Love in a Bucket
Love takes many forms
Approaching the barn you slide the heavy, hanging door back and the deep rumble sets off a chorus of whinnies, nickers, and lip-smacking. You think to yourself, what a nice greeting! The horses are so happy to see you because they love you, right? After all, you’re the one who feeds them. And no horse is happier to see you than the stout, vocal pony at the end of the shed row. Eventually they are all rewarded for their heartfelt salutations, especially the cute little guy at the end who waits the longest for his big scoop of breakfast. Every day in barns, paddocks and sheds across the country, similar scenarios are re-enacted, so don’t feel bad to discover that love doesn’t come in a bucket. You may feel good about rewarding your vertically challenged chum with scoops of sweet feed and handfuls of treats, but what many owners don’t realize is these kindnesses are actually damaging your portly pal’s health.
Easy keepers need more AND less
Every horse requires nutrition, and round-bellied easy keepers are no exception. In fact, overweight horses and ponies actually require better nutrition than most average horses, because of their much slower metabolism. They most certainly require thoughtful and vigilant management in order to keep them healthy and thriving. After all, these animals seem to gain weight no matter what we do or how much we try to deprive them, but deprivation is not the answer to keeping your easy keeper active and healthy. Deprivation can create even more problems. When you withhold feed from your easy keeper, his body shifts into an even slower rate of metabolism because it believes it is being starved, and rightly so. When the body moves into “starvation mode” it rapidly mobilizes adipose or fat tissue as a source of energy. The problem with this scenario is that it drastically raises triglyceride and fatty acid levels in the bloodstream that eventually collect in the liver and impair hepatic or liver function. This serious malady is known as hyperlipemia, or fatty liver disease, and can prove fatal if untreated.
Getting ‘round to a solution
Now you understand it is detrimental to over- and under-feed your easy keeper, so just how are you supposed to provide the “better nutrition” he requires? If you’ve watched TV in the past 20 years you have likely seen a cereal commercial suggesting you could eat 20 bowls of “the other” cereal or you could eat just one bowl of theirs to meet your daily vitamin and mineral requirements. Of course, it is not healthy for you to consume all the calories in 20 bowls of cereal in order to meet your daily vitamin/mineral requirements. Nor is it necessary for your easy keeper to eat 5 pounds of grain—and all those excess calories—in order to meet his nutrient requirements. (Most commercial feeds are formulated to meet nutrient requirements at feeding rates of 5 lb per day.) A small serving of a concentrated, well-balanced vitamin and trace mineral supplement (e.g., Micro-Phase) will meet all his daily vitamin and mineral requirements without the extra calories.
Now that you know how to meet his nutrient requirements, you can tend to your horse’s energy requirements. Feeding management of horses is two-fold, in the sense that owners/managers must consider first, how to feed the best nutrients to meet the requirements of a particular horse or pony and second, how much energy—that is, how many calories—should be provided. As mentioned earlier, starving your pony is not an option. Your best option is feeding him clean, mold-free hay or fresh forage that just meets his energy requirements in addition to his daily serving of vitamins and minerals. Mature grass hays are typically the best choice to meet the lower energy requirements of easy keepers. Legume hays, such as alfalfa, are more energy dense as compared to grasses like orchardgrass or timothy.
Now, thoughtful and vigilant management comes into play. As a tender of easy keepers you must diligently observe their weight and body condition to ensure their energy requirements are being met but not exceeded. Too many calories result in an overweight horse or pony. Not using or burning excess calories will also result in an overweight animal. When fat is slowly mobilized from adipose tissue as a result of exercise, health is improved in many ways. An exercising body can more easily burn excess calories and is healthier, due to decreases in stress hormones that are produced in excessive adipose (fat) tissue. In addition, a fit body can more readily utilize the required vitamins and minerals that are essential to strong immune systems and muscle function.
Love in a bucket? Maybe.
If your easy keeper could read, he may totally disagree with these recommendations. Less grain? More exercise? How could this be love? It is, though. It’s tough love. He may not realize how much better he can feel a few pounds lighter or how much longer he can live with more regular exercise or how effectively his immune system can thwart potential invaders with optimal nutrition. He may not realize these things, but you will. So maybe love does come in a bucket. A small bucket of supplement and your own dash of TLC.
Micro-Phase was developed by KPP specifically to meet the nutritional needs of easy keepers. Packed with the appropriate ratios of trace minerals and vitamins, it is made with the most bioavailable forms of required nutrients. Last but not least, horses and ponies love to eat the tasty pellets of Micro-Phase.