Reactivating FeedXL

Several years ago, I subscribed to an equine nutrition service called FeedXL. While I found it useful and liked it a lot, I eventually let my subscription lapse. Once I settled on a diet that worked for my horses, I didn’t need it any more.

Many things have changed in the years since I last used it: Madigan is an adult, Story joined the herd, and I feed hay free-choice. It seemed like a good time to reactivate my account.

Entering Madigan’s details

FeedXL is easy to use. After creating an account and selecting a plan, you enter information about your horse and what your horse eats. The most difficult part of this process is estimating your pasture or hay quality; if you’re like me and haven’t had either tested, it’s a bit of a guess. For example, my horses eat bermuda hay. It’s good quality in that it’s soft, green, smells good, and is free from weeds, pests, and mold. But I don’t know how much selenium it has or if should be rated as “good” or “best”. Entering feed is much more straightforward, as FeedXL has a database of over 40,000 feeds and supplements. If the product you feed isn’t in the database, you can add it yourself. Once everything your horse eats is added to their diet, FeedXL provides an analysis. If your horse’s diet is lacking, you can use FeedXL’s Feed Finder or Supplement Finder tools to find a feed or supplement to fill in the gaps.

I was primarily interested in finding out how balanced Story and Madigan’s diets are. Both are easy keepers. Story is straight-up fat and Madigan is chubby. They eat a small amount of grain every day because it’s the easiest way to feed them medication. (Story is on Equioxx and Madigan is on Platinum Skin & Allergy.) I suspected their diets were lacking, but wanted to see what was missing before searching northeastern Oklahoma feed stores for a ration balancer or ordering my favorite equine multivitamin online.

Diet analysis

As you can see, Madigan is deficient in a few areas. Luckily, these deficiencies can be corrected by increasing the amount of salt in his diet and adding a multivitamin. (I don’t do free choice salt any more after Madigan gnawed down a 50 lb block in two days a couple of years ago. Truly a special creature.)

Since the horses’ diets and workloads won’t change much over the winter, I plan to cancel FeedXL after this month and re-subscribe in the spring when the pasture comes in. A standard plan subscription for four horses ran me $33/month, which I think is a reasonable rate.

Have you used FeedXL? Do you enjoy tinkering with your horses’ diets? I prefer to keep it simple and keep costs down as much as possible, and FeedXL is a pretty useful tool for that!

Barn Improvement

Early one July evening, Johnny and I were out feeding the horses and the barn cat when the sky grew dark and the wind picked up. Heavy rain began, so I shut the barn’s north doors and stood in the aisleway waiting for the horses to finish eating. Johnny started walking back to the house. Suddenly, I heard a very loud cracking noise followed by a tremendous boom. I ran out the south doors to see what happened and saw Johnny standing about halfway to the house, gesticulating wildly at something behind me. I turned around and discovered the trailer shed next to the barn had been blown over by a gust of wind. The support posts snapped, collapsing the west wall onto the trailer and flinging the shed’s roof on top of the barn.

well that’s not good

I wasn’t terribly surprised. The previous owners built the shed to house their enormous Class A RV, which meant the shed was very tall. It often swayed and creaked in the wind. It was built right next to the barn, so it rubbed on the barn roof in high winds. I’m impressed the shed lasted as long as it did.

While the old shed wasn’t perfect, it was nice to have somewhere relatively out of the elements to house my trailer. I called my hay supplier, who lives across the street from me. He had a new storage barn built last year, and I wanted to know who built it. He’s very particular and very straightforward, so I knew I could trust his opinion of his builder. I received a glowing recommendation for a local metal building specialist, who stopped by the next day to figure out how to remove the collapsed shed without damaging the trailer or the barn.

I’m still not sure how he managed it, but both the barn roof and the trailer came away unscathed other than some damage to one of the barn’s gutters. The builder drew up plans for a new trailer shed and suggested some improvements like moving it a few feet away from the barn and pouring concrete to form a drainage channel between the barn and the new shed. I figured now was a good time to make more improvements, so I also asked him to add an outdoor wash rack on the northeast corner of the barn, level the dirt-floored stalls with screenings, and install mats in all four stalls.

