The Equine Practice, Inc

Why Horses Should Not Be Fed Grain

Everything you swallow is NOT inside your body

Think about this for a bit.

The things you and your horse swallow is placed inside a tube running through you from the mouth to the anus. There are no little people inside of you opening little port holes in this tube and shouting, “Got any mashed potatoes?”

In fact, if any of the “stuff” inside this tube escaped through a hole and entered your body, you would die – a very painful and agonizing death.

So what happens to the meals you and your horse eat? A simple process occurs that breaks down all food into microscopic molecules and it is these molecules that get transported across the intact but porous tube to inside the body. After this, the molecules are delivered to the cells for energy, construction, maintenance and repair. Very simple but very sophisticated where all needs to work correctly. When it doesn’t, lack of ease occurs and is known as disease to most people.

Disease can come in various forms. We all have heard of bacterial disease such as e coli that causes severe diarrhea, dehydration, and death. But there are also subtle diseases we all know about such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and chronic wasting. But what does this all have to do with feeding grain to horses?

Looking back 50 years ago to 1967 there was certainly an interstate system but it wasn’t completed yet. Transport of materials such as grain was still in it’s infancy. So was sophisticated farming and distribution. The net result was that we did not have grain for our horses available from a local feed store delivered to our barn and stacked in neat, colorful 50 pound bags (easy for women to lift as determined by marketing research) in our feed rooms after just a phone call to the store. When I started with horses in 1973, we had 96 pound sacks of oats delivered 500 hundred at a time to our large farm by box car. It would take half a day with 4 people and 2 small dump trucks to unload from the rail road station and deliver them to the farm where we stacked them ourselves. It was great exercise. Young studs (me) would sometimes challenge other studs (Sam) to carry 2 bags at a time from the box car corner to the truck bed, and on occasion 3.

A few years later a new product became available called “Sweet Feed” which was an unregulated bag of mixed grains, supplements and molasses. The problems started to occur soon after with obesity and laminitis.

Here is an easy question. Why can 1 donut cause one person to gain weight while in another person, they remain thin? The donut is the same with the same ingredients and calories. Why? Maybe not so easy.

Let’s go back to the idea of food being broken down to molecules and those being transported across the solid intestinal wall. We might all agree that there are certain things allowed and some things NOT allowed to pass. Water for example is allowed better than the pilot through the TSA entry point at the airport. In the same analogy, a person with a gun will be stopped by the TSA exam and forbidden access into the airport (unless he is recognized as a officer of the law). Some of these forbidden things are bacteria and toxins. In fact when they do show up for transport, the intestines accelerate their one way movement towards the end (diarrhea).

But what about the things in between that are allowed but with restriction? Like the TSA agent that asks the passenger to step aside for a personal exam of their baggage, some foods will cause IN SOME PEOPLE AND HORSES more scrutiny. Like the donut, some people’s intestines react with inflammation as the defense mechanisms pick up activity for certain foods. Think of people with a gluten intolerance or any other allergy. The result of this is basically one thing – consumption of energy from the battle the body puts forth to try to keep these molecules from being absorbed through the wall.

All inflammation is painful to a degree and also causes damage to the surrounding area. In horses, I have seen this exhibit as discomfort and intolerance when being brushed, girthed, clipped, or ridden (bucking, rearing, crow hopping). A general disinterest and uneasiness in the barn is common which in some horses can escalate to bad behavior including kicking the walls and attacking people with their teeth.

Other behavior associated with gut inflammation is colic, chronic diarrhea (the squirts following the normal expressing of feces), non-sweating, avoidance to loading onto a trailer for shipping, uneasiness when being trailered (kicking, weaving, pawing), and chronic poor keepers (underweight) with abundant intake of food.

In my practice, horse owners willing to try the two week no-grain challenge have seen the elimination of all of these signs of hind gut inflammation listed above in as little as 3 days. It is important to understand that it takes up to 6 weeks for the lining of the intestines to fully heal hence I like to have people trying the challenge to go at least 2 weeks before determining if their horse is inflamed by grain.

Time for some more information to help you understand the digestion process. The horse is a continuous eater. While most of you realize this, there are many that don’t realize that cows (and all ruminants including sheep, goats, deer, etc), dogs, cats, humans, and most other common animals you know are meal takers. The evidence is in the anatomy of the horse. They have no gall bladder to store the bile produced by the liver to digest the food within the intestines. This is because they have no need to store it waiting for a meal because they are true continuous eaters.

The horse is known as a hind gut fermenter meaning that their colon is large and is made for digesting fiber (grass). It is also filled with trillions of bacteria that ferments the fiber into molecules with abundant energy production and absorption of amino acids to maintain life. Simply put, the horse was made to thrive on only grass and water.

