Yesterday I commented on a horse forum about my experience boarding at a co-op. I’ve been at this barn for almost 9 years now (!) and the post made me reflect on how much my horse care practices have changed since I moved there.
In general, I’ve become both more knowledgeable and more tolerant. The former, because I had to; as a boarder I’d depended too heavily on my barn manager and found myself woefully ignorant. The latter because it’s the only way to make a co-op work! Once I educated myself about the “right” way to do things, I had to expand my thinking to accept that there is, generally, more than one right way.
So, here it goes:
- I now feed a forage based diet. I start with free choice hay and build my nutritional package from there. When I boarded my last horse he was eating 8 quarts of pellets/day plus one quart of oats. After having him home for awhile, he transitioned 2 quarts of alfalfa pellets/day plus 2 lbs of a ration balancer with his grass hay.
- If my horse misses a meal I don’t panic. Last week during the Nor’easter, my horse wouldn’t come in to eat — it was too windy and he was too spooked. Since we always have hay out, I didn’t worry about whether or not he ate his dinner. He’s hardly starving.
- Feeding times are now random. I used to believe that horses needed to be fed at the same time every day. At a co-op, where people’s schedules are all slightly different, it doesn’t work that way. Guess what? The horses all survived. In fact, because they don’t expect to be fed at a specific time, they don’t get worked up about it, either. More hay helps because they generally aren’t so hungry.
- My horse lives out 24/7. I used to tuck my horse up in his stall, wrapped in a blanket with two buckets of water and a few flakes of hay. When winter came, I’d close the barn up and feel good about keeping my horse warm and dry. Now, I blanket appropriately and let him choose whether he wants to be inside or out. I’m constantly amazed by how much the horses prefer to be out, even during the wettest rain and the coldest nights. They only want to come in when it’s hot out. Letting horses live outside also reduces the chance of respiratory illnesses which are often caused when barns are shut up and horses breathe in dust from shavings, etc.
- I blanket less. Watching my horses I’ve come to understand that horses tolerate the cold much better than the heat. I no longer dress my horses like my kids. I let them be horses.
- I’ve learned more basic care procedures. When I first arrived at the barn I’d never given an IM shot. In fact, I’d never even wormed my own horse. I have since become accomplished at syringing medications into the mouths of horses that hate medicine, know how to treat cellulitis, clean a wound, treat an abscess, body clip, and give IM shots in a variety of locations. I always knew how to apply a standing wrap but am better at it!
Of course, with horses, they are always coming up with new things to teach you, so I expect my education will continue.