Wednesday, February 22, 2017

the slowest of slow marches

Charlie lives at a barn notable for being located actually within the grounds of a small private high school. This makes for a slightly unusual barn atmosphere - but in a surprisingly good way. It's basically just overrun by a bunch of friendly high school girls who love horses. And Charlie loves it when they fawn all over him haha.

hope you're not tired of this view yet
Anyway, naturally the high school also has an IEA team (Interscholastic Equestrian Association, the HS version of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) and I volunteered at their Regionals show this past weekend, held at another local school McDonogh's on-campus facility.

i was strangely enamored of these lovely (if a bit beat up) wooden saddle racks and bridle hooks. they look like they'd take up way too much space to be practical... but i still like 'em!
My assignment was to hold down the fort in the barn area - ensuring that all the horses got out in time for their respective classes. Not particularly consuming, since each horse had its own handlers for tacking and such anyway. I literally just needed to make sure nobody was in the barn who should have been in the ring.

so pretty!!! but see the spikes lining the tops of the barn walls? no birdies allowed to perch here!
It meant, tho, that I was stuck inside the barn, putzing around for hours. But what a pretty barn! And of course the regular rhythms and lessons and comings and goings of the barn's residents wasn't infringed upon at all by the IEA show, so I also got to watch a seemingly unending stream of big fat gorgeous hunter jumper horses parade through the barn on their way hither and thither.

so many chubby ponies!!! also i was surprised to find myself looking at this cross rail division and feeling like Charlie's probably just about ready for something like this!! exciting!
Sure, very few (if any) looked much like TBs - it seemed like mostly warmbloods or ponies - but I was struck by just how.... fleshy and full bodied and ... healthy they all looked. And not in a 'fat' or 'obese' kinda way either (tho certainly some of them pushed that boundary a bit).

srsly tho. the grounds were so lovely, with all sorts of pretty little areas inside and out
It made me realize that I've become so accustomed to Charlie's thinness, his long skinny neck, his ribs, and his angular hind end, that I've kinda forgotten that it's not necessarily a good thing.

temporary stalls set up in what appeared to be a small schooling ring
Of course it's not necessarily a bad thing either... Charlie's 6 months out from his last race. And I've written before that he never really "crashed" post-track. Which is true. But he also hasn't really rebounded yet either. For a while he was very week-to-week with his weight. Losing and adding muscle in spurts. Lately tho we seemed to have plateaued. He's not really thriving.

in my mind, this is the quintessentially Maryland country view
And again it's not a bad thing (gotta keep writing that lest the internet world things I'm panicking about a skinny ottb lol). It's just a long slow process. And I've found that, much like how I have slowly become somewhat inured to Charlie's lanky, bony appearance, so have the folks responsible for managing the overall barn care.

more spikes!! and stalls of various ages, as apparently renovations are underwritten by private philanthropy
So when I got back from the show, feeling like Charlie would have stuck out like a sore thumb among all those glossy plump well-upholstered hunters, and asked that we add a lunch to Charlie's diet.... I was met with some push back. Frustrating.

Luckily a vet happened to be around for annual check-ups and vax appointments and gave Charlie a quick physical and nutritional assessment. Her thoughts? "Yea I can see why you think he's skinny." lol...

ahh, there's our familiar hero!
He's a big guy tho, and after discussing his current volume of grain, hay, and supplemental forage (alfalfa and beat pulp pellets), we decided to first switch to a different base feed that has more bang for the proverbial buck. This leaves the option of adding more volume later as needed.

Naturally, since I'm a bit like a wildly swinging pendulum and once I see that something is a problem I want to DO ALL THE THINGS to address that problem.... Naturally I also want to start adding all other kinds of supplements to his diet like oils or other fats or weight or muscle builders and what have you (not adding ulcer treatments here bc we already did that).

current state. leaves a bit to be desired.
For now, tho, I am resisting that temptation. Simply for the purpose of continuing to make small, incremental changes. We'll see how he does with the transition in base feeds. Then maybe we'll add a third meal. Then perhaps I'll look into some of those various top dressings that ppl swear by.... And in the meantime, hopefully the spring grass will be coming up too and maybe suddenly my shaggy bony little caterpillar will metamorphose into a glossy sleek and stout butterfly.