So where did the idea of feeding grain come from? I’m not sure but like the donut to a human, grain taste good to the horse. As farmers using horses to plow and harvest the grain discovered, feeding the horses some of the oats seemed to help them along and give them some extra energy. One of the first diseases from this was “Monday Morning Sickness” where horses were fed their normal grain ration on Sunday but not worked. On Monday the horses would suffer severe cramps from the unused lactic acid production (energy formed by the digestion of grain). We call this today tying up or EPSSM (equine polysaccharide storage myopathy) which has a genetic component in many working draft horses.

Today we have several diseases with names that roll off the tongue of horse owners everywhere: insulin resistance, metabolic disease, obesity, body condition score of 8 or 9, Cushing’s, and of course lameness secondary to chronic lack of protein and excessive weight. These were not diseases that existed in veterinary text books in the 70’s and even early 80’s.

Instead of asking why these diseases are occurring at epidemic levels, we look to treatments. Anyone who has had their pony suffer laminitis knows the heartache, yet I am shocked when I hear of a laminitic pony still being fed a handful of grain “for his supplements.”

As with any inflammation, it is NOT the amount of cause, it is the PRESENCE of ANY amount in some horses. Some people can be stung by dozens of bees while one sting can kill another person. Some people eat peanuts by the handful while in others, one peanut can swell their bodies grotesquely and stop them from breathing.

What about the poor keeper that won’t gain weight when being fed as much grain as possible? The answer is that he is severely inflamed. The amount of energy being consumed by the horse to keep the grain out is greater than the amount of energy being produced by the digestion of the grain. A net negative energy consumption occurs causing the horse to use fat and muscle to maintain life. In these horses, removing all grain actually causes the horse to start gaining weight.

What is the 2 week no-grain challenge?

Get a calendar and mark the start date and record all your observations about the horse including physical and behavioral. Then remove all grain from the diet of the horse (no weaning is necessary – just stop all at once). This includes corn, oats, barley, wheat, wheat middlings, sugar beet pulp, rice and wheat bran, oat hulls, etc. Feed only water, pure rock salt (no additives), grass, and hay (grass hay and legumes such as alfalfa). That’s it.

Your horse may go through a behavior withdrawal at feeding time but this will pass in about 2 days. If you insist on offering a timed feeding (again, they are continuous eaters so the concept of breakfast or dinner makes no sense to them), then offer a “meal” of a few alfalfa cubes either dry or soaked in water.

When I say just grass, hay, salt, and water, I did not mean that treats, candy, carrots, or sugar cubes are OK. Remove all supplements too because most of them have grain of some sort. Remove the red mineral salt block (corn syrup and molasses). Just grass, hay, pure salt, and water for 2 weeks. Record your observations. Get others to help you observe without telling them what is going on. Make your own decision on weather or not to feed grain to your horse. The challenge costs you nothing and I have no agenda in you doing this other than for you to see for yourself the changes your horses go through.

Interestingly, in most cases, the horse needs no extra hay to maintain their body condition. In fact, most start to gain weight and become calmer. Read the testimonies of owners who have done the challenge (and be sure to write your own to add).

Some caveats –
1) In very old horses (25 years and older) be careful because the chronic inflammation may cause them to actually loose weight without grain. In these cases get a medium chain triglyceride source of fat to add energy that is non-inflammatory. I recommend CoolStance® which is shredded coconut meal as a great way to add non-inflammatory energy. Avoid vegetable oils such as corn oil because they are inflammatory.

Another product I recommend is Renew Gold which has flax seed, rice bran, and CoolStance® combined into a pellet. Start with ¼ pound and slowly work up to no more than a pound for a full size horse. Too much coconut will cause loose feces.

Finally – use your eye to evaluate every horse on the no-grain challenge. If this doesn’t work out for your horse, going back to what you were doing is simple and without problems. More importantly, if it does work and the bad things in your horse disappear but you want to add supplements, be sure to read the label carefully and find a supplement with little to no grain. Add only ONE SUPPLEMENT AT A TIME and wait 2 weeks and observe. If all goes well, then you can add another supplement if you must.

There is still more to tell you such as additional protein which will require more articles. But if you have any questions, go to the comment section below first to see if it has been asked. If not, add it to the comments and I will answer as soon as I can.

Before I go, I want to tell you about the front page article in the Wall Street Journal on April 9, 2016 – “Awash with corn, imports increase.” We have a surplus of corn that the users are not buying now because it is cheaper to purchase and import it from Venezuela. So guess where all this extra corn is going? To the new market developed by the farmers 30 years ago – horse owners.

2 weeks, no cost to you, improved horse – a no-brainer.

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Comments 59

  1. Pingback: No Sweat! | The Equine Practice, Inc

  2. If my horse eats only alfalfa hay and fresh grass all day what balancer for proper vitamins and minerals is recommended?

    1. Post

      This is only for a week or so to see if your horse starts sweating. But if you do continue, be careful of “ration balancers because almost every one I’ve looked at has grain, especially wheat middlings. READ THE INGREDIENTS. Find vitamins amd minerals mixed with a variety of proteins – and avoid inflammatory items.

    2. Wendy, The only way to know is to take samples of several bales of your hay and get an analysis done at a lab. You can do the same with your pasture. Take handfuls from a BUNCH of places in the field and dry it. It is not just the amounts of minerals to consider, but also the ratios of each to the other. There are other needs as well, such as amino acids, and more.

      1. Post

        Your local cooperative extention agent or agriculture commission (or whatever it is called in your area) should be able to do this for you for free. Many Ag supply stores will do this too in order to apple the correct treatment to your fields.

    1. Post

      The horses should just eat pasture and hay. We don’t feed haylage usually in the US but it is the cellulose that the gut bacteria want so I would assume haylage would be OK. Just don’t feed any grains or carrots or treats made with grains.

    1. Post

      Thanks Connie – but it’s not the sugars but the lectins in the grains that are preventing the horse from using the glucose at the cellular level. Decreasing sugars helps but removing the grains with their lectins is the underlying issue that causes leaking gut, hormone communication disruption, and decreased protein absorption among other things. Dates are much older than grains so there is a chance that the horse (and humans) have accommodated for their lectins and thus you are getting good results. Remember, all fruits eaten ripe and in season have the ability to add fat to the animal eating them. But fruit fed out of season only continues to add fat and thus the animal no longer has the natural ebb of weight needed as spring approaches.

  3. My horse has no grain at all, he is fed a completely natural all grass based diet with yeassaac slippery elm marshmallow and milk thistle and still he has got an upset tummy recently, I think it must be down to the frosty grass. I am at my wit’s end. Suggestions please

    1. Post

      Emma – gut inflammation is caused by the bacteria in the gut being damaged and losing their proportions. For example, there are 700 individual species of bacteria found in the mouth of humans. Adding one NSAID or one antibiotic damages the relationships by removing a whole section of good bacteria. The gut is a very delicate environment that is easily upset by adding things a human or horse never had access to. The “No-Grain Challenge” is all about removing all feed that is not normally ingested and giving the gut bacteria a chance to reestablish itself. In really sick humans and other animals, a fecal infusion (normal feces with normal gut bacteria made into a suspension and given via rectal tube into the colon) has saved countless lives. I think not feeding grain is an easier way to help the horse. Remember that if you are not getting the results you are looking for as you feed hime what you are feeding him, then you need to change what you are feeding or your results won’t change. Pasture, hay and water for 145 days. Then add back the items you mentioned – one at a time – and wait a week and record the signs.

  4. Very interesting article. I have a 3yr old that does everything hard up to the wall. Have had her checked by a Vet/Chiro, nothing wrong with her. So maybe it could be diet. But, she doesn’t get any grain. She gets lots of hay, Meadow & Lucerne. Hard feed is Wheaten Chaff, Lucerne Chaff, wet Copra with salt 60g, Lime 30g, Rosehip 5g and added Linseeds 0.25 cup. Could such a small amount of Rosehip and Linseeds cause inflammation?

    1. Post

      The short answer is yes. Remove them for 2 weeks and observe. Remember that seeds have the lectins that are trying to make us ill. It is not how much for sensitive individuals. Look at how much gluten (a plant lectin) is needed in a person with Celiac disease to be affected. Not much! So just pasture, hay and water for 2 weeks. If you feel they need the other things, add one and wait and observe.

  5. I’ve not fed grains for a long time, but our “hard keeper” is now getting Renew Gold and rice bran pellets to keep his weight on. Can you recommend an acceptable amount of rice bran?

    1. Post

      Renew Gold has rice bran as its main ingredient. Remember that fat is usually a sign of gut inflammation. I like feeding Coolstance which is the 2nd ingredient in Renew Gold. If you can’t get Coolstance in your area then Renew Gold is an acceptable 2nd choice. No need to add rice bran.

      The expression “weight” is often misused with horse owners. If you really want to put weight on your horse quickly, purchase a weight belt from the local scuba store and put it on his back! In reality, as you remove the inflammatory grain, the horse immediately consumes the stored sugar in the form of fat on his back. However, because of the inflammation and the horse “starving” in the midst of all the sugar being fed to him, you now notice the poor top line caused by chronic protein loss and muscle wasting.

      Instead of adding a non-inflammatory fat such as coconut (Coolstance) you should be adding a source of protein (whey and soy protein). This will add the top line your eyes are seeing as “weight loss.” See my blog

    1. Post

      Great question! These “kids” are like teenage boys eating everything in the fridge and still looking good. It seems almost irrelevant if these hard exercising 2 and 3 year olds are fed a lot of grain. The damage is still occurring and if not seen now, will be seen as they get older.

      Removing the lectins in grains will reduce the gut inflammation which will lead to many good things seen in older horses on the no grain challenge: calm and focused work ethic, exceptional recovery post race, reduced joint inflammation and healthier skin and hooves. Be sure to add protein to these working young horses. If the feet and skin look good then you are probably feeding enough of a broad spectrum of amino acids. See

      Try it on a few horses in training especially if they are high strung and not working to their potential. It won’t cost you any money but you may start to see the horse come into himself. Remember to add some protein if you just feed hay and water. They should have lean body mass but good muscle definition and strong top line.

  6. T is an Apx QH, 21 years old and is a hard keeper. He has all the symptoms you have described. I feed him Nutrena Sr. and Boost supplement, hay at night, pasture during the day. I’m starting the no grain diet tomorrow. Thanks for the article.

    1. Post

      Please come back and let us know how it went. With winter upon most of the northern world, remember to make him comfortable as you do this. Also remember to deworm him if that is a problem. But for almost every hard keeper (exceptions are the 30+ year olds) the results of the horse gaining weight after about 2 weeks is amazing. Remember that in the first 2 weeks the horse may not gain or even loose about 10 pounds as the gut microbes readjust. Usually by day 3 the feeding anxiety goes away and by day 10 you will be convinced that you are on the right path.

      Looking forward to your update.

  7. One question, 100 years ago the soil was not depleted due to over farming, In Ontario we are selenium depleted, essential in prevention of white muscle disease and placenta development, enough cannot be found in grass and hay. So for bred mares and foals what would you suggest?

    1. Post

      Great question!

      Back in the late 1980’s at Cornell the researchers were testing Selenium supplementation in cattle and they were not getting the results they hoped for. After an investigation they discovered that the mineral content of the water was preventing the cows from absorbing Se. So Se levels in all animals can be affected by not just the lack of it in the soil but the absorption of it in the gut.

      Eliminating the inflammatory grains from the diet might just actually elevate the Se blood levels as the gut will now be able to absorb even low levels in the feed. This is just a hypotheses and in no way is a recommendation for you to try a no grain approach to your pregnant mares. However it may be worth a look especially if you are supplementing now with Se and the mare’s blood levels are still low or you are experiencing retained placentas or WMD.

      You always have the option of injectable Vitamin E and selenium. However in my practice a long time ago I never saw an improvement of RP’s in post foaling mares who were injected with E-Se prior to foaling. This would be an interesting thing to discuss with your vet and if possible, draw some Se blood levels before going “no-grain” and then follow up with samples and note any foaling problems. Let us all know.

    1. Post
  8. Have you had any experience with a horse urinating more frequently with the ingestion of grain? During a 2 hour outing my 4 yr old horse will sometimes urinate 4-5 times. It seems he urinates more frequently than all my other horses I have owned.

    1. Post

      Urination is a complex process. The first thing to do is a urinalysis (specific gravity, dipstick and microscopic exam) and blood work for kidney functions. If it is truly associated with grain then it may be part of a hormonal disruption of ADH (anti diuretic hormone) which is diabetes insipidus. This may be tested for by giving pergolide (Prescend) or by removing the grain. Check with your vet to look at these options.

      Signs of diabetes insipidus are increased water consumption and increased urine volume with a low specific gravity.

  9. My pony does not get grain but this happens to him when he eats hay, especially in the winter when the grass is no longer available. And suggestions?

    1. Post

      I’m sorry Lacy but what is “this?” Do you mean the squirts?

      Be sure he is not getting anything but hay (no carrots, sugar cubes, apples, treats, supplements with grain etc) and if so, then vary the hay he is being given. Be sure that the hay is not treated with anything. Try chopped hay because if his gut can’t digest long stems well, then mimicking the grass length with chopped forage may do the trick. Also eliminate parasites as the shortened day length will cause the encysting of larvae which may lead to gut inflammation. As always, check with your vet.

    1. Post

      We know the owner of this company and are impressed with their commitment to integrity in their industry. If I were going to feed any grains to horses, these are the people I would go to. No lie. Very honest.

