Monthly Archives: November 2010

  • The Apple Of My Eye

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    A few years ago a director friend of mine asked me if I knew of anyone that had a farm dog type puppy available. “A Border Collie would be perfect,” he said, “or maybe something with some shepherd in it.”

    He knew that I am well connected in the dog world and I was happy to help him out. It didn’t take long for me to find a family from church that had a litter of Border Collie Australian Shepherd puppies for sale. Since my friend lived in Minneapolis, and I am 75 miles away in rural Stockholm, Wisconsin, I told him that I would check the puppies for him, saving him the trip if they were not suitable.

    So that Sunday, after church, Kevin and I drove out to see the puppies and take some pictures to send to my friend. The family, who home schooled their eight children, lived on an old farm place a few miles out of town.

    After making our way up the long driveway, a red merle Aussie announced our arrival and greeted us with wriggles and kisses. As we climbed out of the truck, the Dad and all eight kids came out to greet us and show us the pups.

    One by one, the puppies poured out of the house until there was six balls of black and white and blue merle fluff rolling around in the grass. They immediately came over to inspect us as we inspected them. We could see that the red Aussie was their mother and the children told us that the father was a black and white Border Collie who lived one farm over. I remembered seeing him, sitting on the porch of their neighbor’s house as we drove by. He was an impressive dog, with a broad old style, Border Collie head and full white ruff that set off his shiny black coat.

    As I took some pictures to send to my friend, one puppy in particular began to stand out.

    She was the smallest of the bunch, a nonstop whirlwind of feet and fur as she ran from sibling to siblings, nipping playfully on one’s ear then going to grab another’s tail. I reached down to pick her up and she flew into my arms, scurrying up my legs and into my face.

    She gave me a million puppy kisses and her little body wriggled so much with excitement, I thought she would burst.

    You must understand that I work with animals every day, and I can assure you, I am immune to the charms of cuddly puppies and frisky kittens. So no one was more surprised than me, when I fell completely, utterly in love with the little blue merle pup. She was friendly, curious and bold. After all of my years working as an animal trainer, I knew she had star quality written all over her.

    I set her down, took a few more pictures, (more now of her, than the others) and made mental note of who would be a good fit for my friend. I tried to ignore her, but my eyes kept going back to her as she fearlessly explored the yard.

    Kevin stood up, brushed the grass off his jeans and asked me, “Do you think you have enough pictures?” It was his signal to me that he was ready to go. I took his arm and whispered to him, “I really want that puppy.”

    “What puppy?” He asked. “We don’t need a puppy. We have two dogs, already,” he said, citing our elderly German Shepherd and our young one who was still somewhat of a puppy himself.

    “I know we don’t need one,” I said, “But look at her. She has a great look. She’s smart. She’s bold. She could be a really good acting dog.”

    “We don’t need another dog. Don’t you think we have enough animals?”

    “Oh, Kevin,” I pleaded, trying to convince him. “I have an empty spot in my life.” I put out my hands and moved them up and down like a scale, “Baby…puppy. Baby…puppy. Baby…puppy.”

    He laughed. “We are not having another baby!”

    I laughed too, “Of course not!”

    We have four sons. But I really wanted this puppy. Kevin sighed and wearily shook his head. “OK… if you think so, go ahead.” Poor Kevin. After all these years, he has grown used to the fact that when I set my mind on something, it’s pretty much going to happen.

    “What do you call her?” I asked the children.

    “Apple,” volunteered one of the younger girls, “I named her Apple because she is spotted like an Appaloosa and Appaloosa’s are my favorite kind of horse.”

    “Apple,” I repeated, liking how it rolled nicely off my tongue. “Then Apple it is,” I replied, swooping her up into my arms.

    “What do you want for the puppies,” I asked.

    “We’ve been getting $30 for them”, the oldest boy told me, being sure to add a serious look to show that there would be no negotiating on price.

    “Great!” I said, “I’ll take her.”

    “Give them $50.” Kevin said quietly, nodding towards the kids.

    “They said $30,” I protested, never one to miss a bargain.

    “Oh, give them $50”, he repeated, “You know she’s worth more than that. I’ll go get the check book.”

    I paid the kids and thanked them and assured them that my friend would want a puppy also. Apple snuggled into my arms during the short ride home and I told Kevin that I was very, very happy.

    Sophie, our old dog, sniffed Apple and looked at me as if to say, “Oh no! Not again!” and then went and lay down on her bed. The young dog, Sarge, was thrilled to have playmate.

    Apple had never seen a cat before and the house cats were quick to put her in her place.

    Trilby even went so far as to sneak up on her and slap her a few times with her paw before poor Apple even knew what happened. I think that is why Apple still feels the need to harmlessly chase any cat that gets too close.

    We only had Apple for a short time, when a film crew for the movie, Midnight Chronicles, descended upon our farm. Every day for a week there were a minimum of 50 people on the set for Apple to love. She was in heaven. The actors and crew were always picking her up and carrying her around like a baby. She would go crazy with delight and lick their faces and they would tell her what a good dog she was. This was ok when she weighed less than 10 pounds, but now that she is over 50, it is not so charming. She still thinks everyone wants to pet her and get a dozen kisses while tries to crawl up into their laps.

    I introduced her to the chickens right away making it clear that chasing or harassing them was forbidden, and if she knew what was good for her, she would leave them alone.

    As she grew, she discovered the sheep and I could see that this was her true calling.

    It became her reason for living. I can just imagine the thoughts racing around in her head.

    “Sheep! Must watch sheep! Must watch sheep! Oh, oh! That one is getting too close to the gate. It could escape. Back! Get back, you naughty sheep! Oh no! That one has moved away from the others! GET BACK! You know your place. I am the dog and you are the sheep. I am the boss of you. Now get back you wooly beasties!”

    Sometimes, when I am working her on a set, I say “sheep” to perk her up and it takes her a split second to realize that we are in a big building in the city and there is no way that there could possibly be any sheep around.

    She wishes the horses would listen to her. She is ever so helpful when I am doing chores. She watches the horses like a hawk and if I say “Hup!” or “Hah!” to get a horse to move, she is right there, weaving in and out, driving them out of my way.

    She is a notorious horse manure eater, a habit we are trying to break her of, especially when she chooses to give the aforementioned kisses right after a yummy manure snack.

    She will chase a ball or a Frisbee all day unless I am using the ball to get her to run for the camera. She quickly figures out that I am not really playing the game like I should and takes the ball and lies down.

    She is a good animal actor having worked for Target, Purina, Cargill and others and is one of my favorite photo subjects.

    When I told my dog trainer friend, who has know me for over 20 years, that I got a Border Collie/Aussie cross she laughed and said finally, “Well it’s about time you got the right dog for you”

    “What do you mean?” I complained, “What’s wrong with my shepherds?”

    “Oh nothing she said, “It’s just that you are a Border Collie.” She paused for a moment and then said, “Totally fearless, ever cheerful and always ready to tackle whatever life throws at you.“

    And as I reach down and pet Apple who is, of course, curled up under my desk I would say that I have to agree.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

  • On A Cold Frosty Morning

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When I woke up this morning my heart was pounding and I was gasping for air. My hands were trembling and I could barely speak. I had a bad dream, I dreamed… I dreamed… that I lived in town! For those of you who wake up in cities or towns across the world every day this is no big thing, but for a tried and true animal person like me, living in town would be a nightmare.

    Where would I keep the horses? And how would I grow enough hay in a backyard that could barely sustain a 20-foot vegetable garden? And how about the sheep, chickens, and the dozen or so cats that call my farm home? And much like the Grinch how could I bear the Noise! The Noise! The Noise! When we lived in town there was always car after car buzzing down our street, smoky diesel buses rumbling past and planes both large and small roaring overhead.

    Oh no, not I. I turn over and take a breath and remember where I am. I am waking up in my old farmhouse with its leaky, frosty windows, rattling radiators and good solid bones. I remember that the house is sitting on the prettiest 40 acres in Pierce County Wisconsin with its gentle rolling fields and patches of woods where many generations of deer and pheasant have found refuge.

    I turn to see dear husband sleeping quietly next to me and think of my four sons and Sarah safe and sound in their beds. I remember that I am a very lucky girl.

