Protein for horses revisited

I need to update my view on protein sources to account for the deception many protein supplement manufacturers are creating at the expense of helping our horses. Deception is a strong word but applies to their manipulation of ingredients while maintaining the appearance of the bag it comes in as well as the look of the supplement itself. But before I actually describe their art of deception, I want to do a quick review of protein.

Proteins and their building blocks of amino acids

Protein is a word that describes a very large molecule that is made up of smaller molecules called amino acids.  A good way to look at this is to think of a protein like a word and an amino acid as a letter.  When you text a message you put together letters in the right amounts and in the right order to make a word.  The blueprint in your DNA does the same thing by putting together the amino acids in the right amounts and in the right order to make a protein.  The proteins that are made do a lot of different things in the body including connective tissue (muscle, tendons, ligaments), neurotransmitters (dopamine, acetylcholine), enzymes (protease, amylase), hormones (insulin, leptin), immune modulators (antigens, immunoglobulins) and hard tissues (hooves, hair).  

There are between 1 and 3 Billion proteins per cell.  There are only 20 amino acids that make all of these proteins.  While this seems impossible, think that there are only 26 letters in the alphabet that make up all the words in a dictionary.  But if one letter is missing then there are a lot of words that will not be made.  No “W” then no “tomorroW.”  Likewise if one amino acid is missing then there are a lot of proteins than cannot be made.  This is why it is incredibly important to know the ingredients and not just the % of “protein” in the supplement.  Different proteins supply different amino acids.  Remember this when I talk of the deception later.

The Protein Recycling Program and the Chronic Deficiency of Proteins

With the exception of hair and hoof, proteins in the body don’t last long.  On average all proteins are broken down within 2 to 4 days into their amino acid parts and these are reassembled through a sophisticated recycling program to preserve the amino acids.  Horses in the wild have access to a variety of protein sources throughout the growing season where they stock up on proteins.  But in the winter, attrition occurs as the horse loses some proteins.  For example a horse does not recycle the amino acids used to make the hoof or hair.  These are permanently lost as they are lost to the environment.  They then need replacing.

In a normal world the horse would maintain the amount of protein to remain healthy by conserving and recycling amino acids and ingesting enough to replace lost material.  However, in the current modern state of keeping horses, there are a number of reasons why horses are becoming chronically deficient.  I will list them here and if some of these don’t make sense then return to my previous blogs for a further explanation.

1) Carbohydrate dependency – This is the leading cause of protein loss.  Let’s look at the normal horse eating only what is available outside at the time of the year he is eating.  When sugar (glucose, fructose) is available in grains, seeds, fruit like apples, carrots and lush growing pastures, the horse uses it for cell fuel.  But glucose is not an efficient fuel and the cell actually becomes tired because the mitochondria become exhausted converting it into energy.  The result of this in most horses is adding body fat.  This is OK in late summer and autumn because the message the body is receiving from sugar being available is that winter is coming.  But there is little sugar available in the winter which causes the horse to convert to using body fat (ketones) as the cell fuel.  Ketones are a more efficient fuel meaning the cell gets a lot more energy from ketones than from glucose.  The result of this is loss of body fat (good) and a rest for the mitochondria (also good).

When a horse is fed sugar every day of the year (grain, treats), the mitochondria within the cell become exhausted which in turn causes the cells to die.  As they die, they no longer do their job and illness and soundness issues appear.  For example, mitochondrial dysfunction (death) has now been determined to be a primary cause of tendon rupture in humans.  How does this happen?  When the cell becomes weak the brain thinks the body is dying.  The brain determines that the cells need more fuel so it converts proteins into sugars through a process called gluconeogenesis.  The result is a shrinking top line, a poor hair coat, poor hoof condition, and an assortment of diseases and lamenesses.

2) Lectins – these are plant proteins made by plants to make ill and even kill predators such as humans and horses that are eating the plant babies (seeds).  You can read more about this but in essence, these plant proteins can disrupt the tight junctions of the gut lining causing leaking gut syndrome.  They can also disrupt hormone communication by mimicking hormones making that hormone ineffective.  One such lectin called wheat germ agglutinin mimics insulin preventing the real insulin from delivering glucose to the cell.  This leads again to cell dysfunction and cell death which in turn leads to gluconeogenesis and protein loss.

3) Grain byproducts – The plant lectins are concentrated in the outer layers of seeds.  These layers are removed from foods made for humans and then given to animals.  For example, whole grains have more lectins and therefore the wheat hulls are removed to make white wheat flour.  This creates the wheat middlings and wheat bran used in almost every commercial feed for horses.  Remember wheat germ agglutinin above?  Most Asians eat white rice as they know the outer layer called rice bran is not good to eat.  Rice bran is often found in horse feed.

4) Medicines – Proton pump inhibitors used as anti-ulcer medications raises the pH of the stomach making it less acid.  The purpose of stomach acid is to kill foreign bacteria (including the probiotics you feed) and to break apart the very large proteins into smaller pieces for digestion.  If the proteins are not adequately predigested in the stomach then they will pass out of the horse undigested.  This adds to the protein deficiency.

