ECEIM Consensus Statement On Equine Metabolic Syndrome

The European College of Equine Internal Medicine (ECEIM) issued a consensus statement on a problem affecting a lot of horses called, in general, Equine Metabolic Syndrome or EMS. I want to summarize some key points and add my 2 cents.


The meeting made the following points about EMS, some of which I found shocking (see my conclusion below):

  • EMS is more common in sedentary horses.
  • Excessive body fat, which harms the horse’s health, is obesity. Most horses with EMS, but not all, are obese.
  • EMS is most common in Shetland ponies, donkeys and miniature horses.
  • Insulin levels were higher in older horses and ponies.
  • Obesity ranges from 21% to 45% in the United Kingdom.
  • Obesity is in 10% of Icelandic horses in Denmark.
  • Obesity is in 8% to 29% of horses in Canada.
  • Obesity is in 24.5% of Australian pleasure horses and ponies.
  • Obesity is in 51% of mature light-breed horses in the US.
  • Thoroughbreds were the least likely to be obese compared to draft-type, cob-type, Welsh, Shetland, Rocky Mountain, Tennessee Walker, Quarter Horses, Warmblood and mixed breed horses.

Isn’t it interesting that over half the mature light breed horses in America are obese, more than in any other country? I have also noted that the number of horses I see today that are ill or lame is greater than 30 to 40 years ago. A coincidence?

Oh Gosh, Everybody – Here I Go Again!

Last year, I removed the illusion of complexity surrounding feeding horses. Unfortunately, it has been more difficult than I thought. One reason for this is the excellent marketing of misinformation. The second reason is that most of the horse owners I see say, “I will do anything for my horses.” Unfortunately, doing “anything” has become “everything,” with the vultures preying on these individuals with feed and supplements that, at best, do nothing for their horses. At worst, it makes them fat. And fat means inflammation and inefficiencies in the body systems.

Last week I introduced the liver and its important role in blood filtering. Blood from 70% of the gut, with all the sugars, fats and proteins, goes through the liver before entering any other part of the body. I introduced the phrase “liver overflow.” In essence, too much fuel enters the liver, and its capacity to use it overwhelms it. It is like a sink with a limiting drain filled with a fire hose. Eventually, the water overflows the sink. In the liver, all parts become saturated, which leads to inefficiency in fueling the body and distributing the protein needed to make the horse operate. Illness and dysfunction of systems follow.

The fire hose, or the overfeeding of horses, are owners feeding every day too much food. Forage, grains and supplements are abundant, hand-delivered to our barn and stacked neatly with a simple phone call. It is ruining our horses. In the wild, all horses and other animals have a season when food is not as abundant. They are supposed to use body fat for energy. Once you understand cellulose digestion, they eat “poor” pasture, a high-fat diet. Remember that fat develops 20 to 28 times more energy than sugar, so they don’t need to eat as much. When the summer grass returns, the horses gain body fat because, again, winter is coming.

Missing From The Report

I was very disappointed in the ECEIM consensus report because they devoted only a few sentences to protein. They said, “Ensuring adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals are important via a ration balancer supplement.” Yikes! I wrote about a national ration balancer in my blog “Betrayal!” The report never mentioned how much protein a horse should get (read “Chronic Protein Deficiency In Horses“). Studies in horses and humans show the importance of adding protein to reduce fatty liver and fat in the blood (hyperlipemia). Guess what is in all horses with EMS? They have hyperlipemia.

The report suggests starving the horse by removing all grains (yea!), muzzling, restricting hay and pasture, soaking the hay in water (with caution) and increasing exercise. If I were a horse, shoot me rather than starve me! There is nothing worse than starving a horse. Yet, in my experience, horses with adequate protein intake decrease their appetite and naturally lose weight. They also add a top line, flatten their hay belly, improve their hair coat, skin, and hooves, and generally improve their outlook on life.

I cannot understand why addressing chronic protein deficiency at professional meetings occurs. It is the missing link and was missing in this lengthy report on EMS.

