*Our equestrian echo chambers tell us that our horses' feed and management programs have to be complex to be good AND to prove that we love them. The more complex the diet plan, however, the more stressful it becomes to leave on vacation. Does your horse(s) diet plan keep you from traveling? If so, here are 10 tips and tricks for leaving your horses at home.
I'll never forget a special moment, early in my career, when a horse owner exclaimed "you mean that I can go on vacation!?!" I had just recommended that she consolidate her horses' feed and supplement diet into one product and explained to her how that was possible. She paused for a moment, and then with all the seriousness of a passionate horse owner, she told me that she could now consider allowing her husband to feed for her. That moment had a big impact on how I recommend horse diets today! You may think that this was a one time occurrence, but you'd be shocked to know how often this happens! Many horse owners find themselves with complex feed and management programs that keep them from enjoying time away from home. If this describes you, know that you are not alone, and please read on!
I'm not immune to this phenomenon, but my job and lifestyle have insisted that my feed and management systems be very simple. During my decade plus of traveling for feed/supplement companies, my bag was never fully unpacked. I was gone for 2-4 day stretches most weeks, sometimes more, so someone else was always taking care of my horse(s). I boarded for a short time (actually easier), but mostly I had a housemate that fed for me. Mixing multiple supplements together several times a day wasn't an option. Neither was continuous blanketing or elaborate turnout regimes.
This habit continues today even though I now work from home. I am known to have a 6-8 step daily program for horse care while I'm home (because I can and it's my break time), but I absolutely CAN NOT ask neighbors and feeders to care for my horses in the same way when I'm gone. And Andrew and I travel A LOT! I'm actually on the Big Island of Hawaii while I type this- spending 8 days with family. At home, the weather has fluctuated between 60 degrees during the day and 21 degrees at night, and I've had three different people feeding for me. My feed plan had to be simple and flexible to accommodate feeder schedules, the dramatic weather changes, and the wet pasture conditions.
VACATION GUIDE FOR HORSE OWNERS
The trick to minimizing the stress of being away from our horses is simplicity. This is a founding principle of my equine nutrition practice, and something that I feel very passionate about. Your horse's diet does NOT have to be complex to be good. Quite the opposite really as long as forage and water consumption are top priority. With that founding principle in mind, here are some tips and tricks for leaving the horses at home while you enjoy a relaxing vacation.
6 Feeding Plan Tips
#1 Forage First Decisions: Feed greater quantities of whichever lower calorie forage you have so that your horse can spend more of your hours away chewing and not gaining weight. You don't want to make large forage changes right before you go, but feeding 5-10% more hay while you are gone can lower stress. This will decrease the chance of ulcers in you and the horse.
#2 Simple Supplementation: Feed a fortified product that contains as many key nutrients as possible lacking in the primary forage. This is the big ticket trick right here! Right now, my horses are all getting one supplement product 1x per day. When my current feeder came by the house to get the rundown, she literally exclaimed, "that's it!?!" She assumed that with my background each horse's diet would be a coloring box full of supplement powders, but the opposite was true. I have one product that perfectly compliments their primary forage. Better yet, it costs me $0.99 per horse per day to feed.
*Don't believe me when I say that simple is better? Schedule a FREE 15 Minute Discovery Call, and I'll show you how. CLICK HERE to SCHEDULE.
#3 Lower calorie rich feedstuffs: If you're not going to be riding for an extended time, you will want to lower the amount of calorie rich feedstuffs that your horse typically gets. For example, if you are feeding 6 lbs per day of a performance type feed, you could drop that by 20-50% since they are not going to be using those extra calories.
#4 A Few Days Without, Ain't Gonna Hurt: A few days without x, y, or z supplement isn't likely to change your horse's overall health. My mare, Stella, gets a joint supplement, but I know that 7 days without it are not likely to change performance outcomes in the middle of winter. Skip the supplements that aren't absolutely critical for a few days. Seriously...it's going to be ok. Especially if you're not 100% sure they are doing anything anyway!!!
#5 Use different color scoops: Obviously weights not volumes are necessary when balancing good horse diets, but even for me that goes out the window when someone else feeds for me. I want a different colored scoop for each bin of product so that the feeder easily knows to feed 1/2 the purple scoop or 1 full red scoop.
#6 Watering: Dehydration is the number one cause of colic, so stress the importance of clean, fresh water to your feeders more than anything. There is nothing worse than coming home to empty water buckets and thirsty horses (sadly, this has happened to me). Consider doubling up on water containers in your horse's area and/or automating the water process.
4 Non-Feeding Plan Tips
#7 A Simple Rule for Blanketing: Here's my blanketing rule; throw a mid-weight on if two of the three exist- very windy, very cold, or very wet. Cold by itself is ok. Wind by itself is ok. But combine wet with cold or windy and horses will shiver.
#8 See Them From Afar: Home security cameras in paddocks and pastures are AMAZING! Thanks to my very handy and very techy husband, we have 3 Ring (by Amazon) cameras trained on the horse pastures and only 1 pointed at the house! They cost about $100-$200 for the equipment and about $10 per month after that. It's fun and certainly lowers my stress.
#9 Emergency Contacts: Give your veterinarian a heads up if you are going to be out of the country for an extended period of time. They might want to know if any of the horses are colic surgery candidates and/or what your budget limit is in case you can't be reached. Leave any and all emergency contact numbers posted in your feeding area, too.
#10 Emergency Vehicle: Leave an extra vehicle hooked up to the horse trailer in case of emergency.
Obviously this is a non-exhaustive list of tips for leaving home, and I'm sure that you all have some wonderful ideas which you can leave in the comments section! But the main point here is to remember K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple Silly. Heck, by simplifying your supplement program, you could save enough money to go on that vacation too! Aloha!