Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Feeding Horses

I generally have anywhere between five and eight sale horses on my farm.  Combine that with the four of my own that will die with me, and the six boarded horses here, add in a feed program completely different for each horse and you wind up with a meal time that’s nothing short of mass chaos. 

I have a pretty simple philosophy when it comes to feeding horses: provide what they need with a good foundation grain, compensate for what they’re lacking with the proper supplements, make sure they eat it all and that no one steals anyone else’s, and keep good hay in front of them as often as possible.  Busy horses generally don’t destroy shit, whether its fencing, lean-tos, or each other.  I tried the round bale thing for a few months, and while I LOVED the convenience it afforded, it wasn’t long before my ungrateful heathens realized it was much more comfortable to tear them apart, sleep in them, shit in them, and then stand in a group banging on the gate with the “We’re STAAAARVINGGG” look on their faces. Yes, I tried round bale feeders.  Yes, the horses thought “Oh! Something else to destroy! Thanks, Mom!”.  Have you seen a horse kill a feeder?  It’s impressive.  Every now and then, when they were OBVIOUSLY near starving to death, they’d decide to take it one step further and chase the dumbest one in the herd through the electric fence to destroy its containment abilities, then all stampede across the lawn to a playing of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” that only they could hear before storming the barn like the goddamn Vikings. 

Feeding time at my place has become a rather creative hour of ring-around-the-grain-buckets, and to be honest, I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall when it comes to finding a more creative solution.  I don’t have stalls here to lock up the three obese Dyson Grain Vacuums that can wolf down a full scoop of Patriot in less than a minute and then venture off looking for someone else’s to steal.  I can’t tie everyone separated around the round pen; that leads to an equine-rendition of Riverdance as soon as they’ve finished and licked the color off of their bucket and the horse next to them is still eating.  I’ve tried leaving them in the pasture and pulling the “Special Needs” horses out to eat.  That results in even MORE of a headache.  Have you ever tried to convince two ADHD Thoroughbreds to keep their heads in their buckets and simultaneously keep 5 other Quarter Horses from tearing down a gate? 

I’ve got two Thoroughbred mares here, and for those of you who know me personally, you know I’m NOT a Thoroughbred person.  To be honest, I have as much fondness for this particular breed as I do for my yearly pap smear.  I’m sure there are those of you out there right now thinking “There’s NOTHING wrong with Thoroughbreds!  They’re wonderful animals!  You’re just not patient enough!”.  You’re right, I’m not.  I’m sure they’re phenomenal horses that, in the right hands, are capable of whipping my Paint and Quarter Horse asses in every event asked of them.  But I have a rule of thumb that any horse requiring more time and daily personal attention from me than the fifteen minutes of scratching that my dumbass stock horses require to be satisfied with life is WAY more than I’m set up to deal with.  I just don’t have the time.  I’ll board them, and I’ll sell them, but I’ll NEVER own a Thoroughbred of my own and these two mares have done nothing but affirm my steadfastness in that statement. 

Only one of these mares has ever seen a racetrack.  The other has been a hunter and Dressage horse her entire life, and she’s damn good at it, which is part of why I put up with her.  Both horses have fantastic work ethics, I’ll give them that.  I’ve never seen a buck or a “screw you” moment out of either one of them under saddle, ever.  But when it comes to feeding time, they’ve got to be the dumbest goddamn horses God ever created.  I don’t know if this is His way of paying me back for all of the GOOD horses I’ve been blessed with, but SERIOUSLY!  Both are extremely finicky eaters, if they so much as SUSPECT there’s something new in their feed, forget it.  Furthermore, both require more feed in the course of a day than a goddamn Ringling Brothers elephant.  These horses are NOT hard-working athletes when they’re here.  They work maybe 30 minutes per day, maybe four days a week, flat work mostly, maybe a few crossrails thrown in for shits and giggles.  The rest of the time, they can be found laid out in the sun napping, grazing, or turning my weekly hay purchase into a pile of shit (literally). 

Normally, I don’t mind feeding a lot of grain if its what the horse needs.  I understand high-metabolisms, I wasn’t blessed with one, but I get it.  What pisses me off is when the off-the-tracker is so preoccupied with what every OTHER horse, dog and insect on the property is doing, that she flat-out forgets she has food to eat, and two scoops turns into a four hour performance of “Mmmm, foooood…OH LOOK A BUTTERFLY!”.  Or better yet, the hunter/dressage mare acts like me asking her to eat her grain at all is like force-feeding Calista Flockhart a cheeseburger.  Trying to keep her girlish figure my ass, my paints and quarters will chow down every last pellet of grain and come back looking for more.  Fat is a great color for a horse, but no one told this mare. 

I had the vet out, he said “probably ulcers, their teeth are great”.  Go figure.  Add wholefat yogurt in a syringe to be shot down their throats before every feeding.  That worked….about a half dozen times.  I’m 5’3”, they’re 15.3 and taller with necks like giraffes.  Watching this whole process is quite entertaining, I’m sure.  Nowadays, they get half of the yogurt, twice as often, and I wear the rest.  My dogs love me. 

I truly have all the admiration in the world for true “Thoroughbred people”.  They’ve got to have the patience of Job.  And probably a better-designed feeding system.  Someone should really come buy these mares…

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