Construction on the new shed began this week, and it already looks sturdier than the old building! That’s the good news. The bad news is the crew hit a water line in two different place while digging. The water lines near the barn are a nonsensical mess of dead lines, weird junctions, and inexplicable layouts.

my builder insists this will be the nicest building on my place when it’s finished

This has turned into a wholesale plumbing overhaul, as Johnny and I figured it’s probably more economical to have plumbing repairs done while the plumber and equipment are here (not to mention it will be nice to know where the water lines are)! Several plumbing repairs are needed inside the barn: the toilet supply line broke last winter when the space heater shut off after a power outage, the bathroom sink doesn’t work despite our best efforts to figure out what’s wrong with it, the hot water heater has been disconnected since a pipe burst the year we moved in, and the spigots in the indoor wash rack leak. So in addition to installing new lines, moving hydrants, and installing a shutoff for the barn, the plumber is fixing the interior plumbing problems and replacing the hot water heater with an electric tankless heater. We’re also going to replace the tack room’s window unit AC with a unit that provides heat and air so we won’t have to run a space heater in it (which we do to keep the pipes from freezing in the winter).

new, (hopefully) non-scary wash going in!

I’m really excited for these improvements and repairs! I’m looking forward to having a functional bathroom in the barn again as well as having hot water to soak feed in the winter. The outdoor wash rack will be a nice improvement, too. I’ve never used the indoor one since my barn’s concrete is very slippery and the horses are all deeply suspicious of the stocks in the rack. (It is very convenient for hanging wet, muddy blankets, though.) I’m also looking forward to leveling the stalls and putting mats in. My horses are rarely stalled, but they do spend part of the day hanging out in them (as the back of the stalls open into the paddock). Mats will certainly make the minimal amount of cleaning required easier.

After this is wrapped up, I think the only thing left on my barn improvement list will be swapping the fluorescent lights in the aisle for LEDs and reorganizing the tack and feed rooms!

Story Goes Trail Riding

I’ve had Story for about a month, and the closest I’ve come to a trail ride on her is hacking around the hay meadow with one of our friends. She was very good, which I thought was a promising sign. But there’s no better way to see how a horse will be on trails than to, you know, actually take them somewhere and see how it goes.

Story and I headed out to Flint Creek to ride with Harvard Fox Hounds on a lowkey trail ride on Saturday. Harvard hunts hundreds of acres in the area, which is the one of the most beautiful places in the state. It’s close to the Arkansas border; the terrain is very hilly and densely forested. It reminds of the area of Tennessee where I grew up, which is probably why I like it so much! The terrain can be tough since many trails are steep and the soil is loose and rocky in some areas.

Headed to climb those hills in the distance.

Story was an absolute hag about loading. I’m not sure if it’s the ramp or trailering in general that she doesn’t like, but we have to address it either way! That, combined with unexpected road construction, meant I pulled in exactly at 10 AM- when the ride was supposed to start. Luckily, a few friends didn’t mind waiting for me to throw tack and hoof boots on Story, and by 10:20 AM I climbed aboard and we set out.

Our leader chose to go east, which meant the very first thing we did was cross Flint Creek. The crossing is very wide and relatively shallow, and the water is crystal clear all the way to the creek’s rocky bottom. I’m not sure Story realized the water was there until her hooves were in it! She seemed surprised and stepped sideways a few times, then followed our friends across. On the other side, she was a little wide-eyed but generally calm, curious, and obedient.

Leading the group down the trail.

We rode for about an hour and half and Story was absolutely perfect! She was happy to be anywhere in the group – front, back, or middle. She didn’t mind horses close to her. She trotted and cantered quietly with the group and was easily rated in the D-ring snaffle she usually goes in. Nothing spooked her. For most of the ride I let her hack on the buckle, and she was relaxed and happy. You’d think this horse had been on a hundred trail rides, not that she’d spent her life competing as a fancy show hunter.

Hanging out in the middle of the group

I couldn’t be happier with how Story’s first trail ride went! While trail riding isn’t a perfect analogue to foxhunting, I do think Story will make a terrific hunt horse. She’s enrolled in baby school with my trainer to work on loading and standing quietly at the mounting block, but those things are fairly minor and fixable issues. We continue to work on her ring sour behavior- it’s too early to say if that will improve or resolve. Now that hay season is over, I can take her for conditioning work in the hay meadow. The goal is to have her ready for Opening Hunt in November!

