I was born in an era where stores were closed on Sundays, truth and hard work were the norms, alcohol was the only drug available and horses were mostly owned by men. The wars with Germany and Japan were still fresh and our men were now fighting in Korea. We had never heard of Vietnam and men had not yet strapped themselves into rockets. Television programs were in black and white and were broadcast on 3 to 5 channels from 7 am to 10 pm. Streets and schools were safe.

The iconic cowboys driving cattle from Texas to Kansas on the famous Chisholm Trail (1867 – 1887) were events only 70 years old when I was a boy – and grandfathers still remembered hearing about them when they were boys.

My first full-time job with horses started in the spring of 1973. Feeding horses was simple then. Lots of pasture, good hay, whole oats and soybean meal supplied every horse in the barn. In the cold winter, we cooked the oats and added bran once a week. There was no sweet feed or vitamin mixes or horse treats. Now, this next statement can only be referenced by the movies I have seen. I have never seen a cowboy (in Florida they are called cowmen – a little-known fact) carry around peppermints, sugar cubes or horse cookies for their horses.

Do you know what else I didn’t see by 1984, the year I graduated from Cornell’s vet school? So many non-sweating horses (anhydrosis), dropped fetlocks of the hind limbs, Cushing’s disease, insulin resistance, dental disease (EOTRH, fractured cheek teeth), suspensory lameness, kissing spine back pain, equine protozoan myelitis (EPM), and others. New diseases being researched then included all the developmental diseases of foals including osteochondrosis, physitis, contracted tendons, angular limb deviations and wobblers.

Arguably, you could say that because of improved diagnostic tests we now see more of these diseases like Cushing’s. Yet before 1980, we didn’t see many horses suffering from that disease either at the farms or at the university hospital. Certainly not as many as we see today along with other metabolic syndromes and hormonal dysfunctions. I started to ask myself why are we seeing more problems today than 40 years ago. Could there be a simple and universal reason I was seeing an epidemic of suspensory injuries, non-sweating horses and EOTRH of incisor teeth? My curiosity led to dismay to frustration and finally rested on the emotion of – BETRAYAL.

Trust The Experts

As a veterinarian, I am considered both socially and legally to be an expert on animals and as an all-equine vet, specifically a horse expert. All equine vets should be experts and offer sound advice to horse owners as advocates FOR THE HORSE. But this is hard to do today as the misinformation overload has affected everyone from owners to everyone working with horses professionally. Driving this deluge of misinformation are businesses following the most basic tenant of marketing – find (or create) a problem and offer a solution.

Often the desire to gain the benefit negates any of the negative side effects. Just listen to any medicine commercial when they deliver the warnings: “This medicine may help your itch but some people will commit suicide while using it.” In 1965 the sugar industry started a campaign to discredit fat as essential to human diets which led to the low fat / no fat craze. The medical problems from this are now fully described yet many still buy the no-fat lattes which are worse than a glass of soda – health-wise. In the autobiography of Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense (twice), congressman and white house chief of staff, when he was a private citizen between government jobs, NutraSweet brand sweetener was rejected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as being unsafe for humans. Rumsfeld was asked to lobby his connections at the FDA which he did successfully, turning over the ruling. Pepsi was the first to add it to sodas and I was the first to discover the meaning of “phenylketonuria” in the warning label.

Who do we trust when government leaders manipulate regulatory bodies or when veterinarians go to continuing education meetings sponsored by products and services dependent on the veterinarian recommending them? This is the very definition of a conflict of interest. Where do we go and who do we turn to? The magazines are supported by products and services that want to solve the problems of horse owners but who is checking on them to see if there aren’t warnings needed?

Sources of carbohydrate dependency that lead to mitochondrial exhaustion.

We Aren’t Stupid

The only person to advocate for the horse is the owner – you. The best tool for this job is your ability to think and ask questions and think some more.

My wife saw a package of dog treats with a label saying “No Added Sugar.” They didn’t need to add sugar because the first six ingredients were all loaded with their own sugar including molasses.  We aren’t stupid, are we?

I laugh at horse feeds with the label or name “low starch.” If you break a doughnut in half and throw that half out then what remains is a low starch doughnut, right?  Actually not eating any doughnuts is “super low starch.”  Wouldn’t it be easier to feed less of what you are feeding to get the same “low starch” effect?  Duh!

An orange juice company actually added water to half a container of juice and labeled it “Now with half the calories.”  It just didn’t taste good.  Besides, drinking half a glass of real orange juice has half the sugar of a whole glass.  We aren’t stupid so that product is gone.

Labels Lie – or cover up the truth.

Have you ever read the ingredients on a bag of horse food or treats? More importantly, have you understood them? Let’s read one together from a national brand protein supplement (see the image to follow along). The first ingredient is always the one with the largest amount in the bag and the amounts of the other ingredients descend in order to the least.

A typical feed tag is seen this week from a national brand.