Ah horses. They're never really great at satisfying that need for instant gratification, huh. lol.... Oh well. At least we're moving in the right direction.

This whole 'advocating for my horse' thing is kinda new for me since I've never owned before. It surprises me too. As someone who has been staff in many barns for many years, I always just... ya know... did the thing the owner asked me to do. So now I'm in this new position of authority, and have to remind myself that it's ok to say, 'Actually yea, I'm asking you to do this thing bc I want it done, not bc I want your opinion on it.'

Have you had to have similar conversations with the folks responsible for your horse's day to day care? How has that worked out for you?


  1. It can definitely be tricky. I've boarded in places where I had a vastly different idea of what "healthy" looked like compared to the barn owner/manager. And depending on the board cost structure, some managers don't want to up feed because it cuts into their bottom line. Although I'm only boarding one right now, we have a board agreement where I provide my own grain, so that gives me more control about the volume she's getting.

  2. You and I could have a competition of who has the skinniest OTTB (it would be me, I could beat a broom these days). We loaded Mae up on food and then the vet actually took it away because he didn't want her to founder. We're on the canola oil until he tells us we can increase actual food. We have another OTTB that gets more food instead of oil and that seems to be helping him along this winter. I miss my fatty Ryon when I see how skinny Mae is but I'm confident that she'll eventually get there and I won't have to worry about her hip bones jutting out as much soon. Seriously, if you want to feel better about Charlie, let me know and I'll send you some pics of Mae :/

  3. My barn is really good at letting me have full control over how Stinker gets fed. But there is also a fair amount of extra that I do so I don't make their lives complicated.

  4. I am very much the same as you it sounds like, as soon as Henry looks a bit thin I am like FEED ALL THE THINGS. But you're so right, small incremental changes is the way to go. I find it's hard for me to properly assess my horses... Mystic and Apollo always look sort of fat to me and Henry always looks thin in comparison... but my husband keeps telling me he isn't very thin... so who knows. Best of luck with the diet adjustments :)

  5. Being on the other end of things and boarding other peoples' horses for many years, I always was happy to accomidate the horse owners with their wishes. That being said, a barn owner should be educated enough to know a 17 hh thoroughbred's dietary needs to begin with and feed accordingly before it became an issue. It's not rocket science and I think that they shouldn't have put you in the position to request more food, as they have eyes and should be able to body score him for themselves and fix it.

  6. Been there, got the t shirt! It can be so hard standing up to people and saying what you want but usually if you are confident and ask nicely it works out.
    I used to try all kinds of additives and supplements with Stampede because people always cautioned against giving too much grain (ie pelleted feed). He was on ultimate finish, platinum performance, ulcer preventatives, etc. He just kept becoming more and more of a picky eater though. Finally I had enough and said this horse is 18.1 hands and he can eat more grain. He still only gets the minimum for his weight (1,500 roughly) but that does mean 3 full scoops of grain per day (I split into three meals and feed the third myself - I pay for it myself too) and roughly 8 lbs of grain. That change made a huge difference for him! I do also provide a bag of hay pellets (I buy) for him to have an afternoon snack since he's on only 4 hours of turnout. The only "supplement" I give him now is table salt!
    Really Stampede taught me a ton about advocating for my horse and believing that I do know best. Before that I really had horses that were fairly easy to care for.
    I'm looking forward to having him home and giving him more grass/hay and more turnout and seeing how that changes his grain needs going forward.

  7. I feel ya - I'm a doer and I must do all the things all at once. It's a good and bad thing. Charlie is in good hands though. I boarded once at a barn that had disabled kids helping feed. To make it easy she had every horse fed the exact same. That meant my 15h air fern Arab was getting the same amount as the hard keepe OTTB. Gem was obese within months and we eventually just had to leave as she would not budge.

  8. This is SUCH a frustrating situation to be in! When Dino had his bout with ulcers a few years ago that presented as a severe colic and cost me a TON of money in vet bills, I had to demand that he have hay in his face 24/7 as well as soaked alfalfa cubes. My then-barn-owner complained that hay nets 'weren't safe' but I told her that unless she wanted to be out there giving him hay every hour, I was putting one up and keeping it full. So I did. I also worked at that barn several days a week and basically managed the facility, so had a lot more say in the matter and ability to make a change, but yeah. It sucks having to be demanding about stuff that should be common sense!

