Omega Fields

  • 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.

  • Understanding Horse Nutrition, Part 1: Too Fat, Too Thin, or Just Right

     Written By Dr. Kris Hiney
    Horse nutrition can be a complex issue. We can feed horses to maximize stamina and power, prevent digestive disorders, avoid metabolic disorders, prevent attacks caused by genetic diseases, grow horses to be sound throughout life -- the list goes on and on. Trying to wrap one’s mind around all of these issues can be intimidating at best, even for equine nutritionists, let alone the average horse owner. However, we will begin with the basics, and then build to more complicated ideas.

    This month we begin our series on Understanding Horse Nutrition: How to Achieve Maximal Performance, with Part 1 -- TOO FAT, TOO THIN, OR JUST RIGHT? We will be discussing the proper weight or condition for your horse depending on its career. We will then put together these ideas to determine the amount of energy we should be providing to our horses. We will conclude our energy talk with the most optimal way to provide energy to your horse to gain that competitive edge. In future months, we will discuss common horse diseases and disorders that are impacted by our feeding strategies.

    One of the easiest nutrients to be fed to horses is not a nutrient at all – but energy. Ironically, energy is often the most commonly misunderstood. When horse nutritionists talk about energy, we simply mean calories. Energy to your horse can be supplied in many ways, from carbohydrates, fats or proteins. All of these can be utilized for your horse for fuel.However, when many horse owners refer to energy, what they really mean is how their horse feels. Does he seem lethargic, or does he come bouncing out of his stall or paddock? While how the horse feels can be impacted by how many calories it receives, there are many other factors that contribute to the overall health or attitude of the horse. But certainly improper management of the calories the horse is receiving can alter your horse’s demeanor.The idea seems simple enough, we feed horses enough so they are neither fat or skinny, right? Pretty much, but of course there has to be a little bit more to it. Exercising horses need more energy, sedentary horses need less. Some types of horses need more feed to put on weight, while the “easy keepers” could exist on air. We all know this, just from our own life experiences. So why do so many horse owner’s struggle with achieving that perfect weight in their horses? Is there a perfect weight? What’s good for one type of horse may not be good for others.

    Body Condition Scoring – from 1 to 9.To better define the energy needs of horses we will look at the idea of body condition scoring in horses. The body condition scoring system for horses is a numerical system used to assign a number to describe the fatness of a horse, or how much energy he has stored on his body. The system that is most often used today was created in the 80’s at Texas A&M University. Horses are assigned a number from 1 to 9, with 1 being extremely thin and 9 obese. This system of assigning numbers with the degree of fatness allows veterinarians, equine nutritionists, barn managers and trainers a common language to describe the best condition for horses to be for their optimal performance. The system is even used in court to prove cases of animal neglect and abuse. You may be familiar with similar types of systems, as they are frequently used in other livestock, and even with our in-house companions, cats and dogs.
    Fat - seeing and feeling.

    In horses, we examine eight parts of the animal’s body, both visually and manually, to come up with an overall body condition score (See Figure 1). The six main areas to examine are over the crest of the horse’s neck, their withers, behind their shoulder, over their ribs, the crease on their back, and their tailhead. Examining all areas of the horses’ body gives us the best idea of the condition of the animal, by taking the average value. Just like in people, some horses carry fat preferentially in different parts of their body. Sometimes where the fat is located can be an important indicator of potential metabolic problems (more on that in upcoming months!). Taking all parts of the horse into consideration is key in determining the condition score of the horse.

    A horse that is average in their amount of fat is given a value of 5. If your horse scores a 5, his back should be level, you can’t see his ribs, but you can easily feel them; the withers appear rounded over the spinous process, and his shoulders and neck blend smoothly together. A horse with a score of 4 has a negative crease down it’s back (essentially the upper portion of the vertebrae are not surrounded by fat and stick up), and the ribs are faintly seen. In these horses, the withers, shoulders and neck are not obviously thin. As we go lower in body condition score, the horses appear more and more emaciated. On the opposite side, horses that are above a five begin to have a crease down their back, the ribs begin to be harder to feel, and fat gets deposited along the withers, the sides of the neck and behind the shoulder. As horses increase in fatness, the crease down the back gets deeper, fat develops up and around the tailhead, and the horse essentially loses some of the contours of its body as fat fills in.

    So what body condition should you shoot for?It depends. For most exercising horses and healthy, mature horses, a score of 5 to 5 ½ is ideal. These horses will have sufficient energy reserves for work but not be impaired by excessive weight. Condition scores above 6 are generally not recommended due to the extra stress upon the bones and joints of the horse. Excess fat can also impair a horse’s ability to dissipate heat. Therefore, in horses that undergo longer periods of exercise (think three-day eventing horses, endurance horses etc.) and need a greater ability to thermoregulate, the most successful athletes range between a 4 and a 5.
    Aim a little higher for breeding horses.We encourage mare owners to allow the girls to enter the breeding season at a score of 6 or 7. Mares at a score of less than five have more reproductive challenges, with delayed time of their first successful heat cycle, needing more cycles to conceive and a reduction in pregnancy rates. The boys are also encouraged to enter the breeding season at a healthy weight, as the stress of breeding season in a heavily booked stallion can cause him to lose weight.
    Prepare older horses with sufficient weight for the season.

