I’ve wanted this for so long, and it is so worth waiting for. Today, I got to ride on a flat level surface that wasn’t pounding my poor horses’ joints into oblivion. There were no holes. There was no slipping. There weren’t any other horses in the way! Just 20x60m of amazing. Thanks Dad, Mutterer – and Lord!
I was so excited I didn’t even want to use the lunging ring, so I lunged Xave in the dressage arena instead. He was completely wild but happily went around in circles (at light speed). New arena is apparently spooky if you are a baby dumb-blood (I didn’t even come up with that – it’s what the dentists calls them, usually just after Xave tries to jump on his head). Apart from one very rude kick at me as I sent him off, he was actually fairly polite about being worried. Also, he is freakishly gorgeous, did you notice?
I warmed Arwie up in it before jumping and she didn’t spook at all, although she was excited and pulling. Possibly also a by-product of getting last week off. She proceeded to jump a full 85cm course with flair, which felt amazing. We’re getting somewhere!
Lancelot also schooled in it and was impressively calm, and Midas was just as good and practiced both his tests for Saturday really well. It’s only Prelim 1 and 2 but it was wonderful to be able to school the movements exactly as they’ll be in the show arena. He was brilliant. He’ll do really well if he shuts up and concentrates.
Much of the day was taken up in last-minute practices for the kiddies who are showing heifers on Wednesday. In case anyone out there didn’t know, cows are amazingly beautiful. Particularly Jerseys.
Sunè schooled beautifully in the new arena too. She’s still annoyingly one-sided, which irks me mostly because I’m not used to it. It’s one of the first things I try to fix on mine. Bombproof as they come, though. I look forward to her working riding class this weekend.
I also turned Magic out in the new arena in an attempt to let him get used to it without any chance of launching me into the stratosphere. This was a terrible idea. He bolted up and down screaming until I came over and petted him, and then he walked around on a lead as quietly as can be, not spooking at anything. I guess we’ll see how tomorrow goes.
It was a joy to teach in the dressage; the ponies appreciated the easier footing, the riders appreciated the space, and I appreciated being close to the house (and water/food/equipment/loo). My voice, though, is totally cooked. It was fit for shouting across a 15x35m oval, not for this.
After the chaos, just before sunset when the light was turning to molten gold and peace filled every breath, I went out to lunge Eagle (who was great) and breathe in the beauty. The reality. The truth of how much we all are loved.
I deserve death. Instead, I get blessings. Life. The ultimate sacrifice from the One I betrayed.
I pray that every time I step onto that big sand rectangle, it reminds me of that.
Spotted Dressage asked one of the most fascinating questions in the business:
What do you feed and why?
Despite only having passed Nutrition in my yard manager’s with 88%, feeding is a subject I’m kind of obsessed with. I think it’s practically the most important aspect of horse keeping, and I also think it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeding according to conventional wisdom instead of what the horse is saying. And though I say it myself, our yard is locally a little legendary for having horses in good condition. I don’t do ribs. I also don’t do obese. I have once been informed by a client that they think I just whisper something to a horse and it instantly blows up like a balloon into wonderful shiny fatness.
Before Choosing a Ration
Feeding is something one has to be holistic about. You can shove as much food as you like into it, it doesn’t do any good if half of it is falling out from quidding and the other half is being eaten by worms. Dentistry, deworming and mental health are all very important components.
Assessing the Horse’s Requirements
I don’t have a weight tape (because they’re disastrously inaccurate), and feed according to good old-fashioned condition scoring, which is considerably more precise anyway. Condition scoring gives you an assessment of fat and muscle, not just mass. (A well-muscled TB will weigh the same as an obese pony, but their nutritional needs will be leagues apart).
My first consideration when choosing a ration is condition. The second is general health. A ribby horse with a shiny coat and otherwise good appearance probably just needs some extra calories. A ribby horse with a dull coat probably has some form of deficiency, assuming other causes of ill health have been ruled out.
The third is the horse’s job. School ponies can’t get anything heating, but a lactating broodmare needs all the energy she can get.
The Forgotten Nutrient
Water. We all forget to say it in exams, and it can also be neglected in real life, but it’s the single most important nutrient in the horse’s diet.
Now I know none of us go and let our horses stand around for hours without any water, but water quality is also a valid consideration. Dirty, stale, hot, icy or algae-encrusted water will all cause the horse to drink less than he should. Regrettably, in the fields, there’s not much we can do about troughs icing over, except break the ice first thing in the morning.