De-hulled soybean meal is an excellent source of good-quality protein for horses. It is the most abundant ingredient and warrants the use of this product as a protein source for horses. In a non-inflamed gut, it is absorbed at about 80%. Too bad that the inflammatory ingredients that follow may actually diminish the horse’s ability to absorb it especially if they are on any anti-ulcer medication (proton pump inhibitor drugs). And the amount of this high-quality protein is not fed in an amount needed to maintain the horse if fed at the recommended level.

The next two ingredients are wheat middlings and wheat flour. Wheat middlings is the byproduct of our wheat flour process loaded with lectins that in humans inflame the gut, cause gut leakage and disrupt hormonal communication, specifically insulin which may be another cause of insulin resistance. Wheat flour is mostly starch which becomes glucose (sugar) which when given daily leads to mitochondrial exhaustion which may cause insulin resistance.

Calcium carbonate is an antacid and the active ingredient in the Tums brand of human antacid. Decreasing the acid of the stomach limits the effectiveness of protein absorption as proteins need the stomach acid to break them into absorbable amino acids. This lowers the effective protein supplementation of this product.

Next is dehydrated alfalfa meal which is another good quality protein source for horses. All grasses and legumes both as pasture or as hay have about a 50% absorption rate in a non-inflamed gut. Therefore the actual amount of this getting into the horse is less than you would expect.

Cane molasses is another byproduct of the sugar industry, is inflammatory, and adds to carbohydrate dependency and mitochondrial exhaustion which leads to insulin resistance.

Soybean oil is inflammatory in the human gut. This oil, along with all vegetable oils, binds to pieces of dead bacterial cells (lipopolysaccharides) and when bound together, passes through the gut wall where they become foreign objects. The result is an immune response much like a splinter under the skin.

Dicalcium phosphate and monocalcium phosphate are minerals added to prevent soft bones caused by high grain feed. Without adding these, the high phosphorus of all grains blocks the absorption of calcium from foods the horse eats. To counteract this loss the horse takes calcium from the bones leading to soft bones (rickets). These minerals prevent that. All good, right? Did they forget to tell you that high levels of calcium and phosphorus prevent the absorption of magnesium?  Did you know that the number 1 sign of low magnesium is hyperexcitability?  Now you know why people add magnesium to calm their horses and why horses, about a week after removing all grain, get calm and have focused energy noticed by all owners.

Lignin sulfonatethe primary use of this product is in the making of concrete, cement and plasterboard followed by oil drilling mud, tanning leather, spreading of pesticides, spreading of it on dirt roads for dust control and the making of artificial vanilla extract. It is also the precursor for the making of DMSO and in the making of lead-acid batteries. They are used as binders in linoleum, particle board, charcoal briquettes and as UV blockers in sunscreen. What is it doing in this horse feed? It is used as an antioxidant in animal feeds and flame retardants.

The remaining ingredients include salt, 1 limiting amino acid, minerals and vitamins. Does anyone know of a confirmed case of a healthy horse suffering from a vitamin or mineral deficiency?  The only horses exhibiting deficiencies are starving horses including horses not on pasture, not exposed to sunlight or horses fed hay that is more than 1 year old. Salt should be offered as a free choice.  There are 3 limiting amino acids so why add only one?  Soybean meal is a good source of lysine.  And with all the inflammation, how much of the lysine is being absorbed?  (Please see my other posts on protein)

Horses on pasture, fed good hay, have water (a great source of minerals) and pure salt, thrive.  Adding good quality protein to horses on a single source pasture and any kind of hay do even better. Feeding most horses is really this simple. Exceptions would be heavily worked horses, horses in extreme environments, very old horses, horses with disease (laminitis, etc), lactating mares and growing horses. The discussion about these horses is beyond this post.

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    1. Soybean meal (SBM) is an ingredient made by lots of farmers throughout the US and other countries. It is used a lot on hogs, beef and poultry. There is not much call anymore for it in horses so if you are having trouble finding it at your local feed store either “lean” on them to get it or look for a farm store that feeds other animals than horses.

      All SBM has been de-hulled and the oil extracted (pressed or solvent extracted) and an “anti-caking” or “flow” agent added. It is an ingredient so it will have a local farm’s name on it. But some big names sell it too such as Southern States but they mark their label with “Do not feed to horses” in an effort to have you buy their complete horse feeds. They have acknowledged that the SBM in the bag marked “Do not feed to horses” is the same SBM they use to make their mixed feeds for horses. Yikes!!

      1. I did find a local supply store that carried it. Can you tell me how much to feed? I am trying to move away from commercial feeds as much as possible and just feed forages. I have also added Renew Gold to her diet as she is very thin. Thank you!

        1. Please take the time to read all the blogs at the equine I have several blogs on protein that includes the math behind how to determine THA amount to feed. In summary it is 1 pound soybean meal per 1200 pound horse per day.

          I like Coolstance by itself as renew gold has Coolstance along with rice bran and flax. I recommend renew gold only if you can’t get Coolstance alone or if the horse is 30 or more years old.

  1. Glad I reviewed this a third time. At the end, you mention( except, horses in hard work and or extreme environments) Have had horses in Phx, Az for 25 yrs and pursued my sport 3-Day Eventing. Now living in Central Texas.