    If possible, owners of older horses are also encouraged to allow them to gain additional weight prior to winter. If older horses are housed outside without adequate shelter, the energy needed to keep themselves warm may cause a drastic loss in weight. By preparing them for the season with sufficient weight, these horses have more insulation, more energy reserves, and can go through the winter season more easily.

    “Hands on” time with your horse!So go out and take a look at your horses and try to give them a score. But don’t forget to get your hands on them, if you really want to know the answer!


  • Fun With Feed Math! Part 4: Using Feed Tags

     Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    We have talked about what information should be included on a feed tag, regardless of type of feed. In this article we will put that information into use to aid you in selecting the best (and perhaps most economical) feed for you to use. So let’s start with what the guaranteed analysis means to you.

    Crude Protein- The amount of protein in horse feed is often the most talked about, but most misunderstood component of horse feed. Owners often select their horse feed solely on the percent protein with little consideration to other vital components of the diet. While protein is important, it is certainly not the only criteria by which you should select your feed. Horses need the amino acids contained in protein for maintenance as well as synthesis of body tissues such as muscle, bone, organs etc, as well as synthesis of hormones and enzymes necessary for body function. Horses which need more protein in the diet are those that are busy synthesizing more tissue such as growing horses, broodmares and lactating mares. Horses that are mature and not at work (our maintenance horses) will require the least amount of protein. For example, a 1100 lb maintenance horse will require between 540 g and 720 g of crude protein in the diet per day. The range in those numbers are due to differences in temperament (more or less active horses), environment etc. Using your feed tag, you can determine how much protein your horse is receiving. Let’s assume you selected a feed that contains 12% crude protein and you feed 4.5 kg or 10 lbs of feed (to learn to convert to lbs see below). Multiply the percent protein by the amount fed to determine the amount of protein provided.12% or 0.12 x 4.5 kg = 0.54 kg.12% or .12 x 10 lbs = 1.2 lbsYour horse is thus consuming 0.54 kg or 540 g of protein by eating that amount of feed. Now, don’t forget, the horse will also be receiving protein from the forage in his diet as well. Now compare that to the horse’s protein requirements. For a maintenance horse, he has already almost met his requirement even before we consider his hay! To determine where your horse fits in the chart, see Energy Requirements for the Working Class. Then use Table 1 below to find his protein requirements.

    Table 1. Crude protein requirements in grams for horses of varying work intensities. These numbers are derived from the National Research Council, Nutrient Requirements of Horses. 2007 edition.
    Work Intensity
    Wt of horse (lbs.) Maintenance Light Moderate Intense
    900 515 572 628 705
    1000 573 636 699 784
    1100 630 699 768 862
    1200 687 762 837 939

    Most equine feeds will contain protein in a range of 8-16% of crude protein, with those higher in protein designed for the young growing horses or broodmares. Some feeds might be higher in protein, if they are designed to be a protein supplement, versus a typical concentrate fed for energy.

    Math Time

    Pounds versus kilograms. Many horse owners are often frustrated by the different units provided by feed tags, nutritionists, books etc. In our protein example I have provided the horses requirements in grams. However, most individuals in the United States think in pounds. So let’s learn how to convert back and forth shall we! To convert grams to pounds, remember that there are 1000 grams in every kilogram. So using my numbers above I would take 540g and divide by 1000 to convert to kg. Therefore, my maintenance horse needs between 0.540 kg and 0.720 kg of protein per day. Now, changing from lbs to kilograms is fairly easy. One kilogram is equivalent to 2.24 lbs. Many times we will round down to 2.2 lbs/kg for simplicities sake. Now let’s convert our numbers from above.

    .540 kg x 2.2 lbs/kg = 1.2 lbs.

    .720 kg x 2.2 lbs/kg = 1.6 lbs.

    To covert lbs to kg, you simply do the opposite, and instead of multiplying, you would divide by 2.2. If I had 5lbs of feed, and wanted to convert it to kg, I would use the following equation: 5 lbs ÷ 2.2 lbs/kg = 2.3 kg. Remember, numerically, the amount in kgs will always be less than it is in lbs. For example, an 1100 lb horse is equivalent to a 500 kg horse.

