Are your horses as healthy & happy as they can be?

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08 October 2014 Recurrent colic – risk factors identified

Colic instills fear into the heart of horse-owners worldwide, and so it should. Despite all that we know regarding prevention and treatment, it still remains the number 1 killer of horses.

While a number of management factors have been repeatedly implicated in increased risk of colic, there is little information as to how these risk factors affect the risk of recurrent colic.

Researchers in the UK recently investigated factors that placed the horse at greater risk of recurrent colic bouts (in this study, defined as a second bout of colic within 48 hours of the first colic being resolved).  In particular, they identified that increasing the amount of time spent at pasture decreased the risk of recurrent colic.

This supports findings reported  in previous studies and likely reflects the combined benefit of grazing, hanging out with friends in a more natural environment, and moving around…i.e. Forage, Friendship, Freedom.

Read more …

09 August 2014 Can my horse eat Kale?

So, my wholesome herd of well-fed fillies, you know a superfood when you see one…just in case you don’t I’ve included a pic of a fresh bunch I picked up from the markets this morning!

Fresh bunch of Kale from out local markets - yum, get in my tum!

Fresh bunch of Kale from out local markets – yum, get in my tum!

I’m all about adding forage vitality and variety to our own and our horses’ diets, and I often get asked if ‘human’ foods are also appropriate to feed to our horses.  For the most part, horses can eat just about anything we do (they’ve even been documented as eating meat and fish…I know, I was shocked too!) BUT it doesn’t mean to say they always should!

Kale belongs to the ‘cruciferous’ family of vegetables, along with things such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, Brussel sprouts, to name a few (oh how I LOVE Brussels!).  It’s low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol (not a big deal for the horse).  It’s a good source of Dietary Fibre, Protein, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. 

Read more …

26 July 2014 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!

Read more …

23 February 2014 What came first, the hay or the grain…

“Feed hay before grain (pellets/course mix/concentrate/hard feed)”

I often hear people say that hay should be fed before grain…it’s one of those ingrained (no pun intended) misconceptions that continues to be a source of much frustration.  So when an article by Dr. Martin Adams, PAS Equine Nutritionist for Southern States popped into my inbox, talking about the very subject, I thought it was a good time to jump on it for a Monday Myth blast!

So what reason do people give for hay before grain?

1)  “It helps to slow down the horse’s eating rate so he does not to bolt his feed and choke.”

2)  “Feeding hay first slows down digestion rate and prevents the hind gut from becoming overloaded by starch”

However, as Dr Adams notes neither of these objectives is reached with this practice.

Despite what you may have been led to believe, horses are smart, and when it comes to such a highly motivated behavior i.e. eating, they get REALLY smart!!!  Your horse figures out quickly the candy is coming after the salad so they leave their hay and wait for the grain…and they become very impatient in doing do.  This actually results in the opposite desired effect and they will guzzle down their grain or concentrate even more rapidly, which puts them at risk of choke and colic

There’s been quite a bit of research done on the timing of hay and feed and we know that offering hay before grain does not slow down the rate of passage through the digestive tract.  In fact, if hay is eaten within a few hours before or after grain, it flushes the grain through faster.

Why is this?
A horse will drink more water when they are fed hay, compared to a grain or concentrate feed.  Horses need to chew hay more (about 4 times more) than grain.  As chewing stimulates saliva production and saliva is mostly water, this means the stimulus to drink more water increases…so they do just that!

In addition, hay results in a huge water shift in the digestive system…much more is retained in hind gut (which is a reason why forage only diets can be so beneficial for hydration status in travelling and competing horses).   So, the increase in water intake, plus the fluid shift due to hay consumption will result in grain being transported more rapidly through the GI tract.  This occurs regardless of whether you feed hay before or after grain.

Sooo, in short, “offering your horse hay before you give them grain has no advantage over feeding both hay and grain at the same time or offering grain first and then hay, which is the practice that most horse owners follow.

Why is grain being rushed through the GI tract so bad for my horse?
Ideally, you want starch to be digested in the small intestine, and there’s not much time for this to happen under normal circumstances.  If undigested starch passes into the large intestine, it is fermented by the resident gut microorganisms, and it will wreak havoc…think colic, laminitis.

The best way to maximize starch digestion in the small intestine is to leave the horse without hay for at least 1 hour prior to feeding grain. Then after feeding grain, you need to wait 2 hours before feeding hay…not very practical huh?  Nope, nor is it very considerate of equine behavioral needs, physiological health, or welfare.

So what’s the best way to feed?

…as nature intended.