    These horses check both boxes of hard work and extreme environments. While I am on board with the … ok, all your nutritional blogs! we are close to 8 weeks grain free!!!

    I have been uneasy with the hard work/extreme environment issues. Summer is around the corner, will you please share your insights on these 2 subjects. I am very interested on what your approach would be. I am also a minimal keep it simple person, but wanting to address the needs of an athlete.

    In a response to my post on a different blog, you mentioned horses need to consume things like Phosphatidylcholine, I cant find where they would consume that from hay-alfalfa-as you said, it has been removed from SBM. And of course all the mineral loss, and higher demand for nutrients/vitamins, (I understand horses manufacture Vitamins, I am thinking increased protein would address Vitamin demand, except possibly Vit-C)

    The struggle, not to feed the Equine Athlete, like a Human Athlete is a real challenge. And currently a brain twister. 🙂

    1. You need to look at the fuel being used. With the reduction in carbohydrates, the horse will now be able to use the triglycerides stored in the liver to fuel the cells. This is good for all horses.

      During the cross country part of eventing (or in any burst of muscle activity), the source of fuel will be glucose stored as glycogen (the starch of all animals) stored in the muscles and liver. This glucose will come from the starch in the hay and pasture and it is the number 1 priority of all animals to restore all glycogen stores with any glucose ingested. In the horse the glycogen should be restored fully well before the race or exercise. When this glycogen is exhausted, the horse will stop running. Training the horse will extend that point because as muscle mass increases so does the amount of glycogen stored.

      Adding protein will help to add muscle mass as well as free up some of the liver fat. If an athlete is needing something more then adding non-inflammatory coconut meal (Coolstance) or if need be, dehulled oats (historically in small amounts appear ok for young horses in training. Be observant for any signs of inflammation such as squirts or riding/training/trailering/grooming misbehavior.

      With excessive sweating minerals are lost so supplementing with electrolytes may be necessary. An imbalance during exercise is the cause of thumps in horses. Remember that all electrolytes need sugar to be absorbed so it is added to most electrolyte mixes. Another option where excessive sweating doesn’t occur is to have some Himalayan salt and well water always available so minerals are always replenished before the work out.

      Rest in-between work outs is the best way to utilize the proteins in the feed to rebuild muscle as well as all other protein objects in the body including vitamins. Having a healthy gut is also essential for this.

      In my experience there has been no phosphatidylcholine deficiencies in horses therefore they must be either consuming enough of it in pasture and hay or they are making it. Other than your mention of it, I have not seen it added to horse feeds.

      Bottom line for equine athletes – eliminate gut inflammation and add protein until the amino acids are restored. Add salt and water (minerals and hydration) and a moderate amount of additional protein while training the horse. That is all a horse needs based on the evolutionary configuration of the horse as a hind gut fermentor. Melissa finds her eventing horses do well on this protocol here in Florida.

      One more thing. When I mentioned extreme environments I was thinking sub freezing temperatures. This would tax the horse more than heat in terms of survival. Also age of the horse can be a factor as foals and geriatric or unhealthy horses need special feeding during times of extreme cold.

  2. I feed hay in large squares which is an alfalfa/grass mix, approximately 50/50. You mention feeding grass hay with 1 flake of alfalfa. Is it bad to be feeding more alfalfa?

    1. No it is not bad to feed more than a flake of alfalfa a day. Many horses eat only alfalfa while others have no access to it. The idea of adding some alfalfa is to increase the variety of amino acids the horse has available the diet. Combined with pasture, grass hay and soy bean meal, horses should be getting a broad variety of all the essential amino acids (EAA’s – essential meaning they cannot make the amino acid but rather need to consume them).

      There is no test to determine how much of which amino acids are required. Reading a label with the amount os amino acids being delivered can’t help. Only using your eye to look for the resolution of signs of protein deficiency (top line, hoof quality, hair coat, etc) can you determine if your horse is getting enough of the EAA’s. Therefore feeding good amounts of several sources only benefits the horse.

  3. I feed my gelding a supplement, recommended by my vet, for his IAD, which is a base of flax and chia seeds with spirulina, msm, vit c, turmeric, and jiaogulan (Respire by Horsetech). This supplement has made a very noticeable difference in his coughing and mucous development (along with steaming his hay). Can I continue with his supplement during the 10 days no grain and also when adding the SBM? He gets 45g twice a day and it is a powder but I would likely have to mix it with some hay pellets to get him to eat it (sprayed with water so he isn’t breathing in the powder). Thanks for your help.

    1. First, you always need to confer with your vet when changing anything prescribed or recommended by your vet.

      Second, how is it possible to ascribe your good results to a product when you also changed the hay by steaming it and removing the mold?

      I am a minimalist who believes that we need to get our horses back to square one. Removing all inflammatory ingredients is where start then if there is evidence of chronic protein deficiency then additional protein needs top be added until that is resolved. Most immune system problems I believe are secondary to either ingesting lectins or a chronic protein deficiency – or both!. I have many blogs on this in the nutrition section.

