Ginger Kathrens’ motion picture camera has followed the life of Cloud since the day he was born – the day she named him – more than nine years ago. Across those years she has filmed three incredible PBS Specials on Cloud and his wild herd, but the latest one Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions (I call it Cloud 3 :) is truly the best compilation of the the most amazing footage I’ve ever seen that tells a story story so remarkable it could’ve been scripted in Hollywood. But it wasn’t. It was scripted by Cloud and his herd over the years.
Note this beautiful pasture atop the mountain where these wild horses spend most of their their Springs and Summers because diet and nutrition and replicating the wild horse lifestyle is the focus of the second half of this blog. But back to Cloud. Please, please please go to the link below and order Cloud 3. You will be doing yourself such a delightful favor (even if you don’t own a horse) and every dollar from your purchase goes to The Cloud Foundation to support Ginger Kathrens’ work with mustangs everywhere (Ginger was one of the driving forces behind the court battle that the mustangs won over the BLM in the Colorado case several months ago).
Yippee, Ginger. The story continues! Y’all go buy yourself a treat. Click here: Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions
We had our first TeleWorkshop this past Saturday and despite a few technical glitches that totally discombobulated my brainwaves it was a terrific experience applauded by all for the information takeaway. Our surprise guests were our new Tennessee trimmer Mark Taylor who is on the navicular team at Auburn University Vet School’s study of healing lameness with barefoot trimming… and Senior Police Officer Scott Berry, one of the three who took the entire Houston Mounted Patrol barefoot. Forty horses, all working every day on the asphalt, concrete, and even marble of downtown Houston. Scott and his team’s story was fascinating!
The workshop drifted into the role that diet and nutrition plays in the barefoot lifestyle (huge!) and there was much talk about Spring grasses, high sugar content, etc. Most of which I believe is severely misunderstood. After the workshop I was glancing over some of the questions from participants (from Oregon to Miami and Maine to California plus several from faraway places like the United Arab Emirates, Scotland, Australia, etc) and the above film (Cloud 3) came to mind because the minute the snow melts enough to get up there the horses head for that beautiful huge pasture on top of the mountain, staying there for most of the Spring, Summer, and early Fall. So I asked Eddie Drabek (natural hoof specialist and one of our workshop guests last Saturday): What’s the difference? If Spring grasses are not supposed to be good for horses, then how do these mustangs get by. How do they deal with it. To our knowledge none of them have ever foundered because of the Spring/Summer grasses.
Eddie’s answer was, I thought, brilliant. And loaded with super information and analysis and a road map for us all to travel. Please read it, from the perspective of your current situation (the underlines and parentheses are mine):
Joe – This is something I remember Pete discussing…is it the horses or is it the grass? Or both? Without more research of the horses and the grasses it’s hard to say for sure but we can speculate…
Is it Grasses? — In the wild they are native grasses…and unstressed grasses (typically, of course I realize there are times of drought or what not, but typically grasses left in their natural state handle such things quite well anyway. Grasses going through the natural cycle they are meant to go through. Never mown down (other than naturally grazed over time each year), not overwatered, pesticides or fertilized, or encouraged to grow in a season they aren’t meant to, etc. It’s not just one sort of rich lush “improved” grass like all Bermuda or what not. It’s a mix. The horses have CHOICE. I wonder, is the wild area very lush and thick (it pretty much is, at least more so than I would’ve expected) or is it still for the most part (compared to many domestic pastures) fairly scattered grasses which would help slow grazing and create more browsing…which helps the digestive system handle things more efficiently.
Some native species of the grasses may be richer, some not hardly at all…do these “non-rich” or grasses with lower starches/sugars perhaps “cut” the sugar of the richer grasses?
Longer blade grasses..unstressed grass….For instance every spring I see changes in my horses hooves…some rings, maybe lose a little concavity here and there. Not enough to make them sore (I keep my two founder prone ponies drylotted, they would show more damage) most would never notice, but the changes are there. We have nothing but bright green little nubs of “candy grass” as I call it, since the pasture is overgrazed…I have too many horses on too small of acreage, so not much I can do other than keep them penned up the majority of the time which I hate doing of course.
I trim for a few clients that have large 40-50 acre pastures, just 4-5 horses with tall healthy grass though. A small few will show some changes and yes, I’ve had some founder cases (being fed hi-sugar grain too though!), but the majority have no problems, I believe due to the grasses being tall healthy and non stressed, thus lower starch/sugar. And typically on larger acreage there are a lot of native grasses, not all one type as in small paddocks.
Or is it the Horses? — (This I, Joe, believe is hugely important) Mustangs start to drop weight in the fall typically, after getting a great weight during spring/summer. This is beneficial, as nature intended. They get lean after a hard winter with less forage, and what forage there is being dry and dormant. Then spring hits….horses are more able to handle spring grasses because they NEED this coming out of winter. Many of the mares are in final stages of pregnancy, they definitely need it to get ready for baby. If they started out being fat and chunky after winter and were put on the spring grass, this might be a much different scenario.
Domestic horses don’t need the rich grasses to “come out of winter” the way a wild horse does, which is why it causes them issues. We keep them fed and fat through winter…panic if they do drop some weight. What’s worse…we still tend to feed them the same exact amount of grain/feed, alfalfa, etc. we were feeding through winter, PLUS now they are getting grass…I tell people all the time, if they are getting a lot of grass, you HAVE cut back on everything else (really probably need nothing else). But people still feed…asking them to quit feeding pellets or grain I’ve found is like asking them to give away their first born child, they look at you like you are plum crazy.
Also, movement in the wild…despite being in “one area” the mustangs are still getting a lot of movement just by being in a herd interactive environment (more so than a domestic herd situation even). This helps I am sure…. They aren’t being confined, have good firm ground ( they aren’t living on soft shaving or arena sand part of their day), aren’t getting grains, sweet feeds, or alfalfa, etc.
Then do we know their grazing habits (the wild horses)? Do they tend to slack off during the summer, not “gorge” so much when it gets really hot? Naturally/instinctively eat a little less when they may be stressed some due to heat? Possibly, I don’t know. Domestic horses, particularly those that are stalled during part of the night/day, tend to gorge a bit when let out on pasture, even when it’s baking hot. And their inner clocks are amazing…they know when it’s about time for them to be caught up and taken back to their pen or stall and they’ll begin to “gorge” when they know that time is coming.
From summer heat and from less rain, grasses start drying out a bit by mid summer… By end of summer, when the grasses are probably getting to the point of possibly being overgrazed if this herd is staying fairly localized, it’s time for the grass to get that final “Fall Boost” where they get a little spring like for a short period (which is beneficial/natural for the Wild Horses and other grazing wild life to help prepare for winter and get a little extra pounds on)…and then start dying off/going dormant for winter…right when the horses start heading down the mountain…
I would LOVE to study this, wish someone would…send in grasses and see how they differ from grasses in the typical domestic pasture situation…both spring grass and summer grass. See if there is even slight ripples in the hooves ever in some of the horses. See if their grazing habits change much from spring to summer. Nothing has changed more in natural hoof care than the diet info. The trim is the same, diet thoughts change each week it seems. For instance now many are questioning Soy and here this is what they hoped would be a safer alternative to alfala/corn based feeds. It is definitely something I wish more people would research…quit researching in the labs of Purina and Nutrena, and research extensively in the wild habitats…it would be fantastic what we learn I would imagine. – Eddie
So very cool Eddie. Many, many thanks.