There's no question - ultra-processed foods - and the food system that produces them - are at the root of today's chronic disease culture
"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
Note - this is a long page covering a myriad of feed-related do's-and-don'ts, so I've set up some of the sections as separate chapters off this page if you just want to dive deeper into some of the content. Hover over this page's header on the drop down box for the selection, or links within - and at the end - of the page.
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.
Think of it like the code that programs the software. The hardware is the genes; the software is how those genes are turned on or off. And food not only regulates the genes but also the hormones, i.e. testosterone and estrogen, adrenalin and cortisol, and for our metabolic horses it's insulin and leptin - food is that powerful that it can alter the brain chemistry, triggering addictive patterns.
And when it come to calories, if eating was just about calories, life would be so simple, but trust me when I say they're not created equal - calories are information - information that the body's cells need to function, information that the metabolism can use to either run efficiently or not. It's about the chemical information from the micronutrients in the feed that radically influences the immune system, central nervous system, skeletal and soft tissue structure; you name it – what we feed our horse provides the raw materials for their muscles, bones, brain, and every other part of their body, everything from mood, energy and physical health of the whole organism (body), at cellular level, with every single bite.
And ... it goes deeper. That bite then feeds the trillions of bacteria living inside the gut microbiome, determining whether it grows good bugs or bad, to either create or stop inflammation, and enhance or hurt the immune system. Our horse's health depends entirely on the source and nutrient-density of their food.
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 from feedbags with poor-quality information, i.e. refined/synthetic ingredients, high starch, fillers, by-products or inflammatory fats (nearly every shiny bag at your feed merchant), the body doesn’t know how to utilise that data, and dysfunction is the result. Blood sugar imbalances, mood swings, weight gain, rest/sleep disturbances, stress, chronic pain and inflammation, and serious gut dysfuntion, are just some of the many side effects that can happen when our feed choices for our horses are lacking nutrient density.
If your horse is struggling and 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
An example, and let's look at a modern-day human diet trend - you may have heard of the Paleo, aka Paleolithic diet, which deliberately attempts to replicate the diet of our paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors, while deliberately avoiding the foods that entered the human diet once we adopted agriculture around 10,000 years ago. The paleo diet means sticking to foods our earliest ancestors enjoyed before the advent of farming and processing.
The Paleo method of eating argues that the inbuilt human gene pool hasn't had enough time - as in 10,000-years - to adapt to agriculture, so for the human body to thrive at its species-appropriate and natural best, we should all still be eating what our ancestors did - typically lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. In other words, foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering, and avoiding foods that then became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago, such as dairy, legumes and grains.
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, the internal engine and function of our modern-day horse is still the identical same as its ancestors from a few million years ago, not just a mere 10,000 years. 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-foods are the furthest feedstuffs 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. In terms of evolution, 50-years isn't anywhere near enough time for the remotest blink of genetic adaptation for our equids to safely adjust to these bags of ultra-processed feeds.
As a comparison, we just need 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; enter obesity, diabetes type 2, heart disease, autoimmune disease ... the list goes on. And sadly, since our horses have been chowing down on those uber-processed feedbag contents, they've got sicker too - just 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.
Wild horse v. domesticated horse - they're no different, but we've made it so
So, with today's domesticated horse being no different physiologically to its wild ancestors, let's quickly remind ourselves of how we've messed with them and look at the wild horse v. domesticated horse, which have brought on underlying stressors for today's horse. One thing's for sure - this is not how evolution meant it to be ...
- In the wild a horse will walk up to 40-miles/day in rest/digest mode – a domesticated horse will walk barely 2-miles/day during turnout.
- The wild horse lives in a family herd, born and raised, bar young stallions who will eventually branch out to start their own band. A non-familial man-made herd will already have some stress elements in there – think of it as being with your work colleagues – you’ve just got to get on with them!
- The wild horse herd are all the same breed with their own body language; the domesticated herd are made up of various breeds and might not understand each other, i.e. the body language between an Icelandic and Haflinger is very different.
