OUR BREEDING & RAISING PHILOSOPHY
It is incredibly important for a prospective young horse buyer to understand the environment that their horse comes from as well as the needs of a developing horse once they arrive to their new home.
Murder Hollow is a special place for both my husband and I - while we have full time jobs unrelated to the horse industry, horses are our passion. Allen is a four-in-hand driver who grew up showing Morgan horses both under saddle and in harness. I grew up riding hunter & jumper in Bucks County which is an hour east of our current home. We are very actively involved in the day-to-day training and raising of our horses and understand the importance of well built, and well-mannered animals.
Knowing the breeder behind a foal and how they truly raise their animals and select mares for breeding is incredibly important for several reasons. Our goal is to produce exceptional, athletic, and well-mannered horses that are physically and mentally sound. Our horses are extensively radiographed for any congenital abnormalities and genetically tested with UC Davis. We place a huge emphasis on the mare and not just the stallion when we make our breeding decisions. Many of our mares remain active in work and only retired after a show career. While we do put emphasis on bloodlines, we feel strongly that a mare and a stallion must prove their athletic ability – and their temperament - to be considered in our program. A good mare can contribute more than 70% influence on a foal - the upbringing of the foal should be just as important as the time spent researching bloodlines. A proven mare – one that has had a successful career and has also produced quality offspring - and has a solid brain, is worth her weight in gold. A dam very often passes on character - a dam that easily spooks and is nervous in cross ties? You get a foal that is spooky and learns that nervous behavior. Brave and intelligent dam? She’ll teach and pass along these qualities to her foals. A foal out of a stellar mare and a mediocre stallion is always a better choice over a foal out of a stellar stallion and a mediocre mare.
We are constantly investing in our program by importing new and unique bloodlines to North America and by bringing along younger horses in training to include into our breeding program as proven in sport. We take a scientifically backed approach to breeding, foaling, and raising young horses into healthy & capable adult horses. This document will hopefully help provide a framework to help guide foal owners.
The first few months of life for a foal are the basis of everything. Nutrition that does not overfeed a growing body, exercise and turnout that promotes the foal to find balance, socialization within a herd of various aged horses etc. are all lifelong qualities. A breeder that handles their foals in a positive manner is essential for a young horse to develop positive experiences with human handlers. We will break out each of these sections below.
NutritionWe take nutrition very seriously for our mares and foals. The nutritional start a foal gets can have a profound effect on its health and soundness for the rest of its life. A moderate growth rate is less likely to cause developmental problems. We strive to avoid faster growth rates as they can lead to osteochondrosis (OCDs), epiphysitis and tendon issues. After a foal is born, we test the foal to ensure it received an adequate amount of colostrum. This is a simple test our vet preforms when we do our 1-day old wellness exam. A mare’s peak lactation is normally around 2-3 months but as early as 8-10 weeks of age, mare's milk alone may not meet the foal's nutritional needs. Due to this, starting at just a few days old, we are already beginning to provide the foal with supplemental nutrition. We do this by utilizing Buckeye’s Foal Starter Milk-Based Pellet. We also supplement the pellets with ProBios (probiotics) and 3,000 iU of Emcelle Vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol). Our mares also receive these supplements during their pregnancy as it has shown increased α-tocopherol content in mare milk and foal plasma, IgG and IgM in mare milk and IgM in foal plasma. Our horses remain on both Emcelle and Probios throughout their life. There is significant literature showing the importance of adequate Vitamin E especially since most feeds do not use a natural, water-soluble source and the quality and amount of Vitamin E in hay decreases rapidly in the drying process. Vitamin E is the most important antioxidant and protects cell membranes from damage by free radicals. Deficiency can cause incoordination and various muscle and nervous disorders and Vitamin E has proven to protect against equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), equine degenerative myelonencephalopathy (EDM), and tying up in exercising horses. We feed our foals and mares with feed bags that are made of canvas. The bags have plastic breakaway snaps and elastic that help for easy removal. We have found the feed bags to be very effective for getting foals used to haltering and human touch over the ears and face. Feed bags allow us to feed in groups without one horse stealing the rations from another horse and ensuring that they aren’t dropping any of their ration on the ground. At around 3 months of age, we begin to mix in Buckeye GRO 'N WIN Ration Balancer to the existing Foal Starter Pellet. We firmly believe in a forage-based diet and use a ration balancer for the basis of all our feeding. We have found that if they need extra calories adding products like Platinum Performance Healthy Weight, we are able to maintain healthy body scores without stuffing them with cereal grains. Our foals (and all horses) are on 24/7 free access to forage with unlimited fresh, clean water. We recommend testing your water, hay, and pasture forage annually to ensure there aren’t any glaring nutrient imbalances. We are happy to recommend testing companies should you need them. We believe in 24/7 large pasture turn out. We realize this is not possible for all horse owners but do stress that when looking at boarding facilities to find facilities that offer the maximum amount of turn out. The weaning process for a foal is an incredibly stressful time - even when done in a way that minimizes emotional stress, it’s a big change to their system. Every foal is unique in when they are ready to wean and how their bodies will handle the change. We use a scientifically backed approach of gradual weaning to minimize the potential consequences. The foal’s body is still incredibly immature at 6-7 months of age. Before weaning, we introduce Platinum Performance Healthy Weight which provides omega-3 fatty acids to help with the immune and nervous system. Abrupt weaning methods can increase cortisol and other stress hormone levels which has proven to decrease immune system functioning, potentially putting foals at risk for infection or decreased response to vaccination. It can also cause ulcers. We generally recommend foal buyers to leave horses boarding with us for an additional few months post weaning. This allows for the foal to continue socializing with their existing herd mates and for their bodies to acclimate and adjust post weaning. Once a foal arrives home, we recommend you work with your veterinarian or nutritionist to ensure our feeding protocol suits the needs of your forage and region-specific nutritional differences.
