Elk in northwest Washington come out to graze - eating what is available and looking good in winter.
Some Basic Rules Will Help You
1) Feed a horse as it has fed itself for a long time before us. Good pasture and water.
2) Where necessary (weather, lack of pasture) supplement with good quality of a variety of hay (grass and legume). Assure adequate water and add a pure salt block if needed.
3) Allow for the ebb and flow of food availability. Don’t be afraid if your horse becomes lean (NOT skinny) during the dormant months. Balance the horse’s condition with the needs of his work and life while also avoiding carbohydrate dependency and the associated problems.
4) Where a protein deficiency is determined (poor top line, poor hair coat, poor hoof, immune deficiency), look for a medical reason (severe parasite infection, chronic disease) and if none found or it is rectified, then supplement with 2 or 3 different sources of high biological value protein (soy, whey, alfalfa and other non-lectin sources). The results of this will be seen in 2 weeks but may take up to a year for complete realization.
5) Eliminate stress (overcrowding, insufficient pasture, hay and water supply). When indicated, add vitamins and minerals until any deficiency in food availability has been removed. This should be a short time as the drought or starvation is remedied.
6) Work with your practitioner to safely reduce or eliminate all medications including pharmaceuticals and natural medicines. Remove all other supplements including treats unless all ingredients have been shown to have no deleterious effects on the horse. The ingredients matter.
7) Every ingredient (food, medicine, supplement, treat) that enters the mouth has an effect on the health of the horse. Always remember this.
I really hope this series of “Decomplexicating Equine Nutrition” answers all the questions we as horse owners have about the health of our horses. At least it will open the discussion for finding the true answers. But maybe we just need to be like the spider spinning its web. It isn’t necessary for the spider to know how. They just spin it. Start feeding the horse the way it ate for millions of years (at least as best as we can with what we have) without analyzing why or how. The horse is connected with our human world and stuck with us where we live so it may be necessary to supplement.
Summary Of The Eleven Pillars of Equine Nutrition
Pillar 1 Grazing Not Browsing – Horses are grazers eating only what is found on the ground at the time of eating it. This is supported by the development of the ramped retina at the back of their eyeball. Ramping it alters the focal point of vision which helps in distant focusing when the head is lowered to eat (seeing enemies on the horizon) while also focusing up close things on the ground. They are poor at digesting woody plants but excel at cellulose though they need a large body and a continuous intake to meet their needs.
Pillar 2 The Basics of Sugar, Fat and Proteins – This pillar covered the basics of carbohydrates (including the following sugar names: sugar, glucose, starch, cellulose, glycogen, saccharide, monosaccharide, disaccharide, polysaccharide, oligosaccharide, lipopolysaccharide, mucopolysaccharide, fructose, sucrose, lactose, and more), fats (including the following fat names: adipose tissue, short chain fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids, long chain fatty acids, short chain triglycerides, medium chain triglycerides, MCT oil, long chain triglycerides, ketones, oils) and proteins (made up of: essential amino acids, non-essential amino acids, peptides). I showed that all of these are made of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen with the addition of Nitrogen and some Sulfur in proteins. I showed that these three classes of nutrients can interchange with each becoming another in processes such as gluconeogenesis controlled by the body.
Pillar 3 Gut Microbes – The concept of microscopic bacteria (including the following names: microbes, microbiome, microbiota, holobiome) within the lumen of the gut as well as on and around the body is relevant in discussing nutrition. It is the microbes within the gut that consume the raw material we call food and they in turn create the fuels that are absorbed through the semipermeable gut wall. They also can make certain vitamins which also pass through the gut wall. Destroying these “good” microbes creates an area for opportunistic growth of “bad” bacteria, create lipopolysaccharides (microbe body parts, LPS) that can damage the gut wall and can create ulcerations of the gut wall.
Pillar 4 Gut Inflammation – Inflammation of the gut wall is at the root of most if not all diseases and dysfunctions (unsoundness) of the horse. I described the opening of the tight junctions allowing the entrance of foreign proteins that not only creates inflammation but also can disrupt hormone communication and nerve transmissions. The causes of the gut damage are altered gut microbes, death parts of microbes, lectins and molds. Collectively this is called leaky gut syndrome.
