This may seem like
a broad topic but the truth is, it is all related.
All horses, whether they are young or old, require
certain things to survive. We all know they require
food and water. That is pretty simple, but it is not
all they require, because we don't want them to just
survive, we want them to be healthy and to
reproduce. Horses will not breed and reproduce if
they are not in good condition. They require a
number of things for this to happen, and it just
stands to reason that if you keep them healthy they
will live longer and reproduce longer. So lets talk
about some of these things they need to be healthy,
stay healthy and to reproduce.
First, they not
only need water but they need a constant, clean
supply of water. Here in the North, constant may
mean heating your tanks; not heating to make the
water warm enough to bathe in but warm enough to
keep it thawed out even when it is 40 below. Horses
will not eat enough snow to stay well hydrated. Horses need food, good nutritious food that they can burn to meet the caloric
requirements of the activities they are doing at that time, whether
it is breeding, growing, lactating, working cows,
carrying a rider on trails or just being a horse.
Something that many people have not considered about the broodmares is that as her pregnancy progresses and the foal begins to take up more space in the
abdomen it becomes more difficult for the mare to eat the same portions that she has been. It is easier for her to eat smaller portions several times a day rather than larger portions once or twice a day. For this reason our broodmares have free choice hay in front of them all the time. Free choice meaning, there is always hay out for them, we do not limit them to 20 pounds or 30 pounds a day. The hay needs to be high quality, not junk. All of the horses have free choice mineral blocks. A 1200 pound broodmare, during the first 250 days gestation, requires between 18,000-19,000 calories per day. In the last 90 days of gestation that figure jumps to 22,000 and when she begins lactating it is a whopping 34,500 calories per day. A breeding stallion requires between
23,000-24,000 calories a day. 1200 pound breeding stock, stallions or lactating mares can take in anywhere between 26 and just over 30 pounds of dry matter a day. Another consideration is for every 10 degrees below ambient
temperature you need to add an additional 10% to the energy calories. Grass hay averages 800 calories per pound of
digestible energy, so if your lactating mare is eating 30 pounds she is still coming up 10,000 plus calories short. How many times have you heard someone say "the foal is really pulling her down"? Have your hay tested, feed supplements, make sure they are getting what they require and your horse will be better for it.
Now, for just a minute will focus on the other
requirements they have to keep them healthy. They require shelter or protection from the wind, vaccinations, a de-worming program, teeth and hoof care, exercise, and a mineral supplement.
We vaccinate our horses every year. We prefer to vaccinate the broodmares approximately one month before foaling so that the antibodies are in her
colostrums when she foals. That way the foal will get protection from her antibodies through to it's weaning. The rest of the horses we vaccinate a bit later in the year so that the protection is optimum during the summer.
We de-worm twice a year, once in the spring and again in the late fall after a killing frost when the flies and biting insects are done for the year. Again, we will worm the broodmares just prior to their foaling so the foal will also benefit from this.
For dental needs when the horses get older, late teens and early 20's we have their teeth checked every year. The old ones are checked every year but often only need the teeth floated every other year.
Most often when the horses are running out in the pasture they do not need to have their feet trimmed. When they are in a pen or corral where they do not wear them off naturally they will get them trimmed as needed. For the dental and farrier care it is important to remember that each horse is an individual and they need to be treated that way. Some need more care more often and some need less care less often. Because the stallions spend the winter in the corral, they need their feet trimmed more often than the horses running out in the pastures.
All of these
things need to start when they are foals and
continue throughout their lives and they need to be
provided year round -- not just when they are
being used, when it is horrible weather or when they
begin to lose condition as they grow older. We
depend heavily on our veterinarians and our
nutritionists, speaking with them often. We attend
workshops, informational meetings and conferences
many of which are free.
When we bring the stallions in for the winter we also bring in one or two mares to be his companions. This
arrangement keeps him quiet and happy and allows us easy access to her at all times, all of this while still maintaining the herd dynamics. About the same
time we pull the stallions for the winter, we also sort the bred mares from all the other horses, since they have different feed requirements. I have spent a
great deal of time on the feeding portion of this because it directly relates to the breeding portion.
We feel that there is no reason that horses cannot live active, healthy and reproductive
lives well into their 20's. Ebony's Country Charm was the dam to 13 foals and foaled her
last beautiful healthy filly at the age of 26 with no complications. Yes, she did require some special care the last couple of years and during that last pregnancy. We have implemented what we feel is a win-win situation. Every year we pick out some of the older bred mares that we feel would benefit from just a little TLC.
If a horse is in good
physical condition but over 20, is there any
reason he/she cannot continue to be
productive? We don't think that age has to
be a deciding factor in the choice of
whether to breed or not to breed. As long as
they are healthy we don't see a need to
Dixie Flash foaled 14 foals and
died from a tragic accident when she was 24
leaving behind her 3 month old foal.
We do give them a year off from foaling occasionally until they are 20. After they are 20 we try to breed them every year and fertility rapidly declines after the age of 25 and it does become much more difficult to achieve and maintain a pregnancy. It is important to note that no extraordinary or artificial measures are taken to breed our animals. Yes, we keep them in good body condition, and provide all the
necessary care then turn them out to pasture with the stallions and let the horses and Mother Nature call the shots.
When our mares are too old and no longer breeding, they get to stay in the herd as long as they are able and maintain their body condition. When the time comes that they are no longer able to stay with the broodmare band, they can be rotated into a herd with the foals. With the foals, they usually become the alpha mare again; they get plenty of feed in front of them; they don't have to compete with the other mares and they can be given supplemental grain or feed specially designed for seniors.
We have been breeding Tennessee Walking Horses for 20 years and we have a happy, healthy, well socialized herd of horses. Yes, some of them are older and still reproducing but we say "let them do what they do best"!