    I would like to stay there a moment longer, but Louisa, one of my acting cats, begins her morning ritual of scratching at the bedroom door. It doesn’t matter if she is in the room or out. She knows the scratching bothers me and the old fir bedroom door shows all the signs of her abuse with a hundred tiny scratches about cat high reaching towards the knob.

    Her door destruction rouses the dogs, a clever boarder collie Aussie mix, named Apple, and an equally clever but not as fast German Shepherd named, Lisle. They have been curled up on their plush dogs beds in the corner of our room and now that the cat has signaled that it is almost dawn they snuffle me with their noses and try to get me out of bed.

    It has been cold during the night. I always turn the heat down in a vain attempt to keep the propane monster at bay and I wish I could stay in bed like city people do. I picture them basking in their well-insulated houses and shelling out mere pittances by comparison to the natural gas company.

    But the dogs are persistent and even on this 10 below morning; there are chores to do.

    I go down and feed the house cats, which usually number between 2 and 7 depending who is working that week and make some coffee.

    I listen to the weather for a moment. If I am going to go outside and in the bitter cold, I want to know just how bitterly cold it is so I can brag about it later.

    Checking the time and seeing it is exactly 25 minutes before the school bus arrives, I roust Sarah and William and Walker from bed and set out to do chores. I am still in my jammies. No point in getting my good clothes on just to do chores. I begin to gather up the accruements that will help me in my task. I start with my Carhartt insulated bibs. These are nothing like the stylish, pull on ski pants, that I have seen in James Bond movies. These are heavy insulated bibs with zippers and snaps that extend the full length of the leg so you can pull them on or off over your boots and adjustable straps depending on if you are a tall farmer or a short farmer. Carhartt and others have started making insulated coveralls and bibs just for women and I was one of the first to snap one up. Nothing keeps me warmer and the freezing wind out better. The next layer is my down vest that I picked up on clearance at Lands End 15 years ago. I tuck a homemade polar fleece scarf around my neck. It sports lovely green John Deere tractors. My mother made it for one of the boys but seeing it’s potential I stole it. I pull my equally warm, made for a woman, Carhartt jacket. (Those Carhartt people are geniuses, aren’t they?)

    I then pull on my pac boots. I had been loyal to my 1984 sorrels for over 20 years but when I saw that Sorel had come out with a similar pac boot, BUT IN PLAID! I jumped at the change to replace my old ones. The 1984 boots were amazingly still usable so I put them in the boot box in the granary, which we keep for guests foolish enough to arrive without proper boots.

    I top off my ensemble with an Elmer Fudd type wool hat, the earpieces pulled down and the hat strapped firmly to my chin. I slide my hand into my angora gloves which I quickly top with fleece lined leather choppers and I am finally ready to go out.

    One more sip of coffee and I am out the door. The snow crunches under my feet and a few brave cats leave the refuge of their heated spot in the barn to greet me. They meow and roll at my feet, entreating to me move faster as they are starving. It has been a whole day since they have been fed!

    The horses notice my arrival and began to stir. She and the man are the ones who bring hay! I tell them to finish what they have. They will have to wait for evening chores when we will use the tractor to deliver more hay.

    I feed the cats in a long row on two tables set up n their little cat room, which in its earlier life was used as calf barn and was the original settler barn. The walls are made of thick squared off logs and it has a built in manger for the livestock. Luckily, during the late 1900’s owners were thinking of expanding, they saw fit to keep it and put the barn right over it. It is a small room with a low ceiling and when Kevin bumps his head into the lintel he blames the short, but industrious Swede who built it.

    I move on to the chicken barn, which houses our 40 odd hens, 3 roosters, two mallard ducks and our small flock of sheep. I fill the feeders with lay mash and throw out a scoop of cracked corn for them to pick at. The sheep begin to baa and bleat which means; Hurry! Hurry! Open the door so we can go out for the day! I take their water trough outside which in reality is an extra large rubber feed pan. I flip it over so I can vigorously jump on it to in an attempt to break apart the thick, solid block of ice that has formed in it over night. I repeat this with the chicken water and admonish the hens to produce more eggs even though it is very cold.

    I hear the school bus coming down our mile long driveway and call out good-bye to the kids as they board the bus. The dogs half-heartedly try to chase the bus, but I call them back and tell them to behave.

    I go to the round bale we have placed next to the barn and pull off a deer sled full of hay to bring to the sheep. I drag it through the snow and teeter totter it over the fence and dump it before them. They descend upon it like rugby players after the ball. They pile on top of each other to get at the tender part of the alfalfa leaves and stems.

    I then check on all the horse and ponies. Their muzzles are covered in frost and they are grateful for the horse treats Kevin keeps stocked in each barn, I slip my hand out of my glove and put it under the thick mane of my favorite, a fat little Morgan gelding named Finn, and it is warmed instantly by the full plush thickness of his winter coat. I check the water troughs to make sure the tank heaters are working and I pat each horse and say my farewells.

    My nose runs and my eyes sting with the sharp wind as it hits my face as I trudge slowly back to the house. I am anxious to shed my layers and sit on the radiator while I sip more coffee. The dogs follow me in and the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon. Kevin is up now, and I can smell and toast and homemade jam. We take turns with morning chores, but we always do evening chores together as they are much more arduous.

    As I sit down with him, I smile and count my blessings that I am right here, right now and nowhere else.

    All is Well and I am pleased that this is real and not a dream.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • A Circus Affair

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Now if you are a close friend or a relative of mine and I ask you, no matter how sweetly, to help me out with a little animal job I have coming up, just say no.

    At least that is what my poor Aunt Lois will tell you after learning the hard way.

    It was many years ago. I had just started my animal actor business and I received a call from an event planner asking if I could provide a bunch of animals to be in a small circus parade for a big fundraising event.

    Visions of lions and tigers and bears raced through my head as I thought of the animals I could supply and how wonderfully big the job would be.

    And then the planner said, “Oh, and…we only have a real small budget for this, of course.”

    The visions of the big circus animals quickly dissipated as smaller and far cheaper ones took their place. “Let me see what I can do.” I said. A horse would be easy and that could be considered somewhat circusy, I thought. I had a goat, some chickens and a few ducks on hand. But what else would say “Circus” and still be affordable? I then remembered a woman I had sold a horse to a while back that had some exotic animal connections, and so I gave her a call.

    I told her my sad story and how it was for a charity and asked if perhaps she knew of some smaller exotics that might work in the parade. She said she had a cougar cub she was raising and mentioned that a friend of hers, an animal trainer from the coast, was bringing her new chimpanzee to visit during that time and asked if I would I like to use that also. “Would I! Sure!”

    Before you get on your high horse about exotic animals being used for display, let me stop you right now and say, “I agree”. This happened many years ago and I wasn’t aware of the controversy related to animal exhibitions. Both of these people were licensed by the USDA and took very good care of their animals. Since that time I have stopped using exotic animals in my work.

    The event was to be held in the ballroom of a fancy hotel in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Since the event was very upscale and I wanted to make a good impression, I even went so far as to buy a new outfit to wear. It was pair of beautifully tailored wool pants and a burgundy velvet jacket.

    All I had to do now was make sure that I had enough people to hold or lead all of the animals. My dear husband Kevin could lead the horse. The two trainers could hold the cougar and the chimpanzee and event volunteers could hold the chickens and the ducks. That just left the goat. I could lead him but I wanted to keep my hands free in the case I needed to step in and fix a problem.

    This is where my poor Aunt Lois came in.

    I asked my sister, Lou Ann, if she would be willing to lead a goat in the parade and, being a good sport, she agreed. Then she said, “Maybe Lois would like to help?” My Aunt had just moved back to the area after living out east for many years. She had given up her position as “Curator of Rights and Reproductions” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to come back and to take care of her elderly parents and reconnect with family.

    My sister told her about the event and my Aunt Lois must’ve thought it sounded pretty good. She would be able to have some fun with her nieces and perhaps even meet some new people.

    The big day came and we groomed and we loaded the horse and goat, crated the ducks and chickens and headed off to the hotel. When we arrived, we met up with the cougar and the chimpanzee and found our spot in line. The horse was much more concerned about the chimpanzee than the cougar but soon settled down. The planner had told me that she would provide clown costumes for my helpers to wear and so I went to find her and get everyone suited up. When I finally located her, she said, “Oh, we are out of costumes. So many volunteers showed up that we ran out, but here are some clown noses and face paint that your people can wear.”

