4-year-old Shire mare
Owned by Heidi Stewart (came home the day she turned a year old)
Stabled at home alongside a 37-year-old Paint mare, Little Bear.
Background: Prior to moving to NC, “Persi” was a typical draft: friendly, relaxed and very easy to work with. Neighbors lavished her with attention, other riders came by often to say hi to the baby and she loved every bit of it. She stood fine for the vet and was described by her farrier as “the sweetest horse he’s ever met”. She greeted all visitors at the gate and had an insatiable curiosity for anything new. Walk on a tarp? Sure! Step onto that board? Ok!
In 2014, we moved to NC. Then the problems started:
- She started to get a bit moody (I thought it was just part of growing up)
- She would get fidgety whenever I’d brush her flank on either side (I thought she was bored)
- Under saddle she refused to walk forward more than two to three steps at a time, then she’d stop (as I just started riding her I thought it was part of her learning curve)
- She immediately began to exhibit a schizophrenic personality as soon as the farrier, or vet, would show up. Normally a true gentle giant, Persi would go insane doing everything she could to escape. Her attitude would swing from pure terror & panic to highly aggressive and volatile (throwing violent kicks, running through fences, etc.)
This horrifying behavior is what scared me the most & I couldn’t explain why it was happening. The vet gave her a perfect bill of health.
As for reasons for her bad attitude:
- It was my fault for not handling her (I work with her daily)
- She hates men (my dad & husband get along with her fine)
- She’s a one-person horse (maybe?)
- She hates the smell of other horses (but she’s ok with her stable mate?)
- She hates hats (I wear hats all the time)
- She’s a murderous psychopath & I should get rid of her (but she’s an angel to me!)
Infuriated by these answers & frustrated beyond belief I began to take videos of myself working with Persi to prove she’s no monster. I could never recreate the issues each farrier had so I couldn’t correct any bad behavior. I finally reached out for some advice…
For the next two weeks I’ve been asked to alter her diet to grass, hay & a flake of alfalfa daily. Nothing else. Here is Persephone’s progress:
Day One 7/22: Unsure of why she didn’t receive her normal grain ration for dinner she begrudgingly ate her hay. No negative side effects witnessed.
Day Two 7/23: She’s eating her new diet fine, she seems relaxed and happy
Day Three 7/24: A change! Prior to today, whenever a gas powered golf cart would drive by the pasture, Persi would gallop back & forth, bucking & eventually fleeing into her stall. All external stimuli that typically sent her into a full-blown spook did nothing. She noticed these things (people screaming loudly, loose dogs, golf carts, etc.) but she ignored them. She’s noticeably calmer, more patient and really seems more at ease (more like she was when living in Loxahatchee). In lieu of treats, I am casually brushing her for extra attention. No more fidgeting when I brush her sides. She’s standing nice and still.
Day Four 7/25: same
Day Five 7/26: same
Day Six 7/27: Body condition has remained unchanged, manure is well-formed, just slightly softer than usual. Looks normal, greener with more roughage being passed. Everyone in the family has noted the change in her behavior. Not only is she eating fine, she is looking forward to meal time again. Before we put her on this new diet, she would be “bratty” at mealtime (front kicking the gate, pacing, pawing), she now stands alert at the gate, and will whinny, but has stopped the pacing and kicking. She’s energetic and playful. Though the days have been hotter than usual for our area (low- to mid- 90s), she’s not sweating as heavily as before.
Day Seven 7/28: same
Day Eight 7/29: same
Day Nine 7/30: same
Day Ten 7/31: same
Day Eleven 8/1: same
Day Twelve 8/2: Body condition has not changed, manure is still well-formed. The “balls” are larger, dark green and clearly have roughage. She is eating all of her hay and casually grazing throughout the day.
Day Thirteen 8/3: same
Day Fourteen 8/4: The 1st two weeks have gone by quickly & I’ve seen a definite change in my horse’s behavior. Calm, collected and far less flighty/jumpy.
Another observation: Prior to her diet change, Persephone had balked and panicked over the sight of an approaching umbrella. Though I worked with her on this umbrella aversion, she continued to snort and stress every time it rained. Yesterday, it was pouring & I walked right up to Persi carrying a large, black umbrella. She showed absolutely no negative reactions, she remained 100% calm & touched it with her nose. I twirled, dropped & left the umbrella on the ground. She ignored it.
8/28: SUCCESS! Today the farrier (Dave Rupp) pensively agreed to trim both horses. Persephone did not panic or go insane in any way. She was nervous, however, within minutes Dave was able to approach her, take the lead and walk her around. With a little correction early on (she did not want to stand still or lift her feet. He corrected her verbally & with a few tugs of the lead) she stood very quietly for the rest of her trim! Dave is convinced that the ulcer was the problem & that her nervousness early on is because she isn’t used to being handled by him. My own family was in disbelief and very surprised that Dave was able to handle her so easily.
This story has a very happy ending: I have a patient, level-headed mare & a farrier who left smiling (& is looking forward to seeing her again in four weeks!) Dave has a number of horses with similar “attitude problems” as Persephone did and he plans to share the information about colonic ulcers and the results of the grain-free diet with the respective owners.
Questions for the vet (and my answers to her):
Q1 – I use Strongid C2X – after six weeks, can she go back on a daily dewormer & if so, which one? Is it better to use pastes on rotation?
A – Use Strongid C2X because there is no corn in that. I usually paste twice a year in addition using ivermectin.
Q2 – Is it necessary to bran horses weekly? If so, will bran aggravate her condition? What about supplements like EquiAid?
A – It has been proven that continuous access to hay is the best prevention of sand accumulation. Bran mashes add water to the diet which is beneficial in cold weather when the horse stops drinking and becomes dehydrated. The result is softer manure. Branning a horse weekly only adds wheat bran which is part of the grain problem in horses, but is also mostly non-digestible.
Q3 – If alfalfa is unavailable, is it ok to soak alfalfa cubes instead?
A – Soaking alfalfa cubes is a great alternative to straight alfalfa hay.
Q4 – How do I adjust her hay if I see her weight dropping? Should her hay rations change in the colder, winter months when no “fresh” graze is available? )
A – As a rule, horses where grain has been removed and they have access to hay throughout the day do not lose weight unless they are senior horses (late 25 to 30+).
Q5 – Prior to this diet change, she also received supplements: DuMoor Hoof biotin, cold calorie powder, Red Cell and electrolytes in her feed after a hot day or decent workout. Can she (should she?) have any of these? What about salt licks?
A – Be careful with all supplements. Many are loaded with sugar (corn, molasses, etc) including the red trace mineral salt licks. Read every package carefully before starting her back on anything.
As far as a “decent workout” is concerned, please hitch her to the buckboard and drive her into town with a ton of freight.
Q6 – One more question: What treats can she have? Are apples or carrots ok to give?
A – These all contain sugar and should not be used. An alternative is a hay cube or a peanut in the shell (raw or roasted). Of course, the best treat or reward is a gentle pat on the neck and a few encouraging words. You will never run out of these and they are always there when you need them.