In my last post I mentioned that the barn owner had sent some hay off to get it analyzed. I don't know if this is common practice in other countries, but in Finland it seems to be getting more and more popular. I grew up thinking hay is hay, and that horses could eat as much as they wanted of it. Turns out I was wrong. There can be major nutritional differences in the hay we feed our horses. Bad hay doesn't necessarily look bad. Years ago I was told to smell the hay and look at its color, and that would somehow tell me if it was good or not. Turns out it's a bit more complicated than that.
The hay Little Love is eating at the moment is high in sugar and low in crude protein. The sugar in the hay is 166 g/kg when it should be between 50 - 150 g/kg (or even lower) and protein is 70 g/kg when it should be between 80 - 100 g/kg. She has been eating this hay for quite a while, but it hasn't caused her obvious problems until just recently when the herd was split in two. This separation definitely calmed down the situation and at least Lilo is less anxious. She started to gain weight immediately. She also stopped moving around in the paddock. Which, given the diet she is on, is the worst thing that could happen.
The change in her was gradual, but by yesterday morning I knew something was not right. Little Love didn't want to come out of the paddock (first time ever). In fact, she didn't even want to move an inch. She had seemed a bit sore on her feet on the walk two days back and Melissa had reported her reluctance to go for a walk the day before, but now I realized the sugar overload was really getting to her. I sort of panicked a bit; the last thing I needed was a horse with laminitis. So, I did what I had to; I forced her to move. I took her into our makeshift arena and lunged her for some time. She was really stiff in the beginning, but after a few minutes, looked like her old self. I also called the barn owner and told her to cut down the hay a few kilograms.
She looked a heck of a lot better today. She still didn't walk over to me when I fetched her from the paddock, but followed me out without a discussion. I put the boots on and we went for a power walk down the road. Lilo stopped three times, but I told her this was non-negotiable. If we continue feeding this hay, she will have to be exercised more. Not that exercise wouldn't do her some good in any case, she really has next to no muscle on her top line, but with the amount of sugar she is consuming, exercise is extremely important.
The other noteworthy thing about the hay is that it is extremely high in iron. This apparently is typical to hay in Finland, as the soil here is rich in iron. The norm for what Little Love should be getting is 480, but with the hay she eats, she is getting 1582, which is four times too much(now she is getting a bit less, as I cut the food down). Not all of it will absorb, but it definitely doesn't encourage me to feed a ton of commercial grains etc. which also contain a lot of iron (among other things).
I'm new to the horse feed business, but just seeing this analysis really opened my eyes. It was also interesting to see the immediate effect the lack of exercise (combined with the sugar rich hay) had on Little Love. I think we don't usually think about these things enough and realize how much the hay our horse eats can affect every little thing. So many people are afraid to feed their horse grains because they are convinced it isn't good for them. But in the meanwhile the horse may be eating hay that is wreaking havoc on their system.