Our horses also have free access to salt, and consume a rather amazing amount of the stuff.
The Great Secret
There is one ration that has worked reliably on a vast array of horses over the years. Eighteen of the twenty-nine horses at the yard get this, including competing horses in steady work, schoolies, and growing youngsters. It’s the perfect ration for ponies and native types, but we also have thoroughbreds on it, and it works even better for anything with ulcers. Every single Nooitie we took to HOY was on it. All the schoolies are on it. It’s positively magical, and it’s amazingly simple.
Grass and hay.
That’s it. Just grass and hay. But absolutely tremendous amounts of it. It absolutely has to be fed ad lib, and not the standard definition of ad lib. If it’s in a haynet, and I don’t care how many haynets a day, it’s not ad lib. Have you seen what tiny bites a horse takes from a haynet? If it’s in a big pile in the middle of a field with many horses, it’s not ad lib, either. (That’s a particular pet peeve – food aggression is such a behaviour issue, too). If it ever runs out, even during the night, it is most certainly not ad lib.
Ad lib is a big round bale, with the strings taken off and in a very accessible feeder ring, per four horses in the field. When there’s an armful or two of hay left, a new bale gets put in. If a horse is starting to get bullied away from the hay, another bale is added. In the stables, a gigantic pile of hay is put on the floor – GIGANTIC, probably four haynets’ worth.
The hay must be clean, but doesn’t necessarily have to be teff hay. Of course for the colicky types or skinny horses, teff is by far the best, but mine are all on plain old eragrostis (except Magic and Exavior because special treatment). In the drought they even got by on Rhodes grass which is glorified straw if you ask me.
Hay is unavoidable at the moment, but actually, grazing trumps everything else. Kikuyu is best, if supplemented with some calcium because its Ca:P ratio can be off. But whatever is green and growing in the field is better than the best hay (provided it’s not ragwort, obviously). Bonus points to grazing because the horses walk around with their heads down, stretching their backs, gently exercising and building a topline too.
It may sound ridiculous that I can have a top show horse, who is in fairly intense dressage training, on grass only, but the science behind it makes perfect sense. God designed horses to eat grass. The simple action of chewing all day long (they spend more time eating than sleeping) relaxes and soothes them, removing a huge source of stress (thus, excess stomach acid). Because so much roughage is moving along the gut, it’s in optimal condition to absorb the nutrients, too. The food is making the horse’s body more able to use the food. Isn’t that amazing?
ConcentratesWhere unnatural demand is made, unnatural compensation has to be given. Thus, in some situations, concentrates are a very valuable addition to the diet.
My pet peeve is this idea that people have of feeding considerable amounts of low quality concentrates to everything. I’ve seen it so often – feeding 2-4kg of that real, cheap riding school food. It’s fluff. Heating fluff. Why??
The math is simple: double the quality allows you to halve the quantity, thus placing half the stress on the horse’s digestive system. As a struggling little yard there’s a lot of things we have to compromise on, but feeding isn’t one of them.
I add concentrates to anything that needs to gain more than one condition point (out of 10). I don’t increase feed in anticipation of work, but I do push it hard when a mare hits her third trimester. It’s ridiculous how much food a broodmare needs – triple, quadruple the amount that horses in heavy work need.
My go-to feed for working horses is Spurwing Tranquilo. It’s super non-heating but does put on weight. No good for very skinny horses, but where a couple points are needed, it does the trick just fine. I start them at 1.2kg daily, pushing it up to 3kg in extreme cases.
For anything under three years old, anything that’s had a hard time at its previous home, anything with a condition score less than 3, or anything that just looks a bit poorly, I turn straight to Capstone Lifetime Balancer. Some horses need persuading to eat it (mixing it with a hay replacer pellet helps), but this stuff packs some serious punch. Feeding more than 1kg daily is a recipe for disaster, but in appropriate amounts it just fixes everything. I also feed this to a foal starting a week before weaning to help them over the bump, no more than 500g at first. It’s 25% protein so can be heating and needs to be treated with respect.
For lactating mares, really skinny youngsters, or when all else fails, I turn to Capstone Stud Time. It costs approximately an arm, a leg and both kidneys, but it sure works. Plus it looks like muesli and this amuses me greatly. It is extremely high energy and cannot be fed to working horses (unless you have a serious death wish), but it packs on the weight. We fixed Tara on a combination of Capstone Stud (2kg) and Capstone Lifetime (1kg), split into three feeds a day.