    I went back and explained the situation to my sister and my aunt who had shown up in shabby clothes because they were supposed to lead a goat and they thought they would be covered by the costumes so no one would ever recognize them. I am sad to say that the red foam clown noses and the garish make up did nothing to help in their quest.

    I fully expected that our little parade, which was to start in a service hall, and make it’s way through the ballroom and then back out into the hall, would go off with out a hitch. Everyone was ready. The chimp was nestled in his trainer’s arms and the young cougar was sitting quietly in his harness by his trainer’s feet. The horse up ahead had almost fallen asleep and the goat was nuzzling my sister’s hands looking for treats.

    I had been told that we were to begin when I heard the music start. All was quiet, even the chickens had stopped cackling, as we waited for our cue. Then all of the sudden, right in front of us, a side door flew open and a drum major in full regalia burst out to the sound of a booming bass drum and blaring trumpets! It turned out to be a complete 120-piece high school marching band, playing Sousa as loud as they could as they proudly marched past.

    Now, I have never seen a cougar fly but fly was what this cougar did when it leapt up into the air and came back down on the trainer’s head. The chimpanzee began to screech and jump up and down. The horse pulled back and tried to rear, but Kevin was able to calm it enough to let the band pass by. The volunteers dropped the chickens and ducks that squawked and quacked as they ran and hid under the nearest table.

    I tried to help the cougar trainer by pulling the cougar off of her head, but the terrified animal scratched me, leaving a ten-inch scar in my beautiful velvet jacket. Once the band had passed, the event planner excitedly ordered, “GO!”

    Kevin began to lead the horse but we were brought to a screeching halt when the goat planted all four of his little cloven hooves into the rubber-matted walkway and refused to move.

    “Push it!” I shouted to my aunt, who being a lady of some class and distinction, had never been told to do such a task before.

    “Push it where?! “ she shouted back over the din. “On it’s butt!” I cried. “Get it going!” She bent down, and as gracefully as she could, she pushed on the goat’s butt while my sister pulled on the lead. The goat held off a moment longer and began to go. We proceeded into the ballroom to and to the amazement of the guests, managed to get through with no other incidents.

    Afterwards, we caught the stray chickens, cleaned up after the horse, and checked to make sure that neither man nor beast was hurt. Everyone was okay and we all went home a little wiser than before. My aunt still jokes about that day at family gatherings, telling of she how she sank so low so fast, from curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to pushing a goat’s butt down the service hall of a fancy hotel and I remember that brass bands and cougars don’t mix.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • Cats and Couches And Settling In

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Kevin and I eloped on a Friday 13th thinking we were already taking a chance on the marriage, why not take a chance on the day. When I told my boss that I needed Friday off because I was eloping, she took pity on me and pressed a $100 bill into my hand. She wished us the best of luck and asked when I would be back. “On Monday, of course” I told her. I wasn’t going to miss any work.

    We were married by a bemused Clerk of Court and then went to a pizza place for dinner.

    As our apartment in the farmhouse was empty, we gleefully took the $100 and spent it at Target, stocking up on cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and towels. We also made a trip to the grocery store to get some food.

    We hauled in a twin mattress that Kevin had commandeered from his house and taped some boxes into a makeshift dresser for our clothes. We put the few groceries we had away and looked around with satisfaction at our new life together.

    This was all well and good, but something was missing. I finally was able to live out on the farm. Babe, the horse I had loved for so many years, was right outside my door.

    There were sheep and chickens and goats and cows to care for. What more could I want?

    I knew what I could want. A cat. All of my life I had been denied a cat because of my brother’s allergies. The next morning I set out to rectify the situation. Like most farm owners, Mrs. Villaume had a wide selection of barn cats that would like nothing more than to be upgraded to the life a pampered house cat.

    I had been going to the farm for years, so I had a pretty good handle on the cat population. I would have preferred a kitten but it was mid November and too late in the season. The closest thing was a six-month-old calico that had been raised by Mrs. Villaume’s grandchildren and was already tame and friendly.

    She had round copper colored eyes that were bigger and brighter than the rest of the cats. Her fur, although dirty and matted, was still thick and soft. She was brown and orange and black with four white socks and a bib that stretched up to her nose. Mrs. Villaume believed that calicos were good luck and called them money cats.

    I took her into the house, gave her a bath, and carefully combed out the mats and burrs from her coat. When I was done, I laid down on the mattress on the floor with her. I petted her and she blissfully rolled onto her back to have her belly petted. She purred and purred and seemed quite content with her new life.

    I named her Wolf because of her copper eyes and her fierce hunting skills.

    Within a few days, after the shock and surprise of our elopement wore off, our families began to donate furniture and dishes for us to use in the apartment. We now had a folding table and chairs, a real bed, and a bookcase. We had everything we needed except for a couch.

    Mrs. Villaume heard about our dilemma and mentioned that there was a couch in the shed that we could have if we wanted. We found it covered with tarp and more than a few cats. It was an old Victorian couch with carved wooden legs, a tall graceful back and arms that looked like a Victorian lady herself. It was old and heavy and really cool. Kevin and I grunted and groaned as we pushed it up the steps to our apartment.

    Now we were truly settled. We had our home, each other, and our little calico cat.

    We spent hours on the couch with the cat in our laps, watching the screen of a little black and white portable TV while receiving the sound from a larger wooden console TV below. Beggars can’t be choosers, you know.

    After a week or two of a marital bliss we began to notice little red bumpy marks on our ankles, calves and across our stomachs. They itched like crazy and would scab over if you scratched too hard.

    We could not figure out what was wrong. Every time we sat on the couch, the itching became worse.

    The next day we were to go to my grandmothers for dinner. This excited us because she was making my favorite meal and we were running out of food.

    As we were getting ready, we noticed the red marks had become more numerous, now spreading to our arms and legs. Then I spotted it. A little brown dot leapt from Kevin’s knee to the floor.

    It was moving. We had some kind of BUG!

    We stared at each other. It took a moment but then at the same time we said FLEAS! We looked at each other again and then, we looked at THE CAT!

    Wolf, who was curled up in the arm of the couch, looked at us with amusement.

    We stared at the couch and we were able to see little brown specs moving about in their own little flea circus. I watched one jump on the cat and disappear.

    Kevin reached for Wolf and announced loudly as he carried her down and outside that she was not coming back in until she had been rid of fleas. He came back up and picked up the end of the couch and began dragging it across the room to the stairs. I grabbed the other end and we pushed, and pulled, and carried it until we had put it back into the shed where we had found it.

    Because we had to stop at the pet store to buy flea shampoo for the cat and spray for the house, we were late to dinner with my grandmother. She was upset with us, but we were too embarrassed to tell her the reason why.

    We learned a valuable lesson that day. Never bring in a barn cat without checking for fleas and beware of really old and really heavy couches that that have spent their last few years in a shed.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

  • I Eloped So I Could Have A Horse, Part 2

    Blue-filtered horse, runningWritten By Barbara O'Brien

    In my last column I told you that my parents had finally given into letting me take riding lessons. The farm was owned by an elderly widow named Lois Villaume who had been teaching area kids to ride for years. It was originally built as a summer home for a prominent St. Paul businessman, but it had seen better days. The out buildings were a faded gray and the riding ring fence had not seen paint for some time. The house was a big old farmhouse with bay windows and huge oak trees. Looking back, it was like a woman who lost the beauty of her youth but still maintained her dignity. It didn’t matter to me. All I could think about was horses.

    We pulled up to the house and three kids tumbled out, followed by Mrs. Villaume herself. She was dressed in jeans and a white tee shirt with a men’s plaid shirt over that. She wore her long gray hair in two tight braids that she coiled, Swedish style, around her head. I was a little frightened of her at first, she seemed stern and gruff but then she smiled and her blue eyes sparkled. “You must be Barbara” she said and welcomed me to the farm. She introduced the kids, who were her grandchildren, and then dismissed my parents.

    She led me to a small bay mare that was tied up to the white fence eating grain out of a black rubber bucket. “This is Babe,” she said, “she is thirteen years old and she is a Morgan. Now, I have two other girls riding her this year so don’t fall in love with her."