      As said in this blog, read all ingredients and look for things that cause inflammation. The ingredients in the mix you are feeding in the Respire sound like anti-inflammatories but I believe that all soft seeds (flax and chia) may not be beneficial to horses due to lectins.

      We all need to be very careful in identifying what causes things as well as what appears to fix things. My bet is on the steaming. But talk with your vet first before removing anything they suggest. They are invested in the outcome of your horse.

  4. Argh, I’m just over the deadline! ☹ I want to know how to feed a horse that doesn’t have pasture. Help!

    1. Grass hay, 1 flake alfalfa hay, water, salt and soy bean meal if protein deficient. That’s it.

      All the details are in these blogs. Basically feed horses the way they have eaten for millions of years. Pasture is ideal but without it, hay is the next best thing. Everything else is inflammatory.

      1. Thank you so much for making an exception for me! Ive been reading the blogs but must have missed where feeding with no pasture was discussed. I don’t have alfalfa hay but can do alfalfa pellets. Half a pound enough for a 1200 lb horse?

        1. No worries – I didn’t address the no pasture concept specifically. Hay is harvested pasture so in a way it is the same as pasture. However it is SUMMER pasture and may have a higher sugar content than some horses need. This will lead to carbohydrate dependency and subsequent mitochondrial exhaustion.

          If you have a horse that needs a lower sugar load then soaking the hay in water to help remove the sugar may need to be done. Alternatively you can find tested hay or “reduced sugar” hay.

          I recommend 1 flake a day for a 1000 to 1400 pound horse. This can be about 4 pounds. You can feed the equivalent weight in pellets but be careful of pellets as they can choke some horses. Soaking them helps. Alfalfa also comes in hay cubes which may not need soaking depending on your horse. Always try a small amount first then work up to 2 or 3 feedings per day to decrease the risk of choke.

  5. Enjoy your blogs! I’m in East Texas. Is there a supplier for the Doc T’s Magic Mix in this area?

    1. The interested parties in Louisiana are talking about it now. In the meantime you can use soybean meal and alfalfa cubes. I’ll be writing a blog soon about it – maybe a week from now.

  6. Hi Dr. Tucker, I’ve been moving my geriatric herd in what I hope is a healthier direction. But they have some health issues. One retired 26 yr old warmblood has PPID (controlled with Prascend) and not IR, an easy keeper. Another, his BFF, is a 27 yr old retired thoroughbred hunter (a many time Man o’ War grandson) who is prone to impaction, two times colic surgery veteran, top teeth gone from his old cribbing habit and the happiest, most mischievous playful old dude you’d hope to meet. But needs more calories than his BFF PPID warmblood buddy. Two other mid/early 20s retired warmbloods–one whose insulin levels and ACTH are in normal range but insulin creeping up and partial loose poops (start and finish liquid, but usually normal piles), the other who needs more calories and fat and is a very good weight. I have been feeding western orchard grass hay in slow feed hay nets, grazing as much as my several acres in central Florida allow (bahia in warm season, annual ryegrass in the cool season) —usually 3-7 hrs/day. Turnout in large 1/2 acre or so non grazing paddocks in bonded pairs unless the weather or other issue requires them to be inside. Plenty of shade, sun, fresh delicious well water. We have been feeding TC Senior shredded as kind of our base food in modest quantities. We add Seminole Equalizer concentrate to try to cover a general vitamin/mineral fortification, and add flax and Cool Stance for Omega 3s and the fat, protein, and fiber the Cool Stance offers. I LOVE Cool Stance. I have seen improved hoof quality, top line, and coats with it. We add salt to their feed, supplement with G.U.T. for the ones with sensitive tummies, One AC for the PPID/non sweater, and Remission for that same one and the other warmblood who is showing the tendency toward possible future insulin resistance. I’ve concentrated on controlling sugar and starch percentages in feed products, but do not have measures of the sugar/starch in my pasture grasses, or can I test hay for sugar/starch/protein/and mineral balance before purchasing. I cannot store more than a ton at a time for my herd. I was planning to move away from soy for at least the warmblood who has the partially liquid manure problem more as a sensitivity elimination test than anything. How am I doing? We have a severely metabolic, founder survivor (though now controlled PPID/IR and sound, happy, great weight) 27 year old pony who eats TC Timothy Balancer Cubes and metabolic supplements. It has occurred to me that using well soaked Timothy cubes as our base feed, which has some fortification and is short strand hay which is a good idea for my colic surgery/easily impacted one and makes meal time last longer , and controlled Cool Stance volume to tailor individual caloric needs, may be the simplest no grain way to go. I understand metabolic horses should not have a high protein diet. For the two warmbloods who are either confirmed PPID or inching toward IR, how do I balance their need for protein without giving them too much for their metabolic status? The Timothy cubes are low protein, low NSC. Both of these old guys are very easy keepers. And since I don’t know how much protein they are getting from their western orchard hay, how do I balance all of that? And, if the hay is on the high NSC side, I worry about giving them more than 1.5% of their weight per day in roughage. (They get hay in slow feed nets morning, dinner, and at bedtime plus hours of grazing). I know this is ridiculously long, but am so happy to have found you and to recognize so much of what I am trying to accomplish in your philosophy. Because of their ages, and metabolic and digestive status, I want to make sure to consider their special needs in building on the general advice. Thank you so very much.

