In my grandfather’s day, horses had to earn their keep. A horse eating his head off out in the paddock wasn’t much use to anyone. Not many people could afford to keep a horse as a pet or just to ride on Sunday.
Grandfather managed “Abbotsford” at Picton, about 60 miles south west of Sydney. At the time, it was the largest dairy farm in the southern hemisphere. Five hundred cows were milked twice daily –not many by today’s standards but a big herd in those days when the average farmer milked about forty cows.
When petrol was rationed during World War 11, Grandfather ploughed, sowed and harvested with a team of about fifteen draught horses. When a crop was being sown or harvested, the team worked six days a week for six or eight hours every day.
This was before my time, but whenever my father and uncles got together, they’d reminisce about growing up on the farm. And there were always stories about Grandfather and his team of draught horses.
Nobody looked after horses better than Grandfather. He always made sure each animal was well fed and well looked after. He knew how to feed and look after horses that had to work all day. Each horse was fed according to the amount of work he or she was doing at the time.
These days, not many people keep work horses. Most stock work is done with motor bikes, and tractors have long replaced draught horse teams. Horses are often kept as pets and rarely ridden. Some are fed large amounts of grain and rich feed and then the owner wonders why their horse can’t stand still.
Many people don’t realise how much work a horse can do. And many people don’t even know that they’re overfeeding their horse and not working him enough. People think it’s kind to feed their horses buckets of grain and all sorts of special mixes, then they ride two or three times a week and wonder why they have problems.
When a horse has been overfed, it can take weeks of work to get the excess energy out of his system. Some people think that horses can be calmed with drugs and “calming pastes”. I certainly wouldn’t ride any horse that’s been drugged. And I don’t think it’s fair to drug a horse just because you’re not prepared to put in the time and effort that’s needed to handle and ride him. Instead of looking for some magic fix, how about feeding your horse appropriately and putting in the hours to train him correctly.
I see many horses that are given far too much feed and not enough work. If you want to get the most from your horse, you must work with him at least five days a week. Six days is better still.
Balancing the amount of feed and work that you give a horse plays a large part in every horse’s training. Many people could save themselves a lot of heartache (and money) by feeding their horse less and working him more.