The one person who instantly gains my respect is the rare person that says, “The more I’m around horses, the less I know.” Far too many people actually believe they are experts in equine matters and stop trying to learn anything else. There is a big difference between someone who has, “been there, done that,” and someone who, “knows it all.” Every day around a horse is a learning experience – if the mind stays open. Close the door to learning and everyone suffers, including the horses. If you are around people that believe they know it all, wander off and find someone who wants to learn more and will learn with you.
There are a zillion things to learn about horses and no one has all the knowledge, no matter what they say. One of my greatest teachers was a 6 year old girl who proved beyond any doubt that she knew far more about trailer loading than me. When I paused after 30 minutes of frustration after trying to trailer load a young Arabian mare, she walked the horse into the trailer and back out, then handed me the lead rope and said, very calmly, “See, it isn’t so hard. You can do it. Just keep trying.” Another was an old farmer who showed me that all you need to do is pick up a couple of balls of poop from a horse and rub them onto the floor of the trailer by the door. The horse will figure he’s been there before (it’s his poop) and won’t be so scared to walk in. It works.
What so often happens when someone sees an extremely thin horses is they immediately say the reason is the lack of food. As the saying goes, it ain’t necessarily so, and while some of the actual causes might be due to improper diet, there are some causes that are far outside the normal scope of care.
Before we go any further, lets get rid of one myth. “The horse is skinny because it’s old.”
There was a time when that was a valid statement, and it wasn’t that long ago. Before our modern wormers, vets had no real way to actively attack heavy worm infestitations. When I was young, cowboys used Red Man chewing tobacco. They would spit a wad of it in the horse’s mouth to kill worms. It was nasty, of course, and you and your horse really had to trust one another to get a dose transferred, but that was the extent of worming technology. As a result, as the horses got older the load of worms got heavy, the horse would get skinny and eventually the horse would die. With the current wormers, the worm infestation can be removed and horses can live far longer and look far healthier. Our oldest was 42, finally dying of severe colic, but he looked like a 10 year old. We have dozens of horses in their mid to late 30’s, all fat and sassy.
As an excuse, old is no longer valid. There is absolutely no association between age in horses and a reason the horse is extremely thin. Old folks still use that as a reason and others will assume they know what they are talking about. It’s wrong.
So what are some of the reason a horse may be thin?
Number one, of course, is the lack of food. How much food is sometimes an issue, especially for animals that have no grazing area. The standard used throughout the industry is 1 percent of their ideal body weight in high quality grain and 2 percent of their ideal body weight in forage. Ideal body weight should be what is the norm for the breed and life style of the horse. An active quarter horse might weigh 1,200 pounds. An inactive,, retired gelding might weigh 900. If given an average of 1,000 pounds, a horse should be eating 10 pounds of high quality feed and 30 pounds of quality forage daily.
But wait! There is more to it than that.
We have 70 horses at the ranch that don’t receive any feed. They are on a free choice, hay only diet, while others just have pasture for grazing, with no grain and no hay. All the horses have tubs full of minerals, and all of them are between 5 to 7 on the body score scale. So don’t all horses need some type of grain?
There is a lot of discussions around the country on the proper equine diet. If 300 equine vets gathered in one place, they would be able to give you 300 opinions about the proper diet, with no two being the same. However, we’re not talking about the ideal diet. As a rescue, our concern is that the horses have the amount of food necessary to maintain a healthy body condition, and that body condition is measured by the body scoring chart in Part Two.
How the horse gets there and stays there is for a vet to tell the owner. If the owner wants to feed hay only, that’s their decision. Your concern is that the horse maintains a healthy body condition.
- Group feeding and the horse is being chased away from the feed and/or hay
- Bad teeth – the horse is dropping feed and spitting out balls of hay
- Any number of other medical problems that only a vet can determine
Many times, when a pasture houses several horses and only one is skinny, it’s one of those problems. That still does not excuse the owner. The lack of necessary care is still a criminal offense and the owner must get the horse to a vet. That’s the law.
One important note – seems silly and mindless to say this but unless you are actually a vet, remember that you are not a vet. You cannot and should not try to diagnose a health issue. That’s where lawsuits get started and rightfully so. If you try to get an owner to deworm a skinny horse and the horse dies, guess what you did. Don’t do it. Leave the medical stuff to the vets. All you need to do is advise the owner that the horse must be seen by a vet.
One of those wise people I told you about at the beginning of this used to tell me that the person he was most afraid of was the person that knew just enough to be dangerous. I’m sure you know people like that – they read a book, watched a video or saw something on RFD-TV and they instantly know how to train a horse. They got a pamplet and know all about homeopathic medicine, They found a website and know all about natural hoof trimming.
Be careful with people like that. Let them work on your car, paint your house, fix a toilet, but keep them away from the animals. Life is too precious and health is to valuable to place it in the hands of well-meaning people that really don’t know what they are doing. A good example is when they are turned loose in the feedroom.
Most of us are not that knowledgable about calcium-phosphorus ratio in horses, but it’s very important to know this one statment – mess it up and you could do major damage to your horse. The final part of today’s lesson, click here to learn the basics and to avoid becoming one of those charmong folks that stand in the feed room mumbling, “…a little of this, some of that, some of this red bottle, an ounce of that….”
Ready to learn the basics of refeeding the starved horse? Here’s a hint about the seriousness of the next part – if you do it wrong, the skinny horse you saved will die within three days.
If you are learning anything from this series, click “Like” and I’ll continue, otherwise I’ll go back to my old ways of ranting and raving about all the injustice in the world.