Horse Update-Fall 2023-Part 1

The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Teenager

Literally and metaphorically. Well not literally, well, we thought literally but turns out we were misinformed, never mind – let’s just get in to it.

When we got Juniper last fall her previous owner thought she was about seventeen, which would make her eighteen this year and thus a literal teen aged horse. However, every vet who has seen her thinks she’s older than that and is probably in her early twenties. Which would be fine, ponies tend to live into their thirties, however Juniper’s teeth are rapidly approaching their end of life which is problematic since the rest of Juniper is not.

She had been very slowly losing weight all summer, which wasn’t a bad thing at first since she had a little more weight than she needed, but those two back-to-back colics this fall saw her drop close to fifty pounds in two days and went from “we should probably try to get some weight on her before winter sets in” to “holy crap she is too thin, please don’t die.” There are of course several complications to this (I of course have been gaining weight without any complications at all). Juniper has PPID so we have to be careful about gaining weight safely without triggering laminitis or founder, meaning anything high in sugar is out. Her teeth are no longer up to the task of grinding food properly so filling up on hay is out. And she is an unreasonably picky eater and doesn’t like wet food if it has gotten too cold meaning most mashes are out.  

Her original diet was free-choice hay of varying degrees of nutritional value and quality as well as soaked grass hay pellets and some oats fed in the morning. I would have upped the amount of soaked hay pellets but she is a messy eater and drops a lot of food back out of her mouth and won’t eat it again if it isn’t in the dish and if the soaked pellets sit around for too long she won’t eat them anymore.

When I realized she was consuming very little actual hay and was mostly just chewing it and spitting it back out in little half-chewed hay-balls (“quidding” as it is known) I started looking into alternatives. My neighbor had a spare bag of some manufactured chopped hay from trying it out herself a few years ago so we started with that. She had the all herbivore Square Meal Hay Biscuits and they worked okay but most of the chunks were too big/hard for Juniper’s terrible teeth so I had to break the big ones up before feeding which was it’s own pain in the ass. That led us to the senior variety “Senior Supper” of the same brand, which worked great. A little too great, because when we put Juniper and Highlight together Highlight also REALLY liked the Senior Supper and she eats much faster and much more than Juniper does and we just can’t afford to feed that much since they get expensive! They are supposed to be a complete feed so if it was just Juniper eating them I think we could make a go with it because she wouldn’t need any other feed. But we cannot afford to feed both of them the Senior Supper free choice and we are not currently in a position to keep them separated long term (see this post for why).

That led to us buying a mulcher and chopping our own hay which is an ordeal in and of itself.  You have to be very careful when you chop your own hay to make sure you are in fact only chopping hay that is safe for horses to eat. It is always good practice to check your hay as you are feeding, regardless of method, because all sorts of things can get into a bale of hay. I have found in our own hay and the hay at the various places I have boarded Leeloo things like dead snakes, mice, lizards, tree branches, milk weed (which can be toxic to animals), moldy bits and many other things a horse shouldn’t eat. If I find these things when feeding hay normally, I toss them out and depending on what it was I may toss the surrounding flake(s) or the whole bale, but in general I’m not too paranoid about it because our horses always have enough to eat and generally avoid things that they shouldn’t eat. However, once you run it all through a mulcher the good and the bad get mixed together and a horse can’t always tell them apart and will either eat something bad for them or won’t eat any of it at all. That means every flake of hay needs to be broken up and examined before it gets chopped which causes quite a mess all by itself and that doesn’t even touch the dust issue kicked out by the mulcher and the sheer amount of time the task takes. The entire “hay chopping” section of the barn is a mess and the process was taking way too much time, but at least the girls were eating it.

Notice the past tense in that sentence. They were eating it. For whatever reason our homemade chopped hay is no longer good enough and they are both back to eating normal hay. Which is fine for Highlight, but the number of quidding balls I am finding is on the rise and I’m concerned about Juniper’s overall food intake. Making things worse is that with the colder temperatures Juniper won’t finish even her small amount of soaked hay-pellets. If it is too wet and it drops below a certain temperature she stops eating it and if it isn’t wet enough the hay pellets stay too hard and she can’t eat them.

We’re trying to help you Juniper – eat your damn food!

I’m going to look into getting one of those heaters they use in greenhouses to put under seedling trays to see if I can keep her soaked pellets warm enough that she’ll eat all of them and long term we’re going to see if we can figure out how to separate her for at least a few hours every day to eat her special Senior Supper, but until then we’re just going to have to hope she’s getting enough from the regular hay and keep putting out the chopped hay.

She’s also wearing a blanket this winter so she doesn’t waste as many calories staying warm. Doesn’t she look cute in her coat.

This post has already gotten too long so Highlights update will have to wait until part 2.

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