Six Things Your Horse Really Wants for Christmas
If you’re like me, your horsey holiday wish list probably includes things like a new pair of boots (Petries please!), some of those new breeches with the super sticky silicone seat, or maybe even a tractor or new pickup (Santa can you hear me?).
Although I might argue my gelding is mortified by my scuffed-beyond-repair tall boots, I must admit those sorts things really aren’t for our horses, are they?
To find out what our horses really want from Saint Nick, we at The Horse consulted a few of our top sources and regular contributors. Here’s what they suggest for your your horse’s holiday list:
1. Quality Forage
Clair Thunes, PhD, of Summit Equine Nutrition in Sacramento, California, offers a simple gift horses will especially appreciate in cold climates: Quality forage, and lots of it.
“Approximately 60% of the digestive tract volume is dedicated to the digestion and fermentation of forage,” she says. “Ultimately, if you can keep the hindgut bacteria happy, you’ll have gone a long way to keeping your horse happy.”
2. A Break
Don’t feel guilty if the busy holiday schedule interrupts your regular riding routine. In fact, a break might be the best gift you can give your horse, says Carey Williams, PhD, equine extension specialist at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “Your horse wants a little bit of downtime and a vacation too!” she says. “Many people never give their horses time off.”
A vacation could be from riding completely or just from the horse’s normal training schedule. “Horses need not only a physical break, but more so a mental break,” Williams says. “For example, if you’re a dressage rider, take a week or two and only ride three days a week instead of six, or take your horse on a few trail rides.”
3. A Human to Care For Them Forever
“A human to care for them forever!” says Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, of Liburt Equine Nutritional Consulting, in Smithtown, New York. Not all horses are so fortunate, but she says probably the best gift any of us can offer our horses, especially the seniors whose riding days are done but are still healthy enough to decorate our pastures as ornaments.
4. To Learn a New Trick
“Horses really appear to enjoy is being taught a trick using all positive reinforcement,” says Sue McDonnell, PhD, an equine behavior specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square. “If you haven’t trained your horse to do a trick before, you will be amazed at how easy and fast it is when you follow the clear prompts with well-timed reinforcement after each increment of progress in the form of either brisk scratching at the withers or a tiny tidbit treat paired with a verbal cue. The techniques work well for almost anything you want to train your horse to do. Simple target training, for example, has so many practical and fun applications. And, while this approach to horse handling it’s not so new, it’s recently become more mainstream in many parts of the world, and it’s definitely the future of animal care and training.”
McDonnell suggests learning more about positive training at On-target-training.com or the International Society of Equitation Science website. “Your horse will benefit from you developing these skills, because they establish a more positive motivation for work and handling,” she says.
5. Safe Feed Storage
Erin Denney-Jones, DVM, of Florida Equine Veterinary Services, in Clermont, offers a simple gift that helps protect your horse year-round from binging-related laminitis or animal-spread diseases, such as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis and leptospirosis, both of which can contaminate your feed.
“Build a box or buy a container to secure your horse’s feed so critters don’t get into it and, especially, so your horse doesn’t get into the feed if he ever gets loose and breaks into the feed room!” she says.
Trash cans with secure lids work well, as do heavy-duty rubber totes. For extra protection, consider buying feed bins with locking lids or placing a secure latch on the feed room door.
6. A Mud-Free Paddock
The answer to “What do horses really want for Christmas?” came easy for Alayne Blickle of Horses for Clean Water, in Nampa, Idaho. However, her suggested gift might make some extra work for you, at least initially. “A mud-free paddock!” she recommends.
While visions of horses galloping through freshly fallen snow adorn many a Christmas card, mud and ice is much more typical when you mix horses with cold and precipitation. Both mud and ice present health and safety risks, such as thrush, scratches, and slip and falls.
“No horse wants to spend time standing in muck,” Blickle says. “Instead, horses do their best to avoid it. Gutters and downspouts go a long way for reducing mud by diverting away clean rain water and keeping it out of high-traffic areas. Footing of some sort (usually some type of crushed rock or coarse washed sand) in paddocks about 3- to 6-inches deep will keep horse up, off the soil and prevent erosion. And implementing a regular manure management plan of removing manure daily. Fifty pounds of manure per day is 50 pounds of fine organic material, which will absorb moisture and create that much more mud each day.”
A tractor makes eliminating mud and moving gravel and sand much easier, so maybe Santa might need to come through on your wish list as well. You know, in spirit of giving your horse what he really wants.
What are you getting your horse this year for Christmas?
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