    1. Kathrine – Wow, this IS a long one. As you know I cannot offer specific advice especially when your horses have been diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian.

      I suggest you read and study all on the “Decomplexicating Horse Nutrition” blogs or even enroll in the “Horsemanship Nutrition Course.” The reason for this is there are several areas where what you are doing and what I am saying differ. Here are the differences:

      1. We need to be removing things, not adding them to the horse’s diet.
      2. Carbohydrate dependency is at the root cause of most diseases creating mitochondrial exhaustion, insulin resistance, and protein deficiency.
      3. Chronic protein deficiency is epidemic in horses as the horse, starving for good nutrition, starts to consume its own muscles even when being fed copious amounts of feed.
      4. Horses that are overweight (metabolic) are showing signs of gut inflammation. Additional signs are plentiful but include the “squirts.”
      5. Most commercial products have grain byproducts (wheat middlings) which may, through their lectins, cause gut leakage and subsequent gut inflammation.

      I recommend returning horses to what they ate for millions of years with the only exception of adding enough good quality protein to reestablish what has been lost. If it is needed (severe weather, age) then the addition of short or medium chain triglycerides as a RAW MATERIAL (Coolstance) will provided the needed extra fuel and abundant energy to help the horse survive. The only way to really add fat to the horse’s body is to feed sugar which is why it is only available in the months BEFORE winter.

      This probably is not the answer you were expecting. But as time goes on I get to hear a lot of efforts being made to feed horses along with a lot of problems (metabolic, squirts, insulin resistance, colic, Cushing’s just in this comment). None of these should exist if the horses are being fed a non-inflammatory diet and allowed the natural ebb and flow of carbohydrates.

      I am very grateful that you are reading these articles and that you took the time to comment here. This allows your story and my reply to be read by all so we can ALL learn together. Doc T

      1. Thanks for taking the time to read. Asking a specialist is per my vets. Let’s try again. The original post concludes:

        “Horses on pasture, fed adequate to good hay, have water (a great source of minerals) and pure salt thrive. Adding good quality protein to horses on a single source pasture and any kind of hay do even better. Feeding most horses is really this simple. Exceptions would be heavily worked horses, horses in extreme environments, very old horses, horses with disease (laminitis, etc), lactating mares and growing horses. The discussion about these horses is beyond the scope of this post.”

        My horses ARE your exceptions. How should I balance a presumed protein deficiency and avoid too much protein for the metabolic horses? Balancing grazing where there is not enough pasture for 24/7 grazing and the sugar and starch can vary a lot by time of day and environmental stressors? How to provide the benefits of a grass and hay diet against metabolic issues which are set off by too much sugar and starch when the values of those variables are unknown to me other than the manufactured feeds like hay cubes and copra?

        My metabolic horses aren’t overweight. It just takes a different volume and balance of feed/calories to maintain healthy weight for each.

        Our climate is often extreme in the summer–regular highs in the mid 90s, very high humidity, overnight lows in the upper 70s, and frequent thunderstorms. Winters are mild, and dry, limiting access to much grazing.

        I asked about expanding the role of Timothy cubes (grass hay) as a dietary base and continue Cool Stance for protein and fat, and, as you recommend, making sure they get enough magnesium, continuing western orchard hay and what grazing my property can provide. This change would involve dropping TC Senior for the two who get some. Neither are metabolic or overweight, in favor of Timothy hay cubes. Dropping the Seminole concentrate in the same spirit by favoring vitamin and mineral balancing. And salt. The nutrition profile of my hay is not specifically known. Given the needs of old, PPID, and almost insulin resistant seniors how do I go as natural as possible without tipping the balance toward too many carbs for old horses who are already metabolically compromised, and help avoid others becoming metabolically compromised?

        One horse has trouble sweating and overheats easily. He is not on grain. Grass hay, Timothy cubes, salt, metabolic magnesium supplement for PPID, Prascend, trying various things for sweating including hosing, shade, fans, and lots of cool, clean water. One supplement, One AC. Also in a 10 day trial for the patch right now.

