Before I started Wild Horse Products, I spent some time as a trainer, lesson giver, and I even managed a boarding stable for a couple of years. One of my big points on training was about using rhythm, rather than force, to encourage a horse in a direction they didn’t want to go (giving their head, moving in a certain direction etc). As I was walking in our gelding Max from the field the other night, it occurred to me that rhythm didn’t just apply to training but also to how I feed. This was my thought process…
Max was an A.I. stallion for most of his life. He was taken out once a year where they did collection and then he was taken home to be just another boarding stable horse the rest of the year, surrounded by mares, frustrated and anxious. Though he was trained as a young horse and even did some showing, his life couldn’t be called “consistent”. He was passed from caretaker to caretaker while his actual owner lived out of town and at most saw him once a month. He was fed inconsistently, and his handling was erratic. Because of that, even though he had been gelded five years before I purchased him (at age 19), he was bad tempered, in ill health and very bad mannered. We had a few “conversations” about him trying to bite me or double barrel kick me simply because I didn’t get out of the stall fast enough after feeding him. Fortunately, though he is a grumpy old man, he isn’t actually mean tempered, or he probably wouldn’t be around today. Turning Max around meant first addressing his pain issues, which were worse than I initially thought, but not unmanageable.
Max’s path started with addressing extreme digestive issues. All those years of basically being an unused, frustrated stallion led to wind sucking, multiple gas colics a year, hock issues from kicking the stall, and a bad back from all his antics and a bad knee from banging the stall wall. Though all of the issues have been reduced and managed, at his age of 29, there will always be residuals. We still have to watch him very carefully, especially in the winter, for gas colic episodes, and there is arthritis in the joints but overall, he is a happier horse. Our current biggest issue is bad manners.
Though I’ve owned Max for over 2 years now, he is still protective of his food, though most of the time all I get is a dirty look. However, we are still working on his manners walking back to the barn at dinner time. He wants to rush ahead, not pay attention to me, spook at the silliest things, and generally be a pain on a lead line. As the horses are out for most of the year, he went backwards from any headway we had a year ago in the “manners” department. The two things we work most on, Max keeping his attention on me, and moving at MY speed, which I change up constantly on the walk to the barn. So where does the rhythm come in? By tugging his halter in a very rhythmic manner, it not only keeps his attention but distracts him from the “spookies”.
During our walk to the barn last night, when it was windy and harder to get his attention, it occurred to me that the “rhythm” at which I feed is just as important as the rhythm I use while training. I try to feed very consistent hay, consistent amounts of feed, and even their herbs have a yearly “flow” to them. Each season will have its changes, same as with changing symptoms, but there are always going to be constants…such as pain relief and digestive herbs for Max. Though I am not always consistent with feeding times (as I think that leads to very demanding horses) I am very consistent with what goes in the bucket. This makes addressing symptoms much easier and when there are changes, it's easy to notice and address. Inconsistency with feeding, moving too quickly with changes (once on a good program) and impatience lead to compounded issues…just the same as with training.
When training a new horse, I found that two days in a row for teaching something new, then day three for rest or just going over basics, made for quicker training and higher retaining rates of new ideas. Introducing something new every day led to a confused horse and bad attitudes. New thoughts need time to “settle in”. When addressing a health issue, people want “quick” results…which can happen to a degree. However, expecting miracles and not giving a new diet time to settle in, and not giving the body time to heal, leads to chaotic health issues and frustration on the part of the owner. Unreasonable expectations apply to diet and healing just as much as it applies to training (or retraining). Ebbs and flows should be expected and worked with, not fought against.
Though Max is already an “old man” (at 28) and some of his issues will always be with us and decay over time, I finally feel like I have a rhythm going with him. I know what to expect from him, how to address his old man problems, and have predictable expectations from him. For me that is a comfortable place to be with each horse that comes into my life, and it took me a lot of years to figure out what that even meant, but here I am. For Max, it was a solid two years before I felt like I really had a "hold" of that rhythm.
Though I do test my horses a couple of times a year with our Herbal Sampling Kit (especially during the winter) they are mainly on our mixes to support their diet and issues. This helps me know and understand how our mixes work in each circumstance so I can apply that in helping our customers, and honestly…I hate being out in the cold!
Here is Max’s current issues, herbs used to address those issues and diet.
Cough (happens each winter due to being kept all his life in a very dusty and moldy barn) Cough No More: Easy Feed Version 2 tbs
Digestive issues (stress and bad diet): Tummy B Calm 1 tbs
Eyes (he has blue eyes and seems to be losing part of his vision) Eye Boost ½ tbs
Nutritional Yeast (helps the old man retain muscle) 1 tbs, Salt 1 tbs
Local Grass Hay 6 flakes per day
Teff Pellets 4-6 cups (dry measure, higher amount during colder weather)
Rice Bran Pellets 1 cup
Apple Cider Vinegar 1-2 tbs
Iron Horse ¼ cup
Yup seems like a lot, but he’s a lot of horse, with a lot of issues. It's well worth it seeing that old man excitedly run up to the gate every day to greet me.
Have you found your rhythm? We’re here to help!