    She could have not made a more ridiculous demand of me. Not love her? How was that possible? The moment I felt her smooth shiny coat and scratched her under her chin I knew that I was completely, hopelessly in love.

    So it began. From the summer before seventh grade until well into high school my dad dutifully drove me to the farm every Saturday where I would work in the morning doing chores in exchange for riding time in the afternoon. I learned to build fences and take care of all kinds of livestock ranging from chickens, cattle and sheep to three very naughty goats that always seemed to be getting out of the fence I had so painstakingly fixed the week before.

    I knew in my heart that Babe was not truly mine. But for those few golden hours every week when I got to ride her, it felt like she was.

    Like most kids I had my share of crisis, both real and imagined, and the farm was my place to escape. I couldn’t wait to get Babe out of the pasture, feed her, brush her, and tack her up, all the while telling her about my week. As you fellow horse people know horses really do listen and understand. In school I felt big and clumsy and rather foolish but when I was riding Babe it was like I was finally graceful and perhaps even beautiful as we floated over the ground, her mane brushing my face as she carried me away to a better place.

    As I grew older and had more school and work responsibilities, I had less and less time to go out to the farm. I was working as a waitress and involved in speech and theatre at school. I missed Babe and the other horses. It seemed like a part of me was missing when I wasn’t with them, but I had to grow up, right?

    Now this is the part of the story where the paths of most horse crazy girls split. The true devotees never give up. They work hard and their parents let them get a horse and they just manage to hang on all the way through. Some of them even go on to become trainers or breeders or vets. The vast majority of them have to let go, as school, work and college become more pressing. They just do not have the time, money, or in some cases interest, to put into horses anymore.

    I clung to what I could. Although my visits to the farm were few and far between my senior year, I still managed to get out and see Babe at least one a month. It was like nothing had changed when I was there. Babe was still herself, a chubby, somewhat cranky, Morgan mare that loved to toss me by stopping too fast when I was riding bareback and Mrs. Villaume was always the same, her long gray hair neatly parted and wrapped in two long braids around her head and her face filling with laughter as we discussed boys and life and the future.

    On the first day of college I saw a boy in my Minnesota History class that I just could not take my eyes off of. He was tall and had green-blue eyes with a shock of black hair that would not stay in place. He wore a forest green turtleneck sweater and jeans and appeared to be older than the other freshmen in the class. Of course I chose a seat next to him. I kept stealing glances at him hoping he would notice me so I could talk to him.

    He didn’t look at me, but he didn’t look at anyone else that day for that matter, so I didn’t get to talk to him. I figured he was older and already had a girlfriend so I tried my chances with two other boys those first few weeks of school. The first boy told me was already taken and thanks but no thanks and the other boy, who was better looking than he deserved to be, looked at me aghast and loudly said “No!” when I asked him out.

    That rejection got me thinking about the cute boy in the green sweater in my history class. I soon discovered that he wasn’t stuck up at all like I had first thought, but was instead, incredibly shy. He was 20 years old and worked nights and weekends at a hardware store. His name was Kevin, and yes, he would love to go out with me sometime, and, oh yeah, what is your name again?

    Now let me stop right here. I suppose some of you are thinking: Hey? Isn’t the guy supposed to ask the girl out? Well this was the eighties, you know, and if Mrs. Villaume did teach me only one thing it was to ask for what you want. There is no harm in asking, she said, as long as you were willing to give back when asked yourself.

    So I started dating that boy with the black hair and the green sweater. He came from a family of dog and cat lovers, so fitting in was really easy. I remember the first time I had dinner at his house and his dad fed the dog the food off his plate with his own fork. These were my kind of people!

    Kevin had never been around horses, but I quickly remedied that with trips to the farm where he grew to appreciate the horses and especially, Babe. Mrs. Villiume liked Kevin too and thought we made a good couple. His feet were always firmly planted on the ground while I was always up in the clouds. He was stable and steady while I was erratic and impulsive. If we were dogs, I would be a Border Collie racing from chore to chore always wondering what is around the corner. He would be more like a German Shepherd. Fiercely loyal, protective, always ready to do what needs to be done, but not wasting energy on foolish things. It’s no coincidence that all these years later I have both a Border Collie and a German Shepherd.

    In the fall of my junior year in college, after Kevin and I had been dating for about a year, Mrs. Villaume approached me with the idea of moving into the upper apartment in her big farmhouse. Are you kidding me! I could actually live at the farm. I could see Babe everyday if I wanted. I would have to help out with the chores once in awhile but I was used to that. “I’m in!” I said.

    She laughed and shook her head. Not so fast. I don’t want you and Kevin playing house up there. You are going to have to get married if you want to move in.

    Married? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the guy, but I hadn’t finished school and was only employed at as lowly assistant manager at a boutique cookie store. I wasn’t really ready to get married.

    Thinking about it now, it was all Mrs. Villaume’s fault. She dangled the thought of independence from my parents, horses, the farm, and dear sweet Kevin in front of my face like a bucket of oats in front of a fat pony.

    How could I turn all that down? Here was my chance to be free. To live my own life, make my own choices. I could even decorate the apartment the way I wanted.

    It all, of course, depended on if Kevin wanted to marry me in the first place.
    I knew he loved me and we had talked about marriage, but it seemed years away. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career yet and he was still working as a clerk at the hardware store.

    We met after work that day and we went to our favorite place to eat, a little restaurant called Chesters. Our conversation went something like this.

    Me: Hey, I can move out to Mrs. Villaume’s if I want. She says I can have the little apartment upstairs. The rent is $250 a month, so that’s not so bad.

    Kevin: Cool.

    Me: There is just one thing, though.

    Kevin: What’s that?

    Me: She says we have to get married.

    Kevin: OK. And then a moment later, When?

    I almost spit out my coffee. He would marry me? Just like that?

    “How soon?” He asked.
    “How soon, what?” I replied, still a little shocked.
    “How soon do you want to get married?”
    “Right away. I can move in right away. It’s empty right now.”
    Kevin looked at me, “Now?” he said. Reason was beginning to creep across his face and I was waiting for the reality to hit us that this was really a crazy idea.

    “Well”, he said slowly, “I love you and I would marry you tomorrow if you want, but that wouldn’t be fair to you. You should have a real wedding, you know, with a dress and a reception and presents and all that.”

    I thought about it for a moment and then I realized that all I really wanted was to marry him, ride horses everyday and live at Mrs. Villaume’s farm forever. I told Kevin that and once again he said “OK."

    So right then and there we made list on a napkin of pros and cons on whether or not to get married as soon as possible.

    Pros: We love each other and why wait to start our life together. They say two can live cheaper than one, so we had that going for us. I would get to be around horses all the time. We would get to move out of our parent’s houses and be on our own.

    Cons: People would think we got married because I was pregnant, but that would prove to be false soon enough. Our parents would be upset, but we felt they would get over it. We would have to work more hours to make the rent but we could do that. We would have to move out of our parent’s houses and be on our own. That part was scary; I had never lived away from home before. But I loved and trusted Kevin so I felt it would be ok.

    And so it was decided. I imagine we could have told our parents about our plans, but we feared they would try to talk us out of it. We were, after all, only 19 and 21 years old. Did I mention before that I could be impulsive? We went to the county and applied for marriage license and a few days later we were married by a clerk of court with my older brother, who was sworn to secrecy, and his wife as our witnesses.

    We moved into Mrs. Villaume’s house that night with only a twin mattress to put on the floor and a few boxes of clothes between us. It didn’t matter. We were together, we were in love, and I had the horses. Now, 28 years and four sons later, we are still together, still very much in love, and I still have the horses.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • I Eloped So I Could Have A Horse, Part 1

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When I was 19, I eloped so I could have a horse.

    Now when I tell normal people that I eloped so I could have a horse their eyebrows go up and a question forms on their lips, “you eloped so you could have a horse?”

    When I tell horse people that I eloped so I could have a horse they shake their head in agreement and murmur, “well of course, I understand that” and hardly ever ask any more about it.

    Two horses, runningLet me start at the beginning. As I have mentioned before, some of us are just born animal people and we will do everything in our power to be around animals. I was no different when it came to horses.

