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?
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.
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 sulfonate – the 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.