  9. I've been there. Add in a horse that just doesn't love to eat and is super picky... I haven't blogged about my feed troubles with Subi lately because I just haven't wanted to. But I should. But, it's definitely a challenge (as he's gotten older, he's gotten pickier and my vet warned me he will likely get worse... great!). And I control all the feeding... I've found lately that I like a dense feed (high fat, high protein, high calories) that I don't have to feed as much of because I just can't get Subi to eat the volume. So, if I get can 6 qts of a heavier feed vs 6 qts of a lighter weighing feed, I'm ahead of the game. But, I also have the pick my battles. The best feed in the world means nothing if he won't eat it. I can usually get him to eat a top dressed fat supplement like ultimate finish, but that's it. Again, I pick battles. We just changed feeds again. I'll be happy if I can get a year out of this feed...

    1. I just wanted to add, advocate for your horse, even if it means that you need to supplement some feed yourself. I hate nothing more when the place where I work complain that they don't understand why some boarders want so much food for their horses... Certain horses need more than air fern quarter horses! Drives me crazy! I usually stop the conversation by sharing what Subi eats, but... Don't stop being your horse's advocate even if you need to supplement.

  10. Such frustrating OTTB problems... Those small incremental changes are so tedious and frustrating when you just want it now. It took forever for people to accept how much food I feed Charmer, but it is the only way he will maintain his weight. He gets more hay than any other horse on the property, and he also gets more grain than any other horse on the property. And despite the fact that paying for all of his grain, supplements, etc. make my wallet cry, he is starting to look great finally. After a year and a half of incremental changes, we finally found a good place. Hopefully you can find one that works a little faster than we did!

  11. had this before at another boarding barn (NOW to be fair my current barn is amazing (and since i have a fatty mcfatty and not a skinny mini well...) but i supplemented my own hay at a couple barns cause they would ONLY Get hay at nite when they came in. Snow covered fields turn out all day? NO HAY. NO hay in am before turnout. NO HAY (am i making myself clear) RIDICULOUS. Now where Remus is he gets hay for breakfast, lunch and in his stall at nite a big (2 flakes so not huge) haynet full. And he gets very little grain (hence he finally is ideal weight for the first time in years going into Spring when the plumps come back with a vengeance) :) BUT your horse, your rules. AND I Have paid more for food as well (Just said finen howw much is it and i will pay it). SILLY. Which is why in the future i want my horse in my back yard. But for now...i deal with boarding barns ;)

    PS where do u board> I hauled to Oldfields in MD this past weekend and never even thought i might be in your country :) What a gorgeous facility that was. Those kids have it GOOD :)

    PPS I think Charlie is getting the weight the correct way slow and easy. Frustrating yes but the way to do it. i had a friend years sago who bought a App who had no weight and they put the poundage on him too fast and he had lameness issues all his life (coincidence or not it was bad) :(

  12. My guy looks thin this winter, too. And he's not an OTTB! Frustrating, but I am betting once the grass comes in they will plump up. Also, that barn is GORGEOUS!

  13. I have totally been through something similar with Eli, and still struggle with keeping weight on him. Luckily over a process that took a couple months of trying to get him sorted, I settled on just buying his grain myself after switching and he has his own "feed bin" in the feed room (it's a trash can). A few other horses are also on feed that is different from what the barn feeds. It can be tough for barn owners and staff to accommodate a whole bunch of different diets and diet changes, but so far it is working at my barn (except that my horse is suddenly looking ribby again kind of randomly so I toss him a few extra handfuls of his food in the evening). Best of luck to you getting and keeping weight on Charlie! (TBs are tough that way :/ )

  14. Ugh, that is frustrating! My boarding barn is the same way, and as I've done a lot of research and learning about nutrition trying to get and keep weight on my OTTB, I don't appreciate when a barn won't work with me. Changing the base feed to something more calorie dense and (hopefully) higher in fat is a good place to start - and if you need a bright spot to the less-than-big-change, at least you'll have a new baseline to work from, and then you can add once he's been on the new feed for a while instead of changing 10 things and trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. I added extra feed to my OTTB's ration at the new barn, and while it took her a few months to regain the weight she had lost in a relatively quick few weeks, it was nice to be able to really know that I just needed the extra scoop and some extra hay to maintain her where she should be vs taking away additives when she started to gain too much weight. Every horse is different, but adding one thing at a time will work in your favor, because I bet Charlie will tell you what works and what doesn't!

