Broodmare Nutrition: Preparing for Fall and Winter

Mares in good body condition have a reservoir of stored fat that can be used during cold winter weather.

Broodmare Nutrition: Preparing for Fall and Winter

All broodmares should have their body condition assessed regularly, as mares in good body condition have a reservoir of stored fat that can be used during cold winter weather. Good body condition helps barren and maiden mares establish normal cycles sooner in the breeding season and results in higher conception rates. Similarly, mares in good body condition at foaling are easier to rebreed than thin mares.

Owners can usually assess a horse’s body condition by evaluating the amount of fat deposited on the ribs, along the neck and spine, and behind the shoulder. The typical scoring system uses a 1 to 9 scale, where a horse with a score of 1 is emaciated and 9 is obese. A horse with a condition score of 5 is considered to have “moderate” body condition. Mares that enter the breeding season with a condition score below 5 have reduced reproductive efficiency. Therefore, the target body condition score for broodmares is at least 5. While there is no advantage to a mare having a very high score (being very fat), if she has a score of 6 in late fall she will have a small reserve of fat during winter when she will be burning extra calories to stay warm.

Horses with body condition scores between 5 and 6 have ribs that can be felt easily, but that are not visible. In addition, these horses have enough fat cover over their topline that the loin area is relatively flat. Their necks are not thin and blend smoothly into the shoulder. A horse with a score higher than 7 has ribs that are difficult to feel and so much fat along the spine that there is a deep crease in the loin area. On the other hand, if the spine is visible along the loin area and the ribs are also visible, then the body condition score would be closer to a 4. If more of the mare’s bony structures are visible (e.g., the shoulder or hip bones are prominent) then the body condition score would be below a 4.

Many mares that nursed a foal during the summer and early fall as well as mares used for strenuous competitive activities during the summer (racing, endurance competition, polo, etc.) often enter the fall with condition scores below 5. These horses will need to consume extra calories in the fall to ensure they are in good body condition for the next breeding and foaling season.

Mares that have been grazing abundant, high-quality pasture all summer and fall might have body condition scores above 7. Although high condition scores have not been shown to negatively affect reproduction, they might increase a mare’s risk for limb and hoof problems, including laminitis. If a horse is overweight, winter is a good time for weight loss because the pasture is less nutritious and the cold weather increases calorie use.

Pasture and Hay

As pasture quality and quantity decline in late fall, owners should supplement mares’ forage intake with hay. Some horse managers in Central Kentucky begin feeding hay to pastured mares beginning Nov. 1, but make a decision based on the condition of your individual mares and pasture. If the mares are losing body condition, the nutrients available to them are likely insufficient. Even if the mares seem to be maintaining body condition but the pasture is showing signs of overgrazing, it is probably time to offer hay. Providing hay in the fall will serve two purposes: First, it ensures mares will have enough to eat; and second, it might reduce overgrazing of the pasture. Overgrazing in the fall can weaken the plants, thus reducing their vigor the next spring and summer. Overgrazing can also allow more weeds to invade the pasture.

The best way to evaluate whether pastured mares need hay is to put some in the pasture. If the horses ignore the hay, then the pasture is probably meeting their forage needs. If they eat some but not all of the hay, then the amount of hay fed can be reduced until the amount that remains at the next feeding is small. If the horses devour the hay rapidly, the pasture quality is clearly declining and the horses need hay.

Many types of hay are acceptable for broodmares, but the main selection characteristics should be safety and nutrition. Most tall fescue in the southeastern United States is infected with a fungal endophyte that can negatively affect mares in late gestation. Unless tall fescue hay has been tested and is known to be endophyte-free, it should not be used for mares, especially pregnant mares. Any hay that is fed to horses should also be free of toxic weeds, dust, and mold.

Legume hays (e.g., alfalfa and clover) are higher in nutrients than most grass hays (timothy, orchardgrass, etc.). In a recent study conducted at the University of Kentucky (UK), Thoroughbred mares in mid and late gestation were able to eat enough good-quality alfalfa hay to meet their protein requirements. Mares fed timothy hay were able to eat enough hay to meet their protein requirements in mid-gestation, but not in late gestation. When applied to practical feeding situations, these results mean horses fed good-quality alfalfa hay will require less concentrate (sweet feed or pellets) than horses fed timothy hay.

In addition to considering the type of hay to use, a broodmare owner might want to estimate how much hay he or she will need to provide during the fall and winter. In the UK study mares consumed about 2-2.25 pounds of hay for each 100 pounds of body weight. So a medium-sized Thoroughbred mare (1,250 pounds) would consume about 25-28 pounds of hay daily. Remember that this figure represents the amount of hay consumed, not the amount fed. There will always be some wasted hay, so the amount fed should be slightly greater than the amount to be consumed. However, the mares in the study received only a small amount of concentrate each day, and mares fed greater amounts of concentrate would need less hay. If hay is fed at 30 pounds/horse/day from Nov. 1 through March 30, then a little more than two tons of hay will be needed to feed the medium-sized mare over this period. If the hay feeding period is longer or shorter, or the mare is expected to eat more or less hay, then the total amount of hay would change.

Concentrates and Supplement Pellets

In addition to pasture and/or hay, broodmares are usually fed either a commercially manufactured concentrate or supplement pellet (sometimes called a balancer pellet). The term “concentrate” refers to a feed that is a concentrated source of calories. Common concentrates such as oats, corn, and other cereal grains are good sources of calories but they are low in calcium and other necessary nutrients. Commercially manufactured concentrates usually include cereal grains, but they also contain additional nutrients. If a concentrate is formulated for a broodmare, the level of nutrient supplementation will be targeted to meet her needs. Concentrates are added when the forage portion of the diet does not provide enough calories to meet a mare’s needs. Most Thoroughbred-type mares should receive 5-10 pounds of concentrate in late gestation. Mares from small, thrifty breeds will usually be fed less concentrate in late gestation.

Supplement pellets are concentrated sources of vitamins, minerals, and sometimes protein. They are fed in small amounts (usually 1-2 pounds per day) when the pasture or hay provides all the calories a mare needs. For example, if a mare can maintain a condition score of 6 on pasture or hay alone, then she does not need the extra calories provided by a concentrate. But, she does need many of the minerals provided in the supplement pellet. Supplement pellets are not needed if a mare is getting at least 4 pounds of a commercially manufactured broodmare concentrate. However, a supplement pellet can be combined with a plain cereal grain (such as oats) if an owner prefers not to use a commercially manufactured feed.

Laurie Lawrence, PhD, a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at the University of Kentucky, provided this information.


Equine Vaccination Do’s and Don’ts

Determining exactly which vaccines a horse needs can be confusing. Here are some basic do’s and don’ts to make sure you’re providing the disease protection your horse needs.


