"To use the term 'clean', that's kind of a provocative term, but I think an appropriate one because there's a lot of 'exhaust' associated with burning the wrong food for fuel ... toxicity, free radicals ... that contribute to the metabolic problems we're seeing." Dr. Mercola, Jan 2016
"We're running into a lot of metabolic problems because we're constantly inhibiting the body's ability to burn fuel that it was evolved to burn." Dr. Jeff Volek, Ph.D., Registered Dietitian and Professor, Ohio State University
What feed we choose for our horses is always going to be about personal choice, and of course what works for some won't necessarily work for all. However, if you’re questioning your horse's feed regime, the information here may be of interest to you.
First off, what we feed our horses should be as appropriate to what horses are meant to eat, and as uncontaminated as possible, to support the natural digestive function, immunity, and behavioural response of horses.
Secondly, and contrary to what the advertising says, horses don't need additional hard (bagged) feed over and above a forage diet. What they do need is supplementation of additional nutrients; vitamins, minerals, protein and oil (the beneficial omega-3 oil, not the damaging inflammatory omega-6 oils which you get from the typical supermarket oils, i.e. corn, sunflower, canola etc) to balance the known deficiencies in our horses' forage, and extra energy, if necessary, for horses in work.
The best way to get this supplementation into your horse is via a feed carrier, as in a small amount of something clean and natural to get those yukky minerals and vitamins into them.
Personally? Until early 2017, my horses grazed on the usual livery-standard, i.e. diversified ex-dairy farm grazing, rarely any herbage, thankfully never sprayed but sadly never harrowed/rolled, so it was pretty poor grazing (which we all know is no bad thing) and they had hay pretty much all year round.
Then in Spring 2017 we moved house so had to move the horses, and I finally found the grazing of my dreams - rolling acres of unfertilised, ancient former sheep-grazed moorland pasture – yes I know I'm lucky, but it did take me years to find it ;o) However, it still comes with the usual micronutrient deficiencies so I need to give my small herd of four a daily feedbowl with an appropriate carrier to add in their minerals etc.
So here's my take on All Things Feed, and how I feed my horses. In brief first, then the Full Monty below if you've got a bit of time; the Full Monty forms a fair chunk of my email reply to an All Things Feed enquiry, so it's a long one.
In brief - my feedbowl
Here's what goes in mine:
Now for the Full Monty, so grab a cuppa and here goes, Carol's take on All-Things-Feed.
So how do we keep our horses healthy?
It goes without saying to remove any stressors, or allow time for the memory of traumas to fade. As important as this, we need to keep the beneficial intestinal flora populated by way of a probiotic. If the gut flora population is strong and healthy, with the right nutrients being digested and supporting the health of the whole body, the immune system is then strong enough to kill off – and eliminate - toxins.
Let’s not forget that antibiotics also wreak havoc by destroying bacteria in the body indiscriminately – the word ‘antibiotic’ literally means ‘kill all’. The gut flora are temporarily eliminated until they are re-introduced and given the chance to repopulate again. Unfortunately, the microflora and microbial balance in a horse can be upset far quicker than it can be restored, and once damaged, it also alters the pH of the gut environment, further affecting digestion and the horse's overall health and well-being.
Finally, we need to feed the right nutrition to nourish – and balance - the system, by way of micronutrients, aka chemicals, aka minerals. A mammalian body is made of chemicals, whether horse or human, and all body activities are chemical in nature – a body needs the right chemicals, in the right measures, to keep itself alive and thriving.
Which means ...
What we feed has to be right
A healthy, quality life starts from the foundation of a healthy diet - it matters more than we can imagine. It’s not just about calories, but the chemical information from the micronutrients in feed that radically influences genes, hormones, immune system, central nervous system, brain chemistry, skeletal and soft tissue structure ... you name it, the whole organism (body), at cellular level, with every single bite.
Thirty years ago a horse grazing in a typical paddock would have had the choice of approximately 30-40 different plants and grasses, each bringing its own specific nutrients essential for a balanced diet, and at the same time containing natural sources of digestive enzymes and naturally occurring beneficial bacteria.
These days, in that same paddock, because of selective seeding, intensive farming, chemical fertiliser spraying, etc etc., the grazing is limited to sometimes as few as four varieties of grasses, and very often over-grazed as well.
Nutrients are the body’s fuel, and they literally affect everything. From how our horses feel, how they rest and sleep, how strong their immune system is, how healthy the body is; food shapes our destiny, whether horse or human – this is a cast-iron mammalian trait.
Bottom line, the key to good health is a nutrient-rich diet. Vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids and other active components – all essential to incorporate in the diet.
Just a quick anatomy heads-up and back to those vits/mins etc., us mammals, both horse and human, are one big engine of chemistry, so we’re talking trillions of chemicals and minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and copper. We’re also talking vitamins, amino acids, fats and proteins, and so on and so on.
More importantly, these chemicals have to be in the correct ratios to work in harmony with each other. It’s all well and good adding in one extra mineral such as magnesium, which seems to be the most popular independently fed mineral. However, because the whole organism is that big engine of incredibly complex chemical actions all interacting with each other, it means that if we add in extra of one chemical, this will unbalance all the others.
This is why we need balanced mineral supplementation, appropriate to the equine metabolism, in line with what their daily requirements are, as per the NRC guidelines.
A horse’s natural diet of fresh grass and/or hay provides most of what they need, but not all – these days it’s now well-known that grass, and especially hay, is significantly deficient in the equine-essential micronutrients, i.e.
We also need to allow for the fact that the drying/curing process of grass to hay further depletes the mineral/vitamin/omega values as well, with winter bringing even further denaturing of the vitamins C & E, as well as omega-3.
