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28 November 2013 Forage for Fertility!

Image courtesy of Simply Marvellous

Looking to get pregnant?…well your mare anyway…make sure she has access to forage on a continual basis!

We LOVE to sing out the virtues of forage around here, so naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to bring you some more research to help us sing out the message  a little louder! A recently published study has highlighted the beneficial effects of access of forage day and night, on the reproductive efficiency of mares.

Food, stress, and fertility
Horses are ‘trickle feeders’, designed to eat large quantities of highly fibrous forages for most of the day and night.  This is a highly-motivated, basic behavioral need, i.e. the horse MUST have it in order to function as nature intended.  Any deprivation of this will lead to stress, and stress has been repeatedly shown in many species, including horses and humans, to have adverse effects on reproductive efficiency.  Stress makes it harder to get pregnant, and stay pregnant

Horses that are managed on a time restricted meal plan and limited forage (such is commonly seen in our current management practices), are under chronic stress.  Such stressors have been implicated in abnormal behaviors and the emergency of oral stereotypies (e.g. crib biting, wood chewing, tongue movements, lip movements).  Gastric ulcers are also a frequent problem in domesticated horses.   So it’s really not surprising this may have a negative impact on fertility too.

Quickie important note:  **Gastric discomfort can occur in as little as 1-2 hours when a stomach is empty! ** Keep that in mind the next time your horse gets grouchy when he’s been stood around with nothing to eat!

In this recent study, researchers in Tunisia hypothesized that providing semi-continuous feeding schedule of roughage (i.e. hay available morning and night) would help to improve reproductive efficiency.

They took 100 Arab breeding mares and randomly divided into two groups.  The “Continuous feeding” group (CF) had access to hay morning and night, the “Standard Feeding Pattern”  (SFP) only had access to hay in the evening.  The total amount of roughage for both groups was the same, as was their management schedule.

The results of the study showed that there was a significant difference between the two groups.  Those receiving hay throughout the day & night (CF) had fewer estrus abnormalities and higher fertility rates, than those who were on restricted schedule (SFP).   The conception rate in the CF mares was 81% compared with 55% in the SFP mares.  Pretty impressive!

So if we’re trying to improve reproduction in the domestic environment, (remember, responsible horse breeding only!) keeping our horses closer to their intended natural foraging behavior, is an easy and efficient way of increasing reproduction.  It’s also worth considering the possibility that timing of feeding may have an even bigger impact than the actual amount of food provided.

Take home message 

Keep your herbivore happy (reproducing, or not) with continual access to a variety of appropriate forages (fresh and conserved).  Any shortfalls in this, for even short periods of time, may induce a stress response.  Stress response will lead to unwanted behaviors and negatively impact physiological and psychological function.  This is not only a health and wellness concern, but also a welfare issue.


22 October 2013 Movement – we can and we must do better!

Stables/stalls = cages for the horse. No matter how fancy you make them. We don’t think it’s fair for these guys, lion cageso what makes it OK to put a horse in one for extended periods of time?

To deprive him of the ability to move his feet is depriving him of one of his most highly motivated, basic NEEDS. At best, it is inhumane; at worst, it is blatant cruelty.  We can, and we must do better.

The freedom to move allows him to satisfy all of his other basic needs…he can move to find a variety of large amounts of forage and other foods, covering many km’s in times of scarcity; find safety & solace within the herd; and choose with whom to socialize and pro-create….when he is caged, he is totally reliant on us for EVERYTHING. We take away all of his highly instinctual choices, yet he’s MUCH better at making them than we are!

Our domesticated environment is far from his natural habitat and some compromise must be accepted. However, the more effort we make, to keep him as close to how nature intended, the happier and healthier he will be, and the more you will be able to enjoy you horse for what he truly is…a horse, of course:) 

Here’s a link to the page that inspired today’s post with a nice little vid to go with it.

17 October 2013 Just PUT ONE ON!!!!

No, this is not a blog post on family planning…well, I guess it kind of is, in a way… regardless, I’m hoping you commit to this barn rule with yourself and your kids from here on in…. NO HELMET, NO HORSE, NO EXCUSES! (Those of you that already do…you are AWESOME!) Here’s just a few reasons why (taken from the Equestrian Medical Safety Association):

  1.  The most common reason among riders for admission to hospital and death are head injuries.
  2. A fall from two feet can cause permanent brain damage. A horse elevates a rider eight feet or more above ground.
  3. Approximately 20 percent of horse-related injuries occur on the ground and not riding.
  4. Most riding injuries occur during pleasure riding.
  5.  A human skull can be shattered by an impact of 4-6 mph. Horses can gallop at 40 mph.
  6. According to the National Electronic Surveillance System figures the most likely ages for injury is at 5-14, and 25-44 years with each decade having about 20 percent of the injuries.
  7. A rider who has one head injury has a 40 percent chance of suffering a second head injury. Children, teens and young adults are most vulnerable to sudden death from second impact syndrome: severe brain swelling as a result of suffering a second head injury before recovery from the first head injury.
  8. Death is not the only serious outcome of unprotected head injuries. Those who survive with brain injury may suffer epilepsy, intellectual and memory impairment, and personality changes.
  9. Hospital costs for an acute head injury can be in the range of $25,000 per day. Lifetime extended care costs may easily exceed $3 million. There is no funding for rehabilitation outside the medical setting.
  10. Helmets work. Most deaths from head injury can be prevented by wearing ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials), SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) approved helmets that fit correctly and have the harness firmly applied. Other types of helmets, including bike helmets, are inadequate.
  11. Racing organizations require helmets and as a result jockeys now suffer fewer head injuries than pleasure riders. The US Pony Club lowered their head injury rate 29 percent with mandatory helmet use. Britain’s hospital admission rate for equestrians fell 46 percent after helmet design improved and they came into routine use.
  12. The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association through the Committee on Sports Medicine, Canadian Medical Association, and the American Medical Equestrian Association/Safe Riders Foundation recommend that approved, fitted and secured helmets be worn on all rides by all horseback riders.


