There are 8.7 million species on planet Earth, but how many eat processed food? Which species have seen a massive increase in chronic diseases?
First up, let's remind ourselves of the Big Picture - a horse is a hindgut fibre-fermenter with an absolute requirement for forage fibre, and its body's chemistry balanced by correct mineral ratios.
So, there it is - a horse's species appropriate food is ... forage/roughage fibre and nothing else, bar the nutrients we need to add in to balance the chemistry, i.e. the missing minerals including sodium (salt), and essential fatty acids (EFA's), i.e.the omegas. And the hindgut is where it our horse's health and energy happens - the (incredibly sensitive) Mother of all the Organs.
Another important factor - species-appropriate 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 - we don't have to have a degree in nutrition to know that a healthy, quality life starts from the foundation of what we're all meant to eat - a healthy, appropriate diet. This matters for all of us, horse and human - what we 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 so if we're eating C.R.A.P (Carbs, Refined, Artificial, Processed), us - and our horses - are going to feel like crap.
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 fireman not knowing about water. Yet how many vets are actually able to advise us knowledgeably on what feed to give our horses? Hardly any, and let's not forget that many of them are in alliance with certain feed companies for a big fat fee to promote their C.R.A.P. feed. Species-appropriate feed and nutrition play 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, thanks to decades of chemical treatments going into the soil. More on this later, but the long and short of it is that we now spend a whole lot of our time having to keep our horses off their most appropriate foodstuff.
So we compensate by spending a fortune on bagged food which promises the Earth to give our horses 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 there - once the crop has been harvested, the grains and dried grasses are treated to a chemical mould-inhibitor before being 'processed' into a foodstuff.
Here's the real deal
Many of those processed feedbags are, in essence, fake foods made in factories, loaded with artificial ingredients, synthetic additives, by-products and fillers, as well as ingredients that are now known to cause health problems such as alfalfa, molasses, soya and wheat. All ingredients that horses weren't fed back in those good old days. The Bad-Stuff list is huge, makes for very uncomfortable reading, and is all detailed in our Why what we feed has to be right page.
Just because something is able to be eaten, chewed and digested doesn’t necessarily make it a beneficial, appropriate, healthy food to provide essential nutrients and fuel for the body to thrive upon. Today’s packaged feeds are also often devoid of so many of the critical nutrients the body needs, i.e. phytonutrients, flavenoids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, that our horses need to survive, let alone thrive.
Understandably, it’s an absolute minefield out there in our local feed merchant, with hundreds of different brands and their marketing slogans all promising the same thing. Many of them are also funded by associations (the Laminitis Trust for one) in order to put their stamp of approval on the bags to lure us owners into buying that product, when it's really only about money changing hands and not actually about being healthy for our horses at all. There are many feeds out there saying they're healthy for laminitics, yet still have molasses as part of the composition.
So many 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. You just have to look at the feedroom - no wonder we're so confused.
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 my horses in every size, shape, colour, style and brand. Well, this is why I'm here, as a horse owner myself, to make it a whole lot simpler for you right now. So, 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 missing nutrient supplementation that is lacking in their forage, specifically the essential minerals and essential fatty acids.
Simple. It really is, I promise you. If our modern-day grass and hay had all the correct nutrient values for equine health, we wouldn't need a feedbow other than for specific support, i.e. joints or PPID. As I say as the opening line on our Mineral Solutions chapter, "50 years ago, carrots had 75% more magnesium than today." Yet these days, our 21st century grasslands and hay are minerally-deficient to almost criminal levels in many of the essential nutrients, so we have no choice but to add in the missing nuts and bolts to balance the chemistry. Again, all covered in more detail in our Why what we feed has to be right page.
So, take a 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 - and health - right. 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 or maybe it should be called 'What the heck went wrong?
PS - if you want to skip the background, head straight to our Why what we feed has to be right page.