  15. I'm usually very easy going, so when I ask for something I usually get it. But, I've been fighting the opposite battle to you....B is too fat and everything we do to curb that seems to fail. She's currently locked up in 'jail' so she can't eat all day. We need to switch out Charlie and Bridget for awhile - our barn is used to tb eventers and has unlimited alfalfa mix hay available all day in multiple feeders in all the paddocks.

  16. The manager at my last barn always decided that her way was best and that the horse owners never really knew what was actually best for their horse. This was the biggest freaking turnoff. Now, whatever I ask for, it gets done. I made sure to check with the BM at my new place before I even moved that I get to call the shots with -my- horse. Even if I have to pay a tad extra, certain things still need to be options.

  17. It t wasn't until I got Irish home that I got him to an acceptable weight. Probably because I obsess, lol. I can see that adding a meal when other horses aren't getting it could lead to issues. It took a long time to get weight on Carmen when she came ( a good 6-8 months) and she's an Andalusian! Irish took a year. Now I'm needing to cut back Carmen's feed and she's NOT happy.

  18. What a pain in the ass! My most recent boarding barn was always pretty awesome with requests like that- the BO would actually come to me and say things like, "You know, Moe looks like he's losing a little weight this winter. Is it okay if I start feeding him beet pulp?"

    Candy lost some weight when she moved to OK, and never really seemed to gain it back. The vet ran some bloodwork, which all came back perfect. On a whim, I had her run a fecal, too, and that was the problem. Candy's a heavy shedder, and she immediately started gaining weight when I dewormed her a added a liquid fat supplement to her feed. (I might have already told you this?? I'm sorry if I have!) I totally feel your pain on the very slow march to optimal weight!

  19. It sounds like you're on the right track and it's super easy to rush into adding things so I'm glad you've got a game plan. It's also really easy to go too far and make an OTTB overweight I think. Being lean isn't a bad thing as long as they've got a good muscle mass. I'm an advocate for an athletic build especially during the season and some added weight off season. I've had plenty of friends with OTTBs fatten up so they almost look pregnant then jump a 3' course. Joint issues anyone? It all takes time! He'll get there ^.^ ♡

  20. Man, I do love McDonogh. It's so pretty.

    I struggled putting weight on Pig forever. Protein was the key for him, but probably that has more to do with our intensive dressage training than anything else. With Charlie, you seem to have a handle on what he needs. Just gotta get them calories going. Plus, weight gain/body composition is such a looooooooooooooooong ass process.

  21. I wish they had IEA when I was in High School, le sigh. Man you should have seen Carlos, he was such a plump horse, almost always prosperous. Most people thought he was a QH from his big hip.

  22. My PA barn was kind of like that. The BO was sneaky about it though. I'd hear that she was cutting back grain on a lot of horses for cost, and then a week layer she'd "casually" mention that Bobby looked fat, didn't he? Um, no. He did not. Don't cut his grain. Sometimes you've got to be a little bitchy and lay down the law. I know it's in you ;) Hopefully the latest change bulks him up!

  23. Boarding is so tough. I had horses at home for most of my life, and now that I board, I feel like I have to be uber vigilant in making sure my horse gets what I want. That said, our barn is great about syaing yes to requests, but still, theres a nagging feeling that maybe it isn't always getting done. I feel for ya. It's no fun.

