From Endurance to Dressage
Why is feeding a horse so dang complicated? You should see our feed room. There are piles of different kinds of feed bags, supplements, and cookies; frankly, I struggle to keep it all organized. And the funny thing is that I TOTALLY subscribe to the KISS method of horse keeping. Nothing simple about my routine.
Speedy's feed is pretty well dialed in. He gets enough alfalfa to always have at least a little bit that he can pick through during the day. The ranch owner recently adjusted his ration because he was leaving too much. She's always searching for the magic amount that keeps him with hay all day without wasting piles of it. He also gets a bit of beet pulp and rice bran just to make him happy. In the winter, I increase both, but right now, with our hot weather, I feed it more as a treat than for actual nourishment.
Izzy, on the other hand, is not so easy to feed. Over the winter, I discovered that he is far, FAR more sensitive to the energy available in his feed than I had previously thought. I've known for more than a few years that alfalfa makes him hot, but this winter, he showed me that he has no tolerance for it at all. The day after cutting even his token handful of alfalfa, his energy level dropped to just regular horse energy as opposed to a horse "jacked up on Mountain Dew."
The thing is, grass hay isn't particularly nutrient/energy rich. And for a horse who works as hard as Izzy does, it's not really enough feed even though he gets mounds of it, heaps of it, PILES of it. The ranch owner jokes that she just can't stuff enough of it into him. If she comes out mid-day and sees his feeder empty (not very common), she fills it back up. The dude gets as much as he wants.
To make sure that he gets enough calories, I also supplement daily with several pounds of beet pulp and a pound and a half of rice bran. And on the rare days when I can't come out, the ranch owner and I have set up a communication system. If I am not going to make it out to the ranch, I text her so that she can increase his hay that day because If I don't feed him his supplemental feed, he blows through his hay far too quickly.
Part of the problem is that Izzy simply can't consume enough grass hay to meet his daily requirement. The stomach can only hold so much, and grass hay is a little like eating rice cakes. I can eat those things all day long, but I am not going to be able to maintain my weight. Like I couldn't stand to re-lose a few pounds. Would someone PLEASE feed me some rice cakes for a few days?
So, he gets added beet pulp and rice bran. I used flaxseed oil for about a year, and while it was working pretty well, it was a bit messy to deal with. I did some searching, hoping to find a denser feed that didn't take up as much volume as hay that was also cleaner than oil. Enter Cool Calories. It's about the same price-wise as flaxseed oil, but it's a whole lot easier to feed.
The directions state that you can feed 2 - 4 ounces daily, and up to 8 ounces for horses that are severely underweight. I started with 1 ounce for several days. Things went well. In fact, Izzy was darn near lazy on Wednesday but still super focused. The product claims its "High-fat formula provides cool energy ideal for performance horses." That was exactly what I was looking for; more calories without more 'hot" energy.
On Wednesday afternoon, I bumped his serving up to 2 ounces. On Thursday morning, he was literally vibrating under the saddle. I rode him for nearly an hour and a half, trying everything I could to get at least a semblance of relaxation, and if not that, maybe some control. Within 10 minutes of riding him, I had to switch out his snaffle for the correction bit. He simply couldn't hear the snaffle. I let him blow off steam by cantering, doing transitions, more cantering, walking, but nothing would "cool" him down.
At first, I just chalked up his ... exuberance to "one of those days," but when he just Would. Not. Let. It. Go. I started asking what else it could be. That's when I remembered that I had bumped up his Cool Calories the day before. I could be wrong, but he has proven to me that his energy level can go through the roof in just one day. On the other hand, it also comes back to normal as soon as the energy inducing edible is gone. While Cool Calories may offer "cool" energy, it's still ENERGY, something he doesn't need more of.
So far, the only fats that don't seem to spike his energy level are those in rice bran and flaxseed oil; so much for cleaner and easier to feed. I think I'll shelve this bag until winter when he really might need more energy to keep warm. And if he loses any more weight, I'll either boost his rice bran or order more flaxseed oil.
Thank goodness one of my horses is easy to feed. Where one is easy, the other is always hard. This time, the point goes to Speedy.
I wish we could just settle on one feed program and stick with it. I eat the same breakfast and lunch virtually every day. Why can't my boys get on board? Because they can't, that's why. With changes in the weather, their fitness, and about a million other things, it becomes necessary to reevaluate with some frequency.
After our vet visit last week, I dragged out my scale and started re-weighing stuff. Speedy's low carb senior feed comes in at 1.5 pounds a can, the same as the last check. He gets 4 cans a day, two in the morning and two at night. This week, I also put him back on a quarter cup of Horse Guard's Flaxen Flow, a flaxseed oil, as we move into the cooler months. He's also now getting a daily 2 ounce scoop of Horse Guard's Vitamin mix. And of course he gets as much alfalfa as he'll eat, usually two hefty flakes a day.
I changed Izzy's feed scoop a few months back and hadn't actually weighed how much beet pulp it holds. I was just guessing. When I put his loaded scoop on the scale, it came in at just over a pound, but only barely. That didn't seem like enough now that we're trying to put weight back on. I reloaded the scoop and was much happier with what the scale showed - 1.75 pounds.
As my vet directed, I am putting him back on rice bran, a feed that he's done quite well with in the past. That adds another 1.5 pounds of calorie dense feed.