Pillar 5 Making Energy and Mitochondria – The production of energy within the cell is done by the mitochondria. The 2 main fuels are glucose and ketones with ketones being more efficient and cleanest in producing energy. I discussed mitochondrial exhaustion as being a possible cause of insulin resistance. I also said there is evidence showing that mitochondria were once a bacteria living outside of the cell but now live in symbiosis within every cell of every animal. The gut microbes are feeding these mitochondria which in turn give energy to keep the body alive and functioning properly.
Pillar 6 Carbohydrate Dependency – Carbohydrate dependency is the cause of mitochondrial fatigue which in turn leads to cell death as well as general malaise, poor energy, disease and dysfunction of the horse. I described what hay is and how that affects carbohydrate load. I discussed why grains and other sources of starch given every day of the horse’s life does not allow the mitochondria to rest. It also causes the creation of more fat, the inability of the horse to loose fat, and the horse converting the muscles of the top line into sugar.
Pillar 7 The High Fat Diet – It is a reality that horses eating pasture and hay are really on a high fat diet. This changes with the season due to the ebb and flow of starch in the grass. When starch is low, the horse converts cellulose into short chain fatty acids which become ketones fueling the mitochondria efficiently as well as preserving the muscles from being converted into fuel.
Pillar 8 The Importance of Protein – What is crude protein and why it is so important to know the ingredients that are providing the protein. I also described what amino acids and biologic value of proteins are. I also offered some math to help you determine how to calculate just how much protein your horse is eating and emphasized that if you are low in just one amino acid, you are low in ALL amino acids. I then gave suggestions why horses are suffering from chronic protein deficiency.
Pillar 9 GMO, Pesticides and Fertilizers – The definitions and history of genetic modification, pesticide use including RoundUp and the mechanics of fertilizers. In my study of these I found no clear evidence that, if used correctly, there was any damage to horses from GM, RoundUp or inorganic fertilizers. This seems to fly in the face of those who believe otherwise. I suggested that what has not been studied is their effect on the microbiome or holobiome. I further suggested that if you eliminate all feed other than pasture and hay that you would be eliminating a lot of these issues. Horses need to eat but finding non-GM pasture and hay grown without pesticides and synthetic fertilizer is very hard. Worrying about it, especially in non-breeding horses, may not be necessary.
Pillar 10 Supplements – The descriptions of Vitamins, Minerals, Electrolytes and Herbs and the problems of deficiency and toxicity if any. What was determined was that there was no need to supplement with vitamins unless the horses were subjected to starvation or sever weather such as drought. The same seemed to be true with minerals as the horse was very efficient in preserving the correct amounts of minerals within the body. Additional electrolytes were needed only with severe sweating and diarrhea or if the horse has the genetic mutation causing HYPP.
Pillar 11 Lectins – An introduction of the relatively new concept of plant proteins called lectins that are protecting the plant from predators by disrupting hormonal communication and nerve transmission. How lectins cause inflammation in the gut and the nerves including the brain was discussed. Lectins are found mostly in the outer part of all soft seeds (grains) and feeding grain byproducts is possibly feeding the horse a concentrated form of lectins. These proteins directly attack the tight junctions of the gut wall and is a major cause of Leaky Gut Syndrome in people.
What I Have NOT Talked About
This endeavor has been to talk about nutrition but it is incomplete. I’m sure many of you will bring to my attention all the deficiencies but let me cover two right off the bat. They are 1) the use of medicines and 2) how do we restore the balance between the horse we have and the horse we should have.
I decided to avoid the topic of medicines in the Eleven Pillars because many horses have been prescribed medicines for real issues in their lives by veterinarians. I am a veterinarian but not YOUR veterinarian and suggesting that you alter the course of therapy prescribed by your vet is not only unethical but possibly life threatening. However, not mentioning here the effects medications have on your horse is unwise in light of their ubiquitous use and effects on horses.
The classes of drugs include antibiotics (antimicrobials), anthelmintics (deworming medication), anti-inflammatories (steroidal and non-steroidal and others), anti-ulcerative medicines (protein pump inhibitors, antacids and others), behavioral modifiers (sedatives, tranquilizers, and others), hormone modifiers and replacements (reproductive hormones, system hormones and others) and neurotransmitter modifiers (dopamine agonists and others). In fact, everything placed into the horse’s mouth other than the plants it naturally grazes upon has the possibility of altering the gut microbes. Yes, this includes all the herbs and natural therapies derived from organic materials that are often used as an alternative to natural chemicals approved as medicines.
