Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Let's talk, shall we? I know every where you look there is someone saying that the whole world is fat. Kids are fat. Women are fat. Men are fat. We even have a prime time show where contestants are competing against one another trying to lose weight. It seems we are obsessed. I could go into the whole reason and argument behind why this is happening, but smarter and keener writers are doing that all over the media, so why beat a dead horse. No, in this case I want to talk about horse fat.

We are back to that "friend". The one who owns the SE Arabian who only wants to gallop madly like only a twelve year old girl can. All the time. Over any imaginable terrain. Who looks down her nose at people who want to actually train and shape the behavior of their horse. The one who is temporarily boarding at my barn. Yeah, that one.

It seems her horse is fat.

This started with Cassandra and the services she offers to her clients. Because it is winter and horses have a tendency to not want to drink enough water, which puts them at risk of colic, Cassandra feeds them a daily mash. I do this on Monday night, because Monday is Cassandra's day off from work. The mash consists of either beet pulp or timothy hay pellets that are soaked in warm water, then mixed with either Equipride or Platinum, plus any other supplements the owners are using, and a little salt. The salt is to help stimulate their need for water, making them feel thirsty and they will drink more. The mash is served at a soup like consistency and includes carrots to entice them to eat up. None of the horses hate this. In fact, Cali is so happy she licks the bucket completely clean, inside and out. It's a great way to get both water and fiber into the horses during the months when colic is more likely. (We've had four serious colics in the past month, one of which resulted in a death and one in a hospitalization. The horse that died was 33, but still, anything to keep that from happening.)

I mentioned to my "friend" (we'll call her F, for friend) that Cassandra was offering this service to her clients and that Ashke really loved the mash. F got kind of offended and wanted to know why her horse wasn't included. I told her to talk to Cassandra about it. She did and the next thing I saw, her horse was listed on the board for wet mashes. I was the one responsible for feeding last night and I called Cassandra on my way home. According to Cassandra, F wants her horse off the mash list because he is getting fat.

My mouth dropped open. A cup of beet pulp and a 1/2 scoop of Equipride a day is not making her horse fat. I said so. Cassandra said that she was worried because he was getting a big belly. Now, to put this in perspective, she is also the person who commented that Ashke was fat when she saw him for the first time in several months. I ignored her, knowing that Ashke needed some work to tighten his belly and build his topline, but also knowing that cutting his calories was not going to make those changes in him. Riding him was going to effect those changes. And his endurance is incredible. We can do 10 miles without breaking a sweat. Of course, this year I am hoping to increase both speed and distance, but he can work for over an hour in the indoor, doing transitions and all three gaits without breaking a sweat. He's in great shape and getting better with each day.

So, I started thinking about why she would think her horse was fat. It seems to be a common theme with her. In the several years we have known her, we've heard her rail against both her husband and her son's weight. It has gotten so bad that T told us her son wasn't eating at school, because he was going to be teased about his weight. I asked T if that was happening and he said no. It is, however, something that F talks about happening to her when she was in school. Her son is a little bit overweight, but he also hates to do any type of physical exercise and her picking at him isn't helping.

I think that maybe she has an issue with weight and her perception of what is healthy. Skinny is not always better. Fit and strong is better. I think this is an issue many women deal with and it's something I have seen in the equine blogsphere, where goal setting has included a lot of weight centric focal points. I know, from having watched my mom diet, that dieting doesn't work. Yes, it takes the weight off, but at some point she would stop dieting and then the weight would come back. That seems like a self-defeating process and one I really don't want to get caught up in.

So, my thoughts are this:

-- Don't diet. Instead make good choices about food. Stay away from High Fructose Corn Syrup (meaning sodas and candy) whenever possible. Try to eat as many natural foods as you can: lettuce, potatoes, butter, whole milk, cheese, broccoli, gr beans, etc. Make corn an occassional food, not a staple. Don't deny yourself sweets, just make them fruit instead of soda or candy. I promise you, oranges are great for that.

