Does food matter?
More than most of us can imagine. Food, it turns out, is not just about calories, but information that radically influences genes, hormones, immune system, brain chemistry and gut flora, with every single bite.
Thousands of studies consistently point in the same direction which shows that an improved diet can prevent illness and disease, and a healthy, quality life starts from the foundation of a healthy diet. This matters for all of us, humans and our horses. What we all 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.
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, compared to the good old days. More on this later, but the long and short of it is that we now spend a whole lot of our time keeping our horses off their most appropriate foodstuff.
So, we spend a fortune on bagged feeds which promise the earth to give 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. Even 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, synthetic additives, by-products and fillers, with unnecessary calories added in by way of something usually unhealthy, i.e. molasses or soya (cripes, don't get me started on soya, more on this later as well) to make them tasty. It's all badbadnotgood, especially for today's modern horse and his sensitive gut, again something that horses just didn't have in those good old days.
Thing is, just because something is able to be eaten, chewed and digested doesn’t necessarily make it a beneficial, or appropriate, 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 survive, let alone thrive. 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 actually about being healthy for our horses.
All those shiny bags, covered with shiny photos of shiny horses, and slogans promising all sorts of amazing health results and disease prevention. With so many equine conditions that now need 'managing', compared to hardly any from the good old days, 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 that new supplement, then 30g of the other one, or was it 20g, plus two capfuls of the tincture, and oh bluddy heck who's nicked me 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 having a larf? 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, so 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 provide a feed carrier in which to add the nutrient supplementation that may be lacking in their forage, specifically the essential vitamins, minerals, protein and essential fatty acids.
Simples. It really is, I promise you. If grass and hay had all the correct nutrient values for equine health, we wouldn't need a feedbowl at all. But grass and hay are deficient in many of the essential nutrients, so we have to add in the missing nuts and bolts to make everything work properly.
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 let's look at what we can now do to make sure we get everything about feed right, and the health of our horse to boot, with So began the world as we know it today.