What was clear in the report was that there are a lot of fat horses out there. And half of the horses in the USA are considered obese. Can you say epidemic?

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  1. Hi Doc T. I just listened to your webinar on Cushings. I’m in a quandary on what to do. My Maisy is showing signs, not shedding completely out this year. She’s not long and curly. She is on the diet, for a month now. I talked to a vet about testing her. Just not sure if that’s the route to go. Going into fall not a good time to judge on her coat. I’m thinking it may be better to wait until Spring to see how she sheds out and she will have been on the diet 8 months by then. Have mixed feeling about drugs. Will it be harmful to wait?

    1. Vivian – your approach is perfect! You can test several times to monitor the results of the new diet or you can just wait – either way is OK though 1 is free. But with either approach, adding a medicine should be discussed thoroughly with your vet. The age of your horse and any other signs should be considered. Many horse owners, according to their comments in the Facebook group “The Horse’s Advocate” have been able to remove medications from their horses as the blood tests have become normal due to the added high quality protein in soybean meal.

      If your vet is open to this approach, you may become a valuable teaching source for him or her.

      1. We just drew blood and should have the results soon. She did suggest the Wellness supplement from Platinum Performance. The first ingredients are flax and rice bran. Also adding vitiman e. Maisy has lost some topline, neck looks thin, coat not good and sensitive front feet. She also doesn’t like to be brushed. Pergolide seems to be the drug of choice.
        Articles I’ve read say they will be on it for life. Been reading info on ECIR group. Vet was fine with the SBM and and alfalfa that I’ve added. We’ll keep you posted. Feel overwhelmed. Vivian

  2. A friend told me about your site and I have been reading through the posts here. I have a 23 yr old Arabian mare that has been diagnosed with cushings. She has had a few episodes over the last 4 years with painful feet (chronic laminitis) and started developing the thick hair that doesn’t shed normally over that period of time. Last winter she had a full blown founder episode and that is when she was diagnosed. She has been on pergolide and at first it noticeably helped with her feet issues and the coat problem, however she gradually lost interest in eating and began to loose weight. I have backed her off on the amount of pergolide and her appetite and outlook on life has improved, however her topline is still deficient. She is on free choice bermuda hay (no pasture), soaked standlee timothy pellets w/ ground flaxseed, broad vit/min supplement, vitamin e supplement, and remission. I’m reticent to change her feed as her feet are now stable and when she foundered on me I had recently switched to Triple Crown 30% supplement with dehulled soybean mill in the ingredient list. I just want to make sure I understand your recommendation is to drop all of the supplements she is now receiving except her pergolide and go straight hay with free choice salt for 2 weeks and then add about a pound of SBM for about a year and then back off if her system is stable at that point? I know the TC 30% has many other ingredients that could have led to the founder but I don’t want to go through that again. The complete ingredient list is below.

    Dehulled Soybean Meal, Wheat Middlings, Ground Flaxseed, Stabilized Rice Bran, Calcium Carbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Yeast Culture, Hydrolyzed Yeast, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Product, Dried Trichoderma Longibrachiatum Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract, Zinc Hydroxy Chloride, Manganese Hydroxy Chloride, Copper Hydroxy Chloride, Vegetable Oil, Butyric Acid, Zinc Oxide, Peppermint Essential Oil, Kelp Meal, Lecithin, Magnesium Proteinate, Selenium Yeast, L-Lysine, DL-methionine, L-Threonine, L-Leucine, Soybean Oil, Cane Molasses, Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate, Fenugreek Seed, Anise, Ascorbic Acid (Source of Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Beta Carotene, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Choline Chloride, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Source of Vitamin K Activity), Folic Acid, Hydrated Sodium Calcium Aluminosilicate, Brewers Dried Yeast, Manganese Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Cobalt Proteinate, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Ethylenediamine Dihydroiodide, (Propionic Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives)).

