Goldilocks and the Three Horses
The story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” came to mind recently while grappling with a way I could feed three horses, of varying breeds, ages and workloads after moving them from their pampered routine of daily buckets of individualized ration on my farm to a public board facility with twice daily feedings.
If you keep your horses at home and feed them yourself, creating a personalized feeding program is doable. Keeping horses at a board facility means your horse is fed to an average level of care. As a boarder, you have two options: you either pay an additional amount monthly for customized feeding or drive the miles necessary before and after work to visit your horse and feed him yourself.
Feeding one horse and making sure his or her nutritional requirements is met is simple, feeding three horses effectively is complex and can make a horse owner’s sanity the stuff of fairy tales. Unlike Goldilocks, who found Papa Bear’s dinner too hot, Mama Bear’s dinner too cold and Baby Bear’s meal just right, creating a feed program that sustains each horse can be simplified with a little work on your part.
Feeding a senior formula, high fat, low protein, complete feed to the off the track Thoroughbred (OTTB) gelding; a low fat formula to the four year old Percheron X Thoroughbred filly; and a working horse ration to the in-training five year old, easy-keeping Canadian, needn’t have you running for the hills.
A customized, workable feed program in partnership with your stable’s barn staff can be had with a little creativity and a whole lot of collaboration, something Goldilocks should have considered before getting herself into trouble sampling stolen oatmeal.
Most stables will feed your horse the important supplements and additional fats he needs in his paddock or stall once daily for a fee. If he’s out on paddock, they will charge for their time to remove the horse from his shared pen, feeding him separately from his paddock mates, making sure all those expensive vitamins, glucosamine, flax seed, and kelp end up in his tummy and not in his buddy’s. A solo life in a large pen, while not ideal, can mean a hard keeper has weight on consistently so he can build fitness and enjoy working weekends with you.
After purchasing the feed, make sure you store it in a clean, dry location that’s secure from rodent invasion. I like those big plastic bins with locking lids used for storing camping gear you can purchase from discount family or large hardware stores. If you keep an eye out, you can often find them on sale before summer starts. Don’t forget to put your name and your horses name on the bin in large letters! Each horse should have their own bin.
Do not expect your barn staff to measure and fiddle with tricky scoops and buckets! It’s your job to measure out all the feed your horse needs per week to help your stable meet your horse’s caloric requirements. In the past, I used extra large freezer bags for premeasured supplements and feed for my skinny Thoroughbred filly, marked in big letters with the days of the week which the barn staff easily added to their feed routine. Make sure to recycle the plastic bags after washing them out with soap and water.
Make it easy for barn staff to feed your horse the rations he needs and save yourself the worry of wondering if he’s being fed properly while you’re busy working. While your horse is number one in your heart, he may be number 32 on their list of horses to feed that day. If a month into your new program, your Goldilocks is still munching ravenously and showing ribs, watch her eat. Is she dropping food from his mouth? She could be in need of a dental visit from your Vet and to have the sharp points rasped from her teeth. If she cannot chew her food properly, chances are the expensive feed and nutrients are not making it down her throat to that big burning furnace called her gut and ending up as bird food. Ask the barn staff what they’ve noticed about her. Is he being bullied from his feed? Again, do your homework.
A happy, properly fed horse is a happy, healthy riding partner and as Goldilocks discovered, life is good with a full stomach.