  24. Gosh you are opening a can of worm. I have been staff and boarder ... It is not easy.
    When boarder, I tried to put myself in the feet of the staff. I had to keep a sharp eye on what was going on. Feeding is really difficult to be heard. Usually it was not enough hay or wrong hay aka pure lucerne, or too much feed ... Everybody seems to do whatever it pleases them. I know not helping.
    But you are very competent and knowledgable, you can be assertive in a polite way, and yes it is explaining why to ALL staff.
    Good luck

  25. I've been in the position of both staff and boarder. When I want things done my way, I ask politely and assertively, and offer to help out to make the changes as easy as possible for the staff. Having worked at barns myself, I know that just opening a drawer and ripping open that Smartpak, even despite their convenience, takes a minute. When you have a 40-stall barn, that minute per horse adds up rapidly. Thus, for the brunt of my boarding experience in the continental US, I have provided my own feed and portioned it out into the rations I want fed, with the supplements already mixed in. The staff doesn't even have to rip the Smartpaks open for my horses. All the staff has to do is pour that feed baggy into the feeder/bucket. At times when I was feeding beet pulp, I would even pre-soak it for them when possible so all they would have to do is hang the bucket. Sometimes I have gotten a discount for providing my own feed and helping, sometimes I have not. I don't argue for a discount because I just want my horses fed what I want in the quantities I want.

    My TB, when ulcers are under control, does best with a high protein, high fat feed. I'm a fan of Triple Crown Senior and Triple Crown Complete. I tried the TC Complete after seeing how well Amanda's Henry (900 FB Pony) did on it, and I've been very happy with it too. Lily gets 5 lbs twice a day during competition season. We add 1-2 lbs/day with Triple Crown's 30% supplement when I want her to put on muscle, a note that I took from Austen's blog. It had the same results Austen saw in Pig, though Lily has to be in hard work in order for me to supplement this safely: it makes her hot as balls. (This is in addition to free choice square bale hay in the wintertime and free choice pasture in the summer months, now that she lives outside 24/7.)

    I agree with Austen: body composition progress in the TB is a very long process!

  26. I went from boarding, to having my horses at home, to boarding again. Ugh! I've determined that even at the nice places, no one cares about your horse like YOU do. If I ever manage to sell my horse (sigh) I'm not sure I want to go back to boarding again. Hubby is just going to have to work harder to buy me a farm.

  27. Can totally relate. I was amazed by how much Annie has filled out in the past year. She's still not a fat hunter but for the most part within reason my barn respects my requests. My BO is one of my best friends and I know she treats Annie and all my others like her own. With Houston and Luna I buy their grain so I pay exactly what it costs to feed them. I don't think people realize just how much of Board is actual costs and not just "profit" boarding is not a super moneymaking scheme haha.

    All of that said I have Annie on a uckele supplement called TriAmino. It's not super expensive and I do feel like it's made a difference for her. Who knows though!

  28. Up until moving to my second barn in Idaho, I received a A LOT of resistance in getting Ries fed more. Probably around 5 years of resistance, no matter how much money I tried to throw their way. Finally found a place that fed him how he needed, no questions asked, and he blossomed. That resistance is really what sparked my desire to open my own boarding facility. I'm a pretty low maintenance boarder but I just always was disappointed in the care.

  29. As a yard manager I find it tragic that you're having to advocate for your horse. I can't imagine arguing with an owner over care - except obviously if the owner's ideas are potentially harmful to the horse. By the time my clients notice a drop of weight loss, I've probably already changed the feed and fixed the cause. And I don't say that to brag, but because I think that should be the norm!

  30. That sucks that your barn is arguing with you. Is it a cost thing? Are have to pay extra for extra feeding which is not a normal part of east coast barns but is really normal around here. Maybe if they're not wanting to feed him more for financial reason, you could offer to pay for the extra hay. Eugene was struggling with his weight when we first got him and he'll probably always be inclined to being skinnier, but we did add weight with Weight Super Gain and Cool Calories. It really did help and we were able to take him back off them once the weight was gained.

  31. I think I would go crazy trying to keep Bacon fed the way I would like her to anywhere but home. She's not an easy horse to manage, and I'm not OK with not seeing her outside my window. So, there's that.

    Her biggest thing was the protein from alfalfa. I was throwing a bale of grass a day at her, as much as I could, and nothing. As soon as I changed to alfalfa as her main course, she improved immensely. Now, we had to add other stuff and such to improve upon that, but I think that was the biggest thing I could do for her. I feel like you are on the right track for your dude. You've got his muscle-filling back!


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