By Kim Lemmon
I certainly didn’t need another horse, and I had no plans to buy another horse either. Around here though, things can change quickly.
Last fall, my friend, Christa, asked me to help her find a pony for her young children. We decided it would be a fun adventure and that I could write about finding a horse suitable for kids in an upcoming “Horse Sense” article.
We started trading e-mails and searching websites. We called each other constantly and had a great time browsing horse-classified websites. I don’t know about her husband, but I know my husband, Mark, was a little frustrated and concerned about the horse shopping.
Shortly after I started helping Christa pony shop, Mark and I attended a local auction that was selling some horse items. One of our horse friends was in attendance and tried to sell us a weanling miniature horse. I very firmly told our friend, “I don’t want another mini horse.” I should have realized that was strike two.
It wasn’t long after that when Christa wisely decided to cancel her possible pony purchase and keep the horses she had. She was saved from spending any money, but my fate was already sealed, though I didn’t yet know it.
Christa says she already knew that I was destined to buy another miniature because when I was supposed to be sending her ads and photos of potential ponies for her children, I would send her photos of minis and say I wished I could buy them.
If you remember my 2011 adventures with my bay mini geldings, Mike and Ike, you know that things didn’t go very smoothly last year. I had several loose horses and a few near driving accidents. They just need to be driven more often and it became apparent that I needed a helper to harness and hitch them for driving, which is hard to come by with Mark working and attending college classes.
Since I had already started horse shopping, I had the brilliant idea that the answer was to buy another miniature horse that was very experienced and safe for a beginner driver. I wanted one that I could harness, hitch and drive without assistance. I figured I could work on my driving skills with an easy-going quiet horse so that when there was time to drive Mike and Ike, my driving skills would have improved some.
Mark wasn’t so sure about my idea but I had firmly grabbed ahold of it and was quickly narrowing my searches to miniature horses with driving experience.
We looked at a couple of horses. Nothing was as advertised. One evening there was a horse conveniently located near our way home from another trip we were taking. Mark wasn’t thrilled about looking at another horse, but of course he stopped anyway. Everything went well, but I wasn’t convinced he was the horse for me. His back was boney, although his stomach displayed a hay belly. Mark said I should buy him. He was tired of horse shopping and tired of spending money on gas to go horse shopping.
This particular horse was just a 10-minute drive from Christa’s house, so I convinced her to load up her two young girls in her van and go with me to view the horse. Christa is an Equine Sales Specialist in Ohio for Purina. I knew she would be able to help me determine if the horse had a structural problem with his back or a nutritional one plus her girls could help me test out this horse’s tolerance of children.
The horse passed the child test. We pretty much unintentionally set Christa’s daughters loose and one of them ran right into the tail of this horse. He never moved a muscle. This was a good sign although we never intended for the girls to be that close to the horse without supervision.
While I was talking to the horse owners, Christa looked into the feeding program for the horse and evaluated the horse. Although the horse was being fed Purina Miniature Horse Feed, he was only receiving about half of what he should have received daily.
If you remember from an article we ran last December, protein in the diet supplies the body amino acids that are needed for tissue growth, repair and maintance. There are several different sources of protein in an animals diet (cotton seed, soybean meal, etc.) and it takes not only protein but also the correct type of protein to help supply these amino acids that maintain the body.
In this case, since the seller was feeding a bagged Purina product designed for miniature horses, we knew the type of protein was not the problem; it was the lack of sufficient protein in the diet since the horse was only receiving about half the quantity he should have been fed. This lack of sufficient protein in his diet was causing him to lose muscle tone, which led to his backbone sticking up because there was insufficient muscle tone surrounding it.
According to Christa, in the summer, fresh green grass can sometimes carry sufficient protein for horses but grassy hay often doesn’t carry enough or at least sometimes not enough of the correct types to support horses. When the grass goes dormant and folks don’t feed enough supplemental protein in the form of grain, muscle tone can become an issue.
So even though this horse was chubby through his belly, he lacked protein built muscle across his back and hips. His owners were only evaluating the horse based on his belly and considered him overweight. This happens often. Folks feed only hay or pasture and their horses lose much of the muscle tone in their bodies, though their bellies still appear fat.
I bought this horse named Harley, brought him home and started feeding him a Purina feed called Nature’s Essentials: Enrich 32. It is a forage balancer supplement to provide the proper amounts of vitamins, minerals, and protein the horse or pony needs in a very small package (1-2 pounds per day for a full-size horse). It is designed for horses that are able to maintain their weight on grass or pasture. It is also very low in starch and carbs and great for getting “easy keepers” to shed a few pounds. I am also able to adjust the amount of feed to meet the needs of my draft horse as well as my miniature horses without needing to purchase additional types of grain.
I bought Harley in late December and used a weight tape to measure his weight. I developed a feeding program based on Christa’s suggestions and continued to take the horse’s measurements each month. The difference was amazing. The tape shows a weight gain, but if you look at the horse, he doesn’t look any chubbier through his belly but he looks vastly improved over his topline and hips.
Harley’s weight tape measurements
I’m certainly not an expert at using a weight tape so there may be some errors in these measurements but it is apparent that there was a drastic improvement in Harley’s appearance and weight from both these measurements and his changes in appearance.
December 230 pounds
January 245 pounds
February 245 pounds
March 240 pounds
April 250 pounds
May 245 pounds
Pictures don’t do the difference justice, but be assured, his backbone and hips don’t stick out anymore and he feels smooth, even and toned across his topline. He still has a chubby little belly — I can’t stop myself from feeding too much hay or allowing too much grazing time — which can be worked off with additional summer driving. I’m impressed and now a true believer in the importance of horse appropriate adequate protein in a horse’s diet.
So far Harley has turned out to be a great addition to my little herd of minis.
If have questions about your own horse’s diet, contact your local Purina dealer. A list of dealers can be found at http://horse.purinamills.com/dealerlocator/default.aspx.