The most common missing nutrient in your horse’s diet

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26 Jul The most common missing nutrient in your horse’s diet

We all want to do the best for our horses, and feeding is no exception.

We go to great lengths and expense to carefully construct our horse’s meal plan…striving to balance a diet that in reality, only the horse holds the key to.

The feeding and supplement industry is a multi-million dollar global industry, yet the health and well-being of our horses continues to spiral downwards, and we’re battling an epidemic of overfed-undernourished horses.

Despite all of our advances in feeding technology and nutrition research, we’re still overlooking the most fundamental ‘nutrient’ in our horses diet, and I’m going to share with you what I believe that is.

But first, let’s talk monkey business!

What the heck have primates got to do with feeding horses I hear you ask, well pull up a hay bale and  indulge me for a few, all will become clear!

Some years ago, Dr Richard Patton, my favorite all-species nutritionist, was asked to help figure out an issue with the primates at a zoo in the US.  Despite providing what they thought was adequate nutrition, the zookeepers were faced with an entire collection of primates, with poor quality hair coats.  From a nutritional perspective, this is a pretty common problem and a relatively easy ‘fix’ so Dr Patton did his usual protocol, convinced this would take care of the problem.  Except it didn’t, and despite a correctly formulated diet, hair coats were unaffected.  They remained dry, brittle and thin.  Dr Patton was puzzled as to why his ‘hair coat’ cure hadn’t worked!

One day, a zookeeper forgot to include the peanuts in the daily ration for all the primates.  He decided to save time and just thrown them into each of the enclosures and what happened next, in each and every cage, revealed a very simple, yet profound insight and solution to the problem.

What the zookeeper noticed was that the primates went in search and found every one of the peanuts buried in the hay that lined their enclosure floors.  Even after all the peanuts were found and eaten the monkeys continued on their foraging crusade, driven by a repressed urge to behave like a monkey!  The zoo keepers were delighted by this show of ‘normal’ behavior and continued to scatter the peanuts in the enclosure.  Within one week hair coats began to improve, and within two months they were restored to their full lustre.

So, happy ending to monkey story, but what the heck does that have to do nutrient-related problems in horses?

Well, the missing ‘nutrient’ for these monkeys was behavior…the way they were being managed and fed was not allowing them to perform essential monkey foraging behavior.

Hooves down, behavior is the most common missing ‘nutrient’ I see in horses.

As with all species, the horse has highly-motivated, hard wired behaviors that he must be allowed to perform, in order to be a horse.  They are known as the 3 F’s, Forage, Friendship, Freedom, and they are the cornerstone of each and EVERY issue I am called in to help with:

1)      Forage – your horse is a fiber processing machine that engineers could only ever dream of replicating!   He needs lots of (preferably fresh) varied green stuff, available 24/7.

2)      Friendship – your horse gets by with a little help from his friends.  As a prey animal he relies on constant social contact with his buddies to keep him safe and to allow him to perform a variety of essential maintenance functions, such as sleeping soundly!

3)      Freedom – as a nomadic animal, regularly covering 80km a day in search of food, water and lurve, he needs to be allowed to move freely.  Also included in this is allowing him the ability to make choices in his own environment.

Nutrition problems are largely man-made problems, brought about by altering natural behavior.

If you are really seeking the very best for your horses, as I believe we all are, make it your mission to do everything in your power to ensure your horse has these  3 needs taken care of.

Ensuring the 3 F’s needs are met will give you the solid foundations for a happy-healthy herd that no amount of number crunching will ever offer you, and will keep a host of nutrition and management related problems at bay.

So, what measure have you taken or could you take to improve the provision of the 3 F’s for your horses?  Do you have your own 3F transformation story you’d like to brag on?

Be sure to  share them with us in the comments below, and sprinkle the 3F love far and wide!

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10 Comments
  • Amelia Phillips
    Posted at 08:36h, 27 July

    I have always kept my horses on 24/7 turnout with company. When i finally bought my own place, i arranged a track and paddocks system including woods and stream with varied terrain and all natural wild grasses.
    I was given an 18 yr old low milage danish dressage mistress who’d been stabled for all but 1 hour a day and told she fought with other horses and could be very strong to ride. Within 2 weeks she was with my yearling, within 2 months she was fully inter grated to the herd and choice grazing. She is ridden bitless and barefoot, trail rides on the buckle and has taught countless complete novices the basics and hacks out with my 65 yr old novice father. The picture of health, shes now 24 and no one believes her age. Sadly i still read daily about peoples ‘problems’ with horses who are skittish, have poor feet and have vices. All are managed in an unnatural way 🙁

    • Jayne Roberts
      Posted at 09:06h, 27 July

      Love love love hearing stories like this Amelia, thank you so much for sharing. We can make such a huge difference to the health and happiness of our horses when we allow them to be horses. Great work!

  • Gina DaSilva
    Posted at 22:59h, 27 July

    I knew it all along, that’s why my horses live by the 3 f’s.
    I am glad to hear I am on the right track.
    its great you are sharing this very important information.

    • Jayne Roberts
      Posted at 02:39h, 28 July

      Thanks for your support Gina and I’m so glad you held true to your horse sense!

  • Jan Mercy
    Posted at 07:53h, 28 July

    Yay!! Have been keeping my horses in herd environment for years and now have ‘paradise paddock’ up and running, can safely say they are truly happy! Would recommend it to one and all!

    • Jayne Roberts
      Posted at 09:56h, 28 July

      GREAT to hear Jan, thank you so much for sharing!

  • Silke
    Posted at 23:04h, 28 July

    Mine is kept out 24/5 – 12/2, meaning he comes in overnight two times a week. (Always with a buddy, never alone.)
    This is purely to manage the other F – forage. We have extremely rich grass (perennial rye) which is 80% sugar any time of day. (Cattle grass)
    He’s an air fern, and does very, very, VERY well on nothing but grass. So much so, when he went lame last year, he turned morbidly obese because he couldn’t be exercised.
    So really it is 3 F’s and 1 E. Without exercise you tend to run into trouble if you have a good doer like mine.

    • Jayne Roberts
      Posted at 03:15h, 29 July

      Absolutely…movement or exercise is a huge part of the ‘Freedom’ chunk…for all our horses 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Anne Louise MacDonald
    Posted at 12:15h, 08 August

    Love this article. clever hook and oh so true! i have several clients with similar stories to those above. It never ceases to amaze me.
    Several years ago I wrote a little book for kids to introduce them to what I called the 5 Fs of natural horse care
    1) Freedom – living outdoors with reasons to move as much as possible
    2) Friends – living in a herd (at least one other horse)
    3) Food – eating mostly grass, grass hay, and free-choice salt and minerals
    4) Footing – living on clean solid ground with at least one soft spot for rolling
    5) Feet – having bare hooves trimmed in a natural form
    It fun to see people thinking the same way and seeing such great results

    • Jayne Roberts
      Posted at 01:15h, 09 August

      Thanks Anna! People are often skeptical that something so simple can make such a profound difference. I’m all about keeping it simple, particularly when feeding our horses. Create an appropriate supportive environment, allow him to express his most highly driven behaviors, and the horse will ‘balance’ his own diet.

      I will have a look out for your book, thanks for the heads up. Jx

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