"To use the term 'clean', that's kind of a provocative term, but I think an appropriate one because there's a lot of 'exhaust' associated with burning the wrong food for fuel ... toxicity, free radicals ... that contribute to the metabolic problems we're seeing."
Dr. Mercola, Jan 2016
"We're running into a lot of metabolic problems because we're constantly inhibiting the body's ability to burn the fuel that it was evolved to burn."
Dr. Jeff Volek, Ph.D., Registered Dietitian and Professor, Ohio State University
First up, becoming a conscious consumer about the diet we feed our horse is the first step towards upgrading their nutritional status, because we can’t out-exercise, out-school or out-rest a bad diet.
The overall health of our horses is entirely under our control; we are totally responsible for what we choose to feed them, and we have to get it right because their food sends one almighty do-or-die message to the body - create health or create dis-ease.
It’s also not about calories as such, but the chemical information from the micronutrients in feed that radically influences genes, hormones, immune system, central nervous system, brain chemistry, skeletal and soft tissue structure; you name it – everything from mood, energy and physical health of the whole organism (body), at cellular level, with every single bite. And when it come to calories, trust me when I say they're not created equal - they're information that the body's cells need to function, information that the metabolism can use to either run efficiently or not, so the source and nutrient-density of our horse’s food plays a huge role in their health.
When we feed our horses the right information, the body will function at its highest level of balanced homeostasis and performance. When we feed foodstuffs with poor-quality information, i.e. refined/synthetic ingredients, high starch, fillers, by-products or inflammatory fats (those shiny bags), the body doesn’t know how to utilise that data, and dysfunction is the result. Blood sugar imbalances, mood swings, weight gain and rest/sleep disturbances are just some of the many side effects that can happen when our feed choices for our horses are lacking nutrient density.
However, if you’re questioning your horse's feed regime, then this page might help sort the wheat from the chaff, as it were. You'll hear me say 'species-appropriate' a lot, and I'm sure there'll be a raised-eyebrow or two; after all, those shiny bags in our feed merchants are 'appropriate' for our horses, aren't they? Well, no, they're not.
If it comes from a plant, eat it; if it's made in a plant, don't
Let's look at a human dietary example, specifically the Paleo, or Paleolithic diet, which deliberately attempts to replicate the dietary environment of our paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors, while deliberately avoiding the foods that entered the human diet once we adopted agriculture.
The Paleo method of eating argues that the inbuilt human gene pool hasn't had enough time - as in 10,000-years - or undergone enough selective pressure, to adapt to agriculture. Okay, for sure us humans have continued to evolve over the last 10,000 years, and there will no doubt be many scientific examples showing genetic adaptation to foods that weren’t available to our pre-agricultural ancestors, but it's still an interesting concept.
However, from a horse's genetic issue, our modern-day horse still looks very similar to its ancestors from a few million years ago. Our modern-day equine feeds have only been around for the last 40-50 years, since intensive farming and pasture improvement programs began, and - reality-check time - from what evolution created for over 50-million years, mankind cannot change in 40-50 years. These factory-made fake-food compositions are the furthest feedstuff removed from what our domestic horse ate less than 50-years or so ago, and I can vouch for this as I was around then. 50-years isn't anywhere near enough time for the remotest blink of genetic adaptation in our equids to safely adjust to these bags of ultraprocessed feeds.
As a comparison, we just have to remind ourselves of what happened when us humans began eating 'processed' food from those new supermarkets back in the 1960s - the human race got sicker; obesity, diabetes type 2, heart disease, autoimmune disease ... the list goes on. And sadly, since our horses have been chowing down on 'processed' feedbag contents, they've got sicker too - we just have to look at all the myriad of metabolic diseases our horses have experienced in the last 50-years to see the evidence staring us in the eye.
Today's domesticated horse's insides look just the same as its wild ancestors' insides, with the wild horses' natural feeding sources being grass, but not the grass of our pastured pets of today. We're talking very dry, arid areas such as half-deserts, steppe, tundra landscapes with a harsh, dry climate and very little nutrient in the soil, so the grass that grows there is coarse and fibrous but low in nutrients such as sugars and proteins. This meant that over time the wild horse's gut system had to develop to find the energy in the plant fibre via the organisms in the hindgut.