  10. I have a very easy-keeper half-arab pony that gets for Breakfast (dry) 1 cup of Nutrena Topline Balancer and 2 cups of timothy grass pellets -then she’s out on pasture for the day. Then for PM feeding she gets 1 cup of Nutrena Topline Balancer, 2 cups of timothy grass pellets, 1 cup no-molasses beet pulp pellets, 1 tsp of Himlaylan salt, 1 tsp of Vit E & Selenium, 1/3 cup Psylium Husk wetted down – she then gets 2 flakes of hay in her stall overnight. She has lost about 100 lbs since the beginning of October when i started her on this diet. Would she benefit more from not getting anything but hay and pasture grass? But She really needs to have the Vit E and Selenium supplement since we have had 2 episodes of tying up and the vet having to come out.

    1. Post

      Mindy – It is important to list here the total amount of pasture and hay she is eating. This is the base. Then it is necessary to list the ingredients of all the supplements befor any further analysis can be made. Please reply.

      1. Sapphire will wander with the other 3 horses (1 large thoroughbred, 1 large pony mare and 1 weanling) around the whole 10 acres (4 small fenced off sections) of hilly pasture grazing but there’s not a lot there now with all the snow coverage – so i’m not sure how much grass she’s eating. At night in her stall she gets 2 small flakes (maybe about 10# total) of 1st cutting hay. I get the small 2-stringed bales – they weigh approximately 50 lbs each. The supplements she gets are: 1 tsp of AniMed’s Vitamin E & Selenium (AM & PM feedings), 1 tsp of pure Himalayan salt (AM & PM feedings) and 1/3 cup of AniMed’s AniPysll (psyllum husk) at PM feeding. Sometimes she doesn’t always finish eating up the hay in her stall by the morning either. This is also my winter routine for my horses – they’re stalled at night during winter months because of my hard-keeper Thoroughbred mare. Mid-April to mid-November they are out 24/7 but i rotate them through the 4 sections.

        1. Post

          I think what she is missing is protein. I don’t see her getting enough in the diet. I see in the follow up that you are no longer feeding the top line balancer. Most balancers have wheat middlings in it which is inflammatory to the gut. I prefer ProAdd Ultimate ( sold through Nutrena because there are no grains in it.

          When you see a loss of any weight (in your case 100 lb) it is important to determine what was lost. If it was just fat then this could be an indicator that inflammation has been removed and this is good. Unfortunately when fat is removed the muscle loss that has also occurred is realized. Adding protein will help to restore this lost muscle and improve the top line as well as tighten up the belly. Be sure to add about 1/4 pound of ProAdd for 250 pounds of horse daily for 6 to 12 months. After this you can decrease the amount.

  11. What would you recommend to supplement if my horse is on a dry lot with no pasture. Also should work be limited during the two week transition from grain?

    1. Post

      Lisa – The idea is that grain is causing gut inflammation so once it is stopped, your horse should have more energy. Therefore there is no need to limit work and in fact, there is no need to “transition” from grain. Remove it all at once and watch the transition occur as he improves. As far as supplements, first eliminate everything to help the gut restore order in the microbiome. Then find a non-grain protein source or one with as little grain as possible and supplement protein to help the top line. See (become a member for free and log in first).

    1. Post

      ProAdd Ultimate by Progressive Nutrition owned by Nutrena ( – all the extra protein your horse really needs along with the vitamins and minerals we think horses should have. Works well. Also Barn Bag by Life Data works well.

      Feeding extra vit/min without seeing the chronic protein loss will not get you to where you want to be nutritionally with your horses. See The (become a free member and then log in first)

  12. I’m a bit confused. You list rice bran as a grain that should be avoided, yet then recommend Renew Gold which has rice bran as its main ingredient. I am searching for a vitamin/mineral supplement for our easy keepers and don’t know whether rice bran is an acceptable ingredient. Thank you.

    1. Post

      Nice catch! Renew Gold is a distant second to CoolStance ( as a noninflammatory fat source for older horses to add fat to their bodies. With your easy keepers, neither Coolstance nor Renew Gold is needed.

      Adding protein is more important than any other nutrient after removing the inflammatory grain. Nutrena’s ProAdd Ultimate (actually it is Progressive Nutrition at has protein with vit/min without grain. Barn Bag from Life Data also is good. There are others but you need to read the ingredients.

      All brans (wheat, oats, rice, beet (pulp)) are the outside of the plant or grain where the highest concentration of lectins are located. Lectins are the plant proteins that cause the gut lining damage. Removing all grain and grain products such as wheat middlings removes these inflammatory agents allowing the gut lining to heal and the micro-flora (the microbiota or microbiome) to re-establish itself and the horse to become healthy. Adding protein advances this process.

  13. What about a 6 month old weakling? He looks pot bellied and lacks muscle and thinner on top. He has been deformed with everything but Quest and had a fecal done and tested for Lawsonia. What can I feed a weakling and not stop proper development. I am in Canada.

    He was negative for Lawsonia.

    1. Post

      Hey Janet – don’t you love spelling auto-correct? So a weanling who is a weakling, right? LOL

      Deworming is often incorrectly done. In fact, ask your mother how she dewormed you and you will begin to realize that no chemicals were given to you. Yet all the deworming medicines approved for use in horses are also approved for use in humans. The answer simply is that you did not eat where you defecated. If your 6 month old is suffering from parasites, then the environment needs to be cleaned AND he needs to be dewormed once a week for 3 weeks. It is the frequency that is important. Giving deworming medicine every 8 weeks is a waste in most situations especially where the environment is dirty.

      It is the horse’s immune systems that kills the parasites. All parts of the immune system are proteins made of the amino acids you are feeding him. If he is not being given enough of a variety of proteins and what you are feeding him is not getting into him due to gut inflammation, then this will lead to muscle wasting that causes a pot belly and a poor top line.

      Talk with your vet about deworming him once a week for 3 weeks with ivermectin. Remove any inflammatory feeds such as grain and grain byproducts (wheat middlings, brans, hulls). Add a good quality protein supplement with whey, soy and alfalfa along with the vit/min but without grains.

      More info can be found here:

  14. Hi, i have a weanling who eats hay, grain, supplements and no grass. I understand the idea that horses don’t actually need grain and that it’s possibly harmful to them but what about supplements? dry hay doesn’t contain the same amounts of essential minerals and vitamins as fresh grass. So what would you recommend for a growing foal with no issues but also with no access to grass (winter)? And when you say to give them protein, what source of protein should be used? Thanks

    1. Post

      Hi Julie – I’m glad you understand that grains cause inflammation and it is this inflammation that is preventing the vitamins and minerals from getting absorbed and utilized. Removing the grain actually improves the vit/min use from hay. Remember, it is the re-establishment of the microbiome within the gut that will help more in the vit/min department than adding them as a supplement.

      There are a lot of protein supplements available. Look for whey, soy, alfalfa and coconut meal – it is the variety that is important.

  15. What would you feed a 6 month old weanling that has been fully dewormed with fenbendazole double dose 3 times, a tripple dose strongid P and now once with ivermectin. He has tested negative for Lawsonia and has a total protien of 54. He eats well and no diarrhea, but he has a big belly and ribby on top. Since his last two dewormings, he is developing a bit more of a top line, but still has a ways to go. A fecal showed a 1+ for strongyles before I dewormed with the last two dewormers. What would be the best combination of concentrate and vitamin mix if he can’t eat grains?

    1. Post

      The term “fully dewormed” is confusing because you never state the FREQUENCY of deworming. How often the medication is given is critical. In addition, cleaning the environment is even more critical. I gave you some links in your last comment. ANY POSITIVE FECAL EXAM IS A WARNING.

      Cleaning the environment, removing inflammatory products such as grains are the 2 most important steps. It is now being discovered that deworming medicine can also kill off whole groups of gut microbes. So BE PATIENT because it ewill take months to heal the gut and re-establish the microflora.

      Adding any protein source you can find will help in his recovery as long as you read the ingredients and try to avoid grains such as corn. ProAdd Ultimate ( works well. So does Barn Bag from Life Data. There are others listed on The Horse’s Advocate web site.

  16. Inspiring read, thank you! I have a 9 year old Quarab mare, who is extremely reactive to saddle fit, a hard keeper, and long guard hairs throughout her winter coat (these do shed out).
    I am going to try her on Grain free to see if some of her reactivity is related to inflammation/Grain. My current plan is 3 cups alfalafa pellets, 1 Cup Renew gold, 1 oz camelina oil, and 1 dose of bio star supplements per feeding. Unlimited grass Hay. Has turnout, but grass is minimal due to winter.
    Would we be better looking at the cool stance? Would it be wise to add a Chia or flax supplement? (I know the renew gold has flax already).
    Appreciate your time!

    1. Post

      Keep us all posted for the results you get. But if you really want to see things work, then feed only pasture, grass and water. No oils, Renew Gold or Bio Star. These along with chia and flax may be inflammatory but after the gut inflammation calms down then you can add back in – one at a time – extra ingredients.

      Adding protein before all else is a better alternative ( ). More on this in future articles.

  17. I started a week ago feeding soaked alfalfa and beet pulp (no molasses). I have noticed a huge difference. I just came across your article.
    Should I just do pasture grass and alfalfa cubes? Why is beet pulp not good?

    1. Post

      The whole name is SUGAR beet. It is one of the leading sources of sugar in America. The pulp is the left over byproduct after the sugar has been extracted. In addition, the appellate court in 2015 ruled that all sugar beets can be legally be modified genetically in America. Finally, most plant lectins are found in the skin of the plant. As most lectins of plants new to the horse are reactive, it would be logical to assume that the lectins of the sugar beet are in the pulp and can possibly affect the horse.

  18. Hi! Love this article! I have a 14 yr old Morgan gelding that just stopped sweating. He is on pasture and hay only, no grain or treats. What can I try for gut health for him or what is the best protocol? Thank you so much!

    1. Post

      Discovering that a lot of non-sweating horses start to sweat after removing grain was a surprise to me. I still do not know the mechanism behind this but many people have found that it works. Now your horse comes along so let me say a few things.

      If it is true that it is the inflammation of the gut, you will need to look at any cause for this. Included in this would be: any chemicals added to the pasture or hay; increased sugar content of the spring grass; spreading of organic material (horse, cow, pig, chicken manure); anything else.

      If nothing has been added, then try removing or limiting your horse to the pasture. This can be an experiment done for only a week to test the results. If it is true that some change caused him to stop sweating, then that change needs to be found and either eliminated or addressed.

      After you exhaust all possibilities in finding the cause, you can try to add something to calm the hind gut. My go-to for this is Succeed. Get the starter pack of paste followed by granules. Be sure he is still not sweating when you add this and then record the results. If it works, the result may be permanent or you may need to continue it until cool weather come back.

      I really would like a follow up to this as you get more information. I see that you also read my other blogs on this subject so be sure to comment there too.


  19. Finally, a DVM, with common sense LOL! I have never had a Vet tell me to stop feeding grain! I have been feeding a small amount of grain pellets (for easy keepers), by Safe Choice, a Nutrena product. I would add supplements to this like Flax oil, ground flax or herbs that were specific to certain symptoms that any particular horse might have. For instance, my Insulin Resistant horse had his feet almost destroyed by laminitis about 2 years ago. I put him on a herb mix, developed by another Vet, which was mixed into his grain pellets along with Flax. He did really well, lost weight and with a good farrier, my horse became sound again. I cut back on these gradually until he was only getting a couple of handfuls of the Safe choice with some flax oil…. and then this spring he developed COPD… severe!!! Lots of mucus coughed out, could barely breathe some days and then he became lame again. He had been dripping some mucus for a year or more, before this but nothing like what was happening now!

    The medicine given by our Vet (antihistimines and some steriods) were not working well. I turned to herbs like turmeric, elecampane, citrus tinctures and others to help him. The turmeric appeared to make his breathing worse so I stopped that. The mucous kept on coming… poor boy was gagging and coughing blobs of phlegm. When cough suppressants were given, his breathing became worse. When steriods were given to help his breathing, his coughing up phlegm became worse… followed by more pain in his feet. It was looking very grim. I had already replaced his bedding with salt instead of any other bedding, to keep down dust and any possible mold. My horses are brought in for their grain and for periods when the flies are just impossibly nasty outside. The hay was a bit old, baled two summer ago but I could not tell if there was mold, it smelled okay. I hosed the hay down and sprinkled more salt on it too.

    We also use a hay net with 1 inch spaces. Three days ago he was at his worst, I thought the end was near! I took him off of ALL his supplements and grain pellets. We got a new shipment of fresh hay too, a mix of natural grasses and alfalfa from a hay field that is 40 minutes away. Our present hay was baled locally as ditch hay. That was a Saturday, by Sunday morning I was dreading going out to see him… thinking he might be worse.. Instead I was greeted by a happy horse, and his breathing was normal!!! He still had some residual mucus stuck to his nostrils but nothing fresh. Today, Monday, he is still happy and doing well, I cannot even hear the lung noises that he had before! Today he kicked off his EasyRide boots in the pasture (he’s allowed out for about 2 hours every other day, the rest of the time in the corral with netted hay), the boots are still sitting side by side where I collected him LOL! I am overjoyed!

