Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Ophie's mom wrote this post. Since I'm still waiting to hear from the vet, and thought I'd save my crazy dream for a later time I figured now was good enough time as any to post it!


Last week I nearly lost my shit in the barn aisle at the place where I
board my mare, Ophie. Why? Because some one asked me a deceptively
simple question:

“Why is your horse so thin?”

First off, let’s be clear. She’s not a rack of bones: she’s got a
nice fat pad over her ass, her flank, her haunches, poochy little bits
on her chest. But, you can see her ribs.

There, alright, I said it. You can see my horse’s ribs. I could see
her ribs when I first got her two years ago, and yes, you can still
see them now. At no point – summer, winter, spring, in work or out -
have you ever been able to not see them. And it’s not something I’m
fully at ease with – which is why when some one asked me, “Why is your
horse so thin?” I heard:

“Why are you such a shitty horse owner?”

Why is she so thin? Because her metabolism is the love child of a
greyhound and Kate Moss. She eats (minimum): 5 flakes of hay, 4lbs of
beet pulp, 3lbs of low-carb, high-fat grain, 2 cups of oil, and a
vitamin/mineral supplement. I would feed her a partridge in a pear
tree too if I thought it would make a difference. Yes, I realize this
diet would make some horses feet fall off, but for her, this is just
for maintenance – god forbid if we actually wanted to build condition.

I know some of you out there are itching to share your weight and
condition building success stories. You’ve probably a favorite
supplement, but here is why I’m not going to add it to her diet:

Because I’m pretty sure she’s fine as is. And even though in a
perfect world I wouldn’t be able to see ribs, I’m prepared to live
with it. Because she’s shiny, happy, and energetic. Because she gets
her teeth done regularly, has no parasite load, and doesn’t have to
compete for food. Because she has beautiful, springy, well-digested
manure. Because her vet is happy with her condition. And okay,
yeah, our trainer critiques her musculature but she is a crazy
perfectionist and thinks Totilas “has room for improvement” too.

But, um, I didn’t say anything. And not just because I live in fear
of starting/being involved in barn drama. But because I also
volunteer at a horse rescue, and I’ve learned there that the horse
world is largely self-policing, and that there are a lot of people out
there who through ignorance let their horses get into all kinds of
shitty shape. Sometimes a horse is thin, or his feet are overgrown
not because of malice, but because his owner genuinely does not know
how to take care of him. Am I saying ignorance should excuse poor
treatment or abuse? Absolutely not. What I am saying is sometimes it
is a good idea to ask.

Hey, I notice your horse is losing weight pretty fast this winter –
are you worried?

Do you need a farrier recommendation?

Are you sure you want to put him up wet?

Could the girl at my barn have phrased it a little better – sure. But
ultimately, I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who are a little too
nosy rather that not nosy enough. Lord knows I made ridiculous, huge
mistakes when I first got my horse. And mostly, it’s been through the
guidance of my peers that I’ve become a better horse owner. So, I
guess I’m glad she asked me why my horse was so thin.

And come to think of it, if you have had really good luck with a
particular condition-building supplement, I guess I would like to hear
about that too.


Ashley said...

and why does she not have her own blog???

Marissa said...

I love Ophie's Mom! That totally hit the nail on the head (I speak as the mother of another hard keeper and totally sympathize). Those nosy neighbors at the barn are pretty annoying, but she's right... if someone had been nosy enough to educate a person who "didn't know any better," that person's horse might have been better off.

p.s. - Hope you get good news from the vet.

Becky said...

I have a friend who worked rehabbing OTTBs for years & she SWEARS by black oil sunflower seeds. Having a morbidly obese pony, I have not tried them myself - but they are supposed to be great health wise (a bit vague, but it's all I got lol) & really fatten 'em up (& they're cheap!) Just a note, but I'm sure she's fine. :) lol Enjoying the guest blogs - & continuing the prayers for both you & Miss D. I also am not particularly religious, but there is no doubt in my mind there's a greater plan for her, just too many coincidences!

Dom said...

Another beautifully worded entry full of truth and good perspective.

Sydney_bitless said...

Great post. A lot of horses are destined to be "ribby" when I was taught about conditioning in exercise physiology a horse that was fit but had ribs showing was considered "racing fit". Not skinny, not under worked but in condition for a horse working hard. This term came from the classic thoroughbred race horse musculature.