-- Use a smaller plate for meals. One of the things that has changed in our society is that everything is bigger. Portions are bigger. Plates are bigger. The amount of food you put on your plate is bigger. The other thing that has been molded by our society is the idea of not wasting food. I believe this concept is based on a generation of parents who grew up during the depression and were told not to waste food. This in turn was passed down in the sixties and seventies. Now, we have these huge plates we can fill with food and then we are told we have to eat everything on our plate. It hasn't been a good combination of events. So, give yourself a break and use a smaller plate. You won't take as much. Also, try leaving the last two bites for the Gods. Be a daredevil and defy convention - leave food on your plate! Seriously, what can it hurt.

-- Stop weighing yourself. This is a vicious cycle that only makes you feel bad about a stupid number on a scale. Instead, check in with how you are feeling. Get fun exercise. Move. Ride as much as you can. Stop worrying about your weight and start focusing on how you feel. This will redirect your attention to listening to your body. We spend all this time trying to learn to listen to our horse, but we haven't ever spent that kind of time listening to ourselves. I find that I forget to eat when I ride. I know N has had this same issue, because I have stopped us on the trail and forced her to eat. Pack stuff with you when you trail ride that is high in protein and has some carbs to it. (I personally only eat PBJ when I am riding. It's the only time it tastes really good.) Drink lots of water. And then drink a little bit more. Carry a bottle of water with you. Drinking water cuts a lot of cravings.

As Jillian Michels says "Move more, eat less."

Wow, did this post take a turn, or what? Back to the horse . . .  Ashke is hovering somewhere between 5.5 and 6. I love how he looks and I love how I don't worry about riding him for hours at a time. I'm not sure I would be happy with a horse that wasn't between 5.5 and 6. I also think it is important for muscle development and strength, rather than just weight, but that means consistent work. Work in the arena and work on the trail. Both. At least four times a week, in my opinion, although Cali is fit and fine fettle at three days a week. (I would say five days a week, but I'm pretty sure my wife would take exception to that much barn time.)

Final thoughts:

Don't project your issues onto your horse.

Don't focusing on losing weight and focus on getting fit.

Ride more.


  1. OMG projecting an issue like that onto your HORSE?! For serious?

    I need to stop being so surprised at the idiocy of people. I really do.

    And I agree with staying away from candy/soda/etc., being active, and not weighing yourself. I cut out candy and soda in HS when I was competing at a high level with my swimming. I've never added it back beyond "treat" status. I'll go weeks without candy and months without a soda. When I indulge, its a treat. I'm active which keeps me in shape. And I was just telling Mike last night that I don't know how much I weigh. I don't own a scale. I'm only weighed at my Dr. appt. every year. I'm in shape because I can keep up with the chaos I put myself into and I eat well. WAY better manner of living than having to micromanage!

    1. The thing that drives me crazy about people who diet is that they stop eating real food and start eating processed crap that they've been sold on as "food". We stay away from fast food for the most part, and try to choose the restaurants we eat at carefully. Often J and I will share a meal, because most of the time they are big enough to do so, or a meal and an appetizer if the portions are small.

      I do take a caffeine supplement, caffeine equivalent of less than a cup of coffee, because at least 80% of my soda craving (I have been known in the past to kill a 12 pack of soda in a day) was really the desire for caffeine. I use a very moderate amount and have found that it is just enough to help mask the body pain I get to deal with.

      One other key, via a conversation with Saiph, is not denying yourself something you are craving. There is something about telling yourself no that makes whatever it is so much more appealing. That was the part about dieting (the one time in my life I tried) that bothered me the most. I told myself no and suddenly couldn't stop craving whatever it was I was saying no to. I decided this time around that I can have whatever I want, in moderate portions, and have found that my incessant craving for soda or whatever is gone. I have lost about 15 lbs, but have gained so much core strength that I look like I have lost more. And I love going to the barn as my "gym" time. :)

    2. I'm glad that conversation we had made a difference! :)

      The barn is definitely the best (and most fun!) gym!

    3. OMG yes about the cravings! That is what I have ALWAYS done and told people when they ask me about my way of eating! I always do my best to eat what I'm craving. My body will naturally balance itself out. I may have a day or two days in a row where I eat complete and total crap. But then I KNOW I'll have days after that where I eat AMAZINGLY. My body knows what it wants. So I do my best to give it that in some portion-size! Oddly enough, "cravings" for me aren't always for one item of food, but moreso for a whole genre; sushi, Indian, Taiwanese, Japanese, cheap-Mexican, Venezuelan, Ethiopian. Wish I lived somewhere that I could satisfy most of those cravings more often, haha!

