I know the name of the farm is Fleece & Feather, but I have to include these two. Simon, a 27 year old Quarter horse, has been with me for 14 years now, and Dave, a 27 year old Appaloosa, has been with me about 2 years. Simon was my show horse, bringing me up through the ranks and showing me the ropes. He’s retired now, and that’s where Dave comes in. Dave is just a lawn ornament. He came from a rescue in southern Ohio who was initially supposed to be a foster horse. I always laugh because I think they should have their own morning talk radio show – Simon & Dave in the Morning.
This “winter” we have been having has been super tough on the old guys. It’s just mud everywhere, making it super hard to walk for them. Dave has terrible arthritis and struggles to maneuver around the pasture. The warm weather hasn’t stopped the parasites in any way, so any bit of grass they may find is likely riddled with bugs. Typically you de-worm horses at the first frost and at the last frost, but you want to do this when there is actually a winter. We never truly had a winter, so I was holding off on de-worming. I ended up de-worming just before the most recent cold spike, so hopefully that does help a bit.
Last year I got started making my own horse feed, something low in starch because Dave has Cushing’s Disease. Cushing’s is a hormonal imbalance which is often linked to insulin resistance, hence the low sugar diet. With careful calculations, I had confidence that I was feeding a proper diet, high in fat and protein and low in starch. It isn’t a USDA approved feed, so I have to rely on my math ability (which is pretty strong). I have gone over the numbers on websites and feed labels again and again, so I feel confident that my feed has all necessary nutrients for a proper diet.
Anyway, Simon started to lose weight along his hips. There are so many reasons for the weight loss. Old age, feed quality, hay quality, parasites, and weather all came to mind. I tackled what I could all at once so that I could fight this thing. Obviously there is nothing I can do about his age or the weather, but I triple-checked my feed recipe and added 10% pea protein to their diet. I fed extra hay in hay bags out of reach of the sheep (they are serious trouble makers), and I de-wormed with a full-spectrum de-worming paste. I also bought a giant round bale (boy, was that hard to roll through ankle-deep mud), so there was unlimited grass hay for everyone. Of all the things I did, something worked, because he started to get more muscle definition back in his hips. He’s still a bit ribby for my liking though, but hopefully the extra hay will pack on a few more pounds.
I don’t understand why Dave was never affected by the weight loss like Simon was. Dave has so many health issues, but he’s been fine this whole “winter”. It’s tough watching an animal grow older and watching their health decline. No matter how long the animal has been in my life, it still hurts to watch them age and ultimately meet their end. I take each opportunity as a learning experience. I have learned so much about the aging horses and their special requirements; I think that is one of the most valuable lessons when working with animals.
This was a photo taken this January when Simon started to lose weight and we had to change our care methods. I know the walls and buckets are filthy, but it’s because of their “special” senior feed. It’s mostly beet pulp, and needs to be soaked to prevent choke. Dave is an expert choker, having choked on his feed twice since I’ve known him. One of the times he choked, I actually had to call the vet, and they had to tube him and flush the clog out (that was definitely not fun for him). Wetting down the feed makes it mushy and soft, and easy for them to chew… even though their feed is basically a soup. They love it! I have a video of these two eating their dinner and all you hear is slurping. Dave’s favorite thing to do is take a bite and then drool molasses-water everywhere.