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Written by Kim F Miller
A head-spinning swirl of horse health information surrounds all owners. Olympic and World Equestrian Games eventer Lauren Kieffer is no exception. “Honestly, it can be a little overwhelming trying to follow up on all the things you hear can be helpful for your horses,” she acknowledges.
Contemporaries in her demanding three-phase discipline were among the first to embrace high-temperature hay steaming when Haygain introduced the concept 10 years ago, so it had been a swirling tidbit in Lauren’s mind for some time. But it wasn’t until “we had a horse that really needed it that I came to realize its benefits to all our horses.”
That horse was a recent import who arrived from Europe struggling with allergies.
His breathing was frequently wheezy, and he was prone to coughing at rest and while galloping. “He was basically allergic to America” Lauren comments.
She knows firsthand that respiratory comprises are no joke to any horse and especially not to an eventer galloping at speed across a long course of permanent cross-country obstacles. While looking for ways to alleviate the horse’s allergy symptoms, Lauren’s head groom Sally Robertson suggested Haygain.
The allergy-affected import was a familiar story for Sally, whose belief in steamed hay dates back to her days in England working for Clark Montgomery. At the time, the American Olympic eventer was based there and some of the horses he brought with him were suffering allergy-like symptoms, probably due to different grasses and other environmental factors. The science-backed benefits of feeding clean hay made immediate sense to Sally and seeing Clark’s horses respond positively to the new diet made her a believer.
Back in the States working for another top rider, Sally saw another imported horse’s persistent cough disappear after just a few feedings of steamed hay. “We just couldn’t get rid of that cough. We’d wet the grain, we’d soak the hay…nothing mattered. But after a few feedings of steamed hay, that cough was gone. It was crazy!”
Sally brought her belief in Haygain when she signed on as head groom for Lauren’s program. Lauren rides for Jacqueline Mars’ Mars Equestrian. The team splits their time between facilities in The Plains, Virginia and Ocala, Florida and travelling to competitions. Each location has a full-bale steamer, and they travel with a portable HG600.
Lauren’s competition string numbers about 15, from her Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L partners Vermiculus and Paramount Importance, to youngsters coming up the ranks. Even in Virginia, where the horses have access to top quality grass pasture, the steamer is on much of the day. “When one bale is done, another goes in,” Sally reports. “I’ve heard people say it’s difficult, but it’s really not.” The morning we spoke, Lauren’s team was settling in at the Mars Equestrian CCI in Bromont, Canada, where the travelling steamer had already filled up three hay nets.
Back To Basics
Sally, too, acknowledges a mind-blowing quantity of horse health products and information. “You should always keep an open mind, but sometimes I feel like we are moving away from the good, old-fashioned horsemanship.” Nutrition is a critical basic. “We have to look after the horses from the inside out.”
Natural forage ideally comprises the bulk of their diet, Sally notes. Steaming is a “no brainer” for assuring consistently clean hay, even when dealing with different cuts, types and sources of hay. “It’s an easy solution,” Sally adds. In a long career of caring for elite equine athletes, “You come across some products that you believe in and you know work,” she concludes. “I’ve used Haygain at a few different barns now and it works.”
With a deep string of horses and 2016 Olympic and 2018 World Equestrian Games experience, Lauren is a tough-to-beat contender anywhere, anytime. Adding steamed hay to her horses’ daily routine makes that even more true.
Our thanks to Cindy Lawler for the great photo.