    Crude Fat -Those horse owners looking for more bang for the buck should pay attention to the crude fat in their horse feed. Addition of supplemental fat to a feed greatly increases the amount of calories in a feed. This is important as fat is a very efficient and safe way to add energy to a horse’s diet compared to adding traditional grains, such as corn and oats. Horses do quite well at digesting fat, and as long as it is not fed in excessive amounts (over 20% of the diet), find it tasty as well. Typically, a non-fat added feed will contain less than 4% fat, with those feeds with additional fat containing between 6 and 15% fat. But what about Omega Horseshine®, which last month I showed you contained 30% fat? Well, that is because Horseshine® is not a traditional concentrate but rather a specific fat supplement. As its primary ingredient is flax seed (37-40% fat), we would expect that this product would be much higher in overall percent fat. Be sure to refer to back to Equine Energy Requirements to decide if your horse would benefit from a fat added feed.
    Crude Fiber- Crude fiber is often used to reflect the amount of energy in a horse feed. Typically, fibers will contribute less energy to a horse’s diet than do low fiber feeds such as grains. Low fiber feeds usually will then contain more soluble carbohydrates and thus energy. For example, corn is typically 10% fiber and has 3.9 Mcal/kg while grass hays can range between 50 and 70% fiber and will contain between 2 and 2.3 Mcal/kg (all numbers are expressed on a dry matter basis). Thus there is typically an inverse relationship between fiber and energy content. Even between typical grains fed to horses we can have a significant variation between fiber content. Let’s compare oats versus corn. Oats, which are often thought of as a safer feed for horses, typically contain between 30 and 40% fiber due to the presence of the hull, and thus contribute only 3.2 – 3.3 Mcal/kg to the horse.
    Fiber and the 21st Century Previously it was quite easy to predict the energy content of concentrate feeds for horses based on the fiber content. This relationship still exists, provided the feed contains less than 12% crude fiber. However, many equine feeds are now formulated to contain much more fiber, as researchers have discovered many downsides to feeding high starch diets to horses. Higher fiber feeds usually also have the addition of fat, which offsets the lowering of caloric content by choosing less nutrient dense feeds. Horse feeds that contain beet pulp, alfalfa meal, soybean hulls etc will often be higher in fiber, but coupled with rice bran or flaxseed for the added fat boost of energy.
    Calcium and Phosphorous -We will discuss these two very important minerals together. The amount of calcium and phosphorous in the diet is absolutely critical for growing horses and broodmares. These animals are rapidly forming bone which will be crucial for a sound, productive life. Imbalances of these nutrients in your broodmare’s or foal’s diet can cause permanent changes in bone and cartilage which can lead to painful developmental problems in the future. Expect that feeds designed for these classes of horses will be higher in calcium and phosphorous than those designed for maintenance horses. We discussed previously in our article, Broodmares and Babies, the idea of the all important calcium to phosphorous ratio. Remember, you should never have more phosphorous in the diet than you have calcium. At a minimum, you should have a 1:1 ratio between calcium and phosphorous, with a ratio of 2:1 in favor of calcium more ideal. However, I can’t stress this enough, remember, that your horse’s diet does not exist solely of the feed you choose, but also the forage! Always try to select your horses’ concentrate with consideration of not only it’s class, but also what you base the horse’s diet on –it’s hay!
    Copper- Copper is an important mineral needed by horses for the function of many key enzymes. It plays an important role in the formation of collagen, and thus is critical for proper joint development in young horses. Copper also aids in iron metabolism as well as the elimination of free radicals in the body. However, it is needed in much smaller amounts than Ca and P, and thus is referred to as a micro-mineral. Its concentration in your feed will be listed in the units ppm or parts per million. An equivalent way to think of Cu concentration would also be mg/kg, as there are 1 million milligrams in every kilogram. Let’s use Horseshine® once again. Looking at the label, we can see it contains 116 ppm Cu. If you fed one half pound of this supplement per day (or 0.5 lbs ÷ 2.2 lbs/kg = 0.227 kg) your horse would be receiving 0.277 kg of Horseshine®. To determine the amount of Cu the horse is eating, multiply the amount fed by the concentration in the feed, just like we did for protein.0.277 kg x 116 mg/kg = 26 mg of copperTherefore, Horsehine® is adding 26 mg of copper to your horse’s diet per day.
    Zinc -Zinc, like copper, is considered a micro-mineral, and is also listed in parts per million on the feed tag. It plays a similar role in aiding in enzyme function, but in such a wide array in the body as to be too numerous and diverse to mention. It is frequently added to commercial equine feeds due to the variability in hays and forage. Using our same serving of Horseshine, zinc is listed at 321 ppm. Thus, the horse gets 89 mg of Zn with every serving (0.227 kg x 321mg/kg = 89 mg).
    Selenium -Selenium is often one of the most commonly discussed minerals is horse nutrition, mainly due to its essential function in the immune system and role as an anti-oxidant, but also due to its tremendous variability in feeds across the country. In the United States, some regions are considered selenium rich and some selenium deficient. Thus forages or hays produced in different areas can vary from selenium deficient to even reaching toxic levels of selenium. Even weather conditions can cause alterations in Se content of feed, as drought conditions can greatly increase selenium uptake by plants. Overall, selenium may certainly be needed to be supplemented in the equine diet, but in much lower concentrations than even Cu or Zn. Most feeds will vary in the range of 0.1 to 0.5 ppm of selenium in order to meet the horses’ requirements, but to avoid any toxicity issues.
    Vitamin A- Vitamin A is needed by the horse in much larger quantities compared to other vitamins. Horses consuming green forages (grazing horses) typically meet their needs quite easily. However, horses which consume a primarily harvested forage diet (hay) might have a possibility of becoming deficient, especially if the hay has been stored for a great length of time. The vitamin A content of hay does decrease over time, with a large percent of all vitamin A lost over one year’s storage of hay. Thus, most commercial feeds are supplemented to ensure adequate intake by the horse.


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