- The wild horse's day centres around constant feeding on low-quality roughage, browsing and moving on for what they need; in domestication it’s the wrong type of forage on a small area and usually both access and time allowed on it is restricted.
- The wild horses' natural feeding sources were - and still are - grasslands, typically arid areas such as semi-desert/steppe/tundra landscapes with a harsh, dry climate and very little nutrient in the soil. The grasses that grow there are coarse and stemmy which is where the fibre is, and low in nutrients such as sugars and proteins; this has meant that the horse's gut system has developed to find its energy in the plant fibre via the organisms in the hindgut. This is not the same landscape of our pastured pets of today; we turn them out on neon-green, overly-nutritious, non-stemmy, leafy non-fibre grasses full of pectins, sugars, starches and proteins meant for cows.
- The wild horse doesn't get given a feedbowl with C.R.A.P. in it (Carbs/Refined/Artificial/Processed). Nuff said on that one! 😉
Quick reminder - a horse is nothing more, and nothing less, than a hindgut fibre-fermenting machine - that's it, full stop. A horse is meant to eat nothing more, and nothing less, than long, stemmy, dry, very un-green, grasses which are full of cellulose/hemi-cellulose fibre in the stems, exactly what the fibre-fermenting hindgut microbes need to chow down on, and where today's wild horses still roam very happily.
Then someone back in the day decided to ship those happy horses over to our western world where we get lots of rain and our grass is anything but long, stemmy, dry or un-green. Today's horse is still a hindgut coarse fibre fermenter, getting their energy from the forage/roughage fibres - this is how evolution created the horse's gut, and their gut system remains exactly the same today, its function being to extract fibre from low-nutrient plants for their energy. It's how nature designed them, for them to be constantly feeding on high fibre, low-nutrient rough forage, while slowly roaming and browsing for hours at a time, feeding as they go and with short sleeping breaks. Very different from how we keep our horses these days.
In a nutshell, today's horses' fragile biology is not evolved to eat neon-green, leafy grass and fake, human-engineered, ultra-processed, refined feed 'stuff', made in a factory. Yet feed a horse like a horse, as in coarse, dry, stemmy forage/roughage, aka 'hay', and preferably meadow hay which comes with a range of diverse grass species, and a feedbowl only serving to add back the deficient forage nutrients in their diet, 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/roughage. 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 - magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper. We're also talking sodium (salt), certain proteins (the equine gut makes some), and essential fatty acids (omega-3 & 6) - all are needed in order to balance the known chemistry deficiencies in our UK-based horses' forage. We don't need to add vitamins as the equine gut system produces their own vit.C and the B's (unless they've experienced gut disruption/faecal water/diarhhoea).
Before you panic that this sounds like a minefield (well, it is, but we've got you covered), all these missing nutrients 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 nutrient-balancer supplement 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 chemistry.
How simple and straightforward is that?! So, take the pressure off yourself, and think of all that lovely space you're going to now have in your feedroom. Meanwhile, here's how we do it. 😀
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 system because quite literally, 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 we've given the horse something the gut didn't know what to do with and there’s now 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 that 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 - grass forage! But not alfalfa or straw (see below as to why not), and definitely not corn, wheat, soya et al, ingredients that are in so many feedbags, all pro-inflammatory, inappropriate, junk-food fillers that trigger the growth of those dangerous, pro-inflammatory, pathogen gut microbes that cause a ton of damage to the microbiome.
- Around 80% of our horse's immunity is also created by the beneficial gut microbes in the intestinal tract, and it's these microbiota that are the major regulator of the immune system, so our horse’s defence system relies completely upon them functioning optimally. Feed the microbes properly, and they'll look after the body right back - feed them junk, and this only feeds the bad bugs.
- 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 colonise again. 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, which is bad news as the GI tract should always be at neutral pH. Hence it’s really important to support gut health during a course of antibiotics.
- Finally, lest we forget, 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. It's well known that our UK grass forage is deficient in certain nutrients so we need to add them back in by way of a forage-balancer.
Rule No. 2 - The right forage - hay, hay, more hay, and only hay
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.
Fifty-plus years ago, before intensive farming practices began, our UK soils were healthy and nutrient-rich, and our grasslands that grew in these soils were healthy and nutrient-rich as a result. A horse grazing in a typical UK paddock back then would have had the choice of approximately 30-40 different plants and lovely, long, fibre-filled stemmy grasses growing long and allowed to go to seed (no-one 'topped' back then). Each species brought its own specific nutrients and lots of lovely prebiotics to nourish the gut microbes, at the same time containing natural sources of digestive enzymes and naturally occurring, beneficial bacteria essential for a balanced diet.
These days, because of intensive farming, selective seeding, chemical fertiliser spraying etc etc., the grazing is limited to sometimes as few as four varieties of grasses if we're lucky, never mind our soils now so acidic and drained of any minerals that only buttercups thrive.
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 paddocks, so what grass they have is usually over-grazed, and sick.
But - it's a much Bigger Picture than this. See the separate page in this chapter - Hay - and it's hay, hay, more hay, and only hay
Hay or Haylage?
Sorry, but it's hay only, and apologies in advance to the haylage-fans as this makes for pretty grim reading. See the separate page in this chapter - Haylage - why we shouldn't feed it
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 compared to grass forage that the horse doesn't need, and it's not fibrous enough, which is why it's renowned for causing gut sensitivities, which lead to skin and hoof issues.
It’s 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.
Equally, many metabolic horses do not tolerate alfalfa well and is said to be a source of ongoing hoof 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 - it's definitely best avoided for our EMS horses. Agreed 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.
Finally, it also has a reputation for making some horses ‘hot’ or ‘stressy’ in a behavioural sense.. As if we need that on top of everything else ...
Rule No. 3 - Nutrients, aka minerals/vitamins
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 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 are nutrients. Vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids and other active components – they're all essential for the organism - the body - to function optimally in balance.
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, i.e. 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). In the perfect world a horse’s natural grass forage diet should provide what they need, but 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
- 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) - both are 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 high in omega-6/pro-inflammatory, while 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, these fragile omega-3 EFAs are lost, so horses on hay will have a dietary deficiency of omega-3. Linseed is the superstar here as it provides ALA to LA in the same balanced ratio as grass, i.e. 4:1, so feeding linseed is a useful way to balance the omegas 3 & 6/ALA:LA to reduce inflammation. Even better for the metabolic horse they can also reduce circulating insulin.
- During summer, growing grass has around 4% fat with 75% omega-3 as alpha-linolenic acid. This level of intake isn't available all year, so outside of the growing grass period, or if a horse is on a hay-only diet, a study reported at the Equine Science Society showed via blood tests that 100g/day of linseed equals the same daily omega-3 intake as a horse on pasture.
- Amino acids, the building blocks for protein, i.e. lysine and methionine, with lysine at least 10g/day deficient, and methionine around 2-3g 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 is balanced appropriately to compensate for the known mineral deficiencies in our UK grasslands, according to the NRC guidelines. We've kept it nice and simple:
- 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 alongside the ProB option.
- Then we have our EquiVita'A' range, same as our standard EquiVita options, which includes 10g daily Spirulina Algae for added potent nutrients and an excellent toxin binder that supports metabolism and muscle building.
- Next, our EquiVita'M&S' range for the Mallenders/Sallenders horse (excludes Biotin).
- Finally, our VitaComplete range - our 3-in-1 convenience range to save you extra tubs in the feedroom - it's our same EquiVita option + Linseed + Salt
Scientists have questioned for years how wild horses fulfil their vitamin requirements - these days the science knows the answer. The simple answer is that their gut produces all their vitamin needs.
