Equine Welfare

**The short version of this article was posted to the PATH Intl. Equine Managers Facebook page and it was requested of the author that she expand the content and make it available to all the PATH Intl. membership.  So, here it is in its expanded version.

Jenny Nell Hartung, Member of the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

Keeping Our Horses Happy, Healthy and Sane: One Center’s Approach to Equine Management

By Kristen Marcus

Children, Horses and Adults in PartnerShip (CHAPS) is a small program in Sheridan, Wyoming. Our modest herd of 11 horses is made up of 3 American Quarter Horses, 2 Paint horses, 2 Percherons, 2 Haflingers and 2 Belgians. 

Our management program has two primary focuses:  provide top quality care and comfort to our horses and be efficient and economical in our care. 

As anyone in this field knows, this work can be incredibly grueling on the horse’s body, but also on the mind.  We feel our horses will perform to the best of their ability as long as we go above and beyond meeting basic needs. Of course, we make sure they have water, feed, a safe space to live and are handled safely.  But what could we do to improve attitude, energy and focus in our horses?

  1. Our horses are fed high quality feed year-round. The horses that require very little upkeep are fed, quite literally, a handful of Omolene 200 once a day with MSM joint supplement and aloe juice.  

This allows us to put eyes on each horse every morning to determine if his attitude is good, his appetite is good, he is not injured and provides preventative care to the joints and digestive system.

The horses that require more care to maintain body condition are fed either Purina Senior or Total Equine along with MSM joint supplement and aloe juice.  We find these feeds keep our horses sleek and healthy without having to feed large amounts of concentrate.

Our horses are also out in pasture 24/7/365 except for working or extreme weather. Each pasture has access to a water tank as well as natural running water, shade trees and terrain to keep those joints moving.  Access to grass all year ensures the digestive system is being fed as nature intended and it cuts down on vices and bad attitudes.  

We never single out a horse unless he is sick or injured.  Horses are herd animals so they live in a herd or herds to maintain the social structure they need and crave.

  1. Our horses are scored for body condition every 30 days to ensure our feeding program is effective and our horses are in peak condition. With draft breeds, this can be difficult as they are prone to heavier body conditions.
  2. Our horses are fitted for saddles every 12 weeks. Due to season/feed change, the horses’ body conditions change making it easy for a saddle to become uncomfortable.  Because we monitor their body condition so closely, we find most of the horses can wear the same saddles all year.  However, horses are individuals and a few lay fat differently, making the fitting of saddles different at different times of the year. 
  3. Our barn manager has been trained in equine chiropractics and so has our executive director. This has been one of the very best investments our program has made into the horses.  The horses tell us when they hurt and because we are on-site, they can get adjusted almost immediately relieving the pain and reducing bad attitudes and burn out.  The horses are treated to an adjustment, then rubbed down with liniment and turned out for 24 hours.  This has greatly reduced behaviors in our horses.
  4. A local veterinarian donates her time to give our horses acupuncture monthly. This, in combination with the chiropractic adjustments, has been very valuable to our herd.  They are more relaxed and feel good.  When they feel good, they perform better and our clients receive higher quality lessons than when a horse is sour or sore.
  5. During our season (March-November because we don’t have a heated facility), our farrier trims/shoes horses every 6 weeks. From November to March, when the growth in the foot is slower, he comes every 8 weeks.  Our farrier is trained in corrective methods and takes time each visit to work with what the horse tells him, instead of doing the same old thing each time. Because of this, more of our horses can go barefoot and those that cannot have exactly what they need to stay sound.
  6. We try to give our horses a change of scenery at least once a week. Riding day-after-day in the arena can lead to boredom and bad attitudes, so when it is nice and enough volunteers are present, we do lessons in the hay field.  Staff and experienced, trained volunteers ride the horses out on the trails beyond the hay field.  During spring and summer, our able-bodied/minded clients work on skills for a trail ride in the mountains in the fall.  This has been a great outing for the horses as well as staff and clients. 
  7. We have implemented a new rating system to track the stresses we put our horses through in a week. Since it is new to us this year, we are still collecting data, but hope to see trends soon so we can adjust and/or plan better for minimizing stress in the future.  If anyone is interested in our system or needs an idea for one of their own, we are happy to share.

In the three years since we have implemented these management practices, our herd has moved from sour, agitated and sore to happy, healthy and sane.  We don’t see biting, being girthy, refusals or pinned ears in lessons or while being tacked up.  Instead of running when we go to catch them, they allow themselves to be caught and several come to us, excited to work. Ulcers, colic and lameness have decreased dramatically.

While our management system is time-consuming, it has paid off in better lessons with happier horses.  We will continue to focus on equine health and well-being to ensure our clients receive the highest quality time with our horses.   Please feel free to contact us, anytime, if you have questions. 

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