A combination of better understanding management with innovative nutrients and supplementations old and young horses’ lives can be improved.
Dr. Fred Gardner had the auditorium of horse enthusiasts all ears in his entertaining educational presentation substantiating that statement.
At a supper meeting hosted by Roger Brummel of Brummel Farm Service at Garnett, the horse doctor’s discussion highlighted personal experiences.
Ernie Rodina, known as The Horse Guy from the Better Horses Network, coordinated the session with 14 additional sponsors.
A horse owner since childhood, Gardner was a general practice owner of the Countryside Veterinary Clinic.
“No longer an owner, I now work at the clinic specializing in equine care and treatment,” the veterinarian explained.
Handling all aspects of horse health issues, Gardner was emphatic in crediting equine technician Lisa Johnston for her dedicated assistance.
“Lisa does the hard dirty work and I take the credit,” Gardner acknowledged in most serious jive.
In typical smiling always congenial commentary, Gardner apologetically yet with obvious pride announced the birth of his granddaughter.
“I’ve been procrastinating in preparing this program because Jackie and I had to see our new granddaughter,” he exclaimed. “When we heard the good news, Jackie started making quilts, and of course I got her a pair of ponies.
“Every little girl must have a pony,” he smiled. “So I got her both Bonnie and Clyde that way we knew we had the best one for our granddaughter.”
Of course, grandbaby pictures along with her own ponies were shown the audience.
“I had to try them out,” Gardner continued smilingly displaying pictures driving one pony with a cart at the fair.
“There aren’t as many horses being raised nowadays, so extending the life of productive horses becomes more important,” Gardner said. “Fortunately, we have lots of things we can do to keep an older horse usable longer.”
Shack is Gardner’s own horse, which he showed photos of and explained how the old animal has maintained usefulness.
“He has a proven show record, but health issues have prevented him from performing at his earlier potential,” Gardner said. “However, we’ve been able to manage those concerns with feet and teeth care plus nutrition so Lisa shows him successfully.
“Shack is still crippled but with corrective shoeing, regular teeth treatment, supplements and the right feed, they win. However, Shack does have the ability and heart which are also essential ingredients with the rider’s training and handling.”
Pictures of Gardner’s other old horse called Trigger were also shown explaining despite age he has a useful life.
“Lisa has Trigger, too, and does quite well riding and showing him with the required management and handling,” Gardner credited.
Obesity and lameness are often the most frequent problems in older horses.
“We always want to feed our horses, but often they get too much feed and do too little,” Gardner said. “It’s best to have an area where the horse can exercise on its own and have access to forage.”
Grazing pasture is desirable with the vitamins and minerals naturally provided by the grasses.
“If you feed hay, additional vitamins, minerals and amino acids are needed,” Gardner said. “Horses generally do well on forage rations alone. However, daily feeding of concentrates is fine, but it’s essential to have a balanced nutritional diet for the horse.”
Big round bales of hay are a convenient horse feed source but require certain management, according to the veterinarian. He showed pictures of how he puts the hay in large bags to limit waste and improve consumption.
“The accumulation of uneaten hay and horse droppings must be cleaned up to prevent horse feet damage,” Gardner explained.
During the winter, long hair can create an inaccurate assessment of a horse’s condition.
“Be sure the horse is in adequate flash, and it’s not just a lot of hair,” Gardner advised. “Horse body condition can be evaluated with tapes available from feed dealers.”
A horse’s teeth have a major influence on their consumption.
“Regular teeth checkups are essential to make sure a horse is consuming the feed he’s being given,” Gardner added. “Sharp hooks can develop on teeth, making slow and inadequate chewing, so these points must be filed down.”
Proper hoof care is as important as proper nutrition.
“A horse should have regular trimming and evaluation every five weeks, some horses even more often than that,” Gardner insisted. “Many lameness situations can be treated with proper shoeing and using modern medicines we didn’t use to have.”
Water is the most essential nutrition ingredient for horses often overlooked in both hot and cold weather.
“I have an automatic waterer that operates without electricity but provides clean water at all times,” Gardner said. “This may not be the best, but it sure works better than chopping ice or a bucket of dirty water.”
Ponies are often too easy keepers, requiring watchful eye from owners.
“Now Bonnie and Clyde like to eat, but they can eat too much if I don’t watch them,” Gardner stated. “They do well on grass and hay, but must not overconsume or laminitis known as founder can become an issue.”
Young horses require correct management to ensure successful careers.
“While proper nutrition is essential, too often young horses are fed too much as well,” Gardner informed. “Balanced feed rations with adequate vitamins and minerals plus regular daily exercise are required for a developing performance prospect.”
In conclusion, the devout horse caretaker declared, “With modern medicine and proper management, horses have longer, healthier lives than ever.”
Frank J. Buchman is a writer and rancher located in the Kansas Flint Hills.