    I can’t tell you when this fanatical love of horses begins. It is like it doesn’t have beginning and it certainly has no end. I just always remember being in love with horses. No one in my family was particularly horsey. We lived in a little suburban ranch house with a tiny back yard many generations removed from the farm. My grandparents had grown up with horses, but were now all city people and horses were no longer part of their lives.

    So how does this happen? Is there a special part of our brain that says, this is it. This is the animal you are to devote all your time, all your money and all your undying love to?
    It starts with picture books and learning what horses say. Then perhaps Breyer horse statues and library books. For me it was, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, and King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry and Little Black by Walter Farley.

    My love was so intense that I even resorted to stealing, although I like to think of it as borrowing as I had every intention of returning what was not mine. My older sister liked horses also, although looking back, I sense she liked cowboys way more than the actual horses. She was lucky enough to have a set of dime store porcelain horse statues. They stood about six inches tall and came in five different poses. One was bay, one was gray and one, chestnut. There was a palomino and a black. How real they looked. How shiny and smooth their coats were. The detail of their manes and tails and the expression in their finely sculpted face made me believe they could spring to life at any moment and I would be free as I leaped on one’s back.

    Needless to say, I was not allowed to touch them. My sister prided herself with this collection and they were very fragile, she said, dragging out the word fragile so I would be sure to understand. They could break and she didn’t want them broken.

    Oh how I envied her. I only had a toy stuffed horse that had seen better days. I had had him forever. His name was, originally enough, Pony. His mane and tail was mostly gone and his red coat was threadbare in places. He was nothing like my sister’s realistic beauties.

    One day when I knew my sister was gone and the other members of my family were distracted, I took the statues down from their display shelf. I tucked them in my arms and spirited them off to the dark privacy of our living room. No one spent much time in there during the day and I knew I could be alone.

    When I set them down, our olive green carpet instantly turned into the grassy plains of Wyoming. The black horse came alive and began to quickly herd his mares to the safety of a narrow canyon. Which in reality was the space between the couch and the wall.

    The herd galloped across the plains, stopping only to graze or to prick their delicate ears and sniff the wind looking for any danger that may threaten the herd.

    I was so lost in my reverie that I almost did not hear my sister come in the back door. I quickly stuffed the horses under the blue Lazy Boy rocking chair so as not to be found out. I meant to sneak back in later and return the horses to her display shelf and my crime would go undetected.

    Being a child of only eight or nine, I completely forgot about them until the family gathered that evening to watch TV and my dad sat down in his favorite chair, the blue Lazy Boy rocker. The moment he sat down there was the tell tale sound of breaking glass. I stood by in shock. Oh no! The horses. My older brother began to pull out what was left of the horses from under the chair. Each had suffered at least one broken leg and the bay had lost her head completely. It was awful. I was sorrier than I had ever been. I just wanted to see them. They were so beautiful.

    When I was ten a local Coca Cola bottler ran a contest to win a pony. A real live pony! They even had an illustration of it on the entry form. It looked to be a pinto pony complete with saddle and bridle and bushy mane and tail. The pony seemed to be smiling at me. As if to say… I could be yours.

    My best friend, Gabrielle, and I dutifully saved our nickels and dimes to buy the pop which gave us an entry form that we could fill out and mail in that would surely be the winner. We agreed in advance that once we won the pony we would share him 50/50 since we were, after all, best friends and that is what best friends do.

    Many dollars, and I am sure, a few cavities later we waited and waited for the phone call or letter that would tell us we had won the pony. Months passed and we slowly became resigned to the fact that we didn’t win.

    When I was nine my parents gave in and took me to a rental stable for my birthday. Here was my first chance to ride a real horse. Not the merry go round horses at the fair. Not the mechanical horse in front of the drugstore. No, a real live horse. When we drove up the gravel road to the stable I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were horses everywhere. In pastures, in pens, in stalls and others who stood tied to a rail, patiently waiting for the next group to go out. The smell was intoxicating. The sights and sounds, miraculous. In my eyes, the horses all looked like they were meant for a king. Bays and grays and blacks and pintos. So many horses. All at the same place. It was heaven.

    The trail boss put me on a big black horse named Ringo. He was as gentle and slow as the day is long. I can’t explain the happiness, the joy, the unmitigated splendor of the moment. I was actually riding! Ringo’s smell, his movement, the view from up in the saddle. Incredible! When we trotted I bounced but stayed on and when towards the end of the ride we cantered and I knew that this was it. I would never be the same again.

    For months afterward, I begged my parents for riding lessons and they feigned ignorance saying the stable was too far away and they had no funds for such things. Horses were wishes and that was all they could be for me at the time.

    Oh but what wishes they were! I read every book in the library I could find. I learned all the breeds and colors and how to take care of them. If you were to give me a present it had better be horse book or better yet, a Breyer horse.

    The Breyer horses became the bedrock of my friend’s and I horse fantasies. We gave them long fancy names like Willow Hill’s Showboat and drew up impressive pedigrees. We made string halters and bridles and made mangers out of twigs and fed them tiny homemade bales of grass hay.

    I tied leather dog leashes to our bike’s handlebars and pretended it was a horse while we rode no handed steering only with the “reins”.

    We even were horses once in a while. We would gallop through our adjoining back yards, neighing and whinnying and tossing our manes and stomping our hooves, warning each other of danger as we protected the rest of the herd.

    I ran into an old neighbor not too long ago who recalled that I was always a little bit different and she mentioned how she had observed me trotting down the middle of our suburban street swinging a makeshift lariat and crying, “Ho cows! Move on doggies!” as I rode my imaginary cow pony among my vast herd of longhorns.

    High Chaparral was my favorite TV show closely followed by The Virginian. Cowboys, yes, horses, even better. In grade school I put a pencil in my mouth pretending it was bit and cantered up and down the halls until the peer pressure forced me to conform. I must admit that a few boys continued to call me names like Horse Face Harry until at least Junior High.

    All this longing would finally be fulfilled one day in late summer before seventh grade.
    I heard that a neighbor boy that lived down the street was bragging about taking riding lessons to his friends. Riding lessons! Where! Who!

    I quickly found him and pressed him for him for information. Yes, it was true he and his little brother had taken a riding lesson from his great Aunt who had a small stable in a nearby township.

    I gathered up all the details and ran home as fast as I could bursting in the door announcing Pat Forsythe is taking riding lessons from his great aunt, an old lady named Mrs. Villaume who has a farm in Sunfish lake and that is only 5 miles away and I can take lessons every Saturday for $30 a month and she has lots of horses and I can work real hard to earn the money and isn’t it great that she is so close and so can I take lessons, please, please, please, please!

    With the discovery of Mrs. Villaume’s farm I began my real journey into the world of horses. And that is where I have to leave it today.

    Next time: Part 2: I ELOPED SO I COULD HAVE HORSE


    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • Understanding Horse Nutrition, Part 5: Broodmares and Babies, Oh My

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Over the last few months we have been discussing exactly how many calories (or megacals for those who are paying attention!) your horse needs to consume, depending on what activities he performs, his personality and what the weather might be doing.

    Broodmares and babies.

    We have yet to discuss an entirely different class of horses, the broodmares and babies. With the breeding season approaching, it is probably appropriate to talk about this special class of horses’ nutritional needs. While this article will focus on their energy requirements, remember, it is especially key for mom and baby to receive the correct amino acids, vitamins and minerals in the diet. These important nutrients are vital for proper growth and development, and ultimately the longevity or usefulness of your new arrival.

    Megacals for Mom - before baby is born.

    Let’s start with our expecting momma. Her energy requirements during her early pregnancy are not actually that much higher than a lightly worked horse. (Refer to Table 1 – ENERGY REQUIREMENTS FOR WORK). She should already be in good body condition if you have done your job of preparing your mare for her upcoming pregnancy (See Part 1 of this series, TOO FAT, TOO THIN, OR JUST RIGHT).

    If you haven’t (shame on you) your goal is to get your mare to a BCS of at least 5 by the time she is at her ninth month of gestation (See CALORIES, KILOCALORIES, MEGACALORIES – HOW MUCH DOES YOUR HORSE NEED? for more information on increasing your horse’s body condition score). Otherwise, you want to ensure that your mare maintains that healthy BCS of around 5.5 -6.

