Bitten by the horse bug early, my first experience on a horse was...less than stellar. I perched atop "Heidi", a wily flea bitten grey mare, sure that this would be my "Black Stallion" moment. We would communicate wordlessly and gallop through the Tahoe hills as one. Heidi had my number and went to sleep in the arena. Head dropped to the ground, hind leg cocked, eyes closed, a soft snore sending up puffs of sand in the arena: we weren't going anywhere. She was truly, deeply asleep. The teacher tried to convince me it took a great deal of trust for a horse to do that. I was devastated, but I wasn't stupid.
Luckily, I was young and recovered easily. My next experience was "Ben" an 18 hand gentle giant that required a step ladder to groom, saddle and mount (I was under 5' at that point). Proper posture wasn't possible since I could barely get my leg on him, but he was patient and kind and made me look like I knew what I was doing while he took me along for the ride. I was hooked.
I'd always loved animals. I had crickets, hermit crabs, anoles, lady bugs and whatever else I could put in makeshift containers. My Mother's "No dogs" policy hurt, but I had a room full of chirping, scrabbling creatures to keep me happy. Then I brought home the Locusts. They were large, they were ugly and they scared me a little. My Mother took one look and offered a puppy if I'd take them back.
I rode dressage through High School on and off and took off to the East Coast for College. Walking out of Freshman orientation a booted young man asked if I could ride. I told him I'd done a little dressage. The next thing I knew I was on a wooden horse with a polo mallet in hand. "Stand up in the stirrups, lean way over and whack the ball. Don't hit the horse." I played polo for the next four years.
2 Degrees later, I ended up in Veterinary School at UC Davis. I managed to eke out 1 semester of horse-lease before finances forced a close to riding. Many un-numbered years later, here I am.
I have 3 horses (Oberon-an OTTB, Montana-a Quarab and Tigger-the ornery pony), 4 dogs (2 Malinois, 1 Cane Corso and 1 Aussie/Cavalier mix), 1 cat, a bunch of koi, 8 chickens and a fluctuating number of rehab and rescue animals.
The Starving Horse
Please consult with your local veterinarian if you have a starving horse. Their help can be invaluable as you progress through putting weight on a horse. A lot of dealing with a starving horse is art and intuition--there is no cookbook solution for this problem. When to deworm, when to add corn oil etc should all be checked with your veterinarian.
The big things with these guys is re-feeding syndrome. Basically the insulin/glucose and electrolytes go haywire and the horse dies (the first 2-5 days is critical).
Ideally, you want a blood panel to know where you are starting.
Get a weight estimate by taking a string and measuring girth circumference and the horse's length. Go here and input the numbers:
Save the girth string and mark it--you can compare weekly. Don't be surprised if they don't gain weight the first week or if it plateaus for awhile thereafter.
This is what I did with Valour who was 744# when we started. Valour was rescued from a feedlot where she had been abandoned with a young gelding. Sadly, the young gelding (Valiant) went down en route and had to be euthanized. Valour was rescued through SHI and SCTR and many generous donors of time, money and transport. [If you'd like your name here, please let me know and I will insert it]
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Use alfalfa pellets and alfalfa or oat hay.
Sweet feeds or complete feeds are not recommended (Witham and Stull, 1998).
I like using a digestive aid called Yea-Sacc by Farnam (no, they don't pay me to promote their product).
Yea-Sacc is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast organism that helps maximize digestibility and can reduce incidences of digestive colic.
It can be found here:
Checked Blood panel/lytes Day 1
1/2 flake alfalfa or 2 1/2 cups alfalfa pellets every 4 hours (around the clock)
1/2 scoop Yea Sacc daily
Observed for urination and poop. Listened to gut quadrants at least 3-4 times daily.
Dewormed with strongid (pyrantel pamoate) Day 2. I used a single dose strongid paste once she was eating well.
If they have a heavy worm burden, Ivermectin or Panacur can cause impaction colic with a massive die-off.
Checked blood panel/lytes Day 4
Increased to 1 flake alfalfa and 2 qts alfalfa pellets 5x/day
Added 1/4 cup corn oil once daily
Yea Sacc 1/2 scoop daily
Checked blood panel/lytes Day 8
1 1/2 flakes alfalfa and 3 qts alfalfa pellets every 6 hours
Corn oil 1/4 cup once daily
Yea Sacc 1/2 scoop daily
Weighed 816 lbs Day 10!
Free feed alfalfa hay (4-6 flakes per day)
Alfalfa pellets 4 qts 4x/day
Corn oil 1/2 cup once daily
Yea Sacc 1/2 scoop daily
Day 20 on.....
Free feed alfalfa hay
6 qts alfalfa pellets every 8 hrs
3/4 cup corn oil once daily
Yea Sacc 1 scoop daily
Day 21-dewormed ivermectin
Valour 7 weeks later
Before & After
Sadly, survival rate is around 35% for emaciated horses (1 or 2).
Results are not typical. Most horses will not put on weight this rapidly.
If you have any questions or want rationale for anything, please e-mail me and I will do my best to answer. Chances are someone else wants to know too!