Feeding starchy grains and highly soluble carbohydrate feeds (i.e. bagged feeds…often the equivalent of a bag of candy or a Maccy D’s :)) to an animal that has evolved to eat a variety of low starch, structural carbohydrate forages, and a lot of them, is an outdated, often dangerous and largely unnecessary practice that keeps feed companies in business and vets busy – believe me, we take no pleasure in emergency colic callouts. 

We’re competing horses on forage only diets, including pasture only, very successfully. Emerging research is demonstrating it has superior benefits in many respects, including faster exercise recovery times and improved hydration status.  Not to mention a healthier, happier horse! 

We have no reason to be feeding large concentrate diets with inadequate forage to our horses…at any level. It’s a deep seated tradition that needs to be drop kicked out of this industry. The more we take responsibility for learning about good pasture management and making friends with our conserved forage manufacturers…the better off our horses will be, and the less we will need to fret over timing of feeds and unnecessary vet bills.

Any efforts taken to provide a predominantly varied forage diet will pay you back exponentially and your horse will be forever grateful!

Your horse is a horse and needs to be fed as such…we can and we must do better.

28 November 2013 Forage for Fertility!

Image courtesy of Simply Marvellous

Looking to get pregnant?…well your mare anyway…make sure she has access to forage on a continual basis!

We LOVE to sing out the virtues of forage around here, so naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to bring you some more research to help us sing out the message  a little louder! A recently published study has highlighted the beneficial effects of access of forage day and night, on the reproductive efficiency of mares.

Food, stress, and fertility
Horses are ‘trickle feeders’, designed to eat large quantities of highly fibrous forages for most of the day and night.  This is a highly-motivated, basic behavioral need, i.e. the horse MUST have it in order to function as nature intended.  Any deprivation of this will lead to stress, and stress has been repeatedly shown in many species, including horses and humans, to have adverse effects on reproductive efficiency.  Stress makes it harder to get pregnant, and stay pregnant

Horses that are managed on a time restricted meal plan and limited forage (such is commonly seen in our current management practices), are under chronic stress.  Such stressors have been implicated in abnormal behaviors and the emergency of oral stereotypies (e.g. crib biting, wood chewing, tongue movements, lip movements).  Gastric ulcers are also a frequent problem in domesticated horses.   So it’s really not surprising this may have a negative impact on fertility too.

Quickie important note:  **Gastric discomfort can occur in as little as 1-2 hours when a stomach is empty! ** Keep that in mind the next time your horse gets grouchy when he’s been stood around with nothing to eat!

In this recent study, researchers in Tunisia hypothesized that providing semi-continuous feeding schedule of roughage (i.e. hay available morning and night) would help to improve reproductive efficiency.

They took 100 Arab breeding mares and randomly divided into two groups.  The “Continuous feeding” group (CF) had access to hay morning and night, the “Standard Feeding Pattern”  (SFP) only had access to hay in the evening.  The total amount of roughage for both groups was the same, as was their management schedule.

The results of the study showed that there was a significant difference between the two groups.  Those receiving hay throughout the day & night (CF) had fewer estrus abnormalities and higher fertility rates, than those who were on restricted schedule (SFP).   The conception rate in the CF mares was 81% compared with 55% in the SFP mares.  Pretty impressive!

So if we’re trying to improve reproduction in the domestic environment, (remember, responsible horse breeding only!) keeping our horses closer to their intended natural foraging behavior, is an easy and efficient way of increasing reproduction.  It’s also worth considering the possibility that timing of feeding may have an even bigger impact than the actual amount of food provided.

Take home message 

Keep your herbivore happy (reproducing, or not) with continual access to a variety of appropriate forages (fresh and conserved).  Any shortfalls in this, for even short periods of time, may induce a stress response.  Stress response will lead to unwanted behaviors and negatively impact physiological and psychological function.  This is not only a health and wellness concern, but also a welfare issue.


26 January 2013 Have you been MOOC’d?

It doesn’t hurt, I promise, in fact, you’ll may even have FUN doing it, AND you’ll learn some great stuff from some of the best lecturers, associated with the most prestigious Universities around the world.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and I’m excited to be a part of the team at the University of Edinburgh for the very first in Equine Nutrition. Offered through Coursera (check them out for other interesting courses on offer), we have 5 weeks of nutrition fundamentals, comprising of lectures, videos, quizzes and discussions.  Our total number of participants is fast approaching 20,000!!!!…from all around the world!  For the past few months, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to get your open-all-hours, virtual feed room ready and here’s what we’ve got for you to assimilate and digest:

Week 1: Anatomy and physiology of the equine gastrointestinal tract – how things are put together and how they work.

Week 2: Nutrient digestion in the equine gastrointestinal tract – what gets digested where, what it does, and why it’s important.