5) Gut microbe dysbiosis – this means that the bacteria that normally inhabit the gut are not happy.  This leads to a lot of dying or dead good bacteria and the growth of bad bacteria.  If you consider that all the food you place into the horse is there to feed the gut bacteria and NOT the horse then you will quickly understand how important it is to feed the right food.  If the gut bacteria are dying then deficiencies will occur in many nutrients because it is the gut bacteria that create the fuel that feeds the mitochondria of the cells.

6) Feeding oils – With a few exceptions (4 exceptions in humans), any oil fed to a horse such as corn, vegetable or soy bean oils will bind to the dead parts of the gut bacteria called lipopolysaccharides and together they form a devastating particle able to penetrate the gut wall.  As they appear on the inside of the horse they create a 5 alarm fire of inflammation which causes ulceration and an influx of white blood cells.  What you see as a fractious horse unhappy with being groomed, cinched or girthed, trailered or ridden.

All of these items listed above either consumes an excessively high amount of protein or prevents the absorption of the needed essential amino acids.  The result is the same: protein deficiency that is chronic when the causes go on year after year.

The Deception

Marketing is an every day part of life.  We all do it.  As a child when we wanted something from our parent we marketed using whatever facial expressions we could muster as well as pulling on every available heart string.  When we were told no we didn’t like it and we resolved to do better marketing in the future.  

As you open the magazines and look at the marketing of items made to improve our horse’s lives we see a familiar pattern.  It goes like this.  You and your horse have a problem (old, lame, sick) or COULD have a problem (colic, founder, not win).  We have a solution (product, service, food, supplement).  You, the consumer and care giver and horse trainer want to have a happy horse so you trust that the product you are about to purchase is well tested and will do no harm.  This is enforced when you see your horse actually like the product.

The deception occurs when you stop and think about what you are feeding your horses and then ask if what you are feeding is actually helping your horses.  If not, you attempt to read the ingredients to determine if the food ingredients are to be blamed.  Here is where you get stuck because, unfortunately, your efforts reveal that this is not as simple as it seems.  Not only are there long words of unfamiliar ingredients, they have changed since the last time you read the label.  This happens all the time.

The ingredient label for Progressive Nutrition’s ProAdd Ultimate from 2017.


The ingredient label for Progressive Nutrition’s ProAdd Ultimate from 2018. Note that whey has been moved far from the beginning and that other inflammatory ingredients have been added.

Today I just recommend as a protein source for horses straight soy bean meal (SBM) that is de-hulled with the oil solvent or pressure extracted and with only a flow agent added (lanolin).

I once encouraged people to purchase a protein source called ProAdd Ultimate made by Progressive Nutrition and owned by Nutrena.  When I did, the ingredients were listed in a way I thought would not be too harmful to horses.  The first few ingredients (the main ingredients listed in order of amount in the product) were something useful to the horse followed by some less useful ingredients.  Over the past year the company has changed the ingredients to such that I can no longer recommend it.  Apparently in manufacturing a product, ingredients are changed and re-ordered all the time due to economics or due to technical issues with the machines.  For example, in human food corn syrup is used to lubricate the machines and it’s removal would require retooling the machines.  For this reason corn syrup is in a lot of food manufactured for human consumption.

Soy Bean Meal – de-hulled and oil removing with solvents (OK for horse) plus a flow agent.

WHAT I RECOMMEND NOW

SBM is inexpensive and should be fed a pound a day for a horse weighing 1000 to 1400 pounds with only pasture, water, salt and hay (grass plus a flake of alfalfa).  This should be continued until the signs of protein deficiency are gone (improved top line, hair coat, hooves, resolved diseases).  After this the amount can be reduced, eliminated or given on occasion.  Think of adding SBM like a treatment as you are treating a protein deficiency.  Once the gut has restored itself to normal and protein loss minimized then the amino acid recycling program should be enough to maintain the protein levels in most horses.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are afraid of feeding SBM due to GMO, glyphosate, feminization (estrogen) or political reasons – don’t be.  There is no recorded problems with feeding SBM to horses due to these concerns and since 1973 I  have had no adverse reactions to this..   Remember that feeding SBM is only for a year or two max.    More importantly, chronic protein deficiency has been devastating to the health of the horse.  We need to fix that now and SBM (without sugar added and without grains and treats and other supplements) seems to work the best to resolve this in most horses.

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Comments 57

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      Look at the way the SBM was made. If solvents were used this may be the issue, though it is rare. Also look for molasses added. SBM also has a flow agent like lanolin added. Maybe another brand would work.

      If it is SBM causing the hives then try whey protein. There are several sources for horses such as “Equine-whey.”

      Be sure there is some alfalfa in his diet as this will help with protein deficiencies.

  1. I think most wont read the entire article, or your 12 part blog series on nutrition, but I am on board —completely— w/ the no grain challenge… it’s worked for my horses-and one non sweater is sweating this summer. I really think it’s brilliant and challenge all horse owners to feed horses as they were intended to eat.

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      Thanks Judy for this. Many have told me that they don’t read these because of…. well the list of reasons are long. But I understand that most don’t know how their cars work and take them to the repair shop when they break. Prevention is not really high up on the list. The same is true for themselves and their health.

      But we are all responsible for the health of our animals and we all need to invest some time and at least TRY to get it right. It is hard to do when the blitz of misinformation confuses us. We can just hope that some people will read a comment like yours and be inspired to try.