This same gut function applies today - our modern day horse is still a hindgut coarse fibre fermenter, yet we're feeding them factory-made junk in a feedbowl alongside high-nutrient neon-green overly-nutritious grasses full of sugars, starches and proteins meant for cows. Horses get their energy from the plant fibres, the cellulose and hemicellulose - it's all about high fibre, low-nutrient rough forage, for hours at a time in huge amounts. This is how a horse's gut has evolved, to extract fibre from low-nutrient plants for their energy. It's how nature designed them, for them to be constantly feeding while slowly roaming on the move, walking for anywhere between 20-30 miles/day, feeding as they go and with short sleeping breaks.
Put simply, the horses' fragile biology is not evolved to eat fake, human-engineered, ultra-processed, refined feed 'stuff', made in a factory. Yet feed a horse like a horse, as in multiple-diverse grass-forage species, aka lots of different grass types, and supplement only with the deficient nutrients in that forage, and you'll have a calm, healthy, balanced horse all over again. It really is as simple and straightforward as this, I promise you.
Pulling this together ...
First up, what we feed our horses should be as appropriate to what horses are meant to eat - and that's grass-forage. Reminder, as I say this all over the website - a horse is a hindgut rough grass-fibre fermenter with an absolute need for forage, full stop. It should also be as uncontaminated as possible, as in chemical-free, to support the incredibly sensitive, biological digestive function, immunity, and behavioural response of horses.
Secondly, and contrary to what the advertising says, horses don't need additional hard (bagged) feed over and above a forage diet. What they do need is their forage-only diet balanced with what's deficient, as in the chemistry, in their forage. We're talking specific minerals, as in magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper; we're also talking sodium (salt), certain vitamins (the equine gut system makes their own vit.C and the B's), certain proteins (again, the equine gut makes some), and essential fatty acids (the omegas) - all are needed in order to balance the known chemistry deficiencies in our horses' forage. Before you panic that this sounds like a minefield (well, it is, but we've got you covered), all these are combined in what's known as 'forage-balanced mineral balancers', and we have our own, our EquiVita range - more on this below.
The best way to get all this essential chemical supplementation into your horse? Easy - a simple feed carrier, as in a small amount of something that they're naturally meant to eat, and preferably uncontaminated, to get those yukky minerals into them. In other words, dried grass! Nuts/cobs/pellets - call them what you like, but grass of some form or other is all you need to put in the feedbowl, soaked, as the carrier for the missing chemical nutrients.
How to feed our horses healthy
Rule No. 1 - A healthy gut system, and especially the hindgut
For true overall health we need a healthy gut because put simply, life-force completely depends on it. Food nutrients are the body’s building blocks, and the gut system's job is to digest, assimilate and absorb the nutrients in the fuel (feed) that we give it. If perfect all-round health isn’t happening, it’s usually because there’s something going wrong in the gut, so our No.1 priority is to take care of our horse's gut function and sustain a healthy microbiome environment.
- The hindgut is where a horse's energy is created. Once the carbs, proteins, fats and starches have been dealt with in the small intestine, what’s left is the plant fibres – cellulose, hemicellulose, lignans ( woody fibres, especially important to promote motility of the intestinal peristalsis movement - this is why you see horses chewing on wood/branches), that all head into the large intestine, aka the hindgut, a generic term for a further collection of organs, specifically the cecum and two colons. The microbes that do the breaking-down, the fermenting of the plant fibres, live in the cecum - it's basically a vat full of micro-organisms, and also where the vitamins B6, B12 and three essential amino acids, lysine, methionine and threonine, are produced. These microbes take up residence not long after birth via the foal eating its' mother’s faeces, hence why the first 4-5 months of a foal's life are so important to build the lifelong microbiome. This may also explain why, if foals are weaned too early, adult horses may be sicker than others, especially if antibiotics are prescribed as a foal.
- Taking care of our horse's microbiome is crucial, so much so that the microbiome is now being referred to as 'the missing organ'. But before you start panicking thinking this is something else you have to focus on, you don't have to do anything bar feed what a horse is meant to be fed - forage! But not corn, wheat, soya, alfalfa and so on, that's in so many feedbags, all pro-inflammatory inappropriate junk-food fillers that trigger the growth of the dangerous, pathogen gut microbes in the microbiome - click on the link above for the full Microbiome story, otherwise find the page in our Gut System chapter. Around 80% of our horse's immunity is also created by the beneficial gut microbes in the intestinal tract. With this microbiota being the major regulator of the immune system, this means our horse’s overall health relies completely upon optimal performance of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. So, we need to look after the beneficial intestinal microbes, and this is only achieved through feeding what a horse is meant to eat - fibrous forage/roughage.
