By far the best thing about our new living situation is being able to have 100% control over my horses’ care. I was a boarder for 20 years, and while there is a lot to be said for the relative ease of it, nothing holds a candle to having your horses in your backyard and being able to customize their care however you please. Knock on wood, both boys are thriving. Henry in particular.
He’s always been a difficult horse to manage in the winter. He loses weight, he gets ulcery, and the past few years he’s even been prone to little colic episodes. I’ve always thought that it had to do with a few things: 1) the pasture not being as good in the winter. Most places he’s lived didn’t have the best grass at any time, but especially not in the winter. 2) increased stall time. Pasture board has not been an option for him, and the soil in this part of the country can be particularly awful when it’s wet. Like… extremely slippery, suck the shoes right off of their feet type mud, and pastures destroyed very easily by turning horses out on them when they’re wet. So winter has inevitably meant that there may be times when he had to stay in for days at a time, and none of his stalls had runs, so he wasn’t able to move around much. I’d go hand walk him, but that’s definitely not the same. 3) not enough forage. Most boarding barns won’t feed more than 2 flakes per meal, which I get, hay is expensive here. But that’s just not enough, especially if the pasture isn’t good, and extra-especially if they’re going to be inside for long stretches. Throwing them 2 flakes of hay at 5pm means they’re out by 8, which usually meant they’d be standing for the next 10-12 hours with nothing.
I tried a lot of things to get around this. I bought extra hay and stuffed slow feed nets. I fed supplements. I tried different feed. I treated him for ulcers. I sweet-talked the barn help to come back down and throw him more hay, and asked them to give him a flake of alfalfa in the morning before he got his grain, and also would they mind turning him out in the all-weather arena for a few minutes if the pastures were too wet (thank god for that particular barnworker, he put up with a lot from me). Often boarding means that you try to make the best you can of the situation you’ve got. Still, though… problems persisted every winter.
Having complete control over everything this winter, and a facility that’s a bit more horse-friendly, has made all the difference in the world. First of all, the winter pasture here is quite good. Henry’s especially, because he’s out by himself and there’s more grass in his spaces than one horse can eat. Second, the soil in this particular sliver of the area is very sandy, which means it’s basically never muddy, and even when it is, it’s not slick. It can take an amazing amount of water and still be totally perfect for turnout, so he’s not stuck inside unless it’s actively deathstorming. Third, they’re not stalled as much. They’re turned out by 5:30am and I’m bringing them in around 6pm, plus they have runs off their stalls, so they’re still able to move around quite a bit even when they’re “in”. No more standing in a 12 x 12 for 14+ hour stretches. Lastly, I control how much hay he gets and when. He gets a flake of alfalfa and a flake of coastal with dinner, then at night check I give them more coastal. He likes to spend a few hours every night standing in his run staring into the woods, and he takes one good long sleep inside in his shavings, so usually he’s still got a teeny bit of hay leftover by breakfast. Never an empty stomach.
All of those things combined have led to a chonkier, happier, healthier winter Henry than I’ve ever had before. No signs of ulcers whatsoever this year, and I’ve even been able to cut his grain way back. He’s eating less than half the amount he was before. He’s shiny, he feels looser in his body, and most of all he just seems happy. I’m able to ride him super consistently since the footing is so good, and he seems relaxed in this quieter environment (except for that cursed ball, of course).
I think it probably also helps that so far we’ve had a relatively mild winter, although Texas is apparently planning on getting white girl wasted tomorrow. Still though, the cold snaps haven’t lasted very long.
Presto is in the middle of some particularly interesting growth spurts, so while he doesn’t look quite as good (unless you’re really into llamas) he’s got more room to run and play than he’s ever had, and plenty of grass and hay to eat, so he’s healthy and happy too. Knock on more wood, of course. Because horses.