  2. Thanks again for the update. It is so darn difficult to make sense of the labels. Just trying to keep it simple! Thank you …Patrice

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  3. Good follow up article, Doc T! As you know, I have subscribed to your philosophy of feeding (though it took me quite a while to be “all in”). I have been following your feeding outline 100% for, now, 20 days, the first 10 days as the “cleanse”, with ONLY pasture, orchard grass hay, and Himalayan salt block (well, turned out to be 17 days, since the protein source didn’t arrive on time, 😡). I have introduced the protein sources outlined below and he has been on this regimen for 3 days now:
    I did a LOT of research on protein sources, with what you wrote above as a foundation of thought. What I found (which made sense in my layman’s viewpoint) is that the best way to feed according to your outline, is to buy and feed 1/8 pound (for now–may increase to 1/4# if it is not apparent in quality muscle gain over time) HUMAN GRADE natural/natural whey protein isolate (no additives, no preservatives, no sugar/sweeteners/flavor, etc. from Lucky Vitamin online–expensive, but worth it when you consider the quality and stated bioavailability to the horse/human–yes, I use it myself), and mix with 1ounce Kosher salt, 1pound organic alfalfa pellets (from Standlee), and one ounce of organic coconut oil (from Uckele–again, very expensive, but worth it because of the Omega-3/6 ratio), as well as for palatability–he loves his meals! I chose alfalfa and coconut oil instead of the soybean meal, specifically because of the lectin and omega6 issues. I am still in the experimental phase, but so far, so good. Do you think I am on the right track? I commented here, instead of emailing you privately, because I think others who are considering this might find my questions (and your answers) useful. 😁

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      Thanks Mary. Soybean lectins would be found in the hulls and these have been removed. The lectins of a legume (soybeans, alfalfa, peanuts) would be damaging to humans but so far they, nor any lectins, have been studied in horses and in addition, no horses to my knowledge have signs of gut inflammation from legumes. There may be a horse who reacts to alfalfa but there are usually other inflammatory causes. But your horse does not react to alfalfa so I would think that all legumes including soybeans would be OK (especially de-hulled beans).

      The Omega oils are also interesting because of the amount of human information. The 3’s being anti-inflammatory and the 6’s being inflammatory. But what makes fractionated coconut oil special is that it is a medium chain triglyceride that bypasses bacterial digestion in the human gut and advances through the gut wall for direct use as a fuel after it is converted into a ketone. I take this oil every morning and it improves cognitive function plus it staves off hunger until after noon. Remember that a healthy gut will digest cellulose into short chain fatty acids which also become ketones, myelin sheaths, cell walls and other useful fats.

      Whey protein isolate works well in humans and horses (about 94% bioavailable). If you do the math and your goal is to replace the lost protein (0.5 to 1.0 grams protein per pound of body weight) then I think you might be under-dosing. However for maintenance, ¼ pound per day may be enough when combined with pasture and alfalfa.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to explain these issues and point out the changes to the feed composition. People want to do the right thing for their horses, but in fact marketing does overwhelm many buying choices.

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  5. Dr T…… I’ve looked at your offer and four items are in the picture. What exactly do we receive. Are these all online books, DVD’s , online only, what?
    I’m vey interested , but I can’t figure out what I’m paying for.
    Please help me understand.
    Also I see you are a dentist . Do you travel or must we drive to you with our horses?
    Sorry for so many questions.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi dorothy – the images are to let you know that this is an online course that you can use on any device. As long as you have a browser for the internet you will be able to see the information.

      My dentistry practice covers the US but I limit my practice to the states I am licensed in unless special arrangements are made. Please contact me at 888-467-9838 and leave a message. Be sure to include the state you live in. You can also email melissa@theequinepractice.com

  6. Thank you for explaining this, I must go back & reread your other articles. So you don’t recommend the full fat soy meal? Looks like I shouldn’t be adding rice bran either – I’ve been adding it for extra fat (a cup or 2) for the older mares. Most of this year, they have been fed lucerne (alphalpha) or grassy lucerne, with occasionally a little copra meal (coconut), brewers yeast, sea weed meal, dolomite (calcium mostly) & sometimes salt. With the drought in Australia, there’s no copra meal avail & hay is getting hard to get (hopefully in a few weeks there’ll be some more lucerne, now that it’s starting to warm up). We’re in South East Queensland, so not as bad as NSW or outback Qld. Thanks Andrea 🙂

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      Remember that in a healthy gut the cellulose of grass (and hay) is made into short chain fatty acids. This is hoe horses get their fat.

      Brewers yeast is a form of a probiotic. With all things remaining the same, try eliminating the yeast. Most people think that yeast and most probiotics are digested by the stomach acids but more research needs to be done here.

      I have no experience with dolomite which is calcium plus magnesium. I would think this would be helpful in horses fed grain (high in phosphorus) to prevent rickets and low calcium (hyper excitability).

  7. Thank you Doc T. Another fantastic update. Clear concise revisiting of important points. Is the newly recommended SBM readily available at feed stores or does it need to be special ordered? Are there any situations SBM should not be fed (particular disease state -cushings, insulin resistant, anhydrosis etc…)? Is there a particular brand of SBM yo use or to stay away from?

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      SBM should be available almost everywhere grain is sold or milled. Avoid SBM with molasses added.

      SBM should help all these diseases. There are no contraindications although I have heard of a horse (see below or above) that gets hives from it.

      Be sure the SBM has been de-hulled and the oil extracted.

  8. Hello Doc T,

    With Winter coming would you recommend more alfalfa hay or is the alfalfa hay for more of a additive? I have older not so easy keeper horses and one is a elder thoroughbred who’s weight is always on a thin line. I just read this article because i been doing your challenge since june now and thank you for the great information update! a lot of my horses are doing well i have a warm blood who wasn’t liking the pro-add anyways so having this now is great to change him over to. (hopefully he won’t be so picky!)

    Thank You

    Stephanie

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      1 flake of alfalfa per day should be enough even in winter. Management helps more (bring inside, blanket, heat the water, add more grass hay, add coconut meal) if they start to really lose condition.

  9. Thanks Doc T. I’ve always been a label reader. You do have to constantly read labels as the manufacturers always change their ingredients. WE have to be in charge of our horses and our own health!

  10. Thank you for the reply, Doc! He has been on the protocol now for 21 days, and I did double the amount of everything I was feeding him over the course of the last 10 days. He didn’t lose much overall weight (if any at all), even during the “cleanse” phase, or while introducing the whey/alfalfa/coconut oil, but now that he is on what I would consider a maintenance amount, his body shape is changing positively, with a more rounded topline, especially in the hindquarters and loin area. I will wait a bit before increasing any amounts to see if the wither area continues to fill in properly, as I don’t want to overfeed and waste any benefits (or money!). He continues in his dressage work with a normal amount of energy and enthusiasm. So, so far, so good. I will keep you posted as to any changes, positive or negative.

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  11. Have no fear with me not reading your articles. I actively seek them out and read them over and over and over. Thank you for your dedication Doc T !!

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  12. Question. My mare is considered obese…8-9 BCS. No grains, sugars. Only fed tested hay, low starch. Not very nutritious and low in phosphorus, so is fed Hghi Point for Alfalfa vitamin/mineral to help with the low phosphorus. Add 2T salt, 1/3 C apple cider vinegar, sometimes Carb-X magnesium, all mixed with a few soaked hay cubes.

    I was feeding SBM at 1/2C daily but discontinued after thinking since she is fat, maybe she doesn’t need it. It seems even just that little bit of SBM packs the fat on. She roams in an acre of dry dormant Bermuda. She’s fed about 25 pounds of mixed hay, prairie and Bermuda from hanging slow feeder nets around the perimeter of the property for movement.

    Since she has had no grain products for years, should I stop feeding supplements, Shoul I be implenting your cleanse protocal, since she has had no grain for years, should I go ahead and begin with the protein now even though it has her packing on the weight? Or something has been packing on the weight anyway.

    I’ve worked about 4years with Dr Getty but nothing seems to get her trimmed up. I’ve gone the Lisa St Joln Lavsage whole food approach, greens, friuts, nuts, seeds, and of course, hay. That was a disaster.

    About 3-4 months ago, I fed 1 bag of Farriers Formula at the advice of my Veterinarian because we’re trying to grow out a short hoof and deal with some limping. I stopped after that first bag, but she looked really nice while eating it. Her bay color darkened up. Maybe even lost a little weight, but has now gained it back and more.

    I had been feeding Nutramino, SuPer Muscle at the suggestion of Dr Getty, but stopped when I encountered your articles. My thought is SBM is so much less expensive but when I first fee it, I gave her a full pound for a few days. She loved it but I saw weight coming on so I gradually reduced the amount to 1C and now just 1/2 C to see if i could find a happy spot with weight loss.

    Should the horse be doing without all the supplements during the winter and see how it goes? Is there a method of looking at the horse to see if protein is needed.

    I did the number crunch for total protein in her hay, it comes to approximately 520 without supplements, vitamins, etc. She tapes out at about 1166 pounds and is 14.2-3 registered paint 15years old.

    I need some help badly.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for this comment. It is a lot but the first thing that strikes me is that she puts on “weight” with SBM. What is “weight?” Fat horses eating a low protein diet are usually very hungry. Adding sufficient protein with a variety of amino acids will reduce this constant hunger and therefore decrease the total calorie intake.

      Vitamins are proteins made by the horse or their microbes. Some vitamins can be absorbed in the raw materials (or made with sunlight) but have you ever seen a horse with a vitamin deficiency. Or a mineral deficiency? If you have they were probably starvation cases.

      It seems like the only supplement you gave that worked was Farrier’s formula. This is a good protein source and the hair coat is the first thing that responds in a protein deficient horse.

      Going “grain free” isn’t effective if you are supplementing with inflammatory supplements and maybe for your horse you should try no supplements including carrots and cookies. Winter pasture will have the cellulose needed for energy. Most pastures and all hays are low in protein quality and quantity. Adding SBM will add the amino acids needed to make enzymes, hormones and vitamins to reduce hunger and therefore reduce the amount eaten. Most hungry horses are not getting something so they keep looking for it in their next bite. SBM needs about 6 months to have good visible effects and up to a year in a lot of horses with severe inflammation and protein deficiency. Your horse may look like she is gaining weight but it could actually be an illusion. Have some others look at intervals (farrier) or use a weight tape / measuring tape to get some objective observations. Also note her hunger levels after a month on protein. We all would be interested.

      1. By weight, I mean her tape measurement increases. I can see it before I tape her because she begins to look puffy, if you will. Her belly will look more hanging.

        But, she’s not hungry all the time, she will at times stand and rest up 2-3 hours without eating. I have not and do not give sweet treats, fruit, carrots, etc. If she warrents a treat, she gets a couple of alfalfa pellets.

        To clarify though, are you saying not feed her any supplemental hay or vitamins. I should Only allow her to graze on brown short dormant Bermuda whilst adding 1 pound of SBM? And would 1 pound be enough if she gets no supplemental hay? Won’t she graze one acre down further than is good for her and the pasture?

        And no, I’ve not knowingly seen or known of any horse short on vitamins, I guess because very few individuals do a blood test for vitamins. I’ve only been told to test the hay and add vitamins according to what is missing in the hay.

        I must add that I first and foremost make sure any hay that I purchase is low in sugar and starch. After that, I try to add a vitamin/ mineral supplement.

        Also, if your instructions are to feed only hay and grazing, how much SBM should I be feeding daily. If after one week of following the feeding instructions she begins to gain inches on her tape measurement and her neck begins to get thicker, what should I do?

        Yes, my Farriers have constantly told me she definitely needs to lose weight.

        Dottie

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          This seems to be a tough on Dottie.

          Soy Bean Meal is about 48% protein with about 80% bioavailability in horses and low to zero simple sugar. If your horse is converting this protein directly into glucose (a simple sugar) via gluconeogenesis then SBM would cause increase fat production. This was the problem with the Atkins high fat/meat and low carb diet in humans.

          If you did not feed hay but only feed dormant pasture then your horse will definitely lose fat. This is what horses do naturally in winter. Adding hay to make this transition less aggressive is OK. A low carb hay will encourage short chain fatty acid production which is what you want to do. In reality, you are aiming for Kenton production.

          One of the striking effects of feeding 1 pound SBM daily to a horse 1000 to 1400 pounds is the loss of the belly as the abdominal muscles strengthen. One of the most shocking effects of removing all excess sugar is the loss of the fat over the back exposing the severity of the lost muscle.

          It is very important to write everything down in a log including dates and measurements. You should also work with your professionals such as your vet and farrier. I do not want your horse to suffer of become more obese but I think you already understand that an obese horse is suffering.

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          Keep in mind that obese humans have a disrupted gut microbiome. Transplanted feces from thin mice into fat mice makes the fat ones become thin. The transition of the gut microbiome in your horse may take at least 6 weeks to occur. Be patient, write everything down and work with your vet. Let us all know what happens.

  13. Thank you. Explain please, “Kenton” production. Maybe there was a weird auto correct.

    If she does start putting on thickness, I should continue anyway? By six weeks in, I should be looking for some positive direction toward weight loss by tape measurement?

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      Auto correct spelled that – it should be ketone which is the most efficient fuel for the cell’s mitochondria.

      Stay on top of your observations of body mass and behavior and be patient. If in doubt talk to your vet because I am not a timely responder. But if you watch closely for signs of inflammation you should be able to walk her through this transformation. Remember to add protein so she feels saturated.

      1. Thanks Doc T.
        I’m into Day 4 as of Friday January 11, feeding 1# of SBM with dry dormant bermuds pasture, hay (trying to keep her supplemental hay to no more than 23-25#), salt, 2C of alfalfa pellets , and water. She has dropped from 1200# down to 1183# by tape measurement. I sure have to concentrate to make sure her body and legs are straight and level, not one leg forward and the other back. Also I make sure her head is up. Anyway, for others equine owners, your horse must be set up the same each time or the tape measurements can be off day to day.

        Belly seems to be reduced somewhat in circumference, but not sure. Unsure if the neck size is becoming less thick.

        Here on day 4, I noticed a super shine on her bay colors. Looked like I’d been really working on het coat and I haven’t.

        Here’s hoping she continues to loose weight and gain muscle.

  14. Hi Doc T! Happy New Year, and I will be seeing you in a couple months. I wanted to give an update on the horse diet. Jelle (15 year old Friesian gelding in full dressage work) is doing extremely well on the high complete protein, no grain diet for almost five months now. I did increase the amounts I am feeding, and also went back to the coconut/soy oil instead of the 100% coconut oil (mainly because of exorbitant price of how much I had to feed). I would have included a photo, but he has a full winter coat, so it would be impossible to tell anything past his shiny-ness. LOL He is on 3 ounces of whey protein isolate, four pounds of alfalfa pellets, 6 ounces of Coco-Soya oil, and average 30# of orchard grass hay per day (pasture is pretty much non existent at this time of year). He looks and feels great! His topline is probably an A- to a B+, (I would like to see just a bit more fill right behind the withers, and the quality of the work that he is doing should give the right amount of muscle-building in that area), so I am toying with the idea of increasing some component of the diet, but not sure what to increase. What would be your recommendation? Whey? Oil? Alfalfa pellets? Thanks in advance.