- Let’s not forget that antibiotics also wreak havoc by destroying bacteria in the body indiscriminately – the word ‘antibiotic’ literally means ‘kill all’. The gut microbes are temporarily eliminated until they are re-introduced and given the chance to repopulate again, and for this you'll need probiotics. Unfortunately, the microbial balance can be upset far quicker than it can be restored, and once damaged, it also alters the pH of the gut environment to acidic, further negatively affecting digestion and the horse's overall health and well-being. Pulling this together, it’s really important to support gut health during a course of antibiotics.
- Finally, we need to feed the right nutrition to nourish – and balance - the whole system, by way of micronutrients, aka chemicals, aka minerals. A mammalian body is one big chemical engine, whether horse or human, and all body activities are chemical in nature – a body needs the right chemicals, in the right measures, to keep itself alive and thriving.
Rule No. 2 - the right forage
Okay, so to the perfect world, and it's hay only, 24/7, 365-days/year. Yikes. Trust me, I hear you - hay only?! But trust me again - there are some very good reasons why it should be hay only.
Thirty years ago a horse grazing in a typical paddock would have had the choice of approximately 30-40 different plants and long grasses (no-one 'topped' back then), each species bringing its own specific nutrients essential for a balanced diet, and at the same time containing natural sources of digestive enzymes and naturally occurring beneficial bacteria. These days, because of selective seeding, intensive farming, chemical fertiliser spraying etc etc., the grazing is limited to sometimes as few as four varieties of grasses.
Also, by the very nature of today's livery yards, horses are rarely kept as a loose herd, more often individually isolated in designated, small fenced-off areas, so their grass is usually over-grazed as well.
Which means ... we should avoid grass and feed hay all year round, 24/7, 365-days/year.
Here's more reasons why. Yes a horse is meant to eat grass, but we're talking long, stemmy, fibrous, woody roughage - not our lush, short, vivid neon-green UK grass. For starters, it's not fibrous enough - it's too green as in too leafy, full of pectins which breed lactic acid (LA) bacteria and makes the hindgut acidic.
Horses are meant to eat roughage that needs to be chewed properly, as well as bushes, twigs and branches which give them their woody fibres; this also keeps them occupied all day as their teeth have to break down the fibres by grinding them with their back molars. Chewing itself has many benefits - it releases endorphins (happy reward hormones), produces saliva which contains digestive enzymes, and buffers foregut acidity; it also evens tooth wear and prevents stress.
Coarse, stemmy hay is the absolute best forage to feed. With a horse being a hindgut fibre fermenter, we need to get those all-important roughage plant fibres, cellulose and hemicellulose, found in long, seeded grass that's formed strong stems full of cellulose, into the hindgut to feed to the biome microbes. The perfect cut is a late-only cut where the grass has flourished enough to seed, so there’s lots of stem.
The horse's nutrient profile depends on this type of hay as well, as many essential nutrients are produced by the hindgut biome, including the B-vits and many amino acids.
Basically it all starts in the mouth and the chewing process, for a minimum of 18-plus hrs/day, where the hay is ground down into a ‘hay roll’ which exposes all the inner fibre. In the perfect world the hay strand ideally needs to be 8cm or longer, or less than 5mm for our dentally-challenged horses for easy swallowing. If it's in between this it can't be chewed/ground enough to expose the fibre and won’t create a hay roll, which means fibres will then sit in the hind gut for longer and ferment. For the full story of how a horse eats, head to our Gut System page.
Energy levels in hay
Good news - hay provides awesome energy levels. A horse needs around 2% of their bodyweight in total forage per day, so if a horse is kept off our UK grass and fed a hay-only diet (the perfect world), for the average 500-600kg horse we're talking 2-3kg hay/100kg bodyweight, so a total of around 10-12kg/day.
So to energy, and a 500-600kg horse needs around 80mj energy/day. Hay provides around 8mj/kg, so that 10-12kg hay/day will provide 96mj energy.
Now let's put that in real terms. Let's say a horse is ridden for 1-hour in what's termed 'light' work, i.e. 20-mins trot, 15-mins canter, the rest at walk. This work alone would utilise just 8-12mj of energy, so you can see there's plenty of energy in a hay forage diet!
Hay or Haylage?
Sorry, but it's hay only, and apologies in advance for the haylage-believers - this makes for pretty grim reading.
To convert grass into haylage, the cut grass needs lactic acid (LA) bacteria to ferment it - fair enough, you might say. Trouble is, this same LA bacteria is then consumed by the horse when the horse eats haylage. And by their very nature, LA bacteria create lactic acid, so overall the whole lactic acid subject is all about acid in the gut system, creating an overly acidic pH value in the small intestine and hindgut where acid doesn't belong - from the stomach/foregut onwards, the environment should be completely pH neutral, around 7.
Here's where it all goes wrong with haylage. Being a sugar-loving pro-inflammatory bacteria, the LA bacteria start feeding from the sugar (and protein) in the diet but unlike the beneficial digesting and fermenting biome microbes, don't make any beneficial nutrients, only lactic acid itself as a waste product, which is then absorbed through the intestinal mucosa. This is bad news - due to the now enhanced acidic pH value in the intestines (both small intestine and large intestine in the hindgut region), the intestinal mucous membrane becomes inflamed and leads to Leaky Gut syndrome, one of the many causes of faecal water syndrome in horses.
These days, hindgut acidosis is prevalent everywhere, and certainly in just about every enquiry I have. It's vital that we do everything we can to prevent LA bacteria getting in the hindgut/cecum as it lowers the pH to aggressive levels, creating a toxic state of dysbiosis in the gut microbes, which as we know, leads to a downward health spiral. For the record, my connie, Murphy, can't touch haylage - despite him loving it, his gut literally goes into almost immediate projectile faecal-water mode.
The hindgut is also where the B-vitamins are produced, including the essential B6 and B12; lactic acid stops this, so this then has significant effects on the entire metabolic process and, among other things, promotes the occurrence of a detoxification disorder known as cryptopyrroluria (KPU). This is still new science, with KPU a relatively new label to reach the mainstream, so much is still to be learned about it; what is known is that it significantly affects liver, kidney and lymphatic function.
There's also a myth relating to haylage supposedly being a high energy source - so wrong! Its alleged high protein value is due to bacterial protein from the LA bacteria, not a beneficial protein for the gut to break down into amino acids to be utilised. Worse still, due to the disruption in the cecum's biome, energy from the digesting plant fibre cellulose can't be used effectively.
Lactic acid presence creates a huge burden on the horse's body. If present it's normally coverted into glucose by Veillonellaceae bacteria, but the body isn't able to adequately convert the ever increasing large amounts, so its then stored in the connective tissue - yes, we're talking tendons/ligaments/muscles etc. This results in what looks like weight gain; however, it's not about increase in muscle mass or fat, but the storage of lymph in the tissue, which is trying to dilute the acidic pH value. This hyperacidity can't be seen in the blood count because the kidneys are doing their darned-ness to keep the blood pH constant. Next to the intestines, the kidneys are the next most damaged organ from feeding haylage.
This storage of acid in the connective tissue also has a knock-on effect on how the horse performs - yet another haylage effect, this time on the musculoskeletal system. If you're feeding haylage and your horse is hard to ride, stiff, if it's hard to get them going, they may have tendonitis or swollen legs, and all accompanied by a general reluctance, it could all be due to the LA making the muscles too sour.
Finally, a really grim side to feeding haylage. Any forage wrapped in plastic will change the pH so there's always the risk of bacteria, yeast and mould surviving. Dry haylage has a pH of around 6 which means bacteria, yeast and mould can survive. It gets worse though - there's also the grim risk of fermented dead animals, i.e. field mice, in the haylage which create Chlostridium botulinum bacteria, and this will spread throughout the whole bale, unlike in a hay bale where the dead mouse doesn't ferment because there's no humid fermenting environment, so its decay remains static. Botulism poisoning has been known to cause fatal poisoning from dead mice found in haylage - by the time you find the mouse the horse is already dead. Worse still, 98% of horses will not surviving chlostridium poisoning; stats from Germany show up to 100 horses/year die from it. What is known is that these horses were all fed on haylage. This is so serious yet the horse-community isn't talking about it - this itself should be enough reason to not feed haylage - it's just not worth the risk.