    Essentially the mare in early and mid gestation has lower energy requirements than a horse in light work, making her fairly easy to feed. You can usually support her increased energy needs by simply increasing the quantity of good quality hay. However, during the last trimester of pregnancy, her fetus is growing rapidly, which drives up her energy requirements to fall between horses in light and moderate work.

    Table 4. Energy Requirements (Mcal/d) for Pregnant and Lactating Mares. 
    Activity Time – tracking weight increase.

    If you like being a very hands on horse owner (again – great youth project!), you can also track your mare’s increase in weight that is healthy for her and her foal. Using your weight tape (or string), check your mare’s increase in weight over her pregnancy. Overall, she should gain between 12-14% of her non-pregnant weight. She should gain around 5, 7, 10 and 13% of her original weight in her 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th month of gestation respectively. See Table 5 for a handy reference.

    Table 5. The Expected Weight of Mares During Late Gestation by Month Compared to the Mare's Original Non-pregnant Weight. 
    Megacals for Mom - after baby arrives!

    But look what happens after baby arrives! The new momma actually has quite the job to do in producing milk for her rapidly growing offspring. Her energy requirements have now increased by over 50% of what she needed during gestation. Compared to our working horses, your mare now almost reaches the energy needs of a racehorse of the similar size! Many horsemen often forget how demanding a job milk production truly is for your broodmare. Typically it is most effective to supplement your mare’s diet with a concentrate that is already specifically formulated for broodmares. Consult your local equine feed store or horse nutritionist for advice. This will allow her to meet her increased needs for other nutrients as well. While the broodmare definitely needs the extra calories, it is equally important that the diet is balanced to meet her protein, mineral and vitamin requirements to support lactation, and thus foal growth.

    Feeding tips.

    In order to provide a rough estimate of the amount of feed you will need for your mare, let’s work through a typical feeding strategy for a mare. We will work with a 1000 lb mare for simplicities sake. Now for both health and behavioral reasons, I encourage owners to always feed horses 2% of their horse’s body weight in hay or forage per day. We will actually visit the logic in feeding strategies in an entire article coming soon. For this mare, that means she should be eating 20 lbs of hay per day. I like to feed the pregnant mares and lactating mares a good quality alfalfa hay, in part to help meet their protein needs, as well as an increased need for calcium. Let’s use alfalfa hay which has a caloric density of 0.93 Mcal/lb fed. If we multiply the caloric content of the hay by the lbs eaten we reach her total caloric intake. 0.93 Mcal/lb * 20 lbs = 18.5 Mcal

    Comparing our value here with Table 4 above shows us that the mare can consume enough hay to meet her energy needs. She just doesn’t need to consume that many additional calories. However, I would still recommend supplementing her with a ration designed for broodmares. Her energy intake is, of course, dependent on the mare consuming all the hay she is offered. Does she refuse to eat some of her hay and is therefore wasting it? Do you offer her hay free choice? If the hay is of high quality and is palatable to the mare, typically she will volunteer to eat more than 2% of her body weight per day. Also, remember the best indicator of caloric needs of the mare is her BCS. Keep an eye on her condition when changing feed intake.

    Feeding when baby is here!

    Now let’s compare our girl while pregnant to when she is lactating. Again, we will feed her the same amount of hay, so that she consumes 18.5 Mcal/d. However, during her peak lactation, she is now 10.4 Mcal short! What are our management strategies now? One easy strategy is simply to allow the mare to consume as much forage as she wants. These girls will often increase the amount of hay they eat per day in order to support their lactation demands. However, as mentioned before, we usually supplement these girls with a broodmare concentrate. Let’s use a grain mix with a calorie content of 1.3 Mcal/lb. (I’m using the energy value of a typical commercial feed designed for broodmares). To determine how many lbs of grain we would feed, divide the amount of calories needed by the calorie concentration of the feed. 10.4 Mcal needed/1.3 Mcal lb = 8 lbs of grain Ideally you would split her grain into two equal feedings per day. Now, while this is a fictitious scenario, most alfalfa hays and typical horse feeds will be similar in their caloric content. Read your feed tag for specific information on the feed you select.

    Minerals of Note: 

    While this month’s article is truly based on the energy needs of our ladies, I would feel remiss to not mention calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) when talking about broodmares. It is essential for proper bone development that these two key minerals are not overlooked. Not only do we need to feed adequate amounts of Ca and P, but they must be fed in the proper ratio. Ideally we want to see the ratio of Ca to P in the diet at approximately two parts Ca for every one part P, or 2:1. However, anywhere between 1:1 and 6:1 is acceptable. What you don’t want to see is the amount of Ca to extend beyond 6 parts or for your ratio to become inverted. In that case, you would have more P than you have Ca. Not sure how to figure it out? Let’s assume she is getting 105 g of Ca and 23 g of P from her hay. We would divide the g of Ca by the g of P, or 105/23 = 4.6. The ratio of Ca to P in this scenario is 4.6:1 which is acceptable. However, our girl will be short on P if she is receiving no additional mineral supplement.

  • Understanding Horse Nutrition, Part 4: Exercise and Energy Needs

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney


    In the last article, we tried to categorize exactly how much work your horse is performing, and how many calories he needs to consume to match his energy output with his energy input. If you have been following along our series, you now have determined how much your horse weighs, what his body condition score is (and what it might need to be), and how many calories your working horse needs at rest and during the period you are riding or training him. Again, we are focusing solely on the caloric part of the equation, realizing that work does indeed change the requirements of some other nutrients. However, if we do not meet our horse’s energy needs, no amount of supplementation will make up for the lack (or abundance) of calories!

    Energy requirements regarding work.

    This month we are going to discuss other factors that might change your horse’s energy requirements regarding work. This will almost wrap up our discussion of energy needs in horses. However, we still need to discuss the broodmares and babies, especially as the next generation is just around the corner! So let’s begin!

    Categorizing your horse.

    By examining the frequency, the duration and the intensity at which your horse works, you were able to put him into one of four categories described by the National Research Council – light, moderate, heavy or very heavy exercise. However, these distinct categories might not fit for every horse and some adjustments might need to be made. When in doubt, always refer back to your horse’s body condition to assess your feeding program.

    Testing to determine energy requirements for exercising horses

    To realize why your horse might not fit precisely into these categories, sometimes it is useful to understand how these numbers are actually derived. Energy requirements for exercising horses are actually based on determinations of how much oxygen the horse consumes during an exercise bout. Typically these studies are performed on a treadmill while a horse wears a mask over the nose. The amount of oxygen the horse takes in is compared to how much he breathes out. This allows one to calculate the amount of oxygen the horse used by the difference in oxygen concentration of inspired vs expired gases. The amount of oxygen the horse uses relates to the amount of calories he is burning.

    Remember the TCA cycle I mentioned last month? This is where the carbohydrates, fats and proteins (sometimes) are “burned” at the cellular level with the assistance of oxygen to produce ATP. Horses, and people too, need energy in the form of ATP for muscle contraction. Thus, the harder and faster the muscles contract (ie speed or effort), the more ATP they need, so the more oxygen the horse needs to breath in. The amount of oxygen used directly relates to the fuels the horse uses to produce that ATP – the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins provided in the diet.

    Exercise physiology break!

    In order to accomplish an increase in oxygen delivery to its muscles, horses perform some rather amazing feats. One of the unique characteristics of horses is that they breathe in rhythm with their stride. Pay attention next time you ride to the blowing noise your horse may make while cantering or galloping. Right in time with their feet! Occasionally they will skip a breath in order to take a next bigger breath, but for the vast majority of the time, respiration rate and locomotion are linked. We call this phenomena stride coupling. So how do they get more oxygen if they can’t breathe faster? Well for one, if the horse is going faster, his stride rate increases and therefore increases his respiration rate. But he also breathes deeper as well. Essentially the horse takes a bigger breath – aided by the contraction and expansion of the horse’s ribcage as he runs faster and extends his stride. This makes breathing very efficient for the exercising horse. But that’s not all they do! Horses also have the ability to boost the oxygen carrying capacity of their blood. Red blood cells are responsible for picking up oxygen from the lungs, traveling through the body and delivering that needed oxygen to the working tissues. The more red blood cells present in the blood, the more oxygen that can be delivered. Horses have a unique ability to store their red blood cells in their spleen, waiting for the moment they are needed. When the horse exercises, adrenalin (epinephrine) is released into the blood, which causes the spleen to contract and eject all of these additional oxygen carrying cells into the horses blood stream. Instant (and natural) performance boost! .
    Testing – testing - testing?

