Thursday, March 29, 2012

Weekend at Wellington

As my first post for the Equine Research Blog, I’d like to start by introducing myself, Kimberly James, the new National Sponsorship and Ambassador Manager. I help manage Purina’s relationships with some of the best athletes, horses, events and sanctioning bodies in the equine industry. While our research team creates products to serve the needs of our equine ambassadors and their performance horses, I have the privilege of seeing them in action. And this is what brought me to Wellington, Fla.

Our first order of business was a photo shoot with national ambassador, Chris Hickey, and his KWPN gelding, Witness Hilltop. Chris is the director of training for Hilltop Farm in Colora, Md., and together with Hilltop Farm, represent Purina in the dressage arena and the world of elite sport horse breeding. As many of you can probably attest to with your own horses, one never knows what to expect from our equine friends in front of a lens. I know my horses tend to take to unauthorized dozing and snacking every time I go to snap a picture. Not surprisingly, Witness handled the session like the professional he is, from the flash to the repetitive posing. He is clearly ready for whatever fame has to throw his way. And I should mention Chris was equally dashing and brave in front of the flash!

After the photo shoot, we headed over to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center to catch the USEF National Show Jumping Championships, which also served as a selection trial for the U.S. Jumping Team. Purina national ambassadors, Laura Kraut with Teirra, and Beezie Madden on Simon and Cortes “C,” battled a tough course in round one and two monster courses on day two. Fitness and fuel were large factors for the competing horses as was recovery after jumping. After a demanding day two, all the trial competitors had a day of rest on Friday before heading into Saturday’s final round.On Saturday, we headed over to the International Horse Sport Champions Cup to catch Chris Hickey’s Grand Prix class on Douglas Hilltop. I’ve decided that every Saturday morning should start off with good weather, good coffee and high level performance horses doing what they do best. Douglas looked fantastic, and Chris turned in a class-topping 67.872 percent. There’s a large contrast in the work these horses do within different disciplines, but there are similarities in what it takes to garner success: talent, breeding, training and nutrition. When all this comes together, I can’t help but be incredibly proud of Purina and its role in supporting these athletes and their success.

The final round of the selection trials turned in a stellar performance from Laura Kraut and Teirra with a near clear round catching the last rail of the final jump. Beezie and Simon had a great run as well with just one time fault, and Beezie and Cortes “C” really turned it up with the fastest clear round of the night. While the championship title went to Margie Engle and Reed Kessler in a tie, Laura and Teirra were confirmed to the U.S. Team long list as was Beezie with both Simon and Cortes “C.” We’ll be watching all the Purina riders and their horses as the U.S. Team whittles down to the short list.

Sunday morning we made a quick visit over to our friends at Kiaran McLaughlin Racing who were also wrapping up their stay in Florida for the season. It was my first trip to a top racing barn and what better way than to make introductions with the McLaughlin team! I was very impressed with the meticulous care and training each of the McLaughlin horses receives. Once again I was able to see a shining (and shiny) definition of equine athleticism. This year looks to be another exciting one for Kiaran and his team as they work to capitalize on the potential of their young contenders.

After Florida, I headed home to gear up for my next jaunt and spend some time with my own horses. My hope is to continually provide you with a glimpse into how Purina products are put to the test at some of the most elite competitions in the industry. I look forward to sharing more throughout the year and highlighting the results of our research and development in the field with all of our readers. Purina is sponsoring a great lineup of events throughout 2012 across the country in several disciplines, so stay tuned. It’s a tough job traveling around to events and horse shows, and getting to know the best in the business but someone has to do it. I’m delighted and fortunate to be that person, and hope to provide some insight and behind-the-scenes access to all our blog readers. Until next time, take care and best of luck to you and your equines!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Pasture Concerns

I just spent several days last week at our Animal Care Workshop (an exclusive training event at our farm for dealers and dealer employers), and during my equine digestive physiology talk we discussed how pasture grazing at certain times of the year and environmental conditions can be linked to digestive disturbances. Since this is certainly an issue right now in many parts of the country, it seems like a good time to discuss the question: How do we best manage introducing horses to new spring pastures to minimize the risk of digestive upsets such as laminitis and/or colic?