A last note on concentrates is that you have to play by the rules. No more than 2kg per feed (I don’t do more than 1kg a feed for anything that looks horrible). Don’t feed (unless your feeds are less than 500g) within an hour of work. Keep the buckets and things clean. Don’t feed anything that has clumped together or has fluff growing on it. Feed according to mass, not volume (a scoop of Spurwing weighs 400g, the same volume of Capstone Lifetime weighs 600g). Common sense goes a long way.
… are violently overrated, and do not magically fix anything. The number one reason to give a supplement is to make yourself feel like you’re doing everything you can. I will make a begrudging exception for quality joint supplements and good probiotics, but neither are a substitute for other, more effective care.
“All-round” supplements cannot replace good feeding. “Calming” supplements cannot replace good training. “Coat” supplements cannot replace good grooming.
That said, I do have three supplements that I tend to use. GCS-Max is the only joint one I’ve found to actually do anything, and I keep Stardust on it to help support her glitchy leg and because all her legs have variations on windgalls and capped hocks. Protexin is a probiotic that you know a horse needs if they’ll actually eat it – it’s truly disgusting, but it does help a bit. And Rooibos tea, while not magical the way the salesmen say it is, does appear to give the system a little boost.
Of course, I give Magic a ton of random stuff to make myself feel better, but I am an unmitigated idiot when it comes to Magic.
* And bold type and all caps aren’t a substitute for good grammar, but it’s 3:00am as I write. Bear with me.
The Bottom Line
As with practically everything, there isn’t any magic trick when it comes to nutrition – brilliance is in the basics. Sticking to the rules we all learned as kids goes a long way to excellence. As with anything,
Listen to the horse first.
Employ common sense.
And unless your horse is morbidly obese… feed the grass ad lib, please.
This week has been a little wild. I’ll recap in pictures, because forming a coherent post is a little much to ask right now. (Writers all say that writing something badly is better than writing nothing at all, right?)
We are currently without a head groom; it’s junior groom T and I for it, with Mom helping us out with the cow guys, which has saved our bacon.
I love the show horses, but it was sooooo good to be home and leaning against Mr. Failed Showjumper again. This horse. ❤ Thanks Lord.
Eagle came into work for the first time. He is as expected; sensitive, but willing. A joy if you’re tactful; a danger if you’re not. He’s cottoned on to the basic voice commands but still kind of anxious about staying in walk.
Magic began his return to work with a lunging session, which was a good thing because he spent it leaping about spooking at stuff that’s been there for ever. Seriously, bro?
Trooper also started work this week and is also as expected – dead lazy. The thing about horses that are unresponsive to spooky things is that they’re generally unresponsive to aids, too. I’m going to tweak his diet and see if I can fizz him up a bit. Otherwise he is adorable and follows the kids around everywhere.
Magic developed an allergic reaction to not getting enough attention last week. I gave him cortisone which did not help at all. It’s bugging me more than it’s bugging him, and is gradually going away, so I’m not panicking. Yet.
Exavior has been a total sweetie to work with and lunge. I finally enjoy hanging out with the dude again, mostly because I don’t have to deal with his bad side. The poor Mutterer does, however, and on Tuesday the dude reared so high that even the Mutterer looked momentarily concerned.
On the plus side, those sabino splashies on his tummy are still too cute for words.
Sunè did lots of hacking, even past the woods, which are usually quite scary. She’s been a superstar. Coolest little horse, this. She’s going to be real dependable.
Faith is now super easy to lead, tie up, and groom, including picking out the feet. She still has her fairylike, gossamer prettiness, but I do wish some of the expensive food I shove into her would start to go sideways instead of just up and along.
The dressage arena is rideable at last!! I’m so, so happy. Thanks Lord! It is an inexpressible pleasure to have that beautiful, flat surface free of obstacles and distractions to school on. There’s even a fence. No more baby horses running to Timbuktu when spooked! I spent yesterday morning riding the schoolies in it, so hopefully today I can teach most of my lessons up here too. Its proximity to the tack room and loo is also a definite advantage.
For the first time in her life, the champ herself is being stabled long-term. I’m trying to keep the coat short for Nationals (Arwen + body clip = disaster – she can’t have her legs done without sedation, and last time we gave her enough to geld a Clydesdale colt and she still went across the stable on her hindlegs with the Murderer hanging from her head). I also think, given how many overnight shows she has to do lately, that having a routine of sleeping in at night will make her happier at shows. Plus then I can limit her hay intake a little without separating her from her buddies. Maybe then we can finally shake some of the chubbles… or she’ll just eat some dirt and get even chubbier.