Equine Vaccination Do's and Don'ts

Best practices for making sure your horse gets the disease protection he needs

Do I need to vaccinate my horse against leptospirosis? Does my retiree need the same shots as my performance horse? What happens if they miss a round of vaccines? Determining exactly which vaccines a horse needs can be confusing. Reviewing the guidelines set forth by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is a good place to begin your research, and talking with your veterinarian can help you make the best decision based on your horse’s lifestyle, age, and geographic location. In the meantime, we’ve distilled the topic down into some basic do’s and don’ts to make sure you’re providing the disease protection your horse needs.

Core Vaccines

DO have your horse vaccinated with all core vaccines, which are those the American Veterinary Medical Association and AAEP ­recommend for all horses, every year, regardless of location, gender, or age.

“There are no instances where horses should not be vaccinated with AAEP-­recommended core vaccines,” says ­Elizabeth Davis, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, professor and head of the department of clinical sciences at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Manhattan. “The one exception is the situation where a horse has demonstrated a severe adverse reaction to a vaccine. This is a rare occurrence, but it can happen. When this happens, it is important to work with a veterinarian to determine the ideal course of action.”

The AAEP core vaccination list consists of rabies, Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis (EEE/WEE), tetanus, and West Nile virus (WNV). Establishing immunity against the pathogens that cause these diseases requires an initial priming series of vaccine doses, followed by an ­annual booster to maintain ­immunity.


Exposure to these life-­threatening mosquito-borne viruses varies from year to year. This vaccine has stayed on the core list because of high disease mortality rates (75-90% for EEE, 20-30% for WEE) and you can’t completely eliminate exposure. If your horse lives in an area where mosquitoes are common for more than six months of the year, vets recommend vaccinating twice yearly. Otherwise, an annual booster is sufficient.


This is another mosquito-borne virus with fluctuating annual case numbers depending on weather (and resulting mosquito populations) and vaccination vigilance. It’s fatal in 30% of cases, and even horses that recover from the acute phases of the illness often still demonstrate gait and behavioral abnormalities six months post-­diagnosis. If your horse lives in an area where mosquitoes are a threat more than six months of the year, vets recommend vaccinating twice annually. Horses under the age of 5 or over 15 are more susceptible to the disease and should be vaccinated more frequently if your veterinarian recommends it. For all other horses an annual booster is ­sufficient.


Although humans get tetanus shots once every 10 years, horses need boosters annually. Clostridium tetani, the bacterium that causes tetanus, thrives in soil and is also present in horses’ gastrointestinal (GI) tracts and manure. Due to the nature of equine facilities, horses are constantly exposed to C. tetani. It can contaminate wounds and produces a toxin that circulates and often proves fatal. If your horse sustains a wound or undergoes surgery more than six months after receiving his booster, he should be revaccinated.


Though it’s uncommon in horses, rabies is fatal and poses a considerable threat to public health. If your horse is vaccinated with one of the USDA-approved vaccines and exposed, he should be revaccinated right away and quarantined for 45 days for observation of clinical signs. If a horse is unvaccinated—or his rabies vaccination history is unknown—and exposed via the bite of an infected animal, he will need to be euthanized immediately or isolated under veterinary supervision for six months, per approval from public health officials.

Risk-Based Vaccines

DO ask your veterinarian about administering risk-based vaccines, recommendations for which vary by horse type and region. Vaccines protecting against diseases such as equine influenza virus (EIV), equine herpesvirus (EHV-1/4, rhinopneumonitis), equine viral arteritis (EVA), strangles, leptospirosis, Potomac horse fever, and botulism fall into the risk-based category, and your veterinarian can help you determine which ones are worth the investment.

DO consider risk-based vaccines such as those against EIV and EHV-1/4 for your performance horse if you plan to show or travel to and from equestrian venues. Performance horses spend a lot of time among large groups of horses at events. The nature of this contact creates a higher risk for contagious infectious disease spread.

“Additionally, performance horses are at risk for having variable immunity, meaning that during periods of high stress, such as intense exercise, or following long-distance transportation, they might have suppressed immunity,” says Davis.

DON’T forget to vaccinate your performance horse for EIV semiannually, especially if he’s regularly exposed to large groups of horses off the farm. Although veterinarians historically have administered these vaccines as frequently as once every quarter, the AAEP reports that all currently marketed equine influenza vaccines are likely to provide up to six months of protection.

DON’T skip botulism vaccines for your pregnant mare, especially if you live in or travel to an endemic region such as Kentucky or the mid-Atlantic. Botulism is a potentially fatal neurologic disease caused by toxins the bacterium Clostridium botulinum produces. Horses that consume round bales or fermented feeds such as haylage or silage are generally considered to be at higher risk of contracting botulism. Foals also fall into the high-risk category for another form of potentially fatal botulism called shaker foal syndrome. Foals born to unvaccinated mares can start receiving the multidose priming series at two weeks old.

DO consider risk-based vaccinations for your retired and nonperformance horses. Davis recommends building immunity for these horses, especially those living at boarding facilities, since they can still be exposed to pathogens when other horses boarded there travel to and from events.

Vaccine Administration

DON’T miss your boosters. After the initial vaccine series annual or semiannual boosters keep horses protected from disease.

“The protective immunity a horse develops after proper vaccination diminishes with time,” says Greg Schmid, DVM, a veterinarian at Columbia Equine Hospital, in Gresham, Oregon. “If enough time passes, horses’ immune systems can return to a nearly naive (nonvaccinated) state and be vulnerable to infection. Depending on the circumstances, repeating a priming series of vaccine doses, usually two or three doses, might be recommended to reestablish protective active immunity,” a process that is more expensive than simply keeping the boosters current.

While waiting to reestablish immunity, remember that your horse is at risk of contracting the diseases to which he’s become susceptible.

DON’T worry about overvaccinating. If you’re unsure about a horse’s vaccination history, talk to your veterinarian. Animal “vaccines are extensively tested and regulated by the USDA to ensure their safety, purity, potency, and effectiveness,” explains Schmid. “Although adverse reactions do occur, administering vaccines more frequently than necessary does not generally increase the risk of these reactions or diminish the immune response to vaccines.”

DO have your veterinarian administer vaccines. Although it can be tempting to save money by vaccinating your horse on your own, this DIY approach comes with several downsides. The first is a heightened risk of incorrect storage, handling, and administration.

“If a vaccine is not stored or handled properly, it could have a negative impact on the efficacy and safety,” says Schmid. “There have also been cases of improper administration techniques (e.g., injecting a vaccine too close to the neck vertebrae) that have caused serious complications.”

In addition to the increased risks to your horse, many vaccine manufacturers will not accept liability if your horse has an adverse reaction to a vaccine given by a nonveterinarian. If you own a performance horse, it is important to note that horse show management often requires proof of vaccination prior to competition, and in most cases this proof must come in the form of a health certificate. Your veterinarian might refuse to issue a health certificate if he or she did not administer the vaccines to your horse.

DO work with your veterinarian to vaccinate your pregnant mare at the appropriate times during gestation so she can transfer that immunity to her the unborn foal.