Horses that are kept on pasture year-round usually adjust to the new grass naturally as it grows, since Mother Nature does a fairly good job of making pasture changes gradually. The risk of problems occurring increases when horses have been confined and fed a hay and grain diet during the winter, and are then abruptly turned out on the lush green pasture in the spring. Further, horses that have been kept up through the winter may overeat when turned out because of the palatability of the lush green foliage. This sudden change in the diet, especially when it includes a rapid influx of starch and fructans (the storage carbohydrates of grasses) into the hindgut, may trigger digestive upset.

There are several ways to prevent or minimize problems when introducing horses to spring pastures. Feeding hay immediately before turn-out may help keep horses from overeating, since they are less likely to overeat on an already full stomach. Restricting grazing time will also help minimize risks. A suggested schedule is: thirty minutes of grazing once or twice a day on the first day of grazing; then increase grazing time by about 10 minutes per day until the horses are grazing 4-6 hours per day total. At this point, they have adapted to the green grass.

If the horse is sensitive to soluble carbohydrates (sugars and starch) due to conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Cushing’s Syndrome, Insulin Resistance, or chronic laminitis, grasses tend to be lowest in soluble carbs early in the morning, so it may be helpful to limit grazing time to the hours between 3 and 10 am. Other options to manage these conditions include utilizing a grazing muzzle to limit pasture intake, or some horses may not able be able to tolerate any grazing time at all.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Utah Horse Trainers Challenge at the Utah Horse Expo

Every year about this time, Utah’s best horse trainers have just finished taking part in the Utah Horse Council Trainers Challenge.

This event pits four of the state’s top trainers, selected from an initial pool of applicants who are then whittled down to 10 semi-finalists, against each other to determine whose previously unbroken horse has shown the most development in 60 days. The winner is determined by a combined score of popular vote and judges’ decision. This year’s event culminated at the Utah Horse Expo, this past weekend in South Jordan, Utah.

In the fall before the trainers are selected, unbroken horses are bought and turned out to winter pasture. Come mid-January, the top four trainers draw for their horses and have 60 days to train them to compete in front of the judges and attendees at the Utah Horse Expo.

My job is to put together a proper feeding program that will ensure adequate nutrition for the animals’ growth and development, not to mention the hard work that they will be put through over the 60 days. I am always amazed at the skill and dedication these trainers put forth into this competition!

My favorite success story from last year was Zoey. Though she didn’t win the final competition, trainer Debbie Doneyson displayed remarkable progress during her 60 days with Zoey. Having arrived at Debbie’s farm underweight, Zoey showed dramatic change in her demeanor and body condition by the final competition.

Zoey’s diet needed to be carefully managed to meet her nutritional needs for growth and energy during the 60-day training program. I started Zoey off on free choice grass hay, Purina® Ultium® Growth horse feed and WellSolve® Well-Gel®. Debbie initiated a lot of the groundwork in the first month and when Zoey started putting on weight, we slowly added alfalfa to her diet and increased her workload. The high fat, high fiber diet really helped her put on muscle and improve her body condition so Debbie was able to progress to more advanced training techniques.

As you can see from these before and after photos, Zoey showed a great turnaround with Debbie’s careful training and a diet of Purina® Ultium® Growth horse feed and WellSolve® Well-Gel®. In fact, Debbie did such a great job with Zoey that a Purina employee fell in love with her during the show and purchased her for his farm in Idaho!



I saw a lot of great progress on this year’s horses and it was exciting to see all of the hard work pay off. Did you make it to the Utah Horse Expo? What did you think about the Trainers Challenge?

About the Author: Yvette Connely is an animal nutrition specialist with Land O’ Lakes Purina Feed, where she oversees dealer account responsibilities and is an equine specialist for the state of Utah. Yvette has worked with Purina for 13 years, previously working as an equine nutrition specialist in Arizona. She has a B.S. degree in equine science from Colorado State University.