Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What We Feed Our Horses

By Barbara Noble, BS, CRNA

Barbara Noble is a longtime horse owner and student of equine nutrition who has become a go-to advisor hereabouts on horse feed issues. She advised us on our recent hay analysis (see my article last month), which I found very helpful and clarifying. I hope Barbara will continue to contribute articles on various aspects of horse nutrition as she continues her studies with Dr. Eleanor Kellon, DVM. - MG
Writing for the Freedom Farm newsletter is a new adventure for me, and I plan to share information on horse feeding - and have it be interesting to read! My hope is that you will be able to incorporate some of this information for your horse's benefit.

My interest in nutrition started with my purchase of a filly from a PMU ("pregnant mare urine") farm. At PMU farms the mares are kept pregnant to harvest their urine for estrogen for women. The foals are then a 'by product'. At 6 months old my filly was delivered to my farm in Montana with a 'hay belly' (a distended belly commonly blamed on hay consumption). Later, as a 3-year old on pasture, she started  having episodes of laminitis.  I had no idea what troubled her until I found and read articles by international equine nutrition expert Dr. Eleanor Kellon, DVM.

Dr. Kellon offers an array of highly-regarded and comprehensive nutrition classes, which I soon signed up for, and of which I have been a dedicated student for several years. As I continue these classes, I am glad to be a resource and pass along helpful ideas to readers.

For example, it turned out that the filly's 'hay belly' had nothing to do with hay. Nor was it related to worms. What was actually happening was poor fermentation of fiber in her gut. This resulted in a thin-looking filly with a big belly. Following Dr. Kellon's advice I decided to try Ration Plus and later switched to Forco for maintenance. These products are pre-and pro-biotics that benefit a suboptimal digestive tract. My filly responded well and her shape became normal.

Long story short, it turned out that my filly has Equine Metabolic Syndrome, of which laminitis is a key symptom.  To keep laminitis at bay, I must maintain her on a basic balanced diet, as well as keep her sugar and starch intake low.  Admittedly, this filly is an extreme. She definitely got my attention!

The general lesson for me is: horses eat pretty much the same thing every day. They get hay or a hay product, probably pasture and whatever supplements and or grain might be added. When most of the horse's nutrition comes from hay and pasture, which vary regionally and generally are not balanced, their bodies are not getting the essentials for every body function. The only way to know what is in hay is to core it (take a big sample from the core of a bale) and have it analyzed (as Mary Gallagher recently did, and described in the August and September newsletters).

After the analysis of the hay, any deficient minerals can be added in, and the horse can have every major and trace mineral it needs to be it's healthiest most robust self.

I hope to share more with you in the future! My next class with Dr. Kellon starts soon.  It is on Equine Cushings Syndrome and Insulin Resistance.

(Originally published October 2014)