Vaccine Reactions

DO have your horse vaccinated when his heart and respiratory rates and temperature are normal. Again, adverse reactions to vaccines are uncommon, but a horse that is unwell prior to vaccination might be more likely to have a negative response. If your horse’s vitals are above normal ranges or your veterinarian recognizes clinical signs of illness when he or she arrives at the farm, it might be in the horse’s best interest to vaccinate on a different day.

DO monitor your horse for 20 to 30 minutes following vaccination. If a horse is going to react to a vaccine, it typically occurs quickly and requires immediate action from your veterinarian. Mild soreness or swelling at the vaccine site within a few hours, however, might be normal.

“The goal of administering a vaccine is to induce an immune response, both locally and systemically,” explains Davis. “The local swelling and slight warmth at the site of injection is likely a normal part of this immune response. Approximately 48 hours following vaccination, any mild swelling or stiffness should be substantially improved or completely resolved.”

If the swelling and stiffness haven’t dissipated within three days, contact your veterinarian.

Take-Home Message

Work with your vet to develop a vaccination program individualized to each horse on your property. The ultimate goal is to keep your horses healthy and protect them from preventable diseases.

Corie Traylor is a full-time writer living in Portland, Oregon. She grew up riding horses on her family’s small farm and is currently retraining her OTTB, Bess, to be a dressage horse.

Sesamoid Injuries in Horses: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Sesamoid injuries in horses can be difficult to repair and even catastrophic; here’s what can go wrong and how to prevent it from happening.

sesamoid injuries in horses

Sesamoid injuries in horses can be difficult to repair and even catastrophic; here’s what can go wrong and how to prevent it from happening

Two little bones sitting at the back of the fetlock both amaze and confound veterinarians. The sesamoids, as they’re called, anchor the suspensory apparatus that allows a horse’s foot and fetlock to move properly. Yet their location and anatomy make them vulnerable to injuries, and sesamoid injuries in horses can be difficult to repair and even catastrophic.

Given the sesamoids’ location, it isn’t surprising that high speeds can lead to fractures and soft tissue injuries. In a racehorse, for example, the fetlock can sometimes extend to the point that the sesamoid bones actually make contact with the ground. If the pressure is too great, those bones can shatter to a point that requires euthanasia.

“Horses have two proximal sesamoid bones on each limb,” says Jeff Blea, DVM, racetrack practitioner and past American Association of Equine Practitioners president. “They, together with the cannon bone and long pastern, make up the fetlock joint.”

Blea explains that the sesamoids are surrounded by an intricate system of ligaments. The suspensory ligament begins at the top back of the cannon bone, runs down the cannon bone, and splits into two branches—one attaching to each sesamoid. Other ligaments connect the sesamoids to each other, and the distal sesamoidean ligaments extend down to the pastern bones. “If you look at it from a physiological standpoint, it’s a highly mechanical area,” says Blea. “It’s an area that is susceptible to increased tension, increased force, and increased pressure.”

While the sesamoids’ anatomy might make them seem like an accident waiting to happen, Emma Adam, BVetMed, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVS, PhD, who completed her PhD research at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center and a former assistant to champion racehorse trainer Sir Michael Stoute, points out the remarkable way the bones facilitate a horse’s movement.

“Our patella is a sesamoid bone,” she says. “It is gliding over this amazing structure called our knee. In horses, the sesamoids provide a groove for these immensely strong flexor tendons, and they also provide mechanical support for this incredible unidirectional joint that sits in front of them. And they do both at the same time.”

Sesamoid bones are small—about the size of a walnut—and somewhat pyramidal in shape. That alone makes it difficult for surgeons or the body itself to repair a fracture. But Adam notes other challenges.

“Sesamoid bones have a really hard time,” she says, “because they don’t have the blood supply that many other bones do, they don’t have any musculature around them that can lend blood supply, and they don’t have a periosteum (the soft, protective tissue covering bone).”

Both blood supply and periosteum help bones heal. So without them the sesamoids are basically left to their own devices.

What Goes Wrong

Like any bone, sesamoids can fracture if overstressed. Because so many ligaments attach to them, any or all of those ligaments can also become injured. The more elements involved, the worse the prognosis.

Blea says when sesamoids fracture, they do so in one of three ways—apical (the top third), mid-body, or basal (at the bottom).

Veterinarians typically can remove an apical fragment arthroscopically (a minimally invasive surgery involving a fiberoptic camera), with a good prognosis for return to performance.

“The limiting factor regarding prognosis depends upon if the suspensory is involved and how much of that suspensory branch attachment is involved,” says Blea. “If the suspensory is damaged as well, your prognosis goes way down.”

Mid-body and compound (breaks through the skin) fractures usually result in a guarded to poor prognosis for return to performance, says Blea. Those horses sometimes can go on to successful second, less rigorous careers.

Blea is most pessimistic about basal fractures. “Some people are putting screws in there and having some success with them,” he says. “But the difficulty is that at the bottom of the sesamoid, you have those distal sesamoidean ligaments pulling, which creates more tension.”

Unfortunately, fractures can also occur catastrophically, where the sesamoids break into too many pieces to remove or reassemble. Many of these cases end in euthanasia.

Some horses in this situation can be saved for breeding or companion purposes through arthrodesis, or fusing the joint, says Blea. They will never be athletically sound, but they can be pain-free.

Horses can also develop sesamoiditis, or bone inflammation. While too much stress on the joint can cause this, so can rapid growth in young, developing horses.

Further research is needed to determine whether sesamoiditis correlates with an increased chance of future fractures. Other variables, including conformation, training regimens, and galloping speed, can be predisposing factors to sesamoiditis.

Age and breed also play roles. Adam says Warmbloods experience different types of sesamoid injuries than Thoroughbreds, likely because of body type differences and because Warmbloods destined for jumping, dressage, and eventing typically begin training later than racehorses.

“Warmbloods don’t get that many sesamoid injuries,” Adams says. “They typically get some changes related to osteoarthritis. They can get bony changes at the insertion of the suspensory ligament and the distal sesamoidean ligaments.”

If a Warmblood fractures a sesamoid, Adam says it is usually an apical or small basal fracture. “When you’ve got a horse doing a canter pirouette, you can understand the amount of strain being placed on the suspensory apparatus,” Adam says. “There is a lot of work going into that maneuver.”

Diagnosis Difficulties

Injuries can weaken bones before a fracture occurs. In addition, fractures might not show up immediately on radiographs because it takes time for a bone’s repair work to appear. Both of those things complicate sesamoid fracture diagnosis.

Sesamoids can fool people, says Blea. If a horse comes up lame, diagnostic anesthesia (blocking) might not pinpoint the problem. “A lot of times people think it’s a foot (problem),” says Blea. “They’ll do diagnostic anesthesia on the foot, and the horse will go sound. So they work on the foot, and a few weeks later the horse ends up with a sesamoid fracture.”

If diagnostic anesthesia does narrow the search to the fetlock and a possible sesamoid injury, yet the radiograph does not show anything, Blea recommends waiting and resting the horse 10-14 days and radiographing the area again, by which time a fracture might appear.

“You often don’t diagnose (issues with) sesamoids until after they’ve fractured,” says Blea. “You may not see any inflammation, heat, or swelling in the bone,” prior to fracture.

The rehabilitation program in such cases typically starts with keeping the horse stallbound for up to 30 days and hand-walking him for up to 60 days. Blea recommends limited turnout after the hand-walking period so the horse can move around on his own, which aids the healing process. He then takes more radiographs four months after the injury to monitor healing.

Preventing Sesamoid Injuries in Horses

The ideal solution to sesamoid injuries in horses is preventing them in the first place. Blea and Adam stress the importance of establishing a good training foundation for any athletic horse before asking for top -performance.

“Sesamoids can undergo responses to training,” says Adam. Bone, muscle, and ligaments get fit at different rates, however, and training regimens need to take that into account. A horse also needs to be fit to avoid fatigue, which can lead to injury. Consistent, even footing and good shoeing practices are also extremely important for keeping the fetlock area sound.

“It’s important to have good medial to lateral (inner to outer) balance in the foot,” says Blea.

Other standard management techniques, including providing good nutrition, play equally important roles.

Perhaps the most significant thing any owner or trainer can do is constantly monitor for signs of sesamoid injury. “Due diligence by the trainer and the vet are essential,” says Blea. “Have conversations about the horse. Check the legs. Talk to the rider.”

Newer diagnostic methods can also aid greatly in prevention. Such options include nuclear scintigraphy (“probably the most common way we diagnose sesamoid problems,” says Blea, by visualizing bone remodeling), MRI, or CT.

Sue Stover, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, professor of anatomy, physiology and cell biology at the J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory in Davis, California, and John Peloso, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, owner, partner, and surgeon at the Equine Medical Center of Ocala, Florida, are researching sesamoid injuries in horses. Stover, in analyzing results from the post-mortem program in place at California racetracks, has determined that catastrophic fetlock failures account for more than 50% of the cases received. The work she is doing includes investigating radiographic techniques that could eventually lead to better and earlier diagnoses.

Peloso and others are finding that standing MRI, which does not require general anesthesia, is extremely helpful in diagnosing early sesamoid problems.

In studies Peloso uncovered two major risk factors—increased density of sesamoid bones that makes them more brittle, and problems in the opposing fetlock (contralateral limb) that cause the horse to compensate on the brittle limb.

He says using MRI to look at bone density and also for early signs of injury in the contralateral limb could catch some sesamoid damage before fractures occur.

Peloso cited a paper by veterinarians in Newmarket, England, in which they used standing MRI in racing Thoroughbreds and identified cannon bone fracture pathology in 35.8% of study cases “pre-fracture” that they could not confirm -radiographically.

“The clinical signs of these injuries are very subtle and difficult to identify because they originate inside the bone below the cartilage surface,” says Peloso.

Take-Home Message

High speeds coupled with suspensory apparatus anatomy can lead to sesamoid injuries in horses. Fracture diagnosis can be tricky because changes aren’t always evident when using traditional methods such as palpation and radiographs. Veterinarians have determined that nuclear scintigraphy, MRI, and CT are good diagnostic tools to detect problems. But nothing can prevent sesamoid injuries in horses better than good management techniques and monitoring the fetlock consistently for the earliest sign of lameness or injury.


Tracy Gantz is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She is the Southern California correspondent for The Blood-Horse and a regular contributor to Paint Horse Journal, Paint Racing News, and Appaloosa Journal.


Inside the Equine Navicular Apparatus

In this visual guide, learn about the vital hoof structures of the navicular apparatus and what can go wrong with them. Sponsored by Dechra Veterinary Products.

Inside the Navicular Apparatus

The navicular apparatus, also known as the podotrochlear apparatus, includes the navicular bone, the navicular bursa, the coffin joint, the impar ligament, the suspensory ligament of the navicular bone, and the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT). One side of the navicular bone (the flexor surface) borders the DDFT. The navicular bursa “buffers” the contact between the two structures, helping reduce friction as the DDFT moves over the navicular bone.

The soft tissue structures surrounding the navicular bone support it during standing and movement. If one or more of these structures become compromised, excessive strain on the bone can lead to degeneration or remodeling.

Veterinarians classify the resulting lameness from the bone or any of the soft tissue structures as podotrochlosis, because the condition can involve any part of the podotrochlear apparatus.

The disease usually affects both forelimbs, though one might be worse than the other.

Hoof Anatomy

Injury or damage to any of the navicular apparatus structures can manifest as: 

  • Forelimb lameness
  • Soreness after exercise
  • A toe-first gait
  • A choppy, shuffling, or short-strided gait
  • Weight shifting from foot to foot


Choosing Forages for Horse Pastures

Learn about forage types and how to select the right one for your horse’s pasture.

Choosing Forages for Horse Pastures

Healthy pastures filled with dense, nutritive grasses can be excellent forage sources for horses. In fact, some horses can meet all their nutrient needs on good-quality pasture alone. The key to establishing good pasture, however, is planting the appropriate forage types.

During the University of Maryland (UMD) Extension’s healthy horse-keeping webinar series, pasture and forage specialist Amanda Grev, MS, PhD, described different forage types and how to select the best ones for your horse’s pasture.

First, make sure your pastures are well-managed. “No forage species will persist if continually overgrazed or mismanaged,” she said. “Good pasture requires good management, and that will be true no matter what forage species we have in our fields.”

Forage Characteristics

Grev described the broad forage characteristics property owners need to understand when selecting a species.

Cool vs. warm season

As their names imply, cool-season forages do best in cool, wet climates (they grow best between 60-80°F), while warm-season forages thrive in hot, dry climates (75-90°F). Grev explained that cool-season forages grow mostly in the spring and fall and slack off in the summer. Warm-season forages do just the opposite—they grow mostly in summer.

Examples of cool-season forages include Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, orchardgrass, and tall fescue. Warm-season forages include Bermuda grass, bahia grass, big bluestem, and Indian grass.

“One of the things to consider when debating whether a warm-season or cool-season forage is appropriate is what part of the country we’re in,” Grev said. “Cool-season forages predominate the northern half of the United States, with warm-season forages in the southern half. Places like Maryland fall into that transition zone where we can have some warm-season and some cool-season forages.”

Grasses vs. legumes

The main difference between grasses and legumes is their nutrient content. Grev explained that grasses tend to be lower in protein and calcium, a little lower in caloric value, and higher in fiber than legumes. Legumes have a higher feed intake and higher digestible energy than grasses. Plus, livestock tend to prefer them.

“Another benefit of legumes is they are capable of fixing nitrogen,” she said, “meaning they can fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere and require less fertilizer applied to the pasture.”

Looking at overall forage quality at similar stages of maturity, legumes are usually the highest and warm-season grasses the lowest, said Grev.

Perennials vs. annuals

Perennial forages such as Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, timothy, and tall fescue grow back every year. They’re slower to establish and grow, however, than annuals. Grev recommended perennial species for permanent pastures.

Annual species such as annual ryegrass, wheat, oat, triticale, sudangrass, and millet, while quick to establish and fast-growing, must be replanted each year.

“Annuals might be useful additions to some of our perennial forages for a variety of reasons,” said Grev. “They can extend the grazing season earlier or later into the spring or fall. Annuals can also provide replacement pasture under emergency grazing situations (e.g., winterkilled forage, flooding, drought). They can also be useful for pasture renovation after overgrazing, neglect, or uncooperative weather.”

In any of these scenarios, property owners can plant one or more cycles of annual forages to provide growth, control weeds, and help alleviate soil compaction while transitioning back to perennials, she said.


Maturity is the greatest determinant of nutritional value, said Grev. Leafy forages in their vegetative state have higher energy and protein concentrations. “As those forages mature,” she said, “they get a little more stemmy, fibrous, and lower in overall forage quality.”


Forage growth characteristics fall under two main classes: bunchgrasses that grow in thick, tufted bunchs and sod-forming grasses that have lateral growth habits.

“The key difference between them is bunchgrasses don’t always spread into bare spots,” said Grev. “They’re going to continue to grow in that clump, whereas sod-forming grass is going to spread and fill in some bare areas.”

Sod-forming grasses can usually tolerate closer grazing than bunchgrasses, she explained. Bunchgrasses, however, are typically higher yielding and grow taller and thicker.

Cool-Season Perennials

Grev described a variety of cool-season perennial forage options, which are the species most commonly found in temperate zone horse pastures, and their pros and cons.

Orchardgrass aka “The Class Favorite”

This bunchgrass is well-liked and widely used, said Grev. On the plus side, it’s:

  • Productive;
  • Palatable;
  • Has good regrowth with adequate fertility and moisture;
  • Compatible with legumes and often grown in mixtures such as alfalfa/orchardgrass; and
  • Relatively easy and quick to establish.

On the other hand, it’s:

  • Sensitive to cutting height or overgrazing; because orchardgrass stores much of its energy in the bottom few inches of stem, continually cutting or grazing at too low a height can deplete those energy reserves, Grev explained;
  • Sensitive to soil fertility;
  • Sensitive to certain diseases; and
  • Requires good management and can’t be used and abused.

Tall fescue aka “Mr. Persistent”

This bunchgrass that has some spreading ability is hardy and long-lived. Its benefits include being:

  • Deep-rooted and long-lived;
  • Tolerant of traffic and close grazing (“It can handle a little more grazing pressure or hoof traffic than orchardgrass,” said Grev);
  • Adapted to a range of soil and climatic conditions; and
  • High-yielding with good seasonal growth distribution.

Its downsides include being:

  • Less palatable and not as high-quality as other forages.
  • Toxic to pregnant mares if it’s endophyte-infected. This tall fescue type contains an endophyte that produces toxic alkaloids than can impair mare reproductive performance, Grev explained. Endophyte-free (which has no harmful effects on livestock but reduced plant vigor and longevity) and novel endophyte (researchers developed an endophyte that’s not toxic but still retains forage persistence and hardiness) types also exist.

Timothy aka “One Hit Wonder”

This bunchgrass is known for having a big flux of production in the beginning of year, then being less productive for the rest of the grazing season, said Grev. Its pros include being:

  • Very palatable;
  • Good-quality; and
  • Relatively quick to establish.

Cons include:

  • Little regrowth;
  • Poor growth under hot or dry conditions;
  • Being less competitive and shorter-lived than other species;
  • Having a shallow root system; and
  • Being easily weakened by frequent cutting or grazing.

Timothy is better suited for hay than grazing, Grev said.

Perennial ryegrass aka “Fair Weather Fan”

This bunchgrass thrives best in temperate climates. Its pros include:

  • Being high-quality;
  • Being very palatable;
  • Having good yield; and
  • Establishing rapidly with good seedling vigor.

On the downside, it can be short-lived and doesn’t tolerate drought or high temperatures.

Kentucky bluegrass aka “The Turf Builder”

This dense sod-former has great ability to fill in bare spots. It’s also:

  • Palatable;
  • High-quality; and
  • Less sensitive to close or frequent grazing.

Kentucky bluegrass is low-growing and not as productive or high-yielding as other species, said Grev. It also goes dormant during hot or dry periods.

Smooth bromegrass aka “Slow and Steady”

This sod-former can be difficult to get established, but once you do, it’s very persistent, she explained. Its benefits include being:

  • Good-quality; and
  • Deep-rooted.
  • Fairly hardy and able to survive periods of drought and temperature extremes.

On the other hand, it’s slow to establish, produces uneven yield distribution, and experiences poor growth during hot or dry conditions. Smooth bromegrass is better suited for hay than grazing, said Grev.

Reed canarygrass aka “The Pool Boy”

This sod-former is known for its ability to grow well in wet areas. Its pros include being:

  • High-yielding;
  • Persistent once stable; and
  • Drought- and flood-tolerant.

Grev said it’s slower and more difficult to establish than other species, however, and can be stemmy and less palatable when mature.

Alfalfa aka “Queen of Forages”

This high-quality legume boasts excellent productivity. Its many benefits include being:

  • Very palatable;
  • Highly productive;
  • Drought-resistant;
  • Deep-rooted;
  • Long-lived; and
  • A good summer producer.

One of alfalfa’s downsides is it requires good soil fertility with high pH levels and good drainage. Therefore, it can be more difficult and expensive to establish, said Grev. Still, she maintained that it’s one of the best forages from a quality and production standpoint.

Red clover aka “Red-Headed Stepchild”

This legume is “usually perceived as being a step down from alfalfa but can be a great forage option,” said Grev. Property owners like it because it’s:

  • Easy to establish;
  • Quality and yield are good;
  • Very palatable; and
  • More tolerant of acidic or poorly drained soils than alfalfa.

It’s shorter lived than alfalfa, however, with a stand life limited to two or three years.

White clover aka “Old Faithful”

This legume is seemingly everywhere, said Grev, and tends to stick around. Its pros include being:

  • Easy to establish;
  • Very palatable;
  • Good-quality;
  • Able to grow well in mixtures; and
  • Grazing tolerant.

Its cons include being:

  • Lower-yielding than red clover or alfalfa; and
  • Susceptible to shading, which occurs when taller forages shade out the clover below. For this reason, Grev recommended planting Ladino, which is a larger, taller-growing type of white clover.

Forage Chicory aka “Popeye’s Pick”

Not to be confused with the tough weed form of chicory, this forb is good-quality and resembles spinach leaves, said Grev. Its benefits include being:

  • High-quality;
  • Deep-rooted;
  • Palatable;
  • Drought-tolerant; and
  • A good summer producer.

Grev said it can also have anthelmintic (antiparasitic) properties for ruminants. On the downside, forage chicory is:

  • Prone to bolting, when tall stems grow up out of the base growth of forage;
  • Better on well-drained soils; and
  • Shorter-lived than other species.

Grev said forage chicory is increasing in popularity as a pasture forage and is better-suited for grazing than haying.

She did not delve into warm-season perennial pasture species because they’re less common in the temperate zone. Examples, however, include Bermudagrass, bahiagrass, big bluestem, eastern gamagrass, Indiangrass, switchgrass, and little bluestem.

Cool-Season Annuals

Grev said the most common cool-season annuals for horse pastures are:

Annual/Italian ryegrass

This species is very palatable, high-quality, easy to establish, has good seedling vigor, and grows rapidly. It provides fall and early spring forage, Grev said, and can be interseeded if needed to fill in bare areas. Ryegrass, however, can be overly competitive in mixtures and not very tolerant of drought or high temperatures, she added.

Winter cereals

Cereals such as barley, rye, wheat, and triticale have good quality and yield and are easy to establish. Grev said they provide fall and early spring forage and can be grazed at early maturity or harvested later. She cautioned that cereals vary greatly in their cold tolerance, quality, and rate of maturity.

Warm-Season Annuals

A couple of popular warm-season annual pasture forages include:

Pearl millet

This species is tolerant of drought and acidic soils, easy to establish, and has no prussic acid concerns like some other warm-season annuals do. On the other hand, it can grow quite tall, has a larger stem size, and is subject to nitrate accumulation. Grev recommended looking for dwarf varieties that are shorter, leafier, and better-suited for grazing. When grazing or mowing pearl millet, she said you must leave 6-10 inches of stubble for regrowth, which is more than most other species.


Teff is palatable and fine-stemmed with a high leaf-to-stem ratio, said Grev. It’s good-quality, heat-and drought-tolerant, grows rapidly once established, and has no prussic acid or nitrate toxicity concerns. It can be difficult to establish, however, due to its small seed size and low seedling vigor. Teff is also sensitive to cool soils or frost, as well as overgrazing and low cutting heights. “It’s a little trickier but a good option if you can make it work,” said Grev.


Newer forage varieties of crabgrass are quite suitable for grazing, she explained. They’re productive, good-quality, leafy, grow rapidly, will reseed if allowed, relatively drought-tolerant, tolerant of acidic soils, and have no prussic acid or nitrate toxicity. Their small seed size, she noted, can make planting difficult.

Forage Selection

​Now that you’ve reviewed all your forage species options, how do you choose one or more to seed your field with?

First, said Grev, match plants to soil and site characteristics, including your soil type, drainage, moisture holding capacity, fertility, pH levels, and topography. Then match plants to intended use. Will you use your fields for hay or grazing? Do you need permanent (perennial) or temporary (annual) growth? What time of year is it (cool- vs. warm-season)? What type of pasture management system (e.g., grazing pressure) do you have?

Also match plants to the type of horses on your property. A nursing mare or hard-working horse, for instance, will need a higher relative forage quality than an idle or lightly working horse.

“Consider soil and land characteristics, management strategies and goals, and animal needs,” said Grev. “Then choose one or a couple of appropriate base forages. Include a mix of forage types (i.e., grass and legumes).”

Choose a high-performing variety for your climate and terrain. “Look at variety trials conducted at universities in your area (e.g., the University of Kentucky, Penn State) where they’ve tested these various forage types under difference conditions to see how they’ve performed,” Grev suggested.

Take-Home Message

To review, Grev’s considerations for pasture forage selection include:

  • Soil type and characteristics, such as drainage, fertility, and soil pH;
  • Amount of land and topography/slope of that land. “Some do better in low-lying wetter areas, while others are more persistent on steeper slope areas,” she said;
  • Intended use of that pasture (e.g., hay vs. pasture, permanent vs. temporary, time of year, length of grazing season, management system, etc.);
  • Animal species, class, and number; and
  • Disease or insect pressure, as some varieties are more adapted or resistant to those pressures than others.

Your local extension office or ag agent can help you identify pasture forage species that are suitable for your region and property.


Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

Processed Horse Feeds: A Balance of Pros and Cons

Human nutritionists encourage eating whole foods and avoiding processed ones. Does the same logic apply to our horses?

Processed Horse Feeds: A Balance of Pros and Cons
Q: I understand that commercially produced feeds are formulated to ensure that, when fed properly, a horse’s nutrient requirements are met, but I’m concerned about feeding my horse processed foods. Aren’t processed foods bad?A: This is a concern that I hear fairly frequently. We hear a lot regarding processed foods and human nutrition and the fact that they’re not the best choice. I think it’s important to fully understand why and how feeds are processed when thinking about equine feed.

Wait. Hay is Processed Feed?

Equine feed processing takes many forms. For example, we don’t often think about it this way, but hay is processed grass: Farmers cut, dry, and then bale it. These are all processing steps that allow forage suppliers to store and sell hay in other geographic locations or when horses don’t have pasture access.

This hay might be further chopped and then turned into hay pellet, a process that involves heat in the form of steam and the application of pressure to form the pellets. All this processing increases the cost of the product; however, it makes the hay more digestible because the relative surface area of the hay has been increased by chopping it more finely to make pellets. The resulting product requires less chewing to eat, which is beneficial for horses with poor teeth, but might be a less beneficial choice for horses with good teeth, because chewing results in stomach-acid-buffering saliva.

Pros and Cons for Horse Health

I think that rather than demonizing all processing, it’s important to step back and be objective about the form of processing and its pros and cons.

Would I recommend feeding a hay pellet to a healthy horse with no dental issues that does very well on hay if its is plentiful and affordable? Probably not, because of reduced chew time and the fact that the greater digestibility might result in the horse needing less forage. While this could reduce manure production and help decrease feed costs, eating more forage is often better for horses. However, if I have a senior horse with poor teeth or a hard keeper who struggles with weight maintenance, hay pellets could offer a great solution, and I might be willing to live with the reduced chew time because of these other benefits. It’s a matter of balancing the pros and cons for the individual horse. To me it’s unreasonable to label all processing as bad.

In processed foods for humans you will often find ingredients that are almost unrecognizable as having any foundation in the plant from which they originated. Ingredients might also undergo processes that change their chemical structures. In the case of hydrogenated fats, we’ve learned that this might result to negative health consequences, and sometimes this leads us to believe all processing is bad. However, changing the structure of an ingredient can offer benefits.We change the structure of some ingredients fed to horses—most commonly starch—through processing. The way that starch in barley, corn, and wheat is structured makes it somewhat resistant to digestion in the horse’s small intestine. This can lead to starch that isn’t fully digested entering the hindgut, where it can lead to rapid fermentation and disruption of beneficial intestinal bacterial. Research has shown that if heat treated, however, the starch in these grains becomes more digestible and less likely to enter the hindgut. Therefore, these grains are typically fed after being steam flaked or extruded. Traditionally people would cook the grains whole on their stove tops.

Flaking and extruding also have the benefit of increasing the grains relative surface area, resulting in a greater area for digestive enzymes to work on. These processing techniques have positive health implications for the horse. Interestingly the starch in oats is far more digestible and does not need to be heat processed to increase absorption, which is one of the reasons oats are a relatively safe grain to feed horses.

When it comes to oats, I tend to recommend feeding whole (unprocessed) oats to horses with good teeth rather than rolled or crimped oats, because these processing techniques do less for digestion and open the grain up to oxygen and potentially greater spoilage.

Owners often believe that they’re seeing whole undigested grain in their horse’s manure when they feed whole oats, but it’s worth checking to ensure that it isn’t just the empty husk. If it is whole grain, have your horse’s teeth checked and consider feeling crimped or rolled oats instead.

Other ways that processing can change the chemical composition of feeds is by rendering nonnutritional compounds inert. Soybeans provide a great balance of plant-based amino acids in many horse feeds; however, they contain phytic acid that can complex, with certain minerals reducing their absorption. Heat processing inactivates the phytic acid so this isn’t an issue.

Beet Pulp and Other (Nutritious, Low-Starch) Byproducts

Byproducts of other processing techniques are often used as feed ingredients, for example beet pulp and wheat millrun. Often thought of as floor sweepings, wheat millrun or wheat mids aren’t sweepings at all. They’re the wheat grain parts left after flour production that have a far lower starch content than the original grain, while providing a rich source of key vitamins and a good amount of protein as well as calories.

Because owners have requested that the feed industry provide feeds with lower starch content but that still provide ample calories for performance, wheat millrun and mids have provided a great solution. Yet they are perhaps some of the most processed ingredients in horse feeds.

Certainly, there’s the risk that during processing some nutrients are negatively impacted, especially those that aren’t heat-stable. Manufacturers   might then need to add these nutrients back in other forms. However, in many cases feed processing can benefit your horse. Before deciding all forms of feed processing are detrimental consider the type of processing and the pros and cons for each before determining whether it is something that might be a benefit or detriment to your horse. I personally find that in most cases the processing benefits outweigh the cons.


Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Summit Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.


Protecting Your Horse From Poisonous Fall Leaves

Is it okay for my horse to eat leaves that have fallen from trees in his pasture?


Protecting Your Horse From Poisonous Fall Leaves
Q: I recently moved my horse to the East coast. There are many trees around his new pasture. Should I be concerned about my horse eating leaves that fall from those trees?A: The answer to your question is going to depend on the types of trees the leaves are coming from, which means you need to identify the trees. The easiest way to do this is to use an online identification tool or one of the many good identification books available. If you do not want to buy a book, your local library is likely a good resource with books covering trees common to your region.

Once you have identified the trees you can look them up in an online database and find out if they are poisonous. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has an extensive list of poisonous trees and plants at

Acer and Prunus trees are often found around horse pastures and have leaves that are particularly poisonous to horses as they’re wilting.

Acer rubrum—commonly known as red maple, soft maple, or swamp maple—are native to the Eastern United States and Canada and stunning in the fall with their showy red leaves. While on the tree and alive, the leaves are fine; but once fallen and wilting, these leaves can be fatal to horses in relatively small quantities. As little as 1.5 to 3 grams per kilogram (that’s about 0.05 to 0.11 ounces per 2.2 pounds) of body weight can cause hemolytic (red blood cell-destroying) disease. Wilting leaves are thought to contain gallic acid, which can lead to red blood cell breakdown and hemolytic anemia (in which the body’s immune system attacks and kills its own red blood cells). While leaves that fall from the tree and wilt are poisonous year-round, it appears that those falling after mid-September contain the greatest concentration of gallic acid. Wilted leaves remain toxic for several weeks.

Horses that consume maple leaves often die within a couple of days. Initially after ingestion, a horse generally shows severe depression and becomes weak due to reduced oxygen flow around the body.   Heart rate and respiration increase in an attempt to circulate oxygen, red or dark urine is often observed, and their mucus membranes (including the whites around the eyes) might appear slightly yellow. Ultimately, this inability to carry adequate oxygen via the blood leads to death.

The prognosis is typically poor. In a retrospective study of 32 equine cases of maple poisoning, 19 died. A number of clinical signs were observed including colic, fever, and laminitis. There is no cure, so horses that have eaten red maple leaves receive supportive care, including fluid therapy.

Not all red maples are toxic, however other species—including sugar maples and silver maples—have been found to contain gallic acid and should be avoided. To be safe, I would suggest trying to avoid having all maples in areas where horses could consume the leaves.

The Prunus family, of which there are 200 species, include the stone fruit trees: plums, apricots, peaches, and cherries. While less toxic to horses than cattle, the fruit stones contain cyanide and the leaves are particularly toxic while wilting. Choke cherries and black cherries are considered the most dangerous of the Eastern wild cherries.

Clinical signs of cyanide poisoning include increased heart and respiration rates, with horses breathing heavily trough flared nostrils. Cyanogenic glycosides cause bright red mucus membranes, dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, and shock. It’s possible to treat horses found early in the disease course by using chemicals that bind the cyanide, allowing cellular oxygen transport to be unblocked.

In the case of both Acer and Prunus trees, look for leaves that have fallen off these trees, as well as branches with leaves that have blown down and become available for horses to eat.

As we move in to fall, the nutritional value of pasture grass, even grass that looks green and plentiful, drops dramatically. As a result your horse might be more inclined to look for things to eat that would not normally interest him, including leaves. You can make leaves less appealing by supplementing pasture intake with good-quality hay.


Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Summit Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.


Transitioning Your Horse to Outdoor Living

Horses on all-day pasture have more opportunities than stalled horses to meet their ethological (behavioral) needs, researchers say. Read about care considerations and tips for making the switch in this article excerpt from the September 2020 issue of The Horse.


Transitioning Your Horse to Outdoor Living

Care considerations and tips for making the switch to 24/7 turnout

If you’re considering changing your housing system to 24/7 pasture, you’re not alone. As scientists reveal more equine welfare benefits of keeping horses out full time, owners are opening their minds—and their barn doors—to a more “natural” way of life for their equids.

Free to roam, graze selectively, and interact with herdmates, horses on 24/7 pasture have more opportunities than stalled horses to meet their ethological (behavioral) needs, researchers say. Not limited to leisure horses, breeding stock, or retirees, pastures can make great homes for horses of all breeds and disciplines, the exception being those at risk of laminitis.

But good pasturing isn’t just about turning horses out and letting them adapt to whatever they encounter. There’s plenty of management left for us to do—and it’s not always as obvious as it might seem.

“People who practice group housing understand that it actually demands much more of the caretaker (than traditional housing),” says Jan Ladewig, DVM, PhD, professor in Animal Welfare and Ethology at Copenhagen University’s Department of Large Animal Sciences, in Denmark. “It requires more knowledge about horse behavior in general, as well as more knowledge of each individual horse.”

Katie Sheats, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, assistant professor of equine primary care at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, agrees. Her university keeps a teaching herd on pasture 24/7. “There’s a misconception that it’s easier,” she says.