On top of that, he's also getting a quarter cup of flaxseed oil as well as a scoop of the same vitamins that Speedy's getting. His daily ration now includes 1 flake of alfalfa, 3 flakes of grass hay, 1.75 pounds of beet pulp, 1.5 pounds of rice bran, ¼ cup of flaxseed oil, and a scoop of vitamins. The boy is eating better than I do.
Fortunately, both horses liked the vitamins and scarfed them right down. They come in a really interesting bag that has a sort of velcro closure. Pretty smart packaging. Even with the closure, I worried about the bag tipping over though, so I'm storing it in a bucket for now.
So what does feeding my two horses now look like?
All of that feed now adds up to quite a complicated list. Here's what it boils down to:
I am not sure what else I could possibly add. Scratch that. There's plenty more I could toss in; I just don't want to! I think this menu is sufficient. We'll see how they do as we move into winter.
I have no words.
We all know that's a lie. I always have words. And right now, they are particularly ... choice. Mother Forklift!
On Sunday, for my lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, Speedy was lame on his right front. We both agreed it wasn't a maybe he'll work out of it kind of lameness, but it didn't seem like anything to worry about. Speedy had just had his feet trimmed and there looked to be some bruising on his hoof wall. I put him away and rode Izzy instead.
My migraines made a reappearance this week, so yesterday was the first day since Sunday that I'd been out to the ranch. As soon as Speedy took a step towards me, my heart sank. Are you freaking kidding me? was all I could think as I rolled my eyes and flipped the universe the bird. With both hands.
I crammed a bunch of Numotizine into his foot and secured it with the usual. Good thing I bought so much duct tape last month. Here's to hoping that puppy blows out today so I can get my nearly Third Level horse back in the game.
Thanks goodness it's Friday. No, seriously. I mean it!
I've been changing my horses' supplements A LOT over the past few months. That's not something I take lightly. Changing what a horse eats can cause all sorts of problems, but it needed to be done.
The first thing I phased out was Speedy's Platinum Performance Healthy weight, a flaxseed oil. He's been eating this year's alfalfa with so much more enthusiasm that I decided to see how he'd do without the extra calories provided by the oil. So far, so good.
After that, I decided to cut out the Platinum Performance itself. I spent a couple of weeks bringing Izzy off of it by cutting the serving in half once a week. With a full bucket still in the feed room, Speedy is getting a half serving for the next two months until that bucket, too, is finished.
Both boys have been on PP's Hoof Support off and on over the past year and a half. That was always meant as a short term solution anyway, so I am thrilled that the tub is finally empty. I can now check that supplement off the list.
While I was in the middle of phasing out supplements, I suddenly found that Izzy's once very simple bucket had become unnecessarily complicated. As I eliminated one supplement, I found that I had added two. I only gave the UlcerGard for one month, so that is now done. After a lot of thought, I cancelled all future shipments of the SmartGI pellets. He will have had more than two months of "gut support": there was one month of UlcerGard followed by two months of SmartGI Pellets which began in the last week of the UlcerGard. That will have to do.
I think that supplements can be quite useful. Yellow Dog has been on a few lately. As a two-year-old, she started to become quite lame. We worked through a variety of things until they no longer worked. This year, she received a month long series of Adequan shots along with a vet recommended joint supplement. She's doing much better.
My horses, on the other hand, are healthy. They were healthy before the supplements, and I feel confident that they will continue to be so. I just got to the point where shipping and organizing and feeding got to be just too damn complicated. It is a very liberating feeling to be free of monthly buckets, wells, and tubs. Once the Platinum Performance and SmartGI Pellets run out, it will be just alfalfa and grass hay twice-a-day with LMF Senior for Speedy and a bit of beet pulp for Izzy.
And candy of course, peppermints for Speedy and butterscotch for Izzy. I am looking forward to a more simplified 2019.
The whole time I've owned horses, more than 30 years, I've always subscribed to the Keep It Simple, Stupid, or KISS method. Most supplements have always struck me as a great way to make expensive poop. You wouldn't know it by looking at Izzy's daily bucket.
Over the past few weeks, I've actually added some supplements to his already pretty complicated diet. It's frustrating and expensive, and I am working hard to whittle it back down to a simpler feeding routine.
His hay ration consists of twice daily armloads of high quality grass shipped in from Oregon. He also gets a bit of alfalfa to keep him happy. For now, his daily bucket includes:
I am just not seeing the results from the Platinum Performance that I was hoping to see. Not that I was looking for anything specific, but I had hoped for a better attitude and fewer reasons to call out the chiropractor. For the past month, both he and Speedy have been on a half serving. I just started my last bucket which should last them another two months. After that, no more Platinum Performance.
The Platinum Hoof Support should last another few weeks and that will be the end of that supplement. I never planned on giving it forever anyway. The plan was to give it for 3 - 4 months to help him grow some hoof. That has happened, so I am done with that one as well.
The SmartGI is a new normal. My vet recommended it, so it's an everyday addition for at least a year. Next fall, I'll reevaluate and see if we need a change. Of course, if things go haywire before then, I can always make a change sooner than later.
I have another few days of GastroGuard to administer, and then we'll be done with that one. I have seen a big change in Izzy's attitude though, so I may give the GastroGard when he leaves the property for something stressful or gets a dewormer.
I finally got to a point where feeding this horse has become more complicated and expensive than feeding myself. And all of it is just to "support" his health. Since I am not seeing concrete results, it leads me to believe that I may simply be creating expensive poop.
No one likes healthy poop more than me, but expensive poop is going too far. Bye-bye expensive bucket, hello less-expensive bucket!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: