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Decomplexicating Equine Nutrition – Introduction

~Clouds shroud these hilltop wind turbine generators hiding their true giant size - much like the misinformation in feeding horses creates a cloud of mystique in what is truth~

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a series on my approach to feeding the horse. I introduced the word “complexicate” a few weeks ago which is a word I made up. I had to because it describes the act humans do when we take something simple and make it more complex than it needs to be. It deserved a new word.

The force behind complexicating anything is the lack of understanding the subject. This confusion leads not only to mistakes from over-thinking things but it opens us all up to charlatans exploiting this confusion for their own gain. Add to this the human nature of adding alarm to everything and the drama rises like an evening news story riveting us to our couch as we hear about someone’s tragedy.

Unfortunately due to several factors, I have stopped buying into the drama. Call it old age, the “been-there-done-that” variety of wisdom or the lack of substantial answers to the constant questions I have asked. I call this the, “But why Mommy?” syndrome where the answers don’t satisfy me and leave me with more questions. The final answer often is “Because I said so!” which in a way angers me. I’ll admit that there are a lot of other people smarter than me - by a long shot. I invite them to question what I write here if it adds to the conversation. But if it is inflammatory or adds only drama or is based on blatantly false information, then don’t bother. Everyone is a critic. However my goal with these blogs is to decomplexicate our beliefs in the way we feed our horses.

I wrote a blog about beliefs where I concluded that our beliefs or rules are what guide us in life. As a foundation, beliefs support our advanced ideas. For example there was a time when we all believed that the sun circled the Earth. Words became actionable events such as sunrise and sunset and we based our lives around them regardless of how it occurred. Likewise we all feed our horses without the understanding of how that food accomplishes things like survival, growth, weight gain, athletic performance, disease, mental capacity or even death. All we know is what we are told by our elders or what we read in magazines. Over time, ideas come about that are usually agenda driven that change the way we feed our horses. These agendas include performance and looks (bigger, faster, stronger, prettier or most competitive or capable). This leads to experimenting with feeding and looking for a result often with damaging results.

Damaging results include lame horses (suspensory ligaments, tendon strain, bone chips, arthritis, muscle soreness, dropped fetlocks), behavioral issues (trailering phobias, stable vices, riding excitability, misbehavior, listlessness, unwillingness) and disease (insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, pituitary dysfunction or Cushing’s, ulcers of the stomach and intestines, anhydrosis, chronic poor body condition, skin diseases, reproductive dysfunction, unthriftiness, poor hoof condition). Yes, most if not all of these are related to how we feed our horses.

Many of these conditions either occurred much less frequently in the past or did not occur at all. Little nutritional research is being done now in horses unless it uses advanced technology that is subsidized by feed companies. Those who do have good ideas about the challenges we face in our horse care are often blocked from publishing them because print and other media are beholding to their sponsors: grain companies.

I started with horses professionally in 1973 on a Thoroughbred breeding and training farm where all horses were fed hay, oats and wheat bran and some soy bean meal. Pasture was abundant for some and limited for others especially during the crowded breeding season. Lame horses occurred which included bowed tendons, bucked shins, splints and laminitis. Most of the lamenesses were training related and very few foundered. Developmental orthopedic diseases were new such as osteochondrosis dissicans (OCD) and epiphysitis and were only found on well fed farms. Most vet visits were for injuries, colic or foal delivery problems. Also included were preventive care visits but deworming horses was just starting with packaged powders for top dressing the feed. Penicillin and tetracycline were the only antibiotics and we were just starting to use disposable hypodermic needles. Our foaling vet still used the same needle stored in a jar of alcohol. Euthanasia was commonly done with a gun.

This 45 year perspective gives me a point of view that is probably different from yours if your experience with horses is 30 years or less. Young horse owners and horse professionals have come to accept the idea that all horses become sick or lame. I laugh when I hear an owner say proudly, “My horse has Cushing’s!” They believe it is either normal or inevitable! Of course the veterinary profession goes along with this as they find new revenue streams for their ever increasing cost of providing services to horse owners.

In 1980 my veterinary training focused on teaching us to think and not just memorize the facts as were known then. We assumed we didn’t have all the answers but we also believed that the body had the incredible ability to take care of itself if allowed to. I have carried this belief with me and it is what drives me to asking more questions. But instead of asking from a positive perspective of how can we make the horse healthier, my questions come from the reflective perspective of why are these horses becoming unhealthier? From this I have found a common idea and it really is not just limited to horses. The idea is simple which decomplexicates everything we know about equine nutrition. It is NOT what the horses are NOT eating but it IS what they ARE eating.

The field of human nutrition is where the money and research is and what they have found out in the past 5 years is literally turning the world upside down. It is equal to the realization that the sun does NOT circle the Earth and because of how radical it is, there is much resistance. Before you decide to follow this blog and read the future articles, ask yourself this one simple question - “How is what you are doing working for you?” If you or your horses have illnesses that you don’t understand and you don’t want to accept them as normal, then follow this blog. However if you or your horses are perfectly healthy and happy, then let me know why so I can learn from you.

Here are the upcoming blogs on nutrition I will post weekly. I am breaking the subject into small pieces for us to walk through together. During the progression I will build upon what we learn. But if you really don’t want to take the time to learn about the things behind nutrition and only want the bottom line, then read this. Stop feeding all grains and plant byproducts to your horses. Feed them good quality pasture, hay, salt and water. If competing or your hay and pasture is limited or of poor quality or you have older horses in poor condition then add a variety of protein sources.

That’s it! Feed a horse the way it is designed to be fed and you will get 100% of his or her potential.

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