        All pasture grass isn’t safe for old horses whether they have PPID, rising insulin, IR or none of the above–yet. They are what they are, and no amount of coulda, woulda, shoulda can take them back to being young horses fed properly and simply. Pasture grasses today are not like the varied forage of wild horses in the past had access to. Good hay can vary wildly in its mineral balance, as well as sugar and starch, some more relevant to their metabolic health and age than another, and I can’t test before buying hay, and cannot store more than a few weeks’ worth in this climate and keep it mold free. Our locally grown hay is coastal and had one colic within a week of trying it come years ago.So, my question is how do you balance the general principles you espouse in my circumstances with a specific grain free diet? TC Timothy Balancer cubes are standardized ingredients and vitamins and minerals and low sugar/starch and iron. I don’t know what is in the grass, or the orchard hay. Good hay can be just what some horses need, and present real health problems for another. So, do I build as much of their diet as possible on Timothy hay cubes with guaranteed analysis and have slow feed hay nets for the hay, graze as the pasture permits, and add salt? Add magnesium? Or is that so far from your focus that an approach designed for elderly horses with metabolic issues not based on natural forage/hay access without regard to the metabolic issues just out of range here?

        I’ll enjoy reading the balance of your blogs I’m sure.

        1. Hey Kathleen – feeding the “exceptions” is often a bit scary when it comes to changes. Please understand that if your horses are diagnosed and are being treated by your vet then you need to ask him or her for advice on any changes including nutrition. I can only give you some general ideas to pursue but as you can tell from what I am writing, I don’t agree with most nutritional information for horses.

          If you are satisfied with the balance between the health of your horses and the materials you are feeding then don’t change. If you are looking for a way to improve their lives then learn about carbohydrate dependency, gut inflammation and protein deficiency and then discuss this with your vet and attempt to create a strategy that will work for the horses without causing any problems. Make changes methodically.

          I believe that most horses are protein deficient and this has led to many illnesses and musculoskeletal breakdowns. I also believe that horses receive too many carbohydrates throughout the year leading to gut inflammation, protein deficiency through muscle digestion and illnesses. I believe that horse owners want their horses to look perfect throughout the year without a period where they become lean (winter) and they misunderstand this important and essential part of equine nutrition.

          I also don’t blame horse owners for any of this. They only know what they have been told and this has been led by marketing which includes how veterinarians have been marketed to (support for continuing education events for example).

          Through these blogs I hope that horse owners ask themselves (and their peers) why are all these diseases you mention happening? Why insulin resistance, PPID, metabolic syndrome, developmental orthopedic disease, EOTRH of teeth, musculoskeletal breakdowns such as laminitis and suspensory demise, colic, insect bite sensitivity and more? How prevalent were these 40 years ago?

          Your question is quoted here: “So, my question is how do you balance the general principles you espouse in my circumstances with a specific grain free diet?” My answer is to feed them as they have been fed for 54,999,960 years (55 million years minus the last 40). How fast you get there and how you get there is dependent on your comfort in changing and the advice of your veterinarian who is invested in this outcome. In general, remove inflammatory ingredients such as grains and grain byproducts (everything with starch and lectins is inflammatory to some degree). Nurture the gut microbiome and develop a non-leaking gut lining which may take months to correct. Reestablish the normal amount of protein needed to repair all systems and then reduce it as the recycling program takes over. This protein part may take a year or more.

          All I have are reports from people who do limit the intake of starch plus add protein for their horses (you can read them in the comment section of all these blogs). Not all horses will react the same so they watch these horses more closely tweaking things as needed according to climate, other stresses and the individual. Writing everything down really helps especially in a time line and with honest observations. So far, no horses have been hurt by these changes. Rather, they become healthier. Some do this on faith and others have their vet perform blood work to monitor insulin or ACTH.

          Thanks again for this comment. You are committed to the health of your horses and I really appreciate this. Keep reading and comparing what I write with all the other information about feeding horses. While this may confuse you more, just keep asking if what is being given to horses today working. Keep digging for answers as I have done. When it clicks for you, then clarity will come. I promise.

  7. so interesting I had never heard of Coolstance till I read these comments. I disagree with feeding soaked beet pulp; with or without molasses; but it sounds like Coolstance can be fed in the same manner since it absorbs a great deal of water in a similar fashion to beet pulp if one chooses to soak it. I am going to try this on my two big horses and see how it goes!

    1. Let us all know how it goes with the shredded coconut.

      Sugar beet pulp is a byproduct of the sugar beet industry and may be inflammatory based on the idea that lectins are found in the outer layers of things such as seeds, fruits and nightshades. Coconut on the other hand is a good source of non-inflammatory short chain fatty acids which are converted into ketones and used as fuel. This also bypasses the need for insulin.

  8. Really enjoy your posts. Am enrolled in your Nutrition Course and loving that as well. We agree on about 90% of what you talk about. The 10% we don’t agree upon gives me additional insight into things. I really appreciate you challenging “conventional” horse-keeping and applaud your tenacity in getting people to stop the grains, sugars and other supplements. You are so right about horses not having issues 40 years ago. We got our horses 20 years ago and fed them grass hay only – they were thriving. They are now in their 30s or close to it, have no molars so we are challenged with keeping their weight up. We are still mostly hay (soaked pellets), salt & water. We are trying hemp seed protein powder (they’ve lost a little topline) as I am very opposed to soy. Anyway, keep up the great posts!!

    1. No need to oppose soy. See the Wall Street Journal quote in the comment on this blog from Catherine. This is less than a month old but the confession of this avid anti-GMO leader is a realization that GMO foods are not a problem. I posted this also in the nutrition course unit on GMO – see the “ADDED MATERIAL section at the bottom of the unit.

