"When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.
When diet is right, medicine is of no need."
Ancient Ayurvedic Proverb
Here's a quote from a post on the HHO forum I read a few years back: "I worked for a feed company for a couple of years. We were encouraged to sell their feed of course and diss other brands. What went into them was whatever was cheap and laced with molasses, add a few aromatic herbs and Bob's your uncle, top spec feed. I don't do that anymore."
I'm now going to show my age. How many of us (are old enough to!) remember back in the 60's/70's? I know there's many of us out there based on the volume of comments I get from so many of my clients saying that back in the day, didn't things seem so much simpler. I seem to remember that the world was so much sunnier as well, but that may just be that I have so many memories of brilliant sunny days with the ponies ;o)
Anyhow, many moons ago, back in the 1960's, I was a pony-mad teen helping out at the local riding school at weekends. I was so lucky - I lived in the glorious Surrey Hills countryside, and you couldn't ask for better riding country. After a long weekend of helping taking rides out over Leith Hill and Holmbury Hill, every Sunday evening we'd turn the ponies out onto endless acres of lush meadow grass, where they'd gorge themselves silly for a week until the following Saturday morning, when us teen helpers would bring them all back in again for the weekend's lessons.
Not once was there a hint of footiness or lameness; not one of those ponies was ever unsound in any way. And as for Laminitis, let alone IR/EMS/Cushings, or the all-too-common practice today of having to keep our horses off the grass … these were all words and labels we'd never heard of back then.
Those truly were the days.
Does food matter?
More than most of us can imagine. Food, it turns out, is not just calories, but information that radically influences genes, hormones, immune system, brain chemistry and gut flora, with every single bite. What we eat is our body’s fuel, and it affects everything from how we feel, how we sleep, how strong our immune system is; everything we eat shapes our destiny. Thousands of studies consistently point in the same direction which shows that an improved diet can prevent illness and disease. A healthy, quality life starts from the foundation of a healthy diet. This matters for all of us, humans and our horses.
Getting the baseline diet right is essential to keep our horses healthy
For a doctor or vet not to know about nutrition is like a firefighter who doesn’t know about water. Yet how many are actually able to advise us correctly on what feeds to give our horses? Hardly any. Nutrition plays virtually no part in any conventional medical training these days.
Trouble is, we all know that the main food source for a horse is fibrous forage, but there's a lot wrong with our grass these days - more on this later, but the long and short of it is that we now spend a whole lot of our equine time keeping our horses off their most appropriate foodstuff. So, we spend a fortune on bagged feeds which promise the earth to lead our horses to the very best of health, but ... there's a problem here too. The majority of these shiny bags are full of crops grown and treated with many harmful chemicals; pesticides, herbicides, fungicides - the 'ides' certainly have it when it comes to our agri-crops. Then after harvesting, the grains and dried grasses are treated to a chemical mould inhibitor before being 'processed' into a foodstuff.
Now here's the real deal. Processed foods are, in essence, fake foods made in factories, loaded with artificial ingredients and synthetic additives, with unnecessary calories added in by way of something usually unhealthy (i.e. molasses, oatfeed, wheatfeed - soya! Don't get me started on soya, more on this later as well) to make them tasty. BadBadNotGood, especially for today's modern horse's sensitive gut.
Thing is, just because something is able to be eaten, chewed and digested doesn’t necessarily make it a feed to provide essential nutrients for the body to thrive. Today’s packaged feeds are often devoid of so many of the critical nutrients the body needs, the phytonutrients, flavenoids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that an organism, whether horse or human, needs to thrive on, let alone survive - you just have to look at the label analysis to see the token amounts thrown in as a gesture more than anything else.
Understandably, it’s an absolute minefield out there in our local agri-merchant; hundreds of different brands all promising the same thing but with different marketing slogans. Many funded by associations in order to put their stamp of approval on the bags to lure us owners into buying that product (when it's only about money changing hands and not about actually being healthy for our horses). All those shiny bags, covered with glossy photos of shiny healthy horses, and slogans promising all sorts of amazing health results and disease prevention. With so many equine conditions that now need 'managing', it’s easy to understand how we're conditioned to believe the advertising spin on the basis of what it promises.
So, is it any wonder we usually have several bags of various feeds piled up in our feedroom? Is it any wonder that feedtime becomes a military manoevre - a scoop of this, half a scoop of that, a gloop of this, a slosh of that, oh and don't forget 379-grams of them, then exactly 853ml of water, err now which chaff did I put in because he didn't like that other one, and mustn't forget to add in 100g of the new supplement, then 30g of that other one one, plus two capfuls of his tincture, and oh bluddy heck who's taken my Turmeric???!!!
It's no wonder we're so confused! It's no wonder we keep trying so many different bags because nothing seems to work. It's no wonder we feel so flipping guilty most of the time as we frisbee a feedbowl of something new at beloved Ned then leg it quickly so we don't have to watch him sniff it, then pull that face that says, "Are you mad? You trying to poison me again?"
If I had a quid for every time someone's said to me that they wished it could be so much simpler, I'd probably have a fabulous selection of new rugs for all four of my horses in every size, shape, colour, style and brand. Seriously. Well, that's what I'm here for - let me make it a whole lot simpler for you right now. Let's dump the hype for a second and remind ourselves of what a feedbowl is all about:
The key role of providing additional feed for our horses is to balance the nutrient deficiencies in their main fibre source, i.e. grass and hay, of the essential vitamins, minerals, protein and oils that may be lacking in their forage.
Simples. It really is, I promise you. So, take a big deep breath, grab a cuppa, try not to think about the fortune you spent last week at your local feedstore, and just for fun, let's remind ourselves of why it all went so wrong, and what we can now do to make sure we get it right.