Sunday, October 28, 2007

Equine Mythology 101...class #1

I'd like to do a little series talking about classic equine myths that I grew up with (and you probably did too if you're around my age). These are things that are absolute fallacies that horsepeople believed for years, and bad horsepeople still do believe. The only difference between us and them is the willingness to be educated (and of course, the brains to pay attention over our years with horses and learn from what we observe).

Here's a big one this time of year:

He's just skinny because he's old. He doesn't put weight on no matter what I feed him. You know those Thoroughbreds!

I've been through this myself - the horse who did not put weight on no matter what we fed her. She is a late 20's Thoroughbred. Actually, what she did - and what is very common - is fatten up all summer and then drop 100 lbs. over the winter. I did all of the obvious things - she got a good waterproof blanket, she got her teeth done, we brought her in at night, we grained her. It didn't make much of a difference. She never looked awful, but she didn't look great.

This is the point at which I have seen people throw up their hands and say, oh well, she's skinny because she's old. And to that I say...nonsense. They're always skinny for a reason and it's not merely because they are old.

Here's what I did with my mare:

1. Ran a blood panel which revealed some thyroid issues. Put her on appropriate meds.

2. Moved her to a warmer climate where she wouldn't have to deal with temperature extremes. (Ontario, Canada to Tennessee)

3. Moved her to a farm where state of the art nutritional care was provided and even the soil was analyzed to determine what kind of nutrition the horses get from the grass. They experimented with different feeds to find the magic combination to puff this mare back up to weight.

Well, voila, another year has passed and while the mare is 28, coming 29, she has returned to perfect weight. She still looks 28 but her weight is just where I want it.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, an alert reader sent me this photograph of a school horse. The girl was upset because she went to a show and the judge knocked her for the horse's condition. Well HOORAY for the judge. Wish I knew who she/he is, I'd like to award them the First Annual FHOTD Gold Medal For Responsible Professional Horsemanship. The girl feels like she got screwed, because the horse's condition isn't her fault and the horse is getting plenty of feed. To quote her: "he's over 23 years old, gets 3 or 4 scoops of grain PER DAY! (which is a lot, our grain is like 25% fat) 3 flakes of hay per feeding, beet pulp, and supplements to keep his weight." She also describes how she had to ride in spurs because he was dead sided ("like, complete breakdown right before the fence, basically landed in halt mode, so i'm crazy digging my spurs in him trying to get the six in"), how he refused, and how he was starting to get sore at the end of the day. And how her trainer was going to go yell at the judge for not placing him because he's skinny "because that's how cool my trainer is."

Gee, I wish your trainer would go yell at the judge and can you video that and put that on Youtube for us, because I see a seriously amusing smackdown coming down the pike! (I am guessing Trainer figured out this would only make her look like the world's biggest asshat and settled for pouting the rest of the day with her student.)

I understand you're a kid. But your trainer has you showing a horse who is seriously underweight and it sounds like plenty sore to boot. The horse is not being a bad horse by refusing and "landing in halt mode." He probably hurts like hell. He's another good old boy that some greedy trainer is going to bute to the gills and wring the last possible $50 or $60 or $70 lesson out of. He doesn't deserve that. He should be standing in the 20 acre field next to my mares enjoying his last years, but he's not that lucky. So at the very least, kid, you might want to have Mom and Dad lay a little pressure on the trainer to get a damn blood panel run and see what is going on here. This is not normal. Not for a 23 year old. Not for a Thoroughbred. The fact that he eats a lot and doesn't gain does not give your trainer the Oscar for Good Senior Horse Care...there is nothing noble about throwing tons of food into a horse that is not gaining because something is wrong with him.

FYI, chronic pain can be a major factor in inability to gain/regain weight.

He needs a vet exam. He may need a good dental, if that hasn't been done. He needs a blood panel. Find out what is going on here and fix it, and until you do, stop using the poor thing for lessons and shows. Honestly, taking out a horse like this makes your barn look bad and it makes horseshows in general look bad. It just provides fodder for the extremist animal rights folks who don't think horses should be ridden when they see your lame, skinny horse struggling around a course. Trainer, stop treating this poor old guy as some kind of carnival ride that earns money for you. He needs rest and care and I really do hope this post embarrasses you into giving it to him...although if I know your kind as well as I believe I do, we will probably just find him at the next auction.

I'd love to be wrong.