      There also has been no feminization of horses from estrogen effect from soy in horses. Remember that legumes are OK for horses to eat while not so much in humans (a lectin problem). And as I so happily tell people concerned about the feminization of horses from soy, why do we castrate?

      As always I am so grateful for people like you leading the charge in feeding horses in a better way and appreciate it when you help others to learn. And if soy is something you won’t change your mind about then go with the hemp. Many are doing so but I am not sure if the quality (assortment and variety of amino acids) is as good as soy for horses and those who have used soy are seeing remarkable results. And remember, once the deficiency is resolved you can reduce or eliminate the soy and just feed alfalfa in addition to pasture and grass hay.

  9. Hi Doc T, we have old timers 25-35. The grass is good from April-December. What can we feed in the winter. Our 35 year old only has 3 the teeth left on the top rows. He is now starting to quid on grass. He will not eat hay. Would dried alfalfa cubes be good. I give him oats but it is not enough to keep his weight up. How about Calf Manna? The first 7 ingredients are; soybean meal, corn, hominy feed, dried whey, feeding oatmeal, dehydrated alfalfa meal, linseed meal. We have always been grain free except for 3 months in winter. Our 35 year old is starting to have loose manure but not diarrhea. The 2 25 year old horses are healthy and have all there teeth. One is still showing and jumping.

    1. Hi Adriene – Thanks for asking because older horses are special and winter is around the corner (hard to believe with 95F / 37C temperatures).

      Calf Manna, even with it’s grain, works well for these older horses especially because it is available throughout the US. My friend in Louisiana has a mix made called “Doc T’s Magic Mix” which is shredded alfalfa and soy bean pellets. She and others use this with their geriatrics with great results. But the point is, most of these older horses are desperately low on protein (poor top line, absent cheek / masseter muscles, poor hoof quality).

      Beyond adding protein, you can add shredded coconut (Coolstance) as an additional non-inflamatory source of absorbable short chain fatty acids. This has helps a lot of geriatrics through the tough winter but remember to blanket and shelter them if needed.

      Loose manure may be a sign of the extra sugar in the grass (summer) and as the grass becomes dormant (September in VA) it should firm up. When it does then it will be an indicator that the sugar content is being reduced and the ketone production from cellulose and absorption of body fat is starting. This is when they start to lose body fat and owners start to worry. In reality this is normal (think of a hibernating bear). Although the fat is being consumed, the muscle remains because glucose is not needed from the conversion of protein into sugar for survival. Ketones are providing enough energy and if not, adding the Coolstance will not interfere with this normal loss of fat – only reduce the rate of loss. Then spring arrives and weight (body fat) is put back on.

      I hope this helps.

  10. Totally on point Dr Tucker. It seems where people have stopped the sweet feed etc they have simply embraced another form of it. The companion animal industry mirrors all the nonsense of the latest food trends for people. We even have friends that are detoxing their horses. The resulting hair loss, yellow gums etc. was proof of the so called metal purging. We seem to believe that if we can isolate, concentrate, and change the delivery of a vitamin or mineral that the benefits will increase without even knowing if there is a deficiency in the animal in the first place. Yes big business is a problem but I think you would agree the vet. community is also a contributor. They are our “go to” when problems arise but seemed to have drank the supplement /miracle grain KoolAid as well. No need to look any further than the vets on the advisory boards in major trade catalogs for a feed to solve every behavioral and physical problem that horse might have. I’ve yet to ride with someone with horse issues who’s vet advised them to give their horse more turn-out, change in training, change in use of horse or to take riding lessons. All could have possibly solved the nutritional uptake for a horse in stress. Love that even though your specialty is teeth you have embraced and become our voice of reason for all things horse. Keep spreading the good word Doc!

  11. Dr. T,

    My husband, unfamiliar with horses, started looking at the vitamin supplement suppliers. He kept asking why I didn’t want to give my mare this conveniently packed supplement that did this, that or the other. I turned to him and said convenience is really not convenient.

    I am in my 40s now however back in my 20s my animal feedstuff education started with a dog food plant tour. In an effort to learn what I was feeding my dog I went and checked out this plant where I noticed they cooked the kibble to nothing, added nutrients so it could be called nutritional and then watched the kibble get sprayed with some grease that the tour guide called flavor packed essential amino acids. I later learned that the greased was trucked in from restaurants and fast food businesses that had there deep fat fryers cleaned. Then the grease was put in 55 gallon barrels to sit out in over 100°F heat until needed. They forgot to include that on the tour…

    I was dumb. I freely admit it. I still make a point to learn as much as I can with all my animals’ nutritional needs. In my education I have summarized a general understanding…Americans by in large want convenience that does not involve their collective consciences. Here is a nation that listens to doctors on the television tell them how unhealthy they are to only find out they aren’t really doctors. It’s the same reason we convince ourselves to run down to a GNC and listen to the gal behind the counter pump a billion dollar vitamin industry with pseudoscience verses actually going to a real physician, getting simple tests to see if we really need those testosterone-energy boosting-kick your libido into overdrive pills. Then with that same decision-making ability we can go to a fast food chain and order a double bacon cheeseburger with extra large fries and a Diet Coke. We wonder why we are generations knee-deep in morbid obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So I suppose it is only natural our dogs, cats and horses be too. At least they do not have to watch the size of their toilet paper rolls increase with all the shhhh…..