    At this point, I don’t know for sure whether it was the hay or the grain (or both) was causing his problems, but after reading your article, I will not be giving him any more Safe choice grain. I was also putting a handful of beet pulp on his mix to make his medicine more edible. I just bought a new bag of the Safe Choice, maybe the store will allow a refund. We still have a lot of the older hay left over so we’ll try to sell it for a great discount to cattle or sheep owners around here. At this point, I do not want to experiment to see which was the problem! I had to put another horse down 2 years ago who also had severe COPD complicated by a muscle injury. That horse did not have the terrible mucus and coughing but had severe breathing difficulties. Thank you for your great insight here 🙂

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      It is almost fantastic how some of the things we all think are OK for horses actually are not. Great story. Now read about protein and if all is well, start adding protein to support a better immune system (which are proteins).

  20. Hi I have a very old mare in her thirties, she is very thin and I have tried lots to help her put weight on. She has no teeth at the back so can’t eat hay. She is out 24/7 . Any advice on what to feed her to help with her weight and condition. We are in the UK. Regards Lynne.

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      The answer is to get ANYTHING past her throat and into her stomach. At 30+ I find any diet changes may not be as effective as hoped for. But if the horse isn’t swallowing then they are being self-starved.

      Grass is always the best. Chopped hay and soaked hay cubes are good. Hay pellets may cause choke so be careful. Shredded coconut is a great source of non-inflammatory fat and efficient energy. Coolstance (stance in the USA is really beneficial for horses like yours.

      Protein in any form (preferably as soy bean meal) is also essential to help add top line and cheek muscle as well as improve hair coat and overall health. Consider reducing grain or even eliminating it as gut inflammation may be adding to her weight loss. But at 30+ this may not work as intended because removing inflammatory grain causes body fat loss which makes them look worse even though they are healthier.

  21. Doc T:

    Thank you for answering my email and encouraging me to try skipping the ulcerguard for my out-of-town training trip. It was a leap of faith, but I’m listening to my horse and six weeks into the No Grain challenge I’m seeing such promising results that I took the plunge. (I took the gastroguard along just in case.)

    The trip went REALLY well! No ulcerguard/gastroguard and he trailered and stabled very well and was a joy to ride. I got excellent work from him and my trainer hopped on and took him through the entire Grand Prix test for the first time. There was one moment in the first piaffe that he got backward thinking and went up when corrected, but that looked like greeness handling the pressure. Nothing explosive like the issues that led me to your grain free challenge.

    Six weeks no grain and he looks great and acts happy and has the energy for the upper level work. We will see how it continues with shows and other pressure situations, but I think I have a horse I can enjoy and progress with again. Hallelujah!

    I’ve sent at least ten people the links to your nutrition blogs in the last three days. I’m enjoying delving deeper into the issues through your video courses. The more I learn the more comfortable I am with the new feed program (it’s hard to accept at first what seems like such a radical change). My vet here says “that’s a really stomach friendly diet regiment.”

    I’m really hopeful that you’ve given me an important key to keeping my horses happy and comfortable.

    I have a 21-year-old gelding on stall rest from a check ligament injury. From reading your blogs I think he’s protein deficient. I think he’s putting on topline while on stall rest just from the diet change to SBM. The vet doing his shockwave agrees that his topline has improved in the past four weeks (time of injury).

    My girthy mare is still girthy but not as viciously so, and she has been “startling” under saddle in situations where she might previously have spooked. A welcome improvement.

    The 20-y-o draft cross seems no different but is doing well on the SBM too.

    Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge and ideas and time.


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  22. I have just purchased a horse (10 year old) that is only on pasture, hay and water (will change the salt). I live in the sand hills so I started giving beet pulp (wet) to push the sand through. Any other suggestions instead of the beet pulp. Also he has gone from 12 acres of grass to about 2 acres ( concerned with possible losing weight from change of pasture size. Not feeding grain is new to me. Finding your input has really helped. Will timothy hay work as well as the alfalfa. In the past when feeding alfalfa hay to my horse, it seems to give added energy which I do not want since I only trail ride now. Really loved reading your input. Looking forward to your input for healthy diet for my horse.

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      Sand accumulation is still not fully understood but one thing most agree on is that adding a lot of fiber to the diet helps “push” things through. But from what I have been reading it could also be hypothesized that by removing gut inflammation, the gut can now improve peristalsis yielding the same effect. While there is no research, it would be interesting to get data where the diet of horses with sand colic is correlated.

      If the size of pasture is reduced then the amount of hay should be increased as hat is really summer pasture preserved.

      Timothy is a GRASS and alfalfa is a LEGUME. When you added alfalfa in the past, was he also on grain and other carbohydrates? Some horses do react to alfalfa with some spunk. Add a small amount and gradually build up to about a flake a day.

As of November 2018 I will no longer reply to comments. There is just not enough time in the day! I sincerely appreciate all of your interest and am grateful for the time you take to comment here. Doc T

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