On My List

You’d think after a lifetime of owning horses and seven years of working at a tack shop, I would have every possible piece of tack and apparel an equestrian could need or want. You’d be right, for the most part. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing on my to-buy list. Here’s what I’ve got my eye on:

Kerrits Groundwork Waterproof Sneaker: I don’t like wearing my regular sneakers to horse shows (or around the barn). My feet always feel unpleasantly moist after walking through damp grass or rinsing off a horse. I also don’t like wearing my waterproof Bean boots because they’re heavy and hot when worn all day. I’ve been thinking of buying Ariat’s waterproof sneaker for months, but was put off by reviews complaining about poor fit and durability. I was excited to see this offering from Kerrits; the price point is a bit better than Ariat’s and I’ve had a lot of success with Kerrits products over the years.

Ecogold Secure Hunter Pad: I own exactly one shaped saddle pad, and boy does it get a workout during foxhunting season. My hunt isn’t so traditional they’ll ask someone to leave over a square pad, but I like to look the part. Story is shaped like a whiskey barrel, so investing in a quality non-slip pad might be in my best interest!

Ride iQ Subscription: Ride iQ is an app that offers audio lessons for equestrians. Last winter, I won a six-week subscription, which of course coincided with a weekend I was out of town followed by a couple of weeks of dreadful weather. I didn’t get to use it as much as I would have liked, but I did find the lessons useful for having more structured and productive rides. I didn’t subscribe at the time because I wasn’t riding more than a couple of times a week. Now that I’m riding Madigan more often and working toward goals other than “remember the test” and “make sure horse doesn’t do anything real weird”, I think I’d utilize this app more!

Mikmar Dressage Comfort Girth: My only regret from my time at the tack shop is not buying this girth with my employee discount. It was the only girth the store’s saddle fitter recommended, and customers raved about how much better their horses went while wearing it. Madigan has nearly outgrown my largest dressage girth, so this is on my birthday wishlist!

I’d love to hear if you have experience with any of these products, or if you have other options you like!

ODS Summer Oasis Recap

In a fit of optimism, I entered Madigan in last weekend’s dressage show, despite him having had June, July, and half of August off due to headshaking (June), travel (July), and heat (August). I signed us up for two Training Level tests, figuring that it would at least be a fun day and a learning experience. And it was! It was not, however, our best or highest scoring outing. (I think it might have been our lowest scoring outing?)

Snacking outside the warmup ring

A couple of weeks ago, Madigan turned up with a small spur rub after our lesson. I didn’t want to make it worse, so I elected to ride without spurs last week while preparing for the show. He was surprisingly good, so I left my spurs at home on Saturday. This turned out to be a mistake! He plodded around T-2 at turtle speed while I kicked him every two strides to keep him going. It felt like the longest test of my life!

I had 45 minutes between my first and second tests, so I opted to stay on Madigan so he wouldn’t think we were finished for the day. (You may recall that he was not enthused about a second test way back in March at the Cowtown Classic.) One of the barn rats retrieved a pair of spurs for me while I looked over T-3.

We got off to a bad start with a crooked, above-the-bit halt and things didn’t improve much from there. We had some really nice moments (mostly at the canter) but had some very ugly ones, too (like missing our right lead twice before picking it up). The judge was fair but not generous- she rewarded us with several 7s and one 8, but dinged us heavily on movements that weren’t executed well.

While this certainly wasn’t our best show, I felt it had a lot of positive takeaways. Madigan was well behaved at a new venue and handled competing in an outdoor ring just fine. (All of his shows have been in indoors, though we do ride in an outdoor ring at home when weather permits.) He continues to be unfazed by anything anyone does in the warmup, doesn’t get upset when horses come or go, and eats and drinks well throughout the show. The things we struggled with at the show are some of the same things we struggle with at home- impulsion, keeping a lid on change attempts, reaching into the contact. Really, for a 5 year old who had the summer off, Madigan was pretty good.

There are no more rated shows on the calendar until 2024, so we have all winter to work on our problems!