    Your blog was a great read. I appreciate it. Thank you for being a Veterinarian that educates.

    1. Wow – a lot pent up here! And I appreciate you taking the time to post this. And I am grateful for your appreciation. Thank you.

  12. Great blog post! I am always amazed at the awful ingredients that are put in horse food…and dog and human food too….used in flame retardants and concrete, etc! Crazy! I am just amazed how companies are allowed to do add these things. I guess you have to know the right people and have money. As you know, my boys are grain free and are doing fabulously. We are back to simple…hay, grass, hay pellets and salt and they look really good. They do get a carrot or two as a treat which I know you say is a no no. But that is it! As you and I have had so many chats about soy…you mentioned in this post that you fed soybean meal back in the early 70’s. I am assuming that was non-GMO soy since I don’t think GMO soy came about until the 80’s or 90’s and since we have seen increases of issues in our horses. I am not stating that GMO soybean meal is the only cause since there are so many other ingredients in commercial feed that could cause too, but do you think one of the reasons that your horses did well on it was because it was non GMO? And problems facing horses now are eating GMO version? Sorry…I know you are probably sick of me and my aversion to soy! 🙂

    1. The leader of the anti-GMO movement just wrote a 2 page article in the Wall Street Journal and has written a book apologizing to the world that he was wrong about GM foods (“Frakenfood”). I added this information July 2nd to the unit on GMO in my Horsemanship Nutrition Course and it is quoted here:

      “The Wall Street Journal in the June 23 – 24, 2918 edition in the “Review” section had an article called “Confession of An Anti-GMO Activist” by Mark Lynas. It is an essay adapted from his new book called “Seeds of Science: Why We Got It So Wrong on GMO’s” (publisher Bloomsbury Sigma). Mr Lynas is a visiting fellow at the Cornell Alliance for Science.

      The sub headline says this: “Genetically modified crops have been vilified and banned but the science is clear: They’re perfectly safe. And what’s more, the world desperately needs them.”

      The article is fascinating in that he was once the leader against “Franken-food” and was the energy behind the banning of GM food around the world. But he admits now that his worries have not materialized. In fact, in the article he gives two facts that made it to the sidebar.

      • 37% less chemical pesticide is used for GMO crops than for their conventional versions (from a 2014 study)
      • 90% of Indian cotton acreage now consists of insect resistant GMO plants (that have raised the farmers from poverty).
      • GMO cotton use in India may have avoided as many as 2.4 million cases of poisoning a year.

      He does not mention the new GMO 2.0 being introduced now which splices genetic material taken from the same plant rather than from other plants creating more effective results. But he does conclude that genetically modified foods have improved the welfare and the food supply around the world without any health risks he was so concerned about decades ago. I applaud him for the courage to write this article.”

      Feeding soybean meal really helps horses with chronic protein deficiency and only needs to be fed until the protein levels are restored (normal top line, normal hoof consistency) and then can be reduced or eliminated. Doc T

      1. Thanks, Doc! Some years ago, I had some friends who were hot on the anti-GMO trail. it seemed weird to me (aside from patenting the plant gene sequence and lessening biodiversity) that there would be a problem because a scientist did the hybridization rather than a farmer, that it could be harmful. I could find no credible source indicating there was any harm in eating GMOs. Pew Research, however, was the icing on the cake. Doctors (both medical and PhDs) in biology, horticulture, genetics etc. rarely had any hesitation about the safety of consumption. However, by the time they got down to high school graduates, almost 50% thought they were unhealthy.

        Hope you are doing well. My life is much different, but good – although still waiting for the dust to settle!
        Best …

        1. Thanks Judy for this additional information. In essence those willing to do the research understand things better than those who just listen to the loudest speakers. Isn’t this true in many conversations society has today? Here is the problem. Once we all believe in a “fact” we become unmovable in our thinking when an alternative and opposing fact comes to our attention. Rather than think and reshape our beliefs we fight to defend what we know. The more we learn, read, listen or educate ourselves the less afraid we are of rethinking what we think we know.

  13. Doctor T.,
    It was wonderful meeting you yesterday! I started all of my horses on the feed you recommended last night. We are officially grain free! Looking forward to reading ALL of your website/blogs and becoming a more educated horse owner!

    Thanks for all of your information and advice!

    Laura Kenny

    P.S. My daughter, Sara, really enjoyed helping out with you yesterday 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! Thanks for listening and trying the no grain approach.

      Please let me know about any developments with EPM in your daughter’s horse (hopefully all improvements). People here would love to know if a no grain diet improves EPM. Doc T