To summarise, with a few extras ...
- Haylage contains LA bacteria, which creates lactic acid in the intestines. There's always the risk of some LA bacteria getting into the horse from eating grass/hay, so LA bacteria is often found in the front section of the foregut, where some will then survive the stomach acid and pass through the intestines and be eliminated. However, this is nowhere near the risk of the volume of LA bacteria that haylage intentionally brings in to the gut system, with the guaranteed risk of it landing in the hindgut as a result ... and LA bacteria simply doesn't belong in the horse's hindgut.
- Bile in in the small intestine doesn't kill all LA bacteria.
- The hindgut environment is hot! Which makes it a perfect breeding ground for LA bacteria; dysbiosis can appear in just 3-weeks (https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/87/7/2291/4731169?login=true)
- Zinc is needed to neutralise the acid, so if we're not feeding a mineral balancer the horse is going to be deficient.
- Haylage also puts extra work on the liver, as the liver needs active vit. B6 (produced in the hindgut) to transform the lactic acid so it can be excreted. However, the LA bacteria evolve quicker than they can be excreted, which means the liver has to work extra hard.
- There's less equine-appropriate 'energy' created in haylage.
- There's also a 'wrong type of grass' issue. If grass is cut late for haylage, i.e. when the grass has seeded and become coarse and stemmy - the best grass for the best hay! - this is difficult to convert to haylage as the LA bacteria won’t find enough of its preferred nutrient energy source, i.e. starch/sugars, to produce enough lactic acid to get a pH lower than 5 to ferment the grass into haylage.
- It's thought that one winter on haylage leads to a complete wipeout of the hindgut biome.
Overall, haylage leads to reduced performance of the horse and long-term damage to health, where the consequences are often only noticeable years later and therefore rarely put into direct context - https://www.nature.com/articles/ismej200867
Of course there'll be many people shouting out that their horses are fine on haylage. However, the systemic haylage effect takes time to accrue before we see symptoms - don’t be misled into thinking a horse is fine on haylage.
For a full list of sources and further reading material, don't hesitate to contact me.
A quick word on alfalfa
Millenia years of evolution put horses on dry desert/steppes/tundra lands with a food source of only coarse grass rough-forage fibre. Our modern-day equine gut system is still exactly the same as that wild horse from millions of years ago, and to this day the horse's gut should still only have that same low-nutrient roughage going through its gut system. Alfalfa is anything but this - for starters its a legume, not a grass, it's way too high in nutrients the horse doesn't need, and it's not fibrous enough, which is why it's renowned for causing gut sensitivity sensitivity, which lead to skin and hoof issues - it's definitely best avoided for our EMS horses.
It’s also been implicated in enterolith formation in horses - enteroliths are stones in the intestinal tract composed of primarily magnesium, ammonia and phosphate, with the high ammonia (from protein metabolism by the microbiome) and magnesium coming from alfalfa.
It also has a very high calcium content - the excess is excreted in the urine, which can not only contribute to urinary tract sludge, but also throws the Ca:P ratio way off the ideal balance – it takes over 8g of phosphorus to balance just 1kg of alfalfa.
It also has a reputation for making some horses ‘hot’ in a behavioural sense.
Rule No. 3 - Nutrients, aka Minerals
Reminder - us mammals, both horse and human, are one big engine of chemistry, so we’re talking trillions of chemicals and minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper and selenium. We’re also talking vitamins, amino acids, fats and proteins, and so on and so on. Collectively, they're all called 'nutrients'.
While each individual mineral has its own actions, there are thousands of reactions occurring at any given moment in time in the horse’s body, which involve many complex interactions with other minerals, vitamins, protein and energy sources. It can seem like a minefield, but once you get your head round it, it's simply about keeping everything in balance (my favourite word). There’s a ton more info on this in our Mineral Solutions page.
Nutrients are the body’s fuel, and they literally affect everything. From how we feel, how we rest and sleep, how strong our immune system is, how healthy our body is; food shapes our destiny, whether horse or human – this is a cast-iron mammalian trait, and bottom line, the key to good health is a nutrient-rich diet. Vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids and other active components – they're all essential to incorporate in the diet.
More importantly, these chemicals have to be in the correct ratios to work in harmony with each other. It’s all well and good adding in one extra mineral such as magnesium, but because the whole organism is that big engine of incredibly complex chemical reactions all interacting with each other, this means that if we add in extra of one chemical, this will unbalance all the others.
This is why we need a balanced mineral solution, appropriate to the equine metabolism, in line with what their daily requirements are (as per the NRC guidelines). A horse’s natural diet of fresh grass and/or hay provides most of what they need, but not all. These days it’s now well-known that grass is deficient in the equine-essential micronutrients, i.e:
- Minerals - the important four (https://equinatural.co.uk/i/mineral-solutions):
- Magnesium - at least 10g/day deficient
- Phosphorous - at least 5g/day deficient
- Copper - at least 400mg/day deficient – in SE England, considerably more
- Zinc - at least 1200mg/day deficient – again in the SE, considerably more
- Vitamins - we really only need to supplement with vitamin E, which is lost during the drying/curing process of grass to hay. The horse's gut system manufactures the others needed. Vit.E is a renowned antioxidant which help keep the body’s cellular matrix healthy and functioning, as well as supporting the white blood cells to keep free radicals at bay.
- Omega 3 EFA (Essential fatty acids). There are two fatty acids that are considered to be essential, hence the name, because the horse's gut can't produce them, so we need to add them to the diet. We're talking the two fragile omegas, Omega 3, the non-inflammatory Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) and Omega 6, the pro-inflammatory Linoleic Acid (LA). The immune system uses these two EFAs to synthesise signalling molecules, with omega-6 fatty acids predominately made into inflammatory signals and the omega-3s as anti-inflammatory signals, with both required for robust immune reactions. While growing grass has some level of essential fatty acids, hay is almost completely devoid of them (most commercially fortified feeds add vegetable oil or soybean oil which are very high in omega-6/pro-inflammatory, and extremely low in omega-3/non-inflammatory, so if an additional source of omega-3 is not added, the diet will be unbalanced with too much LA, leading to inflammation throughout the body. For the science geeks, grass typically offers these two in a 4:1 ratio of ALA:LA, similar to other browse foods like leaves and buds, but when grass is cut, dried and baled as hay, the fragile omega-3 fatty acids are lost, so horses on hay will have a dietary deficiency of omega-3. Linseed is the superstar here as it provides enough ALA in the balanced proportion to LA, so feeding linseed is especially useful because its balanced omega 3:6/ALA:LA fatty acids reduce inflammation. Even better for the metabolic horse they can also reduce circulating insulin. Feed 100g daily.
- Amino acids, the building blocks for protein, i.e. lysine and methionine, with lysine at least 10g/day deficient.
- Sodium/Chloride, aka Salt - an absolute essential for so many reasons, i.e. the body requires a specific sodium-to-potassium ratio to normalise blood pressure. It also keeps body fluids in balance, and it provides essential natural electrolytes which play a key role in normal nerve/muscle function and blood sodium levels. But - sodium is also needed to balance potassium levels in the grass, with rye grass and clover particularly high in potassium. Feed at least a tablespoon daily, and double this if your horse is in hard work or sweating. https://equinatural.co.uk/c/online-shop/individual-items-herbs-minerals-protein-powders-sa/salt
Pulling all this together, we need to add in the missing nuts and bolts to the required levels needed to the forage our horses eat, and especially if there’s dried forage, i.e. hay/haylage, in the diet, which is usually the case for most horses here in the UK.
Our EquiVita Mineral Solutions
Our EquiVita range of mineral solutions, balanced appropriately to compensate for the known mineral deficiencies in our UK grasslands, according to the NRC guidelines.
- For all-year round cover, our standard EquiVita balances the deficient nutrients in the grass during the summer.
- If you want to include a probiotic to support the microbiome, it's our EquiVita-’ProB’ range, the 'ProB' meaning ‘probiotic’.
- If you have general concerns over mycotoxins, we have our EquiVita-'Ultra' which includes a daily 10g measure of Alltech’s Mycosorb A+ mycotoxin binder as well as the ProB and Plus options.
