I love these. Sometimes they are really amazing!
In the photo on the left I had really just started driving Zorro. He was hitched to the cart for the first time at the end of January. Then he had all of February off due to the bad weather.
In the photo on the right he has been driving for a year! And he had the last three weeks off. It's simply amazing what walking and walking and walking and weighing their feed can do. I am really impressed with the changes he has made!
Let's look at the photo on the left:
He is a bit over at the knee
He is goose rumped
He is a bit straight in his hind legs
He has a saggy belly which pulls his back down
His shoulder is a bit upright
He lacks muscle definition
It turns out he was over at the knee because his heels were sore and he wanted to stand on his toes and not rock back onto the back of his foot. This is also why his shoulder looks more upright.
With muscle definition of his tummy, he lost that goose rump look and his back tightened up. It's amazing how important those core muscles are! His gaskin muscles have filled out which gives his hind leg a better angle. And his hind end has really filled out making his overall appearance more balanced. I would love it if he had a longer neck, but as it is it's super clean and not thick at all. His roached mane does make it look a bit thick but he has a beautifully shaped neck.
I am so lucky because our regular drive is a great conditioning drive. We go out the driveway and basically start climbing a hill. The climb is slow and steady until it starts to get fairly steep. As we get to the top of the first hill the road takes a hard right and gets even steeper. At first I would get out and walk behind the bike to help him up over that part of the hill... but now I can stay in the cart the entire way. He can pull me up either walking or trotting and not be out of breath at the top. That took some time! Then the road will meander through the hills, going down and then back up. We can go two ways, one is more flat and follows a two track road. The other way climbs up and up and up. We gain more than 500 feet of elevation with just the first hill. We can double that when we go up the next three steep hills. Because the second hill is such a steep incline I always get out and walk that with him. But he is working hard even pulling the bike up that one! We go between 4-6 miles on most of our drives. I pepper in trotting and cantering on most drives, but for the majority of our drives we walk. Especially on the way home as the downhills are pretty steep and it would be very easy for him to slip and fall. Walking up the hills builds his hip. Walking DOWN the hills builds his hip. It's hard for us to not be building muscle on our drives.
I also weigh his hay. He gets 2.5 pounds of grass hay twice a day. It's low sugar low starch. Then at times, he gets 1/2 a pound of timothy hay pellets topped with 1-2 ounces of Soybean Meal once a day. He has access to clean water 24/7 as well as salt. That's it. That's all he gets. He doesn't get the hay pellets all the time. I will feed them for a month and then give him a month off. I keep an eye on his top line and his energy levels. If we are driving hard and going long distances then he gets more of the hay pellet mixture. If we aren't working very much then he doesn't get it. He doesn't need it unless he is working.
I really try to keep the nutrition part simple! I have spent so many hours over the years worrying and trying to balance every single thing my ponies ate. I have lost so much sleep over wondering if I was doing the best for them. I was so happy to find this simple system. And I think the proof is in the pony!!