TurnoutProviding ample turnout for a horse is essential throughout their lifetime. I will elaborate on Wolff’s Law in the training section but will introduce the concept as it relates to turnout. Wolff’s law was developed in the 19th century and states that bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads under which it is placed. The concept is that increases in loading of living bone tissue generates deposition of new bone which increases rigidity. Decreases in mechanical loading (think bed rest), leads to resorption of bone tissue. Numerous scientific studies have been done which shows paddock turnout and spontaneous exercise for a young developing horse has huge benefit to bones and tendons. There is also significant research that shows as a horse ages, and undergoes training, paddock turnout allows for a reduction in bone remodeling diseases. It is important to remember that young horses cannot thermoregulate as well as adult horses. Even with adequate shelter in pastures, like any horse, they can still be cold. We recommend speaking with your veterinarian about a blanketing protocol that suits your turnout and weather conditions. In Southeast Pennsylvania, we keep most of our foals blanketed for a good portion of the winter months due to the fact we can get very cold and wet windy weather. Each foal will have a different natural coat and their needs are not identical even among foals of the same age. Stalling for excessive periods of time can create several behavioral and health issues in horses. If your horse is displaying classic anxiety behaviors such as cribbing, weaving, kicking, etc. while stalled, we do not recommend the use of restrictive devises but instead getting to the root of the behavior.
HandlingHandling begins at birth. We begin halter training their first week and they begin leading not long afterwards. Handling is done in a safe manner with experienced handlers helping guide the foal in an encouraging but consistent manner. Foals are quick to learn desirable and undesirable behaviors – we encourage foal buyers to visit at least once to see how we interact with their young horse before they transition and bring them home. We are always available after a foal arrives home to help with any handling or behavioral issues that arise. Foals leave here responsive to minimal pressure and gentle cues and commands. Should you find you are needing to apply more pressure or use restrictive techniques when working with your foal, please do not hesitate to reach out. Foals receive regular but short training sessions – we establish feel and touch to encourage their trust. Foals brought up in this manner are respectful of space and humans. There is a delicate balance where we encourage them to be confident and curious but not overly confident to the point, they are no longer responsive. Feet are regularly picked up and our foals begin their farrier care at 3 weeks of age and receive routine farrier care every 3-5 weeks. We keep foals on 3–5-week trim cycles and recommend they maintain a tighter trim schedule for their first 2-3 years. If you do not have a farrier that is capable of properly balancing a youngster’s hoof, your veterinarian will likely be able to assist in making any comments that can help guide them - or they will be able to connect you with a farrier who may be more experienced in this area.
Weaning & TraileringAs I mentioned in the nutrition section, the weaning process can be incredibly stressful even when weaning is done in a way that minimizes stress. Even using gradual weaning methods, we take an abundance of caution when it comes to the immature immune and nervous system of a foal. We generally recommend foal buyers to leave their foals boarding with us for an additional period post weaning to allow the foal’s body to acclimate post weaning – particularly if you need to transport the foal long distance. We have several ways to acclimate foals to trailering – ideally trailering the mare and foal short distances before the foal is weaned is the best method as a calm mare makes for a calm foal. We also do other trailering exercises like feeding meals in the trailer on random days which is similar to the stall training that all of our foals also get. We offer affordable weanling board should you wish to keep your young horse in our care post weaning.