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      I just saw that my reply from a while ago didn’t “stick!” Goodness – I need to re-write my reply.

      Soy oil is inflammatory in humans. It can bind to the dead intestinal bacteria and that new unit will move across the gut wall with ease causing inflammation. Coconut oil is a great medium chain triglyceride for humans but horses should be getting enough of those from the digestion of cellulose. In very old thin horses I suggest adding Coolstance which is shredded coconut meal as a source of calories from a non inflammatory fat.

      You will get the top line better by adding more whey protein. 3 ounces is reduced by about 5% due to the digestibility. In other words 3 ounces = 170 grams times 95% = 161.5 total grams. Add this to the approximately 772 grams of limited amino acid protein from the hay and you get about 930 grams of protein for a very large horse. The goal is between 0.5 to 1.0 grams protein per pound of body weight. For your horse who weighs maybe 1600 pounds (I really can’t remember) this 930g is over the minimum 800g.

      I know you don’t like GMO soy bean meal but SBM has a better array of the branch chain amino acids needed for muscle formation. While your total protein is within the range and from this you are seeing an improvement, adding more protein seems needed for top line improvement. This can be done in a number of ways but increasing the oil is not one of them. In fact, the oil may actually cause a reduction in protein absorption due to the inflammation.

      I’m looking forward to seeing him soon. Thanks for the update and sorry for the technical difficulty in replying. Doc T

  15. How do I know if soybean meal has been dehulled and oil extracted? All I see on the label listed is SBM. Any particular brand you recommend?

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      The label should say “de-hulled soy beans, oil solvent extracted. See the label I have pictured in this blog. Any “brand” works.

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      Dry. It is a meal like the corn meal found on the bottom of a pizza. They will eat it out of your hand. We put it in a pail with some hay pellets (not too much) and they eat it rapidly. Our dogs also eat it out of our hands. Yes they are looking really good too!

  16. What are your thoughts on Chia seeds as a protein/omega source, in addition to or in place of part of the SBM?

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      Author

      It’s not just “protein” but the variety and amounts of amino acids. SBM provides ALL the essential amino acids to restore the reserves in the horse. Remember that due to chronic protein deficiency, the reserves are depleted.

      Omega fatty acids are essential and the balance between the 3’s and the 6’s is important in controlling inflammation. These can be found in chia seeds. However it is the principles I espouse that makes me say no to chia seeds. They are: 1) it is a soft seed and therefore probably has lectins that may adversely affect the gut lining. 2) it is not found commonly in the wild and if it was, it would be available for only a short time. 3) There are no cases of omega oil deficiency in horses.

      I recommend SBM even though it is a processed feed and is not commonly found in the fields. However there is plenty of evidence that horses are chronically protein deficient so adding SBM is a treatment for a problem. The reasons for the deficiency are written in my other blogs. The feeding of SBM is temporary until the reserves are filled again.

      Finally there are some human doctors who are now saying that chia seeds may be inflammatory in humans.

      My bottom line is to feed SBM until the signs of protein deficiency is gone (restored top line, stronger hoof, beautiful hair coat, elimination of illnesses and / or lameness). This is about 1 to 2 years. Adding chia seeds will not be treating something you can measure in the horse. Inflammation in the gut is caused by sugar and lectins and adding another possible inflammatory cause may not help.

      1. Thank you for your response. I have read all your blogs, some more than once, and appreciate all of the information. Back in the summer I did the two week no grain challenge and then added in the ProAdd Ultimate with 4 oz of chia seeds and now getting caught up I have removed that and am on day 3 of coastal hay only. Both my horses seem to be doing well, but after rechecking the lables on the ProAdd, I decided that SBM would likely be the better choice. Both my mares are in good flesh and no immediate concerns really, but still want to do what is best, so starting over with no grain for 14 days and then will add in the SBM.

        Regardling salt, plain white salt, the way my pasture is set up, it’s difficult for me to leave it out free choice due to the moisture and not having a covered place to leave it out. I have tried a couple times do add an ounce or two in to their ration once daily, but one of my mares every time I do it seems to not tolerate that well. She will make this screeching sound with sudden movement or if she stomps a foot to remove flies. Thumps maybe? It’s strange and she does seem aggravated and maybe even uncomfortable. Is this hiccup/screech type behavior in fact thumps? And if so, should she not receive the salt or continue it though the episodes? She doesn’t drink as much as i’d like her to and tends to lean toward the easy keeper side of things, borderline metabolic at times getting fat pockets on tail head and sides when grass comes in. In years past I have kept her on the Animed Remission spring – fall. This winter she’s trimmed down quite a bit and i’ve gotten a head start on exercising her and getting her legged up to haul this year.

        Lastly, regarding vit/min’s on this program, is there a product you recommend? I don’t feel alfalfa, but I could feed it at a flake per day. Or is there a product you’d recommend to ensure their daily needs are being met?

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          Thanks for your diligence!

          Salt- your horse’s reaction is not thumps. That is associated with excessive sweating in hot weather causing an electrolyte imbalance. A short circuit occurs between the nerve of the diaphragm muscle and the beating heart. It’s synchronous with the heart beat. This sounds more like a mare with oral ulcers from sharp teeth. Adding salt to these wounds may create this reaction you see.

          I don’t recommend vitamins because if the horse no longer has inflammation and has SBM refueling the amino acid reserves then they should be able to make all the vitamins they need. Only starved or strenuously worked horses may need supplementation. In addition many sources of vitamins and minerals are questionable.

  17. Instead of feeding SBM, but using Whey Protein Concentrate 80% or Whey Protein Isolate 90%, how much Whey would you feed per day for a horse in moderate training. (1 hr 5 days a week) assume 1000lb. I can make adjustments. Thanks.

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      Author

      Whey protein has a better bioavailability than SBM. IT is about 94% versus 80%. Whey has the broad spectrum of amino acids as does SBM but is more expensive.

      1 pound = 454 grams. Feeding 1 pound of SBM will have an effective 363g of protein while 1 pound of whey will have 427. The difference is 64 grams.

      The target for protein intake is between 0.5 and 1.0 g per pound of body weight. Sorry to mix metric with imperial but that is the way it is done here in America. For a 1000 pound horse. The target is 500 to 1000g protein.

      20 pounds of hay or pasture at 10% protein gives 2 pounds or 908g of protein. But the bioavailability is about 50% so this decreases it to 454g. Remember that the mono-species of grass given to horses (fenced in pasture or a single source of hay such as Timothy) has a limited spectrum of amino acids. This is why you are adding SBM or whey.

      In the grand total of protein, the difference of only 64 grams between SBM and Whey in a 1000 to 1400 pound horse is small. So my answer would be the same – feed 1 pound per horse (1000 to 1400 lb) per day of either SBM or whey.

      1. I hear you, I ask because I have easy keepers. The calorie content in SBM is … wow, so very high, nearly 600 calories in a cup… great if you have Thoroughbreds. I was hoping changing to Whey would be an option, but at that volume, the price…yikes!!!

        The question was mainly a calorie issue…although…

        In addition, the Calcium/Phosphorus is balanced in Whey Isolate.

        Unlike SBM, where the Phosphorus is much higher than the Calcium value. Of course the calcium in Alfalfa pellets most likely brings the SBM into balance. But having a weird challenge, my mare (go figure) does not like the Alfalfa pellets. The boys just love any food.
        So a little concerned about the mare having the correct balance, she is getting Timothy/Alfalfa pellets instead. I have no idea if this is a 50/50 blend StandLee pellets

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          The calorie debate has been going on for decades. In my opinion there are too many factors included in digestion to look at calories alone. For example with gut inflammation there is a higher requirement for calories but in a non-inflamed gut there is less. What we are finding is that horses fed SBM to restore the amino acid reserves actually eat less. Some horses that need grazing muzzles no longer act starved and the muzzles are removed. In addition adding SBM eliminates the hay belly (lost abdominal muscles) so they look better within a month.

          The amount of phosphorous added to the horse from SBM is small because you are only feeding a pound a day. It is also not a grain. The problem with rickets came from horses fed 5 or more pounds of grain a day while reducing their forage intake. I would not worry about a Ca:P imbalance even if your mare is not eating enough alfalfa. I have not seen or heard of a problem coming from any mineral imbalance when feeding forage and SBM.

          1. Thank you so very much for all the time you take to reply!!!!

            Sadly, my founder horse, who has gained lots of weight from no work, initially, lost a little when I removed the 1/2 pound of grain 2 times a day, has now gained back fat plus some extra from the SBM Andalusian/Friesian cross= easy keeper. (I honestly think the founder was from chronic protein deficiency. Emaciated when purchased) He was tucked up and sporty, well muscled, worked 5 days a week at the time of rotation. Anyway, just looking to control his girth a little.

            Now that you point out the 1 pound of SMB, I see how the Phosphorous is a non issue. Wish I could time travel back 30 years just to change how I was feeding.

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            Author

            I am grateful that you and everyone here are reading and trying to help their horses. So thank you!

  18. Thank you so much for all you do Dr T. Phosphorus, my hay is analysed at .09 P. I am very insecure not giving her a p supplement. I know you’ve talked over and over again that with enough quality protein they produce their vitamins. But I don’t understand how minerals can be produced by the horse. With her hay being so low in P i worry. I just spent 5 days in the hospital to balance electrolytes out of whack. Doctors have not figured out how my sodium got so low. So I worry about keeping balanced minerals.

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      Hi Dorothy – This is a really good question because there seems to be a lot of confusion about vitamins and minerals. I first ask this – Is your horse showing any signs of a vitamin or mineral deficiency? Second, do you know of any horses or reports of horses low in vitamins or minerals (with the exception of starving horses)?

      A concept needed to be included in “balancing” things is that when you add something it usually also “unbalances” something else. The best example of this is when horses started to be fed a lot of grain over 100 years ago they developed rickets (big head disease, miller’s disease, nutritional secondary hypoparathyroidism). To stop this the grain makers added dicalcium phosphate. The grain had added too much phosphorous which prevented the absorption of calcium so the horse removed calcium from the bones. The result was softening the bones. Dical-Phos remedied this. However, now the Ca and P levels were too high which prevented the absorption of Magnesium (Mg). The result was hyper excitability of horses so now people add Mg to calm the horse. However the best solution is to remove grain and di-cal-phos. Most horses where grain is removed also become calm. Now you may know why but it is also the elimination of colon ulcers and the restoration of the gut microbiome.