It’s good to be back. Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.
Today was spa day for six of the Horde. I’m very into having chiro done at least once a year where I can; it’s not always financially practical for broodmares and sale ponies, but the competing horses, schoolies or anything with a problem needs doing.
Today’s lineup started with Starlight. She has been girthy since she arrived in December and while I found back pain and put it down to that, the back pain is related to old pectoral muscle tears, not anything sinister like KS or something. Stardust has exactly the same thing so we’re good at managing it and it won’t get in her way. Her hip was also badly locked, something I’d noticed since she is always a little short on that leg. Hopefully we’ll see considerable improvement.
Vastrap was generally tight especially through his intercostal muscles, which I wasn’t in the least surprised by. This unfortunately is going to be strongly related to how hot and tense he is to ride, so it’s a slow fix. But we’ve already made progress.
Magic has some excellent news. He wasn’t out anywhere, just rather tight in his left hind hip, and best of all his bad wither is not worse – in fact, it’s better. The chiro’s exact words were “Don’t change anything because it’s working.” I’m so relieved that my magical beast is still OK. With his being a bit wacky lately I was half expecting that his back was hurting him again. The chiro also commented on how incredible our bond is, which made me feel so much better about our recent bad days.
Exavior was rather, um, interesting. The chiro went to touch his upper neck, which he’s always been touchy about, so he reared and tried to bite us. After a discussion about not biting nice ladies, he cut it out and started to actually enjoy having his bones all sorted out. His back was totally perfect, but his poll was very sore. The fall where he cut his leg open years ago – that catalysed the drama that led to his becoming mine – also damaged his nuchal ligament and it was extremely tight and sensitive. This explains why he’s always so uncomfortable about his head and also some of the rearing (although that can also be explained by his being a brat). It can be managed, thank God. I have to do a little stretch thingy with him to help, and I’ll look into getting him a poll relief bridle. He should be far more comfortable now.
Can we all just stop for a minute, though, and appreciate just how big God’s plan is for this horse? Most horses that fall and hit their polls there die on impact. Not Xave, though. He’s a survivor and God’s got something big in store for him. ❤
Renè had a bunch of lumbar vertebrae out and her hip and shoulder were really locked. I discussed some stiffness issues she had had early on in her training with the chiro, who thinks it’s possibly due to the type of heavy slow twitch muscle she has. Almost like a really mild variant of PSSM. Our stretches and gradual conditioning have practically eliminated it, though, and there’s no major problem so it’s all good.
Last up was little Lullaby, who hasn’t had any problems but is a lifelong school pony so there must be pain somewhere. Sure enough she had both thoracic and lumbar vertebrae out, so that should make her far more comfy. Lumbar vertebrae are typical school pony problems so we’ll just keep having her done regularly to keep those suckers in place.
In other news, Midas, Sunè, Arwen and Tara are all pretty much ready for Pre-HOY. Exavior is almost ready, I just want a practice run at plaiting him since he’s going to have to learn to deal with me standing on a box and pulling on his hair, which won’t be easy for him.
Faithy moved out to a small group field with Milady and Lady Erin. She’s stayed good to catch and super gorgeous.
My writing is as flat as my battery today, but here it is. Glory to the King.
December 28th will mark the anniversary of the arrival of our first outside liveries under the name Morning Star Stables. And what a year it’s been! The arrival of Jamaica and Zorro increased our population to sixteen or seventeen horses, which felt overwhelming at the time. Now, we’re home to twenty-eight and every last one of them has some useful task it’s achieving. The only horses that don’t get worked are either too young, too lame, or broodmares.
I remember years ago when we discovered Arwen was pregnant with her second whoopsie that I stood looking at her thinking, “Six horses! How will I ever deal with them all?” These days I’d have fed, groomed, and worked six horses by about noon. It’s incredible how one adapts.
God has blessed His stableyard so abundantly. Every month our horses and riders get better and better. We’ve ridden our first Nationals and come home with a fistful of ribbons. We’ve started eight young horses. We’ve sold seven. Our first foal was born successfully and is beautiful. We ran our first pony camp and it was a massive hit. I even managed to write some exams. And most importantly of all, we brought the Light to the hearts of many children, and love to the lives of many horses.
