Horses are not made to digest grain, plain and simple. Now, obviously they do digest it, as hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of horses are fed several pounds of grain per day, but when it comes down to brass tax, grain was never meant to be part of a horses daily diet. We could get in to different types of grain and ways to feed, but I will save that for another blog. To put it simply, grain should be fed only to supplement the nutrients the horse is not receiving from his hay and other forage based diet.
So why is hay so important? It all starts with the digestive tract [pictured below]. The horses digestive tract is broken down into two parts, the foregut - consisting f the Stomach and the Small Intestine - and the hindgut - consisting of the colon, the cecum, and rectum. The horses stomach is considerably small in comparison to the intestines, and the overall size of the animal. Because of this, horses are much better off (and are actually designed to) eat small amounts of forage constantly, versus 1 or 2 large meals a day. For horses that are turned out on grass the majority of the time, this is not a very difficult thing to accomplish, but for horses kept in stalls or turned out on dirt, you may have to make some alterations.
For horses turned out that don't have much or any grass, Round Bales are a great option. Several horses can eat on one at a time, and usually horses wont just stand there and pig out until its gone, and depending on the number of horses and the amount of time they have access to the bale, the usually last about a week. Many people will put a net over the bale to prevent wasting hay, and nets with small holes make the horses eat slower so they bale lasts longer. For stalled horses, it is best to try and keep hay in front of them at all times. Fortunately for my readers, I live in the real world and understand this is not always an option, so break feedings down to several times a day, for hay especially, aim for at least 2 times, but a breakfast, lunch, dinner is best, with dinner obviously being the largest of the three to get them through the night. Again, small holed hay nets work wonders for horses that eat quickly. Most stalled horses are fed on a twice a day, AM/PM Schedule. Because horses aren't really made to digest grain, it is important to always feed hay first, and grain second. This gets the hindgut going, and makes it easier for the horses to breakdown and process the grain.
As with everything your horse eats, hay should always be fed from the ground. Again, this is how hey were designed. They were not made to eat above their heads, or even level to their shoulders... a concept a wish many barn designers and builders would get through their heads. Horses are VERY capable of picking up individual pieces of hay, while leaving shavings behind. If you are very concerned, sweep the shavings away from where your horses hay will be. Hay may also be fed in large muck buckets to keep it off the ground and in one place. For harder keepers, horses with allergies, horses that are subject to Choke, or horses with bad teeth, you can soak your hay as well.
How much hay and forage to feed your horse varies depending on each individual animal. Obviously a horse in work 6 days a week is going to burn more calories than a horse that spends 24 hours on a 2 acre paddock. On average, a horse should receive about 2% of their body weight in forage each day. Lets say the average horse is 1,000 lbs, that's 20lbs per day of forage, which is about 1/3 of a square bale. I can tell you right now, if I fed several of my horses 1/3 of a square bale each day and nothing more, animal control would be knocking on my door. Remember, also, that horses gain weight from hay and forage, not from grain, so if you notice your horse is loosing weight, or you have one that needs to gain a few pounds, increase the amount of hay and forage based meals rather than the amount of grain.
Ok, so now we know how to feed the forage, but how do you know what kind of forage to feed? There are so many types of hay, so many different forms, and just why exactly can't I feed "Cow Hay" to my horses? All this and more coming in Part Two! Stay Tuned!
Sweet Bernie (PA-T2654-10) is a Canter PA Trainer owned listing. He is a 2007 16.1 1/2 hand colt, and is qualified for Canters gelding incentive fun, where they will donate $100 towards getting him gelded. For more information on Bernie, and more horses like him, please visit www.CanterUSA.org or click on his picture to go directly to his page.
Some see stud chains as great training tools, some see them as cruel devices, but one thing we can all agree on is that if improperly used, a stud chain can be very dangerous. This blog was actually inspired by a story circulating facebook of a girl who had the stud chain improperly connected, her horse was grazing, caught his foot and the long story short is during the freak out, he broke his neck and had to be put down on the spot. That may sound like a rare case, but stud chains are used incorrectly way more often than people think. I hope this blog can help correct that.
How to connect your stud chain to the horses halter:
The above picture shows a stud chain properly attached, through the near side ring, over the nose, through the far side ring, and up the far side cheek piece, where it is then connected to the far side crown piece ring. You will also see the chain run just over the nose, or through the nearside ring, over the upper gums, though the far side nose ring, and connected to the far side crown piece ring. Though I do not suggest a stud chain be used in the hands of a novice or otherwise inexperienced horseperson, under no circumstances should a lip chain be used by anyone other than a very experienced horseman.
Never, ever run your stud chain through the ring under the horses chin, then double back and connect it to itself. This creates a loop that your horse can get caught in, or get it caught on something and not break. If you do not need a chain for your horse, do not use a lead shank that has one.
When to use a stud chain:
Stud chains can be very useful tools when used correctly. Just like a spur, a stick, a dressage whip, a stronger bit, etc, when used improperly, or in the wrong hands, only then can it be considered a tool of abuse. Stud chains most serve their purpose for hot horses that need a little extra discipline to walk on a lead, perhaps one that is more 'up' in a new environment, to extreme cases of one that rears on a lead or strikes out. Most horses learn to respect the chain over their nose and simply putting it on does the trick. Some horses need them when getting needle shots, or being clipped or shod. Do not just put the chain on a horse because you like the look of it.
How to use a stud chain:
Whenever the chain is not in immediate loose, you should have slack in your line, and the chain. A taught chain will do nothing but dull the nerves and make the horse more resistant to the pressure. Anytime you do need to use the chain, a quick jerk of the shank will suffice. As with any device, start with light pressure and give the horse the benefit of the doubt that he will respond appropriately the first time. Never jerk the chain with all your strength on a horse you do not know, an even then, only in a very extreme case that has you and/or the horse in immediate danger. Stud chains are to be used very similarly to a choke chain on a dog.
I hope this has helped clear up some of the air on stud chains, and when and how to use them. It has been my experience that most horses that 'need' a stud chain actually need a tune up on ground work by a qualified professional. As with all of our information blogs, if you are unsure about something, please feel free to email us at SouthCoastSportHorses@yahoo.com, comment below, or of course, as your trainer!
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