Monday the 26th March marked the first day since our blog started that it was no longer to be managed by Katrina Partridge. Though she officially departs us on Saturday 31st, one of her other responsibilities besides her duties as Business Development Manager here at Summerhill, was to serve the Dubai Racing Club as its South African representative. We shall be writing more about Katrina’s new pastures shortly, and she will be letting us have her views on her time in South Africa in general, and in particular at Summerhill. Meanwhile, she and son Joel leave with our best wishes for a happy and prosperous future in Australia where she takes up a position with our old friend, John Messara and his Arrowfield Stud group.
Katrina has been a fertile source of great stories since she initiated the blog and its going to be a daunting task to fill her shoes. We’ve thought long and hard about the subject though, and believe for “starters” we should deal with issues that regularly confront us, or which are often asked of us. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be interviewing members of the Summerhill “old guard” who have been dealing with things for several years, and who can provide items of either anecdotal value or their observations of what we’ve come to know are the urban legends or myth-busters of our game.
We are going to kick off with an old “myth-buster” involving what the impact of being left out in the cold has on a young horse’s growth, and whether or not stabling through the winter assists with developmental growth.
Of course, we have all heard that it’s advisable to get young horses out of the cold, particularly in the dead of winter in order that they maintain their growth. Six or seven years ago, the Summerhill yearling team decided to test the strength of the theory, and selected two groups of yearlings on a “like-for-like” basis. The trial was conducted quite scientifically, with the horses being weighed at the beginning, and then at monthly intervals. Two groups of twenty horses each were set aside, half of them in one paddock of good quality green pasture, half in another paddock of comparable pasture. Ten from each group were then selected to be brought in to the stables at night, while ten of each group were selected to remain in their paddocks, 24/7. The trial was conducted from the beginning of May through to the end of August (i.e. covering the winter).
Remarkably, at the end of the winter (after a period of four months) it was found that the horses which had stayed out throughout the time, had gained, on average, approximately one kg a month more than those that were brought in. Obviously, in different places, the results will vary, depending on the intensity of the cold and the quality of the pasture. In Mooi River we’re cold, recording subzero temperatures or thereabouts for at least 2 months of the trial and our pastures are very good, though there is obviously minimal growth or vigour through the most intense two months of the winter.
In other words, the growth impact of those that remained on the pasture for 24 hours a day was greater by one kilogram a month than it was in the case of those that spent roughly ten hours at pasture per day, and the other 14 hours in a stable. Presumably, the difference lay in the fact that horses given the choice, prefer to graze for up to 16 hours a day, and whilst all the horses were on the same concentrates, the extra six hours a day grazing made a difference, however slight.
We guess that our own conclusion is that whilst staying in at night might constitute an advantage from the perspective of the warmth of the horse (and some sort of saving on pasture consumed) in the end result, there was very little difference in it. Obviously the net cost in the additional pasture to those who stayed out, would be offset by the bedding and the labour to clean the stables in the case of those that were in.
We’d be interested to hear from our readers what their experiences tell them.