From skin and foot care to nutrition and mental state, we continue to have an important role in overseeing the health and welfare of our pasture-kept horses.

Transitioning Horses to outdoor living


Water is “the most important nutritional component,” Sheats says. Like stalled horses, those at pasture need a constant source of clean, readily available water.

“If they have still water in a large tub, it has to be checked daily,” she says. “First and foremost, you have to make sure it’s still there.”

Horses’ water consumption can change according to weather conditions and workload, and tubs—whether plastic, metal, fiberglass, or concrete—can break or leak.

Clean water can also turn filthy in a hurry, depending on how frequently you empty it, sunlight exposure, and what falls into it, she adds. Leaves and branches can rot over time, and wild animals can fall in and drown. Animal decomposition can contaminate the water with bacteria that can provoke serious diseases in horses such as botulism.

Algae can build up over time in still-water tubs and, while a small amount is rarely a problem, if water becomes unpalatable, horses might stop drinking, putting them at risk of dehydration. “It is recommended to scrub buckets and tubs once a week,” says Sheats, who keeps her own two horses on a home pasture 24/7.

Automatic waterers can relieve handlers of constant cleaning and refilling duties, she says. But they and the pipes that feed them can pose their own challenges, such as freezing in winter. “It’s good to check them twice a day to be sure they’re still running,” she says.

Another issue: Most automatic waterers don’t give feedback on consumption (a few do). “If you can’t see how much the horse is drinking, you’ll need to keep an eye on his hydration status by ensuring his skin springs back quickly when pinched and gums feel moist,” Sheats says.


Equine diets are very individualized. Hard keepers might need access to more abundant, richer forage, whereas easy-keeping “fat little ponies” might do better “kept on pastures that have been grazed by other animals so that they have to work more—and take more steps—when grazing,” Ladewig says. This article continues in the September 2020 issue of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of the issue to continue reading. Current magazine subscribers can access the digital edition here.

The Horse: September 2020 issue

We at The Horse work to provide you with the latest and most reliable news and information on equine health, care, management, and welfare through our magazine and To subscribe and gain full access to content, click here.


About The Author


Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.


Building a Vet-Approved Horse Barn

Attention to small design details can make barns safer and more comfortable for you and your horse, along with improving chore efficiency. Download this free report for tips on constructing or retrofitting your barn to optimize horse health and reduce accidents and injury.


Whether building from the ground up or retrofitting existing structures, prioritize your horse’s health and safety

A barn is a wonderful shelter for a horse and makes a nice workplace for people to do horse-related chores. Barns range in shape, size, materials, and age. Some come with a property; some owners build after moving in. Regardless of whether you have an existing structure or are planning a new one, consider equine safety and comfort when retrofitting or designing it. Over decades in equine practice, I have encountered innumerable injuries and health issues, some quite serious, that owners could have avoided with practical design modifications of their stabling and management.

Matthew Johnson, architect and owner of Equine Facility Design, in Portland, Oregon, has devoted his career to designing equestrian facilities and barns with an eye for the details. He offers barn construction suggestions to help optimize horse health and reduce accidents and injury.


Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

Product Review: Triple Crown Senior

A picky 4-year-old OTTB in transition didn’t like to eat much until our digital managing editor tried feeding her Triple Crown Senior.

Product Review: Triple Crown Senior

Editor’s note: We at The Horse are horse owners like you. Certain equine-care products have impacted how we manage our own animals, and we want to share our experiences with you. These select products are ones we use and love every day.

Have you ever had a horse that kept you up at night worried that she wasn’t getting enough to eat? I hadn’t until I met Ann.

For years, a co-worker had an off-track Thoroughbred who didn’t like to eat and wouldn’t put on weight. I didn’t quite understand the struggle, because all my horses had always been eager eaters who hovered up anything I put in front of them. In fact, I had the opposite problem as my co-worker—I was trying to keep my horses from gaining weight while still feeding a free-choice, forage-first diet.

Then I got my own OTTB, Ann. While my three other horses ripped hay from their slow feeding nets, Ann delicately nibbled on a barrier-free trough of hay I laid out in front of her like an all-you-can-eat buffet. At mealtime, the other three begged for their grain (this was before we installed iFeed Naturally automatic feeders, another favorite product around our little horse property), she would stare at her feed bucket like I was trying to poison her.

The first month I had her, I made nearly daily trips into town to buy new and different types of feed and forage, making my own barn look like a feedstore. With each new purchase, the cashier would smile and wish me luck. Hopefully Ann would eat this bag or bale.

Because research indicates more than 90% of racehorses may have gastric ulcers, I suspected Ann had them, too (which my veterinarian later confirmed via gastroscopy), so while she liked sweet feeds more than other options, I wanted to stay away from these grain-based products that could exacerbate the issue. I offered her soaked beet pulp, something every horse I’ve owned has loved. Her response? “Ew, gross!” I tried hay pellets (alfalfa and timothy), chopped alfalfa, alfalfa hay, and just about every bagged concentrate on the shelf. Some she would eat for a few days and then, like a finicky cat, turn her nose up at it.

My husband and my nightly mantra became, “Eat your dinner Ann,” as we waited for her to finish her bucket. If Ann could have rolled her eyes at us, she would have.

Then someone suggested trying a senior feed. I paused; Ann was only 4 years old! I made an appointment with a nutritionist, who reaffirmed that—despite the name—senior feeds aren’t just for old horses and suggested Triple Crown Senior, specifically.

I bought a bag and put a couple of pounds in her bucket. She sniffed it suspiciously, took a nibble, and then dove in. She liked it, she really liked it!

Triple Crown Senior is a high-fat, high-fiber, beet-pulp-based feed. It’s also low in soluble carbohydrates. It is, of course, recommended for senior horses, but it’s also good for refeeding malnourished horses, putting weight on hard keepers, and supporting horses with gastric ulcers. And, according to Ann, Triple Crown Senior is highly palatable.

After I started feeding Ann Triple Crown Senior at the recommended minimum serving (6 pounds per day, which I divided into three servings per day), plus free-choice, high-quality orchardgrass hay, she put on weight and her coat started bloom with big dapples. She also developed a strong topline, and her lean racing muscle added bulk (at least she looked bulkier).

My success with Ann on Triple Crown Senior led me to put my easy keepers on Triple Crown’s ration balancer, another product I love.

What did I learn? When it comes to feeding picky eaters and hard keepers, the struggle is real. However, choosing a high-quality, highly palatable fixed-formula feed such as Triple Crown Senior can make all the difference.


Michelle Anderson serves as The Horse’s digital managing editor. In her role, she produces content for our web site and hosts our live events, including Ask the Vet Live. A lifelong horse owner, Anderson competes in dressage and enjoys trail riding. She’s a Washington State University graduate (Go Cougs!) and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in business administration and extensive coursework in animal sciences. She has worked in equine publishing since 1998. She currently lives with her husband on a small horse property in Central Oregon.