Still think helmet-hair’s not worth it?

Maybe it’s too hot to ride in one?

The kids just don’t think it’s ‘cool’, or it’s too ‘english’?  (nothing wrong with being too English by the way :))

You’re an experienced rider with a well-trained horse?

Watch this sobering reminder from Olympic Dressage rider, Courtney King-Dye, 3 years on from her traumatic brain injury.  She was schooling her horse when he tripped and fell.  She was not wearing a helmet at the time.

WOW, should there really be any second thought?

For more excellent information on this subject, check out and please, just put one on…you only have one head… use it!

It just makes sense.

26 January 2013 Have you been MOOC’d?

It doesn’t hurt, I promise, in fact, you’ll may even have FUN doing it, AND you’ll learn some great stuff from some of the best lecturers, associated with the most prestigious Universities around the world.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and I’m excited to be a part of the team at the University of Edinburgh for the very first in Equine Nutrition. Offered through Coursera (check them out for other interesting courses on offer), we have 5 weeks of nutrition fundamentals, comprising of lectures, videos, quizzes and discussions.  Our total number of participants is fast approaching 20,000!!!!…from all around the world!  For the past few months, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to get your open-all-hours, virtual feed room ready and here’s what we’ve got for you to assimilate and digest:

Week 1: Anatomy and physiology of the equine gastrointestinal tract – how things are put together and how they work.

Week 2: Nutrient digestion in the equine gastrointestinal tract – what gets digested where, what it does, and why it’s important.

Week 3: Equine nutrient sources and feeding management – nutrient sources and different feedstuffs used in equine diets; their important to health and welfare.

Week 4: Equine dietary management- how we feed our horses and how we can improve our management related to such.

Week 5: Equine clinical nutrition – how to prevent and manage various nutrition-related disorders such as obesity, laminitis, senior horses.


This is a FREE course open to EVERYONE, you study at your own pace and even get a statement of accomplishment at the end!  Use this fantastic opportunity to find out what other horse people from around the world do in their feed room, and share with us, what you do in yours…within reason!  Bring your knowledge, your experience (no matter how many years you have), your questions and an open mind, and come join us in our virtual online feed room!  Look forward to seeing you there!

13 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Evaluate your overall feeding program

Many horse people, feed their horses based on out-dated, inaccurate, misinformed, and quite often, dangerous feeding advice….2 scoops of that 10% sweet feed your Grandpa used to feed is not considered a good feeding protocol, and we know better now!  If your nutrition program consists of picking up a bag of feed from the feedstore, before you have evaluated the nutrient provision from your hay and pasture, then you could be throwing money away, potentially creating major imbalances in your horse’s diet, and even compromising his welfare….and no, you cannot just go get a supplement to balance it all out!

A good feeding program, for ALL horses, starts with a good quality, free choice forage, whether it be in the form of grass, hay, or a mixture of both (good quality does not mean nutrient dense, it means free from molds  dust etc).  Your choice(s) of forage should depend upon your horse and the work that is expected of him, and there should be plenty of variety on offer.

Access to free choice forage enables your horse to fulfill a primary behavioral need: eating (the other two are locomotion and social contact).  Restriction of such can lead to stress, which may create digestive upset, and will greatly increase the potential for the development of stereotypical behaviors, such as cribbing.  In addition, your horse, being one of nature’s most remarkable eating machines, will quite simply go into ‘survival mode’ and ‘make up for lost time’, when he gets access to food once again.  This is one of the main reasons ‘starvation’ diets for overweight horses and ponies don’t work, and also why raiding the feed room a) happens in the first place, and b) can lead to such extreme over indulgence!  Horses will regulate their intake IF they are given an appropriate environment  and the opportunity to do so, but we have been terrified out of this thinking by ‘traditional’ approaches to feeding our horses.

So, before you head off to the feed store, start by having a look at your forage provisions.  Only then can you hope to make up for the nutrients that may be lacking in your horse’s diet…failure to do so is uneconomical at best, and may lead to serious health and welfare compromise if not adjusted accordingly.

In The Arena

ABC Radio
ABC Radio
University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The Horse
The Horse
Red Hills International
Red Hills International
Horses and people
Horses and people
hoofbeats magazine
hoofbeats magazine
Chris stafford radio
Chris stafford radio