Long and short, we don’t need to feed vitamins to horses no matter what the feed industry says. Growing grass pasture is rich in vitamins E and A, which the horse stores in its fat tissue then uses them up in winter or when less available. That said, vit. E degrades completely in hay although if hay is still green there’s still some intake. However, with most of our UK-grazing horses on either partial or full hay diets, and especially for the metabolic horse on a permanent hay diet, vit.E needs supplementing. Hence why we include vit.E as standard in our EquiVita/VitaComplete range.
No need to feed Vit.C to horses - it only needs to be fed to humans and guinea pigs. Horses produce their vit.C from glucose, and there’s always enough glucose in their forage.
Horses produce Vit.D in their skin from sunlight, just like us, but horses also have a vit.D precursor in their hay, so there’s never a vit.D deficiency in horses. It's catalyst, vit.K, is produced by the microbiome, plus like vit.D also has a precursor in hay.
Now to the B’s and the entire vit.B complex is produced by the horse's gut microbiome. Only two of the B’s can become deficient – B6 and B12 (both of which are created in the hindgut) - and then only if the microbiome is disrupted, i.e. in the event of SIBO/dysbiosis, faecal water/diarrhoea or colic. B12 is needed to build haemoglobin – what makes blood red – and transports oxygen from the lungs to the blood, so if there’s not enough B12, there won’t be enough blood cells built. Over-trained horses are prone to a B12 deficiency due to the stress put on their respiratory systems and heavy sweating, which can disrupt their microbiome, so they’re often noted as B12 deficient.
B6, crucial for optimal chemical pathways, is produced by the hindgut in an ‘activated’ form, but again if there’s a microbiome disruption, they’ll become deficient. Synthetic B6 supplements come in an ‘inactive’ form which horses can’t utilise so it’s essential to focus on repairing the gut issues as it's pointless supplementing with synthetic B6.
If your horse has had recent gut disruption/diarrhoea/faecal water syndrome, feed our B-vit complex supplement for a couple of weeks until you see signs of gut function improvement.
Now a quick mention of the B-vit/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 the Bs. However, our UK grasslands and hay are notoriously low in nutritional value, so it isn’t too off the mark to suspect our forage may be 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, feed our B-vit complex supplement to support protein metabolism, until you see signs of improvement.
So there’s minerals, and our EquiVita Mineral Balancer, done.
Rule No. 4 - The feedbowl
Now we get to the Big One, where it so often goes badly wrong, because of course, nothing’s going to balance a system and sustain health if we’re feeding all this nutrition into a feedbowl full of donuts. However, there's a lot of opinion out there, a lot of spin by the feed manufacturers, and a lot of misinformation.
Once thing's for sure - there are good feeds, there are questionable feeds that really don’t nourish the horse at all, and then there are downright pro-inflammatory, bad feeds filled with inappropriate, gut-damaging fillers and by-products.
We're talking about that base feed carrier in the feedbowl, and contrary to what the spin might have you believe, you don’t need much - just something simple, healthy and species-appropriate that the equine gut knows what to do with, to add in the missing nutrient nuts and bolts to make sure we can get them into our horses, so we need it palatable for ease of digestion and transit. In other words, a forage-based carrier.
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.
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), and obviously no molasses, although you’d be amazed at how many feeds still list some form of molasses as an ingredient; even some practitioners still think it's okay to feed molasses!
Back to general feeds, and sadly many of our well known brands include some or all of these ingredients, and more! Collectively these actively feed the pro-inflammatory, bad intestinal bacteria who thrive on carbs and sugar, so they multiply in their trillions, which in turn kill off the friendly, beneficial flora and the gut lining, through which toxins leak into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on the body and wrecking homeostasis. All covered in our Gut System page.
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; it's all on the analysis which is usually a fairly insignificant scrappy white label sewn into the top of the bag.
Prepare to be shocked. See the separate page in this chapter - The Feedbowl - what's really in those feedbags - for the list of the all-too-common yet typical pro-inflammatory ingredients in (many of our) feedbags today.
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 forge feeds. 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 feed brands here.
My preferences are simply my own personal feed choices and recommendations, which have proven to work well for my own horses' health. I'm also not linked - or in association with - any feed companies.