Food is not just about calories, but information that radically influences genes, hormones, immune system, brain chemistry and gut flora, with every single bite.
Thousands of studies consistently point in the same direction which shows that a species-appropriate diet can prevent illness and disease, and we don't have to have a degree in nutrition to know that a healthy, quality life starts from the foundation of a healthy diet. This matters for all of us, humans and our horses. What we all eat is our body’s fuel, and it affects everything from how we feel, how we sleep, how strong our immune system is; everything we eat shapes our destiny.
Getting the baseline diet right is essential to keep our horses healthy
For a doctor or vet not to know about nutrition is like a firefighter who doesn’t know about water. Yet how many vets are actually able to advise us knowledgeably on what feeds to give our horses? Hardly any. Nutrition plays virtually no part in any conventional medical training these days.
We all know that the main food source that our horses are evolved to eat is coarse, fibrous forage, but the trouble is that there's a lot wrong with our grasslands these days, compared to the good old days. More on this later, but the long and short of it is that we now spend a whole lot of our time keeping our horses off their most appropriate foodstuff.
Instead, we spend a fortune on bagged feeds which promise the earth to give our horses to the very best of health, but ... there's a problem here too. The majority of these shiny bags are full of crops grown and treated with many harmful chemicals; pesticides, herbicides, fungicides - the 'ides' certainly have it when it comes to our agri-crops. And it doesn't stop once the crop has been harvested - even after harvesting, the grains and dried grasses are treated to a chemical mould inhibitor before being 'processed' into a foodstuff.
Now here's the real deal. Processed foods are, in essence, fake foods made in factories, loaded with artificial ingredients, synthetic additives, by-products, fillers, and with unnecessary calories added in by way of something usually unhealthy, i.e. molasses or soya (cripes, don't get me started on soya, more on this later as well) to make them tasty. It's badbadnotgood, especially for today's modern horse and their sensitive gut, again something that horses just didn't have in those good old days.
Just because something is able to be eaten, chewed and digested doesn’t necessarily make it a beneficial, or appropriate, feed to provide essential nutrients and fuel for the body to thrive upon. Today’s packaged feeds are often devoid of so many of the critical nutrients the body needs, the phytonutrients, flavenoids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that an organism, whether horse or human, needs to survive, let alone thrive. You just have to look at the label analysis to see the token amounts thrown in as a gesture more than anything else.
Understandably, it’s an absolute minefield out there in our local feed merchant; hundreds of different brands all promising the same thing but with different marketing slogans. Many funded by associations in order to put their stamp of approval on the bags to lure us owners into buying that product, when it's only about money changing hands and not actually about being healthy for our horses.
All those shiny bags, covered with shiny photos of shiny horses, promising all kinds of amazing health results and disease prevention. With so many equine conditions that now need 'managing', compared to hardly any from the good old days, it’s easy to understand how we're conditioned to believe the advertising spin on the basis of what it promises.
So is it any wonder we usually have several bags of various feeds piled up in our feedroom and a ton of plastic supplement tubs? Is it any wonder that feedtime becomes a military manoevre - a scoop of this, half a scoop of that, a gloop of this, a slosh of that, oh and don't forget 379-grams of those, then exactly 853ml of water, err now which chaff did I put in because he didn't like that other one, and mustn't forget to add in that new one, then 30g of the other one, or was it 20g, plus two capfuls of the tincture, now where's the ACV and bluddy heck who's nicked me turmeric???!!!
It's no wonder we're so confused. It's no wonder we keep trying so many different bags because nothing seems to work. It's no wonder we feel so flipping guilty most of the time as we frisbee a feedbowl of something new at beloved Ned then leg it quickly so we don't have to watch them sniff it, then pull that face that says, "Are you having a larf? You trying to poison me again?"
If I had a quid for every time someone's said to me that they wished it could be so much simpler, I'd probably have a fabulous selection of new rugs for all four of my horses in every size, shape, colour, style and brand. Seriously. Well, this is what I'm here for, as a horse owner who's been wrung through the feed mill, so let me make it a whole lot simpler for you right now. Let's dump the hype for a second and remind ourselves of what a feedbowl is all about:
The key role of providing additional feed for our horses is simply to provide a feed carrier in which to add the nutrient supplementation that may be lacking in their forage, specifically the essential vitamins, minerals, protein and essential fatty acids.
Simples. It really is, I promise you. If our modern-day grass and hay had all the correct nutrient values for equine health, we probably wouldn't need a feedbowl. But these days, our 21st century grasslands and hay are deficient in many of the essential nutrients, so we have to add in the missing nuts and bolts to make everything work properly.
So, take a big, deep breath, grab a cuppa, try not to think about the fortune you spent last week at the feedstore, and let's look at what we can do to make sure we get everything about our horse's feed right, and the health of our horse to boot. First up, let's get an understanding of how - and why - it all went wrong back in the day with the next chapter: So began the world as we now know it.