      Minerals are not “produced” by any animal. They are absorbed from what they consume which includes water (assuming well water loaded with minerals), salt (assuming Himalayan and not pure salt) and forage (pasture and hay). The word mineral is another term for the elements seen on the periodic table of elements back in your chemistry class. They are atoms. If they loose or gain an electron then they are called electrolytes.

      Life Data company is now taking horses with specific conditions to test for all the minerals in horses because no one really knows the “normal” levels. However most minerals are well regulated by the animal. For instance in humans, if the iron levels are normal than extra iron ingested is not absorbed. Where iron toxicity comes from is when iron is injected bypassing this natural regulation in the gut.

      I have not heard of an imbalance of minerals in horses specific to phosphorus. There are imbalances that can occur such as “Thumps” in heavily sweating horses, HYPP in Quarter Horses and starvation cases. Check in your area and with your local vet to see if low P is a problem where you live. I hope this helps you to understand that if your horse only eats pasture, hay, SBM, water and Himalayan salt then you should be OK. Read all the comments from owners on each of the blogs too. They have not mentioned a low P as a problem. Also test your water for P as well as the salt and pasture. I think you will find that the actual intake of P is adequate. If in the summer she sweats a lot, you can also add electrolytes until the temperatures cool.

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          Author

          Thanks for these links. The nutrition profile and the %DV are for humans. It also says that the %DV for 1 cup SBM gives 87% for protein (for humans). Horses are about 5 to 7 times heavier than humans.

          Remember that soybeans are a legume which act differently in horses than in humans including the bioavailability as well as the inflammatory effects.

          Remember also that adding 4 cups a day (about a pound) is temporary until the amino acid reserves are restored. This is about 1 to 2 years depending on the length of time the horse has been losing protein. Protein will also help in restoring the health to a fatty liver (Equine Metabolic Syndrome).

          Finally, because all grains are high in phosphorus, once the grains are removed, the total amount of P consumed will still be less. The amount of P or any other mineral in SBM will not adversely affect horses but the chronic protein deficiency either has or will take its toll on the horse.

          I hope this helps in your concern about these minerals Rebecca.

          1. OH… well, I posted the links because I was reading the concern Dorothy had expressed. I couldn’t find info on a pound, but figured it would put Dorothy at ease with her concern. Sorry I wasn’t clear. (feel free to delete this, no need to add to the comments)

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            Author

            No need to apologize. We are a group together trying to find answers and get things right.

            The link had 1cup = 122g. That was handy for all of us as 4×122 = 488g which is a little more than a pound (454g).

            Thanks for contributing

        2. Thank you Rebecca for the links on nutrition data. I do appreciate data, lol. So, Doc T, if one cup is a serving, and I measured 5 cups to be 1 pound, I’m feeding 5 X 855 = 4,275 grams of phosphorus?

          1. Post
            Author

            1 cup = 122g so 4 cups is 488g and a pound is 454g.

            I can’t see the link from where I am here but if there are 855g of P / cup then 4 x 855 = 3420g. How much of this is absorbed? Is it even available for absorption? Minerals are better absorbed in liquid (approximately 80% of Ca is absorbed from the drinking water and therefore is an excellent source of Ca in humans). After determining how much is absorbed, then how much is needed in a day? Remember, P and Ca play against each other and is why Ca is added to horse feed to keep the Ca higher than the P to avoid rickets.

            For me, I have not seen a horse with a P level that is too high from consuming only pasture / hay, water and salt plus a pound of SBM for 2 years. After this the amino acids should be restored and then the SBM can be reduced. The chronic protein deficiency is far more evident than a phosphorous excess.

  19. Hello Dr. T
    Can you tell me what your thoughts on hemp meal for protein are? Too close to chia (soft seed)?
    Thank you

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      Author

      There is a lot of interest in hemp as a supplement for horses. The info I have seen are from the sellers of the product. I do not for sure know the amino acid spectrum nor the bioavailability of it in horses. Your point about it being a soft seed may or may not be accurate. The lectins are in the outer parts of seeds and I’m not sure if hemp has been dehulled, etc. I will need to look this up unless someone here has some info they can share.

      With the abundance of soy bean meal, the low cost, the high bioavailability and the broad spectrum of essential amino acids – and most importantly the good results and the decades of use in horses, why would anyone not just feed SBM until the deficiency is resolved? It is the known versus the unknown. There is organic SBM available – you just have too find it. But no horse I know of has yet had any ill effects from feeding SBM – only positive results. There are worse effects from anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics – and Cushing’s medicine.

      Thanks for this question as there are many people contacting me looking for an alternative to SBM who are afraid of GMO and glyphosate. From my perspective, chronic protein deficiency along with carbohydrate dependency and mitochondrial exhaustion all are far worse and more real “on the hoof.” Feeding SBM for a year or two helps in more ways and has not shown any effects from GMO or glyphosate. And if it makes the horse healthier and helps to reduce or eliminate medications then that will benefit the horse too.

Your thoughts are important for all to hear and may help others to learn from your experiences. Take the time to add to the discussion. However due to time limitations I will probably not answer direct questions to me. Thanks, Doc T

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