Monday, November 3, 2008

Best of FHOTD: Old Does Not Equal Skinny!

By request, here's my blog from 4/30/08 about keeping weight on old horses, especially in the winter. Now's the time to fix it if you have any seniors that aren't looking their best - before the really rough weather hits.

Just to make the point again, because honestly it's a point that can't be made too often, here are some of your very old, very good weight, very happy horses! I also want to talk a little bit about what your best tips & tricks are for putting weight on an oldster. Some of the things I like to try if the obvious things don't work (i.e. free choice hay/good pasture):

1. Probiotics. I've just found that they seem to help a lot of horses get more out of their food.

2. Daily dewormer, like Strongid C. I've had very good results with this.

3. Obviously, check teeth and if you can't fix the dental issues immediately (lots of vets won't sedate a horse in poor condition until he's stronger) put the horse on a diet of orchard grass pellet mush. You can feed this pretty much free choice, even to a horse who is very thin, and I have not seen it hurt them a bit. Basically take 2 scoops, soak in hot water (temp you'd shower in, not too hot) for 10 minutes, and serve. The pellets soak quickly, not like beet pulp. You can top dress it with something tastier for a picky eater - I've used a little high-fat rice bran, or a handful of wet COB, or oats. When I first got Clover, the sorrel pictured yesterday, she got four feedings a day like this. Packed the pounds right back on her in 2 months time. They can eat mush if they're toothless and they can eat mush if their teeth are sharp. It is a quick, easy, and pretty much fool proof way to refeed a starved horse.

4. Blood work. If lots of good food is having no effect, run the blood panel. See what you have going on.

5. A stressed horse will not put weight on - remove him from stress. If your other horses are hard on him, come on -it's easy to put in a cross fence with hot tape and t-posts. A horse who is in a lot of pain on a daily basis will not put weight on. When a horse cannot maintain weight due to pain, it is probably time to say goodbye.

6. I've had good luck with commercial weight builder supplements. My favorite so far is Weight Builder. I am trying Source right now on an older TB mare that I would like another 100 lbs on. I did not particularly get results with Cool Calories and it gave the horse I tried it on diarrhea, but your mileage may vary.

OK now for the fun part...and those of you who own these horses, YOU ROCK!

"This mare is off a Nevada Feedlot 1 day before she was due to be shipped to Mexico Slaughter Plant. She was "Free" to me...

Hay..HAY and more hay (fed free choice of course!), Beet Pulp, Senior Pellets, Hay Pellets,Special joint lube stuff, vaccinations (X2 as I didn't know her History) Wormer (X4) due to her horrible parasite load. Ferrier Services (X3) due to her horrible over grown hooves. Vet (X3) she was a body score of 1+, Equine Dentist Services(which is how I know for sure she is 30+,and LOTS of misc. horse items she "needed= $2500 for 9 months.... Looking into her soulful eyes and seeing her say "Thank You"==== PRICELESS!!!!"

"I thought you might like to see a picture of my elderly Peppy San bred quarter horse gelding. This picture was taken last summer when he was 30. He'll be 31 in a couple of months and is still going strong with just a little arthritis that is manageable with glucosamine and MSM. He still loves to run and is still being regularly ridden. I'll probably still show him again this year. He's smooth and a pleasure to ride."

"She was an Appaloosa/TB broodmare at the time (by Rustler Zip) - broke, but poorly (had a rearing habit, absolutely couldn't abide any pressure on her mouth). She had a quirky reputation and some disturbing behaviours, but right from the start I trusted her. She was hot and reactive, but honest with a heart of gold and we got along famously. It wasn't long before she became a wonderful horse to ride. I trail rode her in the mountains and showed her in hack classes. Unfortunately when her owners sold her the following year for $2,000 I was unable to buy her because I was a starving student. Her new owner had a beautiful stable and was an advanced rider, but it was a bad match ... her behaviour deteriorated again until she gained a reputation for being dangerous. They decided she had a brain tumour that was making her crazy, and a couple of years later they sold her at auction for $405. It took me a few months to track her down because her new owner hadn't updated her papers, but after canvassing all the vets and farriers in the area I finally got a tip that paid off. I bought her from a dealer for $600 (she was 10 then) and swore she would never be sold again; she was too easy to misunderstand and in the wrong hands would have had a miserable life. She soon became one of the most reliable horses I've ever owned. I showed her in hack classes and dressage and won a lot. I also trail rode her extensively. There were some hard times in those first years when I had nothing to eat except plain spaghetti with nothing on it, but she never went without." This mare lived to be 24 and is pictured above at a horseshow with a young rider at age 21. You can bet she never got "skinny because she was old" with this owner!