Week 3: Equine nutrient sources and feeding management – nutrient sources and different feedstuffs used in equine diets; their important to health and welfare.

Week 4: Equine dietary management- how we feed our horses and how we can improve our management related to such.

Week 5: Equine clinical nutrition – how to prevent and manage various nutrition-related disorders such as obesity, laminitis, senior horses.


This is a FREE course open to EVERYONE, you study at your own pace and even get a statement of accomplishment at the end!  Use this fantastic opportunity to find out what other horse people from around the world do in their feed room, and share with us, what you do in yours…within reason!  Bring your knowledge, your experience (no matter how many years you have), your questions and an open mind, and come join us in our virtual online feed room!  Look forward to seeing you there!

13 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Evaluate your overall feeding program

Many horse people, feed their horses based on out-dated, inaccurate, misinformed, and quite often, dangerous feeding advice….2 scoops of that 10% sweet feed your Grandpa used to feed is not considered a good feeding protocol, and we know better now!  If your nutrition program consists of picking up a bag of feed from the feedstore, before you have evaluated the nutrient provision from your hay and pasture, then you could be throwing money away, potentially creating major imbalances in your horse’s diet, and even compromising his welfare….and no, you cannot just go get a supplement to balance it all out!

A good feeding program, for ALL horses, starts with a good quality, free choice forage, whether it be in the form of grass, hay, or a mixture of both (good quality does not mean nutrient dense, it means free from molds  dust etc).  Your choice(s) of forage should depend upon your horse and the work that is expected of him, and there should be plenty of variety on offer.

Access to free choice forage enables your horse to fulfill a primary behavioral need: eating (the other two are locomotion and social contact).  Restriction of such can lead to stress, which may create digestive upset, and will greatly increase the potential for the development of stereotypical behaviors, such as cribbing.  In addition, your horse, being one of nature’s most remarkable eating machines, will quite simply go into ‘survival mode’ and ‘make up for lost time’, when he gets access to food once again.  This is one of the main reasons ‘starvation’ diets for overweight horses and ponies don’t work, and also why raiding the feed room a) happens in the first place, and b) can lead to such extreme over indulgence!  Horses will regulate their intake IF they are given an appropriate environment  and the opportunity to do so, but we have been terrified out of this thinking by ‘traditional’ approaches to feeding our horses.

So, before you head off to the feed store, start by having a look at your forage provisions.  Only then can you hope to make up for the nutrients that may be lacking in your horse’s diet…failure to do so is uneconomical at best, and may lead to serious health and welfare compromise if not adjusted accordingly.

05 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Eliminate unnecessary supplements

If your feedroom shelf looks like this, it’s time to re-evaluate your supplementsfeeding strategy!  I have been in my soap box a number of times about this, here and here, in 2012, and I’m sure 2013 will see me up there again, but invest your money wisely on evaluating and implementing a feeding regime that is simple, economical, and more appropriate for your horse’s digestive system and dietary needs.  If your feed room shelves are full of heavily-marketed, quick-fix-it-all, unregulated hype, AKA nutriceuticals, you’re likely looking at hundred’s of dollars of misplaced nutritional effort.  Evaluate the fundamental basics first, i.e. FORAGE, then supplement only if needed.  Supplements do not make healthy, happy horses, happier or healthier…end of story.

04 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Ponder your pasture!


Start paying more attention to your pasture than your feedstore; it’s a much more reliable, economical, and appropriate first-choice source of equine nutrition.  Just like your hay, pasture can be evaluated too, although values will vary due to a number of factors.  Nonetheless, good pasture can provide the majority of nutrients for most classes of horses, at a fraction of the cost.  Knowing more about pasture management and grazing strategies will ensure your bagged feed costs are kept to a minimum, and may even be eradicated completely.  Not only will this benefit your wallet, it will result in better environmental management, encourage a sustainable management system, and ultimately ensure a happier, healthier horse.

03 January 2013 New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Get your hay analyzed

hay analysisThis is easy to do and the results will give you a better picture of how adequate your horse’s diet is.  If you are not performing this important step in your horse’s nutrition program, then you are potentially undermining your horse’s health, performance, and longevity….just keep in mind, there are many over-fed, malnourished horses!

Depending on the quality of your hay (and pasture), you may or may not need to feed additional concentrates and/or supplements.  The better quality your hay is, the less you will need to supplement this essential part of his diet.  This will lead to significant savings in feed bills, and will ensure a healthier, happier, better-fed horse!

In The Arena

ABC Radio
ABC Radio
University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The Horse
The Horse
Red Hills International
Red Hills International
Horses and people
Horses and people
hoofbeats magazine
hoofbeats magazine
Chris stafford radio
Chris stafford radio