The thought that this large swath of things considered beneficial for the health of horses may actually be the cause of body dysfunction will bristle every practitioner. Veterinarians and holistic practitioners have used medicines, herbs, roots and proprietary formulations for centuries to comfort their horses. They are usually successful. You may have benefitted from them too. I could not imagine having a surgery performed without anesthetics, a broken bone without pain medication or a life threatening bacterial infection without antibiotics. I have had all of these conditions and medications. But has there been a cost?
It is being suggested in human medicine that there are costs associated with the use of all medications just as there are with any recreational drug (cocaine, meth, LSD) or toxic plants (gluten and other lectins). This cost is paid by the changes in the gut bacteria and possibly in the holobiome (in, on and around us). At Texas A&M vet school it was shown that a whole family of naturally occurring bacteria within the mouth was eliminated with the dosing of just one Eqquiox (Prevacox) treatment. This is remarkable. Is it possible that treatments with multiple medicines over longer periods of time have a more profound effect on horses?
We have a conundrum. How do we use our medicines? The Center for Disease Control (the CDC) announced in 2017 that the biggest threat to human health in the world today is antibiotic resistance. Would it be wrong to say that the real threat is that the “good” bacteria have already been wiped out?
I love the idea of jumping into a time machine to look back on the millions of years the horse has existed without human interference. With the exception of broken bones, lacerations of skin and starvation, did the horse live well? Was he plagued with insulin resistance, laminitis, Cushing’s disease, dropped fetlocks, suspensory injury, anhydrosis (non-sweating), parasite infection, cracked hooves, thrush, the various skin diseases and cancers, moon blindness, EOTRH of teeth or any of the problems you have had with your horse today? Will the horses still suffer from these after correcting their diets? This brings me to the second point I am not talking about.
How do we restore the normal gut microbiome? I cannot answer this because no one can measuring this other than to look at the fecal microbial colonies. However, I have been suggesting a solution throughout this discussion. It is the removal of all grain and all supplements and the addition of a variety of protein when the horse is confined to a single type of pasture. The results have been the following: elimination of unwanted behavior (bucking when ridden, objecting to girth tightening, objecting to brushing, objecting to trailer loading, objecting to clipping, elimination of anhydrosis, the exchange of poor hair coat and poor hoof condition with good quality, the replacement of a poor top line, the reduction in bloating and excess fat, the addition of fat and muscle on hard keepers, elimination of colic, the reduction of choke and an overall improvement of attitude of the horses in the barn. The time it takes to see these resolutions starts in as little as 3 days and for some, up to two years.
If your horse currently has a disease that your practitioner is treating there you should include them in any changes. They can monitor objectively the progress with blood analysis, radiographs, ultrasound and other diagnostics. But if your horse is not being treated, then use a notebook and record your own observations including all the issues before changing the diet.
Take the 10 day no grain challenge to prove to yourself the benefits of removing inflammatory food from the gut. It costs nothing. There is science behind this. The benefits have been seen by many horse owners already. If it doesn’t work for you then go back to what you were doing. After all, it’s only 10 days.
For the health of the horse, it is far more important to remove the problem causing ingredients than it is to add something to the diet.
The best thing you can do is to make a journal for each horse. Write down the starting date. Write down everything about each horse that you feel is not normal and that you want to objectively follow. Then commit to entering your observations on a regular basis.
If I receive enough journals that are well written with good objective and subjective observations along with good data and an accurate time line that shows that the basic feeding rules have been followed, then I may consider publishing them for all to see.
Consider enrolling in the Horsemanship Nutrition course coming in May of 2018. Links will be on TheHorsesAdvocate.com website. There you can immerse yourself in these articles, videos of me going into each pillar, additional material and most importantly, the forum to ask your questions. This is where we will all learn together and help our horses live more comfortable lives.
Good luck and thank you again for taking the time to listen to my thoughts on “Horsemanship Nutrition.”
The Horsemanship Nutrition Course
If this article makes you want to learn more then click here to find out about this course offered by The Horse's Advocate University.Discover nutrition for horses