Across Ontario, horse owners and riders are welcoming the coming of Spring. After such a cold winter, the warmer temperatures are changing the landscape, causing seasonal changes in our horses, and thankfully, making it more comfortable for us to do what we love most - hangout with our horses!
Whether you are managing equine care, riding or training your horse, you are probably changing up feeding routines and possibly changing up the feed itself, in preparation for more demanding work ahead in the months to come. If you are not doing this by now, then perhaps it is a good time to take a closer look at both the feeding program and your horse.
Many owners in Southern Ontario are already allowing their horses to access pastures that have barely started to grow. Meanwhile up here in Northern Ontario, our fields are still very much snow covered (hopefully by the time this article is printed the snow will be gone!) and horses are still relying on hay as their main forage.
With changing seasons, routines and feed programs, other changes are happening with our horses. The blankets come off and heavy winter coats begin to shed, allowing us to see more noticeably any muscular and/or weight changes that have occurred over the winter. If you haven't paid much attention to the hooves throughout the winter, then it is usually at this time of year that your farrier becomes the busiest with trims, shoeing, resolving hoof issues, etc.
The Oxford Dictionary defines "tipping point" as the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change. Sometimes the end change is positive, and sometimes negative. Or it may be irreversible. Or it may be very noticeable, or very subtle. The change can occur quickly or be prolonged over months and sometimes years. When it comes to equine health and nutrition, it is usually when the horse has reached it's tipping point (or sometime afterwards) that we actually pay attention, seeking advice from veterinarians, nutritionists, farriers, etc. At no time is the tipping point more evident than in the spring when we "suddenly" notice changes that have been happening to our equines all winter long.
When working with some of my clients, I hear concerns regarding their horses about poor hoof quality, repeat infections, weight management issues, behaviour issues, laminitis, colic, etc. These dramatic consequences are what we can see, feel, call attention to, treat, cost us money, and may, in extreme cases, be life threatening to our equines. The horse's tipping point has been reached.
If I mention getting hay analyzed and providing optimal vitamins and minerals, while meeting caloric and protein requirements all based on the horse's requirements, it is like I suddenly started talking in a foreign language to some. (Are you still with me or did I lose you?) Yet this is the fundamental practice to feeding horses which many horse owners overlook. When you provide your horse with balanced nutrition, and meet his/her nutritional needs based on requirements (health, stage, workload, etc.), the horse is less likely to reach a tipping point, and is able to maintain stability in health without consequence. While some owners choose to feed "minimal" amounts of nutrients, it does not mean "optimal", and "optimal" does not mean excessive. Finding the right amounts for your horse to carry him/her in good health throughout the seasons can sometimes be a challenge but richly rewarding.
So before you put your horse out on wintered-over grasses and soon to be lush spring pastures (both very high in sugars), I encourage you to think about your horse's tipping point so you are not putting your horse at risk with colic and/or laminitis attacks. If your horse's winter feeding program consisted of hay and a mineral salt lick, perhaps a closer look at your horse's nutritional needs is in order. With a strong foundation in nutrition (without deficiencies and excesses), keen management practices, and an astute eye for small changes, owners and horses can be rewarded with a very happy spring and a great start to a season of horsin' around!
Do you have a horse that requires a specialized diet? Do you need help in determining the best combination? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story!
Jean Klosowicz, Equine Nutrition Consultant & Educator
Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc.
Bruce Mines, ON
Healthy Horses. Happy Owners. Superior Results!
Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc.
www.SuperiorEquineNutrition.com ~ www.FeedMyHorse.ca ~ SuperiorEquine@gmail.com
The articles contained in this column are for the purpose of education and are not intended to take the place of proper veterinary care. They may be used in conjunction with such care to facilitate healing and maintain health of the horse.