Of course since you asked I'll put in my two cents. Brewers yeast (make sure its brewers, not regular baking kind I get mine from the bulk food store) 1-2 tbsp a day. Cheap and has not failed me yet on both hard to keep horses (like several thoroughbreds, old horses with no teeth, standardbred and one old, poop covered starved horse (Naigen) and even dogs.

Karen said...

hee hee this makes me giggle because I get the EXACT same comments sometimes. My horse is not think either, but yes his ribs do show. And I think I've figured it out. I think some horses (like mine, and maybe Ophie) just have friggin WIDE rib cages. Like, if you packed on enough fat to cover their ribs there there would be TOO much fat in other areas. That is just how they are, their ribs are going to show. :-)

Kate said...

You're right - it's better that people care enough to ask, so long as they ask politely.

I prefer my horses to only have the last ribs able to be felt, but none showing. That said, every horse has its own metabolism. You might want to consider pre/probiotics to improve digestion, consider a Panacur power pak and make sure any dental issues are addressed. Having the thyroid levels tested could also be a good idea. We've had good luck with some of the high-fat/low-carb feeds like Ultimate Finish in keeping weight on hard keepers.

Thanks for guest posting!

Denali's Mom said...

I've actually heard good things about brewers yeast too (although I've never used it.)

Rebecca said...

Personally, I'd prefer a horse to be slightly underweight than overweight.

Also, my younger Border Collie's ribs often show too. At the moment you can't see them unless he is wet (though you can most certainly feel them), but normally they show a little bit. The vet says he is one of the most athletic, beautifully conditioned dogs she sees in her practice. He is just super athletic, with a crazy metabolism that isn't tamed by the amount of food he gets. He gets roughly twice as much food as my older, slightly overweight BC who has a horrible time losing weight (the younger one weighs 40 pounds, older weighs 58).

People still give me a hard time when I take him places, because they are all convinced that he is starving. I honestly think that this is because everything is fatter nowadays, so people think you shouldn't even be able to feel ribs ever. There are so many overweight animals that people have a skewed view of what normal weight is.

Not defending people whose animals are grossly underweight, of course, but there is a difference between that and an animal that is naturally lean.

Miles On Miles said...

LOL, yeah, weight in horses is such a can of worms. Good for you for being at peace with a ribby horse!

Miles is that way too, though right now he looks better than ever. I actually scrapped all "weight gain" supplements, though in addition to his grain and hay he does get beet pulp and rice bran. I do think the rice bran made a big difference. Still, I think some horses are naturally ribby, especially (and obviously) TBs. I've previously always had or worked with very easy keepers, so it was an adjustment. Still, now I see so many FAT (really, obese) horses I dunno which is worse. We all just do the best we can, I suppose:)

Miles On Miles said...

Oops, I totally lied. I also have Miles on ProBios...a probiotic. I also think that's made a difference, and if nothing else I think it helps with other issues besides weight gain-SO much of horses overall health is tied to their gut. Also, it is CHEAP! Literally I think I can get him almost to the end of the year for around 30 bucks.

WishIHadAHorsey said...

I wish I had some wise advise for horse weight gain (then again I wish I had a horse). Thanks for the wonderful post - we ALL should be accepting of how nature would like us to be (healthily of course!).

achieve1dream said...

To Ophelia's mom:

I totally agree that a horse is waaaaay better off being a bit thin than being overweight. They are such large animals anyway that it's just not a good idea for them to carry excess weight.

I'm big on dogs being thin too. I worked at a vet clinic and just about 98% of all the dogs were overweight, probably 50% being grossly obese. Think about it on a ten pound dog, just “one little pound” is ten percent of his body weight!

So don't let anyone make you feel bad about ribs. I agree with Karen about well sprung ribs being impossible to cover without the horse being obese. The diet you're feeding Ophelia is great in my opinion. :)

I agree with Rebecca also about people just not knowing what an appropriate weight is. Heck I get comments from my friends that I look anorexic because you can see my ribs!! Ugh! I don't think I'm too thin but I do need to work out because some muscle tone would help with the too-thin look, but I'm rambling off topic now lol. Great post!

Laura M. said...