    So why might these tests on a treadmill not always reflect the calories your horse needs? Well for one, galloping on a treadmill is relatively easier than working over uneven surfaces. The deeper the footing, the more exertion the horse will need to work. Think of running across an arena – it wears you out faster than running on pavement doesn’t it? Also, if your horse is being worked over hills (a great way to condition their cardiovascular system) this will increase its caloric requirement as well. We don’t typically have riders on top of the horses on a treadmill either. The weight of the rider and tack will also increase the energy demand on the horse.

    A for effort.

    There are other intangibles as well. The effort exerted by the horse also factors into the equation. Take for instance a jumper who routinely jumps his fences by over 5 inches versus the horse who barely skims over the fence. That horse over-jumping is working harder. The same can be said for almost every athletic event. Think about cutting horses, reining horses, barrel horses etc. The more athletic and talented the horse, the harder he tries, or the more effort he puts into each maneuver. Therefore, we may have a horse who spins faster, cuts a cow with more authority or finishes a barrel pattern with tighter turns and a quicker time. All of these factors affect his energy needs. Conversely, that lazy horse might be ridden the same amount of time as others, but may actually be expending far less energy than you think he might!

    Gaits are hard work!

    The gaits the horse performs can also influence its energy requirements. Typically a horse’s heart rate (which reflects its oxygen needs) increases linearly with speed (see Graph: Heart rate (bpm) vs speed). However, horses can travel at the same speed but be at different gaits. For example, think of someone long trotting a horse next to one that is cantering at the same speed. The horse that is long trotting or using an extended gait, is actually working at a higher intensity and using more oxygen than the horse cantering. The same is true for horses working at collected gaits. Thus, if your horse spends time working at both extended and collected gaits it may explain why they need more calories to maintain their weight than if we strictly account for the time they are ridden. For example, if you have watched dressage horses work at extended gaits, or watched an animated park horse travel around the ring, you can appreciate just how much work these guys are doing!

    Keeping your eye on your horse.

    Just as when we determined a horse’s maintenance requirements, climate, body condition and level of fitness will all affect the amount of calories that horse needs to consume. Remember, while feed tags, equations and tables all provide us with numbers to use in determining how much to feed a horse, they are just a starting point. There is no substitute for the horseman’s eye in evaluating the needs of your horse.



  • Understanding Horse Nutrition, Part 3: Energy Requirements For The Working Class Horse

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney


    In the last two articles we discussed evaluating your horse’s body condition and then determined how many calories your horse needs to maintain their weight. We discussed factors that will influence the horse’s “at rest” or maintenance requirements; including his condition, his personality, and the weather. This month we are going to talk about more active horses, the Working Class.

    Be Realistic About Your Horse’s Workload.When we discuss how much energy, or calories, our horses’ need for work, we first need to be realistic about how much we are riding them. Just because we may be at the barn for quite a while, many overestimate the time the horse actually spends exercising. It may seem like we might ride for a good hour, but it might actually be quite less. I’ll use myself as an example. I might ride my young horses about 30 minutes per day, but I find it takes me three hours to ride just two horses! The time spent grooming them and chatting with your friends definitely can’t be counted in your horse’s workload!
    Where Does Your Horse Fit?The National Research Council suggests four basic categories for work. These descriptors are light work, moderate work, heavy work, and very heavy work. First let’s discuss what these categories include, then later, what may alter these basic requirements.
    Light Work.Horses in light work typically are not ridden every day. These horses may only be ridden 1-3 hours per week and usually at a slower pace. The majority of their exercise is performed at a walk or trot, with very limited time cantering. A good example of this type of horse is one that is used for light trail riding on a limited basis. For owners who have limited time availability to dedicate to their equine pursuits, they might find their horses fall into this category of work. Horses ridden at this level are typically the easiest to feed. The increase in their caloric needs is quite modest, increasing by only 20% over their “at rest” values. Horses that may only be ridden once per week or even less can really be treated the same as a maintenance horse. Riding a horse once every two weeks or so will not alter the energy needs of the horse significantly.
    If you are unable to ride your horse multiple times per week, or even if you can, make sure your horse has adequate time to stretch his legs!  Horses which are stalled and not kept in a consistent riding program quickly become bored and may develop many unhealthy habits.   Horses naturally spend the better part of the day grazing and therefore moving at the same time. When we prevent these normal behaviors through confinement and don’t provide exercise, horses develop abnormal behaviors to help alleviate their frustration.  Stall walking, weaving, wood chewing and cribbing are all symptoms of a frustrated horse. So do those horses in light work a favor, and keep them outside if possible. Your horse will thank you for it.
    Moderate Work.If you consider an active training schedule for most horses, we would expect to ride the horse on average five days per week. Typically, these horses are being physically conditioned for an event or are in some sort of consistent training process (even if the training is more for the rider. Expect the horse to be ridden between 3 to 5 hours per week and to do more intensive exercise. Horses will spend more time at a trot or canter, and may be performing more specific skill work. This could include jumping low fences, beginning work on barrels, dressage maneuvers, etc. Most of our performance horses which don’t engage in strenuous activity but are ridden regularly fit the category of moderate work. To meet these horses’ needs, typically the amount of calories the horse consumes would increase by 40%.
    Heavy Work.The horses in heavy work will be ridden a similar number of days per week, and perhaps even for the same duration, but the intensity of the exercise has increased once again. The horse may work at a faster gait, such as a much faster canter or gallop, or their effort in work has increased. The horse’s may be jumping larger obstacles, performing longer, or running faster. Examples of horses in heavy work would include reining horses, three day eventing horses, jumpers, polo horses, or even ranch horses. One major difference between the horse at moderate work and heavy work is usually the addition of anaerobic activity. In general, if a horse is working at a level in which its heart rate is over 150 beats per minute, they are using their anaerobic energy systems. For instance, in reining horses, the fast circles, spins and stops of a trained horse will cause the heart to beat at 150 beats per minute or greater. Horses in the heavy work category will generally need an increase of 60% over their maintenance requirements.
    Aerobics for Horses?

    When describing work intensity, exercise physiologists use the terms aerobic vs anaerobic work.  Technically aerobic work is at a low enough intensity that the muscles of the animal can rely on the slower metabolic pathways. You may remember learning about the TCA cycle or the Kreb’s cycle in previous schooling. That is the aerobic energy systems. Its job is to provide the energy source for muscle contraction – a little molecule called ATP. All dietary energy sources; fats, carbohydrates and protein can be utilized in aerobic metabolism.  The word aerobic means that these fuels are burned in the presence of adequate amounts of oxygen.  That means that the horse’s heart and lungs can keep up in the race to deliver oxygen to the tissues.When the horse’s muscles are contracting faster or harder than the ability of the cardiovascular system to keep pace, they then enter into anaerobic metabolism. The horse must then switch to a different supply of fuel, primarily carbohydrate metabolism.  They are simply working too hard for the aerobic system to keep up with the demands of the muscles for ATP.  Don’t worry too much about the details right now, we will spend more time with these topics in later issues.
    Very Heavy work.The last category of work intensity probably has the fewest numbers of horses within it. These are our race horses, whether they are Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, or even endurance horses. They have quite the job to do, and need the fuel to do it. While their training schedule may be a bit more varied than the previous two categories, the level at which they work raises their energy requirements to almost twice that of their energy needs at rest. Maintaining the proper caloric intake in these horses and keeping them at the proper condition can potentially mean the difference between win, place or show.For next month we will discuss other factors that might change your particular horse’s energy requirements for work. And we certainly can’t forget to mention the growing horses and the broodmares! For now, try to determine what work load your horse is in, and look up its caloric requirement below, in Table 1. Energy Requirements For Work. And remember, be honest!
    Table 1. Energy Requirements For Work (Mcal/d).