Vaccinations & DewormerFoals are more susceptible to parasites than adult horses. Consult your veterinarian for the most effective deworming schedule for your horses and region but treat all youngsters less than 2 years of age as high shedders. The major gastrointestinal parasite of concern in the foal is ascarids (roundworm). Ascarids prey on the immature immune systems of horses less than 18 months old. Ascarids can cause depression, respiratory disease, stunted growth, diarrhea, constipation, and potentially fatal colic. The ascarid larvae migrate through the foal’s liver and lungs and can cause fevers, nasal discharge, and cough. As the horse matures into his second year of life, he develops a heightened immune response to ascarids, and the threat greatly diminishes. Until that point, it’s important to ensure you have a worming program that will never allow ascarids to become established within the foal. Given the widespread ivermectin resistance among ascarids, it is recommended that you use fenbendazole and pyrantel. We use one larvicidal treatment (Panacur POWERPAC a month or two after weaning and again the following fall (yearling). Once your horse reaches 2 years of age, fecals can be better utilized with the hopes of moving your horse to a low shedder deworming schedule. Our foals receive a foal larvicidal dose (4.6 mg/lb) of Panacur (fenbendazole) at 2 and 4 months old. At 6 months they receive Equimax (ivermectin & praziquantel). At 8 months we do a Panacur POWERPAC and at 10 months we do Pyrantel Pamoate and at 12 months we do Anthelcide EQ (oxibendazole). This is a program they remain on until the age of 2 years. Mares are given booster vaccinations in advance of foaling to increase the antibody level in the mare's colostrum (first milk) and help protect the newborn foal from disease. We prefer to not vaccinate foals immediately before or after weaning. Generally starting their vaccinations post weaning is ideal - but we are happy to put together a vaccination protocol that will suit the travel and region-specific needs for each foal buyer. Otherwise, we recommend following the AAEP guidelines for foals of mares vaccinated in the prepartum period (CLICK HERE TO SEE ARTICLE). Our mares are vaccinated prepartum against: Eastern / Western Equine Encephalo-myelitis (EEE/WEE), Rabies, Tetanus, West Nile Virus (WNV), Botulism, Equine Herpesvirus (EHV-1 and EHV-4), Equine Influenza, and Potomac Horse Fever.
Dental CareFoals are typically born without teeth, but teeth appear within the first few weeks. Horse teeth are continuously erupting. Baby teeth are gradually lost starting around 2 ½ years old and by 5, most of the baby teeth should be shed and replaced with permanent teeth. The first dental exam is performed at birth during the wellness exam. We recommend having the next dental exam performed at 8-10 months old and every 6 months until the permanent teeth are in. Exams do not necessarily mean your young horse will need their teeth floated, but it will help identify a problem early which allows for easier intervention.
Exercise & TrainingWe are strong advocates for long term soundness, and this means we take a scientifically backed approach to starting our horses. Prior to the age of 3, we are advocates for ponying and working to build a bond with a horse that will allow them to be relaxed once you begin to ask more either driven in harness or under saddle. Horses will instinctively brace their muscles in their topline when they anticipate weight coming onto the back. Horses must move with their back muscles in release to round up. There are several exercises you can do with a young horse before the age of 3 that will help build confidence and positive associations to saddling and work. Dr. Deb Bennett, an authority on the evolution, anatomy, and biomechanics of fossil and living horses, has a list on page 14: CLICK HERE TO SEE ARTICLE We encourage people to learn to ground drive or drive their horses at the age of 3. Ground driving will stimulate the driving process from the ground, without the need of pulling weight. Working in a walk even though it may seem slow and counter-productive is often a very good pace to get extra strengthening as a walk requires muscular effort, unlike trot where there is a moment of suspension and a lot of elastic energy used to propel themselves along. Keep in mind that if you do drive your young horse in harness, injuries such as joint concussion and ligament strains can be avoided by avoiding repetitive movement and excessive weight pulling. Driving will help build propulsion and balance without the added weight of a rider on the horse’s back. We recommend not beginning under saddle riding until your horse is closer to 4. Moderation at this age is still key. Finding a trainer who specializes in young horse development is crucial. Significant damage both mentally and physically can be done by trainers who lack knowledge and experience. You will often hear people advocate for starting horses under saddle at younger ages – please understand that there is no scientific benefit to doing so. The benefits of increased bone density and tendon strength are during a specific period and pasture turn out has been proven to be just as effective as forced, non-weight bearing exercise. Certain breeds do not skeletally mature faster or slower – no horse is skeletally mature before the age of 6. The outward appearance of a horse can be misleading, and we encourage people to read Dr. Deb Bennett’s article to understand the schedule of when bone fuses. The reason why moderation under saddle at this age is crucial is because many bones are not fully fused. In hocks for example, the growth plates on the tibial and fibular tarsals do not fuse until a horse is 3-3 ½. In the back, dorsal processes and the ossification of the pelvis is not completed until closer to the age of 5. Overuse injuries are unique in an adolescent horse in the same way they are unique in an adolescent human – they can involve not just bone but soft tissues, and neurovascular structures. Once an injury is sustained, the likelihood of a second injury increases. Growth plate disturbances are serious and articular cartilage and growth plates are more susceptible to injury as they can be 2-5x weaker than the surrounding tissue. Hip and pelvis avulsions are the most common in human adolescent athletes and I have no doubt this is the same for adolescent horses. It is also important to realize that during growth spurts, adolescents may suffer from delayed development or regression of proprioception, with relative deficits in neuromuscular control and coordination. The combination of relatively rapid changes to musculoskeletal composition during growth spurts and potentially decreased proficiency of neuromuscular coordination presumably contributes to the increased incidence of injuries. When we add weight to a horse’s back during their adolescent years, we must remember that while they are big and powerful, they are not yet finished growing. Finding a trainer that can start a young horse with slow, steady work is key. If you need help locating a trainer please do not hesitate to ask for help. The foals we have bred will always have a home here at Murder Hollow. We encourage owners to reach out at any point in time if they are having a training/behavior hurdle or need to rehome their young (or old) Murder Hollow bred horse.