There have been many trials and struggles and trips to the vet, but God has seen us through it all. He is so here with us. Every day. I slip up, often and hard and disgustingly, but He picks me up every time. And then, cleansed by the Blood, strengthened by His Love, we all stagger back down the narrow path once again. Striving to take as many of them with us as we can.
So here’s some things I’ve learned this year that I wish I’d read as a starting-out stable manager.
1. It’s OK to not be Superman. Just because you have a yard doesn’t mean you magically can ride whatever and never struggle with your own nerves, or your own faults. You’re still human – and that’s totally OK. Own your limitations: it makes you seem more confident rather than less. Don’t try take on a client horse you know scares you. Do what you can, and do it really well. Face your fears in your free time: having to make a living out of being scared drains all the strength you need for other stuff – like kindness, creativity and learning. Your weak points can even become your strong points. I’m petite and terrified of big horses – so God showed me to build a business out of schooling good ponies. I’m a nervous rider – and I’m a good coach of nervous riders because I’ve been there.
As a manager or coach or trainer, you don’t have to be able to do everything. You just have to be able to do some things very well.
2. Delegate. Please do this. Employ the right people, treat them well, serve them with your words and actions and then give them stuff to do that they can do. You do the things that only you can do because there will be many if you’re any good. Don’t overload yourself with work you can delegate – the yard will be better for your focus on managing and not mucking out.
3. That said, always stay in touch with the basics. It’s amazing how much small things can affect horses. Grooms that don’t get along with them, or feed that’s just a little too sloppy – these things matter. Be there for feedings. Have a few horses you groom yourself, especially the challenging ones.
4. Own that paranoia. Your grooms won’t always like it, but your horses will. Details make a difference between good management and brilliant management. Be OCD and make sure the little things are perfect – even if your clients don’t thank you for it, your horses will.
5. Have a little fun. Being perfectionistic and hardworking and conscientious gets dry and tiring really quickly. Instead of losing those qualities, indulge your harmlessly quirky side. Wear bright pink socks. Buy yourself a rainbow coloured grooming kit. Put horse stickers on your phone. Plait ribbons in your ponies’ manes. Go on bareback outrides with your teenagers and giggle with them. Your clients might think you’re a little odd, but you don’t live your life according to what they think of you. Serve them with kindness rather than self-important decorum.
6. Always remember the things you love about this crazy business and do them. I love doing the rounds at sunset when the horses have all been fed and peace descends on the whole yard. I walk slowly from paddock to paddock and feed them all cookies and rub those amazingly soft noses and smell that smell. It reminds me that despite the challenges, I’m blessed right out of my (bright pink) socks to be here. 7. Obeying God’s commandments goes a long way for your business rep, too. Of course, this isn’t why one should do what God says, but it’s an unexpected perk. Honesty, joy, peace, kindness, patience, temperance, sobriety and diligence all tend to attract the right sort of clients.
8. Look after yourself. Burnout isn’t cool – it’s as irresponsible as working when you’re really sick. Nobody will die if you take a few days off when you need them – most of the time. If you’re sick, ask the doctor to book you off if you can. Don’t eat junk. Do eat chocolate. Get your five-a-day and your eight hours. Go for chiro every two months. Your yard needs you functioning as well as possible, not tired, grumpy and sleep deprived. And always have some reserves to draw on for those times when you just can’t take time off or find time for lunch – because those times will come and you will need to put yourself last and miss out on some essentials. Take extra good care of yourself so that you can be there for those that need you during those times of crisis, like outbreaks (or pony camp).
9. Appreciate good support, good employees, and good clients. They’re few and far between, so hang on to them and appreciate them. They’ll tide you through all the struggles with bad employees and bad clients, and your visible contribution to their successes will rebuild your confidence after every hit (and it will take a lot of hits).
10. Always, always, always draw your strength from God. Never neglect to spend time with Him first because He called you to it and you just can’t do it alone. It doesn’t matter what’s going wrong out there, you shut yourself up in your room and get yourself on your knees until you’re ready to go deal with it. You need Him like air. Read your Bible, go on long walks in the woods with Him, and talk to Him always. His plan will prevail – and if you stay in touch with Him, He’ll make you an incredible part of it. He’ll give your little yard an eternal value in the things that matter. Because at the end of the day your stables and arenas and money and reputation and ribbons will all pass away in the blink of an eye. All that really matters is what’s eternal: God and souls. So focus on them.
Glory to the King.