    Wt of horse (lb) Light Moderate Heavy Very Heavy
    900 16.1 18.7 21.4 27.7
    1000 17.8 20.8 23.8 30.8
    1100 19.6 22.9 26.2 33.9
    1200 21.4 25.0 28.6 37.0
    1300 23.2 27.0 30.9 40.0
    Quick Tip!While we haven’t discussed caloric intake sources (coming soon), a great way to increase calories is to add safe fat to the diet. Fat has 2.25 x the amount of calories per lb compared to anything else we can feed our horses. Add safe fat sources made with stabilized ground flax seed (rich in Omega-3 essential fats) and/or stabilized rice bran (rich in powerful antioxidants and Omega-6 essential fats) – Omega Horseshine®, Omega Antioxidant, Omega Grande®, Omega Stabilized Rice Bran, or the horse treats that Horse Journal™ named: “Best Buy” – Omega Nibblers®. These supplements add calories quickly and safely.Watch for January’s Health-E-Letter when we will talk about EXERCISE AND ENERGY NEEDS - WHAT IF MY HORSE DOESN'T FOLLOW THE RULES? - Part 4 in my Understanding Horse Nutrition: How to Achieve Maximal Performance From Your Equine Companion series.

    For information on a premium stabilized ground flax supplement that is rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat, strong solid hooves, and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Omega Horseshine®. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, human-grade, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • Understanding Horse Nutrition, Part 2: Calories, Kilocalories, Megacolories--How Much does your Horse Need?

     Written By Dr. Kris Hiney
    Energy means calories!Last month we discussed your ability to evaluate your horse’s body condition, and what the optimal condition for your individual horse may be. This month we delve a little further into the energy requirements for horses. Remember – when referring to energy, we mean calories! As stated last month, it does not mean how your horse feels. There are many other factors that influence your overall horse’s attitude, and while certainly how many calories he consumes is part of it, it isn’t the entire picture.
    Let’s talk technical.

    In the equine world, due to the horse’s body size, we talk about their energy requirements in megacalories (Mcal). One Mcal is equivalent to 1000 kilocalories (kcals). To make it relatable, the average woman between 31 and 50 years of age who is moderately active is recommended to consume 2000 kcal/d. That would be equivalent to 2 Mcal for a horse.

    How much energy (or calories) does your average horse need to consume per day?Well, first we need to define even what average is. When we discuss energy requirements, we usually begin with the animal’s maintenance requirements. Maintenance is defined as a mature horse not undergoing any exercise program or reproducing. Essentially the average, older horses just out hanging around. Numerous researchers have studied the energy requirements of horses, and as a result we have equations to calculate exactly how much a horse needs to eat. For example, the maintenance requirement of an average 1,050 lb horse would be 14.5 Mcal/d. These numbers are derived from the body weight of the horse multiplied by the energy required to maintain one kilogram of that horse’s body weight.But even average is not always average. The defined maintenance requirements for horses are based on horses in a moderate condition – those horses between 5 and 5 ½ we talked about last month. If your horse is overly fat, he needs less energy to keep him at the same weight. Fat tissue is metabolically less active than lean tissue, or muscle. Therefore, a 1,100 lb horse who is fat actually needs to eat less than a 1,100 lb fit horse to maintain the same weight.
    Where do these numbers come from?

    For those truly interested, the results of equine nutrition studies have been combined into a lengthy document entitled The Nutrient Requirements of Horses edited by the National Research Council (NRC). Teams of scientists world-wide review the collected work of all researchers to create recommendations published in this document. Animal nutritionists use “NRCs” to determine the nutrient requirements of all species of livestock and companion animals. The latest NRC for the horse was published in 2007 and is available through the National Academies Press ( If you would like to calculate your own horses requirements from scratch, this book will provide the equations to do so.

    Understand the important goal. Now, the point of this discussion is not to have you whip out your calculators and revisit your algebra and calculus days. The important goal is to understand what factors we have control over that will alter how much energy our horse needs. Then we will discuss how best to meet these energy requirements to optimize your horse’s health and performance.
    Easy keeper or not?Even your horse’s overall temperament will change its energy requirements. We have long known that hotter, or more nervous horses take a lot more feed to keep weight on, while those with a more laid back attitude need less feed. Typically those horses that were selected to have a more laid back personality, such as our stock breeds or draft horses, fall into that easy keeper category vs our horses who were selected for speed (think Thoroughbreds).On average, a more active horse (youngsters in pastures, nervous Thoroughbreds) will need 20% more energy than an inactive horse to maintain its weight. So let’s say we have a 1,100 lb laid back, fatty American Quarter Horse vs an active, lean 1,100 lb Thoroughbred mare. Our laid back horse needs 14.8 Mcal/d while our active girl requires 17.8 Mcal/d (see Table 1 to estimate your horse’s maintenance requirement). She will need to eat 3 Mcal/d more than our couch potato. That’s even before we start working her!
    Table 1. Energy requirements for maintenance (Mcal/d) based on average activity level.

    Wt of horse (lb) Couch potato Average Active
    900 12.2 13.4 14.6
    1000 13.5 14.9 16.2
    1100 14.9 16.4 17.8
    1200 16.2 17.8 19.4
    1300 17.6 19.3 21.1

    The second major variable in the maintenance requirement for a horse is the weather. The calculated maintenance requirements are based on an environment that requires no energy by the horse to keep themselves warm. We call this the thermoneutral zone. Horses do quite well in cold temperatures if they have become accustomed to them. Cold adapted horses do well in temperatures as low as 5º Fahrenheit (F). However, horses will have trouble keeping warm if the weather suddenly changes and if the horse hasn’t grown the proper hair coat. But all horses, even fuzzy Wisconsin ones, will have trouble if they do not have protection from the wind or from rain, especially sleet. This chills a horse rapidly when the fluffy, protective insulation of their hair coat is slicked down to their body.

    How much energy does a horse need to stay warm? Below 5 º F, a horse needs to use energy to keep warm, and that temperature is referred to as the lower critical temperature. (Which is nothing for those of us living up here in the Northern Midwest – brrrr). So how much energy do they need to stay warm? On average, for every drop in temperature of 14 º F below the lower critical temperature, they will need 20% more energy. Let’s say the temperature drops to -10 F º and we are feeding our energetic girl. She will now need 21.4 Mcal/d for maintenance, an increase of 3.6 Mcal/d over her normal maintenance requirements.
    Gaining weight for insulation.

    There are additional strategies we can take to prepare our horses for winter weather, other than providing adequate shelter and letting them grow a hair coat. Adipose tissue, or fat, helps insulate horses against the chill of the winter weather, just like in polar bears. Now let’s say our higher strung mare is also thin, about a condition score 4. Well, clearly we would like to put some weight on her, especially before Old Man Winter arrives. To change body condition scores in horses by 1 value (ie a 4 to a 5), we have to really start feeding them, especially if you want to put that weight on more rapidly. If our goal is to put weight on the mare in as little as 60 days, we would have to increase her caloric intake by 5.3 Mcal/d, or 30% of what she was consuming. If our goal is a little more gradual, let’s say over 4 months, her diet would be increased by 2.7 Mcal/d or 16% of her current intake.

    Not sure how much your horse weights?

    Weight tapes are available at most feed stores at a fairly nominal price ($2-3). But for even more fun (great for kids and 4-H activities) you can do it yourself with a string and a measuring tape. Use one string to measure the distance around your horse’s heartgirth (HG). Make sure your horse is standing square and your string is around your horse perpendicular to the ground. Then measure the length of your horse’s body (BL) from the point of his shoulder to his buttock, just like you were measuring for blanket fit. Again, be sure your horse is square and that your string is held level to the ground. Measure your two strings in inches using your tape measure. Then use this simple formula
    Wt of your horse (lbs)= (HG)2 x BL
    330 Wallah! Now you know how much your horse weighs!
    Quick tip.While we haven’t discussed energy sources (coming soon), a great way to put weight on horses is to add fat to the diet. Fat has 2.25 x the amount of calories per lb compared to anything else we can feed our horses. Need to put weight on before winter? Check out some fat added feeds, or add safe fat sources made with stabilized ground flax seed and/or stabilized rice bran -- Omega Horseshine®, Omega Antioxidant, Omega Grande®, Omega Stabilized Rice Bran, or those famous Horse Journal™ recommended horse treats Omega Nibblers®. These supplements add calories quickly and safely and are better than just increasing how much your horse is eating.

Items 11 to 20 of 36 total

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4