Once upon a time, my horse keeping methods were simple.
My horses lived in a pasture. I fed them a concentrated feed, maybe added in a supplement or two, and threw out hay in the winter. Life was good.
Then, I took equine nutrition courses and realized that nothing I was doing was okay. Thus, began my fretting. I started testing my hay and pasture and then painstakingly balancing minerals to make sure they were getting just the right amount of each one. It was a LOT of work. But I figured my horses were worth it.
And with all my newfound knowledge, I began to also worry about pasture-associated laminitis (a real risk). I started keeping my horses off of grass full time. Dry lot—I tried it.
Then I had my husband build pens outside my stalls. Surely that was the solution! (My horses didn’t think so). In time, I even built a track system (which can be awesome, by the way. However, mine was not.) All in the name of laminitis prevention.
However, a small voice inside my head kept saying, You’re making things too difficult. Horse keeping shouldn’t be so hard!
Now don’t get me wrong—I’m very glad I took those equine nutrition courses. I learned a ton of important information, and it’s encouraged me to keep learning. But I realized ignorance had certainly been bliss. Things were so much easier back when I didn’t worry about every little thing.
There was no way I could just forget about everything I’d learned, but in time and with more learning, my views began to shift. Every so slowly, I released my grip of control over my horses’ lives. It started with putting my mares and geldings together as one happy herd of four. I then stopped the mineral balancing and instead, switched to a chelated multi-mineral supplement.
I had three separate pastures that could be joined together, so I decided to swing those gates wide open and allow my horses access to all 15 acres at once. They’d never had so much freedom! And boy, were they loving it.
For the first time in a long time, I was finally able to take a big sigh of relief.
Now to some people, the K.I.S.S. (or Keep It Simple, Stupid) method might just seem like the lazy person’s version of horse care. I am here to tell you that this is not the case at all. I’m still learning and adjusting every day. But what’s glorious about this method is that it takes so much stress out of having horses. It brings back the fun—which is one of the reasons we got horses in the first place, right? They’re supposed to be fun.
But if you’re interested in adopting the K.I.S.S. philosophy as well, I have a few tips (all things I’ve learned along the way):
- Don’t fertilize your pasture or spray for weeds; instead, encourage native grass species and healthy weeds to thrive. Pasture-associated laminitis seems to be more common for horses living on “improved” pastures.
- Don’t mow your pastures short. Shorter grass is actually higher in sugar than taller grass. I now only brush hog if the grass gets over eight inches tall or so.
- Provide free choice minerals or feed a quality multi-mineral (or even herb-based minerals). Just because you’re keeping it simple doesn’t mean you should forget about the nutrients your horse needs.
- Feed a forage-based diet. Grass and hay can and should be the cornerstone of your horses’ diet. They don’t need a fancy commercial feed in most instances. I feed soaked hay pellets and a small amount of whole oats as a carrier for their supplements each day. Other than that, they just eat grass or hay.
- If you have the pasture space, let your horses live as a herd. I know this may be scary for some people. Trust me, I was terrified at first. But it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done for my horses.
Most importantly, keep learning! Just because you’re doing things a certain way right now doesn’t mean you have to do those things forever. If I learn about a better way of doing something, then I implement it.
About the Author
Casie Bazay is a freelance and young adult writer, as well as an owner/barefoot trimmer and certified equine acupressure practitioner. She hosts the blog, The Naturally Healthy Horse, where she regularly shares information on barefoot, equine nutrition, and holistic horse health. Once an avid barrel racer, Casie now enjoys just giving back to the horses who have given her so much.