Now here is a before and after from someone who easily put weight back on a skinny rescued senior!

"In March 2003 we rescued a Belgian draft gelding from an auction. He was the perfect example of so much of what you preach in your blog. As we found out later, He started his journey in the winter of 02. He was an old (22) work horse that probably started loosing too much weight and then was promptly taken to the local horse auction to be ditched before he started costing his owners money. Bad news, the nearest auction was The New Holland Horse Auction in PA. They are probably the biggest sellers of horse meat on the east coast. By some miracle he left with a horse dealer not the meat man. Well, after years of abuse (and the scars to prove it) he bounced from trader to trader. All the while getting thinner and thinner. Finally he made it to our local auction. I went with a friend to look for a horse for her. But, The second I saw this poor horse I knew he was coming home with me. I told my husband, at the very least we can give him a humane end to an awful life, like the asshats that used him up and threw him away should have!"

"Our 1st call was to the vet. After an exam and blood work we decided that he might be able to make it. The only thing we could not identify were 2 hard lumps on ether side of his neck. They did not appear to be a problem, so we decided to worry about them later if he even survived. Well after 2 months in a pasture Bull got really sick. We rushed him to NC State Vet School Hospital. They scoped him and found nearly a foot of "food" stuck in his throat. They had to DRILL the mass, and it wasn't going well. They found food in his neck that I never fed him, like CORN! They figure he probably started having a problem with choke a while back, but was never properly treated. That was most likely the reason for his sale in the 1st place. Of course, now we knew what those 2 strange lumps on his neck were, hard masses of food product collected in "pockets" in his throat caused by chronic choke. After 24 hours my husband and I had decided that if they couldn't remove the mass, we would have him put down. We were just thankful for the 2 good months we had. After another 24 hours they called us to let us know they finally cleared all the "food" out of his throat, and he was ready to come home! Everyone was amazed. It took 2 full days of drilling and flushing to remove all the crap that had built up in his throat, and all the while he was a perfect gentleman. Before sending him home they weighed him on their scale. He was only 1250lb, after 2 months of GAINING weight.

Over time Bull improved both physically and mentally. He had many scars from his younger days. That dent in his neck just in front of his withers was a full 1in deep indent from the harness that didn't fit him. He also had a string of bald scars around his neck from the same harness. They where so scarred the hair never did grow back. He was very suspicious of people, and would literally cringe when you reached your hand out to him.

The happy ending? Bull grew to a whopping 2500lb! He figured out we were not going to hurt him and just loved being ridden on the trails here. He also gave lessons here to both the kids and adults. He was always the 1st to the gate to greet you. He finally had the life every horse dreams of, food to eat, kids to love him, and a family that would never sell him.

Sadly, at the age of 26 we had to put Bull to sleep due to internal bleeding and an abdominal abcess. We were blessed with the ability to give this great horse what he deserved after years of service to humans, a dignified and PAINLESS death. He is buried in the pasture so he can be with us forever."

Isn't it AMAZING how many of you CAN successfully keep your old horses shiny and happy and healthy? Sure, it is harder with some than with others. I mentioned that I'm trying to pack another 100 lbs. on my most recently acquired mare - a typical tall, nervous Thoroughbred who can drop weight because the temperature drops, or she is upset, or the day ends in Y - you know the type! Some of them are puzzles but they are puzzles that CAN be solved. Don't just accept that an old horse will look thin - I was taught that too, when I was growing up, but we're all adults now, with Internet access, and we can educate ourselves about how to make sure our seniors look fantastic!