Now a quick mention of the B-vitamins/hoof connection. Since all of the B vitamins are involved with protein, fat and carb metabolism and interactions, they play a very important role in hoof health. The B-vits are super important – healthy metabolism wouldn’t exist without them because their primary role is catalyzing energy production in the body, as in they activate the important enzymes that break down fats, carbs and protein, and ... the hoof wall has a high protein concentration.
A horse on a quality forage-based diet is unlikely to be deficient in B vitamins, as the equine gut manufactures the full B-complex range, with B6 and B12 created in the hindgut. However, our UK grasslands and hay are notoriously low in nutritional value, so it isn’t too off the mark to suspect our forage is low in the B’s, considering the general nationwide poor-hoof-quality reputation. Hence, because of the high concentration of protein in the hoof wall, and if you think your horse has poor hoof quality, we have our own B-vit complex supplement that you can add separately to support protein metabolism.
NB - if your horse has Mallenders/Sallenders, our EquiVita-M&S range excludes the Biotin.
So there’s minerals, and our EquiVita Mineral Balancer, done.
Now to the feedbowl, and what's WRONG with so many feed brands out there
Of course, nothing’s going to balance a system and sustain health if we’re feeding all this nutrition on a feedbowl diet of donuts. There are good feeds, there are questionable feeds that really don’t nourish the horse at all, and then there are downright bad feeds with inappropriate – and often pro-inflammatory health damaging – fillers and by-products.
So long as you’ve got the base feed in the feedbowl right, you don’t need much - just something healthy and species-appropriate for the equine gut to add in the nutrient nuts and bolts, to aid palatability, ease of digestion and transit. However, the feedbowl is where it so often goes very wrong, because all those shiny bags at our local agri-merchants make it very confusing, promising allsorts yet often delivering very little if anything.
And as if it wasn’t confusing enough, as important as what to feed is also what NOT to feed, especially for the gut-sensitive or metabolic equine, which sadly so many of our domesticated horses are these days. For example, no grains, no by-products or fillers, no salt blocks (they weather with weather and denature, as well as creating a haven for moulds and bacteria): obviously no molasses (although you’d be amazed at how many feeds still list some form of molasses as an ingredient), no sugary treats, and ... alfalfa, which so many of our feed manufacturers use.
A quick digress on alfalfa - many metabolic horses do not tolerate alfalfa well - it can trigger gut and skin sensitivies, and can also be a source of ongoing foot pain for them. Although it generally tests below 10% sugar/starch, the starch percentage is quite high, as are the protein and calcium levels, the latter upsetting the ca:mg:p ratios. Agreed that some horses have no issues with it, but as it’s an unknown, the very informative ECIR group (Equine Cushings Insulin Resistant) cautions against feeding it.
Back to general feeds, and sadly many of our well known brands include some or all of these ingredients, which actively feed the bad intestinal bacteria who thrive on junk and sugar, allowing them to multiply in their trillions, which in turn kill off the beneficial flora and gut lining, through which the toxins leak into the bloodstream, and so imbalance of homeostasis begins.
It’s a downward spiral to illness, doing nothing to nourish our horses at all so I’d definitely recommend you check the ingredients on your feedbags. They’re quite sneaky, our feed brand manufacturers – they don’t tend to list the ingredients on the bag itself, but on the analysis which is usually a fairly insignificant scrappy white label sewn into the top of the bag. Prepared to be shocked - here's are the all-too-common yet typical ingredients in (many of our) feedbags today :
- Nutritionally Improved Straw (NIS) - straw soaked in caustic soda to soften it for eating. Seriously. Who would knowingly feed caustic soda to their horse?