Pulling all this together, we need to add in the missing nuts and bolts to the forage our horses eat, and especially if there’s dried forage, i.e. hay/haylage, in the diet, which is usually the case for most horses here in the UK.
Feed and supplement recommendations
First off, Minerals. Depending on the weather/season/area/soil type/grass type, the changes in the chemistry of grass are many-fold, and these directly cause changes in the chemistry of the horse, which directly and adversely affects the horse's central nervous system (CNS) and muscles.
While each individual mineral has its own actions, there are thousands of reactions occurring at any given moment in time in the horse’s body, which involve many complex interactions with other minerals, vitamins, protein and energy sources.
Yes it’s a minefield, but that’s what I’m here for - it's all about getting everything in balance (my favourite word!). There’s a ton more info on this in our Mineral Solutions page – www.equinatural.co.uk/mineralsolutions
Pulling it all together here, supplementing the deficient minerals to balance our UK forage and hay is essential, especially when hay plays a major part in the diet. If you added only one supplement into the feedbowl, it should be a balanced mineral supplement.
Now to the feedbowl
Of course, nothing’s going to balance a system and sustain health if we’re feeding all this nutrition on a feedbowl diet of donuts. There are good feeds, there are questionable feeds that really don’t nourish the horse at all, and then there are bad feeds with inappropriate – and often health damaging – fillers and by-products.
So long as you’ve got the base feed in the feedbowl right, you don’t need much - just something healthy and species-appropriate for the equine gut to add in the nutrient nuts and bolts, to aid palatability, ease of digestion and transit.
However, the feedbowl is where it so often goes very wrong, because all those shiny bags at our local agri-merchants make it very confusing, promising allsorts yet often delivering very little if anything. And as if it wasn’t confusing enough, as important as what to feed is also what NOT to feed, especially for the gut-sensitive or metabolic equine, which sadly so many of our domesticated horses are these days.
For example, no grains, no by-products or fillers, no salt blocks (they weather with weather and denature, as well as creating a haven for moulds and bacteria): obviously no molasses (although you’d be amazed at how many feeds still list some form of molasses as an ingredient), no sugary treats, and ... alfalfa, as mentioned above, which so many of our feed manufacturers use.
A quick digress on alfalfa - many metabolic horses do not tolerate alfalfa well - it can trigger gut and skin sensitivies, and can also be a source of ongoing foot pain for them. Although it generally tests below 10% sugar/starch, the starch percentage is quite high, as are the protein and calcium levels, the latter upsetting the ca:mg:p ratios.
Agreed that some horses have no issues with it, but as it’s an unknown, the very informative ECIR group (Equine Cushings Insulin Resistant) cautions against feeding it.
Back to general feeds, and sadly many of our well known brands include some or all of these ingredients, which actively feed the bad intestinal bacteria who thrive on junk and sugar, allowing them to multiply in their trillions, which in turn kill off the beneficial flora and gut lining, through which the toxins leak into the bloodstream, and so imbalance of homeostasis begins. It’s a cyclical whirlpool to illness, doing nothing to nourish our horses at all.
I’d definitely recommend you check the ingredients on your feedbags. They’re quite sneaky, our feed brand manufacturers – they don’t tend to list the ingredients on the bag itself, but on the analysis which is usually a fairly insignificant scrappy white label sewn into the top of the bag.
Typical ingredients to avoid are along the lines of :
And finally … all these ingredients, unless stated organic (which few of them are), are chemically sprayed during the growth – and post harvesting – period, with a final treatment of chemical mould inhibitor before packaging to stop the feed getting mouldy. In other words, there’s a fair cocktail of toxic chemicals included in the feedbag, as well as the majority of the ingredients grown as GMO, other than Allen&Page who at least claim to steer away from GM foodstuffs but don’t use organically grown product.
Here's what I like to feed
So, what’s out there that’s clean, safe, nutritious, and chemical free? My personal base feed carrier of choice is Stance Equine's Coolstance Copra – this is especially good for sensitive guts and/or horses that drop weight or need condition. And for a quality fibre feed such as chaff/cobs, there is none finer than the Agrobs Pre-Alpin organic, natural fibre-based range.
Then, we need to add Linseed (the micronized seed for the added nutrients, not just the oil) to add in the missing omegas (EFA’s - essential fatty acids) from our grass/hay; a minimum 1-tablespoon of Salt as a natural electrolyte (unrefined, not table salt, more on this below), and your choice of mineral balancer, i.e. one of the EquiVita range, preferably the ProB (probiotic) version.
So there we have it - Copra, and/or Agrobs, Linseed & Salt – the perfect feedbowl, as follows.
So there’s Feed done. You’ll now have the perfect base feedbowl carrier into which we can then add the phytonutrient magic of herbs if needed.
To finish as we started
Getting the baseline diet right is absolutely essential to keeping our horses healthy. We have total control over how, when and what our horse's eat - they have no say in it whatsoever. If we as their carers don't get it right, continued degeneration is inevitable if we continue to feed them industrially processed foods made from proven inferior, chemically-treated ingredients.
We have more knowledge and resources today than at any time in recent history to help us adopt a diet for our horses that ensures good health, generation after generation. And it's so simple - feed real nutritious food,just as we did in the good old days.
And if you want to try your horses on the Copra, or even with the mineral combo, i.e. EquiVita, linseed and salt, have a look at our Starter Bundles page or our ONLINE SHOP which has a full range of trial samples of pretty much everything we do for you to try before you buy in bulk.
Here's wishing you horse the very best of health.
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