Every year I re-evaluate my feed program and make any necessary changes based on how my ponies look, their hoof quality, and their behavior.
What do I look for as far as their looks go?
I like them to be at a healthy weight. Not too fat and not too thin. Being able to feel/see their ribs is ideal. A smooth, silky hair coat with a bit of a shine is nice. Sparkling, clear eyes, no nasal discharge and in the spring the ability to shed their winter coat.
As far as hoof quality I am looking for a smooth hoof wall, a tight connection between the inner hoof wall and the outer hoof wall. (Ponies with white line disease do NOT have a tight connection between the inner hoof wall and the outer hoof wall.)
A healthy, thick frog with a nice thickness of the heel buttress. The heel buttress is the soft tissue at the back of the hoof which provides cushioning as the pony moves.
Zorro has struggled with low, underslung heels for a long time. This year things are starting to look pretty good! I have been following David Landreville for several years now and with his help I have Zorro on the right path for healthy, sound hooves!
What am I looking for in their behavior?
I like them to be playful and energetic. I realize this is an individual thing and some horses are just not innately playful... but mine are so I like to see them running around the track, bucking and rearing and play fighting a bit. They don't this all the time but they do it sometimes. When I let them out of the track they will often race around the driving track in the pasture, galloping madly for a lap or two. When they are done and go back to grazing their breathing settles quickly.
I love to see lots of energy on our daily walks. We try to walk 6 days a week but some weeks, due to weather, we may only get out 2 or 3 times. On those weeks I shorten our walks to around 3 miles. But most of the time we walk no less than 4 miles and upwards of 6. I try to simulate the kind of movement they would do if they had to walk a fair distance from their water to their food source. Typically in the wild they don't spend much time grazing around their food source so will have to range to find good browsing.
According to the resources I have read, many mustangs walk 5-10 miles a day, browsing and drinking. Sometimes they will walk as much as 20-30 miles but doing so every day results in horses that are not very healthy, as they lose so much of their body condition when they have to travel that far all the time.
Both movement and a proper diet help develop healthy hooves.
What am I feeding my ponies?
I try to feed seasonally. This means that they get only low sugar/low starch hay and water in the winter. Then as the spring grasses start to pop up I begin adding in a small amount of vitamins and minerals, protein and whatever else I feel they need.
Modern pony breeds descended from horses living in rugged climates with metabolic adaptations to low-quality forages. It's now in their genetic nature to gain and maintain weight easily. --Feeding Ponies, from The Horse
This spring I took a hard look at Zorro. He came out of winter a bit too fat for my liking so I started him on a diet of carefully weighed hay, 2 pounds morning and night, double netted in 2 -- 1 1/2" Hay Chix nets. He also gets 1/2 a cup of timothy hay pellets, 1/4 cup of whole oats, 2 teaspoons of Vermont Blend, about 2 Tablespoons of Pea protein powder and a gut supplement called Equine Generator from BioVet, one scoop (of the provided scoop) once a day.
Oliver came out of winter a bit too thin. He is growing and so needs a bit more! He gets all the hay he can eat all day long, separated from Zorro. Some hay is in a 2" hay net and some is loose. He browses at both. He also gets 3/4 of a pound of alfalfa pellets, 3/4 of a pound of timothy grass pellets, 1/2 a pound of oats, 1 teaspoon of Vermont Blend, about 4 tablespoons of Pea Protein powder, almost one scoop of the Equine Generator, once a day. He also gets to go in the back yard for an hour or two in the afternoons to eat the green grass coming up. Believe me when I say I would rather have a skinny baby that I can dump the feed to than one that is too fat and I have to restrict feed. He is so much happier eating all the time than poor Zorro who has to be so carefully managed.
I have started putting Zorro out with Oliver but he has to wear a muzzle. He hates this and throws quite a tantrum at first and then settles in to trying to get some grass through the thing. When I go out to put them away he RUNS to the gate to meet me so I can take that horrible contraption off. Poor guy! I hate that I have to do that.
When we go for walks I do let them graze. Sometimes we stop for grass as we walk, sometimes we only stop to graze at the turn around spot. But I do always allow them some grass.
Managing ponies can be one of the hardest things to do! I really feel for you if you have a foundered or metabolic pony. Ponies that live most of their lives overweight or obese are more prone to both founder or metabolic issues. So it is up to us to do all we can to ensure they live long healthy lives by feeding them an appropriate diet.