Ok, the comment about the metabolism as the love child of a greyhound and Kate Moss made my night! Thanks.

That being said, I hear ya on the ribby thing. I have two 14 year old Himalayan cats who happen to be littermates. One is your typical heavy set (not fat) Himmie. The other, looks like a Siamese with long hair and a flat face. Try as I might I have NEVER been able to get Gizmo to fatten up in the five years I've had them. When my husband threatens to get them a lion-cut during the summer I ask him if he really wants a skeleton with pom-poms for feet walking around. So far, that's cured the lion-cut threats.

Denali's Mom said...

This is from Fizzle, but I am an idiot and deleted it instead of publishing it.

Well, of course, I have to chime in. I am a horse person, and we are an opinionated bunch!
Regarding parasites -- even if you do a fecal egg count and it comes back "zero," that doesn't mean that the horse doesn't have any parasites. Tapeworms, encysted strongyles, neck threadworms, and possibly others that I am not remembering do NOT show up on a fecal egg count, so your horse very well might be infested. Either a.) Powerpack or b.) a double dose of ivermectin/praziquantel and then another two weeks later
will clear that up.
Ulcers would be my second bet. Scoping costs a lot, so I would just do a month of Gastrogard or double dose of Ulcergard and see if the horse's condition improves. If so, then switch it to one or more of the preventatives -- aloe vera juice, papaya, alfalfa, Tums, etc.
I would also up the hay -- generally, the more, the better. I try to keep them eating hay just about 24/7 if possible.
I could go on, but I'll try to rein myself in a bit! Of course, there are many more reasons why she could be thin, like others have mentioned. Or she could just have the metabolism that a lot of us wish we had!

thenamesmarry said...

I love this post! You see, here's my issue: People believe that, because it's a thoroughbred, it's ok if it's skinny. Some of the uneducated people don't know the difference between ribby and skinny, and it's sad when they give up because "it's impossible to get TBs up to a normal weight". If they have a filled out butt, back, and neck, then some ribs are ok. TBs especially have generally wide-set ribcages compared to their bodies because they need the extra lung capacity for racing.

But often there are underlying problems. The possibility of ulcers was a great suggestion, and putting my mare on some stomach-soothers (alfalfa pellets, aloe vera juice, papaya, and oat flour) really helped her finish filling out. Now, she's only ribby when she's cold or a little dehydrated.

Honestly, I have probably offended a few people (and I felt terrible!) commenting on their kinda skinny horses, and nowadays I try to hold my tongue because I am TERRIBLE at phrasing things well, but the bottom line is that if they don't know, they should. I didn't know when I got my first horse, and I sure wish someone had told me he was still skinny.

You're doing a good job with Ophie. I'm a HUGE fan of rice bran, the horses love the taste and it beefed up 22 year-old post-Bad-Barn Sunny a very sizeable amount. And you can never give too much hay if they keep eating it.

Net said...

>And you can never give too much hay if they keep eating it.

I COMPLETELY disagree with that statement. Good way to kill a horse with kindness. If you have rich hay, many WILL overeat until it kills them.

My OTTB always has a couple ribs showing. There's a difference between the couple ribs and more, and it's a significant difference in his overall body condition. I learned that this fall as he showed that he's NOT one who will overeat on hay because he wouldn't finish all we gave him, we doubled his grain intake, wormed him, had his teeth checked, and he still got thinner. The vet agreed with me that he was a little underweight but not bad, and at first suggested we feed him Senior, but once he found out what we were feeding him (the Strategy which is meant to balance out horses fed bermuda) he said just to double that again. It's apparently seasonal for my horse to lose weight, and just something I'm going to have to deal with and greatly increase his feed for a 1-2 month period. If I weren't so aware of his topline, I might not have realized how much weight he lost, so having someone else point it out would have been helpful then.

I agree that it can be annoying - but yet is still helpful. Maybe next time explain condition and weight to this person a little? Most horses with owners happy with their weight are actually obese, and it's very possible this woman doesn't understand healthy vs. overweight.

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

Ophie's Mom=funny! Get on to blogging girl! :)

Ribs are sexy...just ask any TB ;)

In all seriousness, some horses are prone to be ribby (mine can be that way) but as long as she's eating and is healthy, I think she's good. I would double check the parasites too like Frizzle mentioned.