- Wheatfeed / Oatfeed – both by-products, simply fillers that serve no nutritional purpose at all, basically the dusty remains after the nutritional part of the grain has been extracted. Why the feed companies call it a ‘feed’ is beyond me, as there’s no resemblance to any ‘food’ in these two. To use wheatfeed as an example, Wheatfeed is not ground up whole wheat or wheat bran - it's the major milling waste by-product of flour production. It's fragments of the outer skins and particles of the grain, course middlings and fine middlings, the outer husk and hull, and once processed it's used to bind particles together, using chemicals such as lignosulphonate. Now to it's chemical treatment, and on top of the seed receiving an ammonium nitrate fertiliser, wheat grown in the UK receives on average 3 treatments of fungicides, 3 herbicides, 2 growth regulators and 1 insecticide. Wheat grain may then be dusted, sprayed or gassed with pesticides in farm grain stores, followed by another possible dust, gas or spray of pesticides in commercial grain storage. The fabric of the stores may also be sprayed with pesticides. Wheatfeed is primarily the outer parts of the wheat grain that have been in direct contact with these chemical cocktails, and contain concentrated dust, dirt, mould spores and mycotoxins during the milling process, plus weedkiller from desiccation treatments. The legislation governing safe levels of mycotoxins in human food is not applicable for animal feeds – only recommended levels are made and not enforced. Edited 3.11.18 - new data on the health perils of wheat - see our Wheat - the beginning of today's disease-culture page. Basically, if the word 'wheat' in any shape forms part of your feedbag composition, dump it.
- Cane molasses – a byproduct of sugar beet, an ingredient known to avoid, renowned for raising blood glucose levels.
- Sugar beet - beet is well recognised as a highly sprayed (hemical pesticides and herbicides) product during the growth period. For the record, and despite claims of 'molasses-free), non-molassed sugar beet can also contain up to 7% residual sugar in the pulp, with molassed up to 25% or more.
- Soya –here’s a product I could write a book on about the perils of its effects, not only on horses health but humans as well. It’s such a bad ingredient that I’ve written a separate chapter on it a couple of pages back. But as a brief intro, the soya bean is rich in long-chain fatty acids containing predominantly polyunsaturated fatty acids which are inflammatory fats, so before you even get to the continuing horror list, feeding soya creates an inflammatory state in the body just for starters. See our separate page on the perils of soya.
- Pellets – many feeds come in pellet form, or include pellets, which means that unless it’s stated that they’re ‘mechanically pressed’, means they’ll be stuck together with cane molasses to form the pellet.
- Anything ‘Expelled’ – the waste product from the actual ingredient. ‘Expelled linseed’ is a common one. Why not just add micronized linseed?
- Vitamin & Mineral Premix - many compound feeds also tend to have a very low, almost token measure of vitamins and minerals which don’t come anywhere close to balancing the deficiencies in our UK grazing. Thing is, these nutrients aren’t the real thing - they’re manufactured forms that mimic natural vitamins and minerals, so unless you see the words ‘naturally occurring’, they’re going to be made-in-a-lab synthetic, and they’re definitely synthetic if you see the word ‘premix’. So fake, not real. Just like a spray-on tan.
- Iron & Manganese - many feed companies also add in iron and manganese, neither of which should ever be added to equine feedstuffs as they’re both already way too high in our UK grasslands to near-toxic levels, acting as antagonists which prevent the uptake of the important micronutrients the equine body needs.
- Calcium carbonate/dicalcium-phosphate - our UK forage is already overly high in calcium, yet you’ll probably see these two appear on the ingredients list; too much calcium seriously offsets the magnesium ratio, causing our horses to become fizzy like Tigger, but not in a good way.
- Vegetable oils - you'll often see various vegetable oils listed as ingredients, i.e. 'lightly sprayed with xxx'. Now here's the rub - most commercially fortified feeds add vegetable oil or soybean oil which are very high in omega-6 (pro-inflammatory), and extremely low in omega-3 (non-inflammatory).
And finally … all these ingredients, unless stated organic (which few of them are), are chemically sprayed during the growth – and post harvesting – period, with a final treatment of chemical mould inhibitor before packaging to stop the feed getting mouldy. In other words, there’s a fair cocktail of toxic chemicals included in the feedbag, as well as the majority of the ingredients grown as GMO, other than Allen&Page who at least claim to steer away from GM foodstuffs but don’t use organically grown product.
What I like to feed
On a cheerier note, I'm happy to share what I like to feed my own horses and am happy to recommend, based on my own personal, and very frustrating, experience of having gone through the mill and back, trying to find the right solutions over the years to get it right.
NB. Can I just add here that my recommendations don't mean these are the only feeds I'd feed that are out there; there may be many other independent growers and producers who aim for clean feeds/chaffs. It could be that I've either tried and declined, or rather, my horses have; it could also be that I've simply not come across them - either way there's no intention on my part to specifically exclude any feeds here. My preferences are simply my own personal feed choices and recommendations, which have proven to work well for my own horses' health.