Elaine Hobbs says she believes horse owners are blessed to have such beautiful animals, and with that comes the responsibility of caring for them properly.
Mrs. Hobbs, who owns a horse farm with her husband, Dr. Hueston Hobbs, said she has been distressed by recent media reports of horses left starving due to the recent drought and owner neglect. In one incident, 16 malnourished horses were found in a pasture near Pacolet.
“If your horses are in such poor condition that their hip bones are sticking out, they are starving,” said Mrs. Hobbs, who has been riding since she was 3, fox hunts and breeds and shows horses. “Please consider giving these animals to someone who can feed them or humanely put them down.”
To see if your horse is in “proper flesh” Mrs. Hobbs suggests you put your hand on its rib cage.
“With slight pressure, you should be able to feel the ribs,” she said. “That's good. The horse is neither too fat nor too thin. In winter, the long hair coat may hide the ribs, but if you feel them right away and certainly if you can see the ribs, that horse needs weight.”
Hay is a precious commodity in these dry times. Don't waste it if you have it and understand that how it is presented makes a difference in whether or not a horse will eat.
“Horses have a pecking order,” Mrs. Hobbs said. “And we can't change that. The lower ranking horses will always have to stand aside until the higher-ranking horses are finished and no longer guarding the feed.”
Mrs. Hobbs said a veterinarian told her that the horse with the quicker nervous system often will be on top of the pecking order.
“Ponies often rule the roost because they can kick and move faster,” she said.
When feeding square bales of hay, put out one or two more piles than the number of horses in the field, Mrs. Hobbs said.
“Put enough space between each pile so that they can all eat peacefully,” she said. “They may play musical hay piles for a bit, but all of the horses will have a fair shake at the food. If you use big round bales, be sure they are not moldy and preferably have been kept under cover until use. If you don't use a hay ring, there is a tremendous amount of waste. Horses won't eat grass or hay that has been manured on. As scarce as hay is, you'd be well advised to invest in a ring. Also, when a big bale gets low, inspect what is left. If it is weeds, sticks, leaves, etc., that bale is done and it is time for another. Without a hay ring, you may be better off keeping the big bale under cover and pulling hay off and placing it around like you would a smaller square bale. This will take time, but there will be less waste and the hay will go a lot further.”
Hay can be purchased at several businesses and farms in Union County, including Union Oil Mill. Owner Norris Fowler said horses require a different grade of hay because they don't have the ability to digest certain roughage that cows can tolerate.
“For horses, it's Coastal Bermuda, Alfalfa, Timothy or Orchard Grass,” he said.
There are also complete feeds and alfalfa cubes for horses.
Horses pick up intestinal parasites, particularly in cool, rainy weather, Mrs. Hobbs said. If the horse has not been de-womed in the last 60 days (30 days where there is more than one horse per acre), the horse is losing blood and nutrition to these deadly parasites. These worms and larvae are migrating through intestinal walls, muscles and other organs, causing damage and scaring.
“It is very important to ‘worm' the animal regularly to keep this from happening,” Mrs. Hobbs said. “South Carolina also has a big problem with tapeworms in horses and this time of year horses have also ingested the eggs of the Bot Fly. You will see these eggs as tiny yellow specks on their legs and sides. It is important to get these off so the horse won't reinfect itself after de-worming. The best way I've found is to carefully shave those areas with a straight razor. There are also inexpensive gadgets found in any feed store or tack shop. Then treat all of your horses with a good anti-helmenthic that gets all the usual parasites, plus tape and bots. A cheap ‘weight tape' placed around the horse's girth will give you a good estimate of the horse's weight so you medicate properly. If you are not sure, your farrier can help you or call me and I'll be glad to come out and show you.”
Horses need shelter from cold rain and wind, Mrs. Hobbs said.
“They suffer just as we would if we stood outside in that weather with a jacket that wasn't waterproof, got soaked and now had to endure the cold wind,” she said. “A shivering horse is using a lot of calories to try to stay warm. Keeping a horse warm and dry uses fewer calories, thus necessitating less feed to keep the weight up. Be sure that all the animals have a place to get shelter, and keep in mind again the higher ranking animals will bet inside and the subordinates will have to say out if the shelter isn't big enough.
Mrs. Hobbs puts waterproof turnout “shells” on her unclipped, pasture kept horses so they will be more comfortable in inclement weather, even though they have shelters to go to.
Mares and fillies should be kept separate from stallions, Mrs. Hobbs said.
“Indiscriminate breeding produces unmarketable horses, and these need to eat too,” she said. “Keeping mares and stallions together results in fights and injuries. Unless you are a show barn or racing stable breeding top-notch horses, you are best to geld the boys and make them easier to keep and to sell and not have any unexpected foals.”
Proper horse care takes time and money, Mrs. Hobbs said.
“If you can't afford to feed your horses what it takes to keep them in proper flesh and are just trying to hang on until spring grass, at least see that they all get something twice a day, preferably a little hay to keep their gut healthy and some grain to give them some extra calories,” she said. “Keep them worms so everything you feed them counts. Make sure they have clean water and clear the ice in tanks in freezing weather.”