Feed Charts: Not Just for Pony Clubbers

In addition to being an equine nutritionist, I wear a number of equine-related hats. These include being the parent of a Pony Clubber and the Horse Management Official (HMO) for the Southwest Region of the United States Pony Clubs Inc. (USPC). In my role as HMO I help oversee the horse management education in our region, which covers Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern Colorado.

This past week the region sent a number of members to compete in Central Championships, held in Parker, Colorado. Members who’d qualified from as far away as Missouri to Washington State attended the event. Pony Club has very specific horse management criteria, and one of the keys that sets the program apart from others is that, from a very young age, members compete at rallies without assistance from adults. At championships this means they are fully responsible for the care of their horses for four days, and a team of horse management judges evaluates this care.

The Expectations

Each team has a list of required equipment they must have on hand, including human and equine first-aid kits, spare equipment that will fit team horses, grooming tools, tack, and stall cleaning supplies. In addition to maintaining an organized and workmanlike tack room, they manage a feed room. The rules require that each horse must have a fully completed feed chart detailing roughages, concentrates, and supplements fed at each meal in enough detail that an unfamiliar person could feed the horse. And while feed can be premixed before competition and individually wrapped by meal, the charts still must detail feed weights or provide a volume-to-weight conversion.

As I worked with the members reviewing their feed charts, a few themes emerged. For example, hay pellets listed as concentrates and senior feed listed as a supplement. But I also observed several cards with unclear instructions. As someone unfamiliar with the feeding of each horse, I found myself confused at times about how exactly I’d create each meal should the need arise for me to do so.

After several discussions and reviews, we straightened out the feed charts and moved onto how to label feed scoops, so you can tell whether you’ve measured the correct weight of a given feed, as well as labeling containers and prepackaged feed bags. I realized, though, that what I’d seen in these young horsewomen I also experience frequently when visiting clients. Very few people have easy-to-interpret feeding instructions (if any at all) in place for their horses.

What it Means for You

Why does this matter? The obvious answer is that if for some reason you are unable to get to the barn to feed, you could ask a friend to come and do it for you. With clear, accurate instructions, even the unhorsey neighbor might be able to help you in a pinch. Clear feed charts and instructions become increasingly important as your feeding program becomes more complex. You could argue that if you only feed grass hay, writing “feed X number of flakes of hay” might be accurate enough. However, if there are three types of hay, then you must include a greater level of descriptive detail. Even if you only have one type of hay, you might still need instructions detailing where it is kept, whether it is fed loose or in a net, or where in the stall to place it. With multiple horses in a pasture you might need to explain that more piles need to be placed than there are horses and how far apart they should be. A horse person not familiar with pasture feeding might not know this detail.

In Case of Emergency

Another important time to have feeding directions and charts is in the face of a natural disaster, when evacuation becomes necessary. You might need to leave your horse in the care of others. In this situation your feed plan should be as simple as possible, and your feed will need to be labeled, as it might be stored in an area with other people’s feed.

Take-Home Message

Providing this level of detail for feeding instructions might have been frustrating at the time for some of the Pony Clubbers I was helping. However, it’s an important and often overlooked part of horse care. I would encourage everyone to spend some time thinking about their feeding process and to create a clear, easy-to-follow feed chart. White boards work, as they allow for easy changes over time. Whatever method you decide on, don’t forget to put the chart somewhere that is easy to find.