  2. GREAT POST!!!!

    P.S. It's great to see more and more equine professionals moving away from the bran mash. I know vets that still recommend it as a source of water and fiber, and I've seen horses that didn't receive bran as a regular part of their diet colic dangerously from eating bran mashes. I was considered the "weird one" in FL for giving beet pulp instead of bran mash. Other horses colicked.
    YES to the warm mash of beet pulp, grain and hay pellets/chopped forage! Beet pulp to keep water in their gut longer, and just adding water to the diet that they normally eat to add to their water consumption while providing them the diet that they normally eat.

    1. Funny, we had this conversation with the BM on Sunday, about bran vs beet and she is actually feeding a horse that colicked about a half lb of wheat bran mash daily to help keep the digestive tract moving (similar to using sand clear: fiber, you know) and to provide extra water. This was at the recommendation of the treating vet. I think your point as to consistency is very valid, and not over doing it on the amount that is fed.

      I was feeding Ashke bran, but decided that the calcium/phosphorus balance wasn't something I wanted to encourage, so stopped. The timothy mash is working pretty good for him and he loves the Equipride, so a win-win.

    2. Yup, many vets still believe that bran is good for horses. Hay is actually higher in fiber than wheat bran. It's an old horse keeping practice that continues today. Some horses do fine with the occasional bran mash, but after seeing 3 of the 9 horses in my barn in FL colic after bran mashes, it just frightens me.

    3. My horse came to me eating a bran mash weekly. I evolved him into a nightly mash, 3 parts beet pulp, 1 part bran (to preserve the calcium / phosphorus ratio), and here's why:

      We live on 100% sand here. Even using mats and hay bags, sand colic freaks me out. Sand Clear is way too expensive, so I feed my fiber.

      During weird weather changes etc the mash gets water into him, and he always eats his mash.

      Teeth problems and medication needs come with age. Val will already love slurping up soft mushy food that masks stinky pills.

      I was advised that it's infrequent bran mashes cause the problems. Bran should be fed regularly if at all.

      (Don't know why I just found your blog - Ashke's story is so great!)

    4. Thanks! I love writing it.

      I think if I had known when I brought him home how much dirt he had been eating in Texas (he was still demonstrating this behavior six months after I got him) and had realized how mineral starved he was, I would have implemented some kind of daily mash with lots of fiber for him when I first brought him home. It MIGHT have prevented the colic we dealt with in June of 2012.

      I also think, as you said, consistency is the key. Not to mention, I think the horses like the "special" food. They show appreciation by nickering, even though they aren't starving to death. And what we are feeding them isn't "Candy" or treats but actually good for them. I just think they like feeling special. Kind of like giving kids ice cream. Or making a special meal.

  3. You are absolutely right on on this one. Men are judged on their wallets, women on their looks and that means weight. Its ingrained in us in ways we don't even know. It comes out in places we didn't expect and it takes a toll.

  4. after spending so many years trying to put weight on a horse, it is amazing to me to begin to realize how little food my easy keeper needs. i would love to feed free choice hay but that was way too much food and both my animals were fat. when rain water forms a pool along the spine crease, it's too fat. with my background i hate to see horses above a 5, cuz heavier horses have more lameness issues. my vet agreed that my mare is very "padded" but said "it's winter, no worries." but i've cut them back to 2 flakes twice a day - that seems like so little! but they get 24/7 pasture too, what is left of it anyway. so, if you're curious, you can take a look at when fatty arrived last spring, and compare with this week. i'll post some photos now.

    i try to keep from overfeeding my pets, but on the other hand, i show my husband my love with cooking and the main ingredient of my love is butter. he asks, "are you trying to make me fat?" and i say, "you mean that you look well-loved? well, yes." (bad, i know)

    i wish i could get low/no sugar beet pulp but here in germany, it's 20% sugar. nice: (


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