    1. I understand your reluctance to try something “different” because everything seems OK. But it is not based on the several problems your horse has now. 23 years is not geriatric in most horses but it is near the 4th multiple of 6 years (6, 12, 18, 24) where everything seems to fall apart to some degree at each stage. For me it seems as if a chronic deficiency in protein is at the root of lost condition, lameness, deteriorating hooves and laminae, lost neurotransmitter / neurodegenerative disease (Cushing’s disease). You are doing what everyone else has done for horses at this point in their life and the results aren’t working – or are tenuous.

      Step one is to stop the gut inflammation which will stop the protein loss. Removing all grain and grain byproducts as well as the other superfluous ingredient in “balancers,” flax, vitamins and minerals will reduce and eliminate the gut inflammation. At any point you can start the soybean meal (SBM). The 3rd thing is to journal everything.

      Please remember that this is a very long process. Replacing the hoof takes a minimum of 1 year along with the laminae attachments. Reversing the “Cushing’s disease” will take less time. Hair coat, hay belly and attitude will improve within weeks.

      Please read ALL the comments under ALL the blogs to hear what others are saying. Also ask to join the private Facebook group “The Horse’s Advocate” to listen to others with their similar stories.

      There are 2 important things here: 1) go at your own pace to transition because I don’t want you to be worried and 2) transition your horse because what you are doing now isn’t working as well as you would like. Report back at some point with what happens and join the FB group to let them know your story. Thanks for finding this and trying the non-inflammatory approach with replacing lost protein. Doc T

      1. Thank you for your response. I am not on Facebook so the group is not an option for me. My horses have not had grains for sometime. They were getting several supplements that I have removed. They are on 24 hr access to Bermuda hay, soaked Timothy pellets, ground flaxseed, vitamin e & I’ve added a pure lysine supplement. Is this an adequate balance of proteins? I appreciate your time, I’ve discussed this with my vets and they don’t seem well versed in alternative feeding plans other than commercial feeds.

        1. Protein is made of about 20 amino acids and about 10 of those the horse needs to eat because they cannot make them. Adding 1 amino acid (lysine) will not help at all. Feeding soybean meal will provide all the essential amino acids in the amounts needed to build connective tissue, neurotransmitters, enzymes hormones and integument. Lysine is important in all of these but when alone it would be like giving you a dictionary with half the letters missing and asking you to write a book. Please read this:

          You do not mention pasture. But having access to pasture and hay every moment of the day and night is probably the main reason we are having so much metabolic disease in horses. This falls under the heading of carbohydrate dependency. It is not allowing the horse to rebuild at the cellular level because he is being fed glucose every hour of the day and night. Remember that hay only became available to horses in the last 60 years!! Think about this. Before 1960 there were no interstates and very few large trucks or farm tractors. Before 1960 horses pulled hay mowers and people picked up the loose hay and piled it in stacks in the field or lifted it by claw and fully into a barn – for their own use. Shipping in in bales didn’t come till later. Go to YouTube to see reenactments of this.

          Flax seed, according to human research, does not provide adequate amounts of Omega 3 fats in humans. These fatty acids and vitamin E come from the bacterial digestion of cellulose in horses. See

          Please look at all the blogs and the comments below them or enroll in the nutrition course. I will be launching soon a membership portal where we can have zoom meetings but we will also be using an exclusive private Facebook group there too.

          I hear the complaint that vets aren’t well versed in feeding horses. Yet horses (asses and zebras) are so unique in their digestion with only 2 other animals on the planed like them (tapirs and rhinoceroses). If you are a horse vet then why not learn everything about the care and maintenance of them? Don’t get me started…. LOL.

          Add soybean meal and remove the flax, vitamins E and the lysine supplement. You will save money and your horse will benefit. Just read the comments of all who have left them in all the other blogs if you need assurance. And remember, I am not selling anything except the course which is just learning. Thanks, Doc T

  3. The logic for the EMS horse and pony switching makes sense, but how does one deal with the transition when a long term supply of hay isn’t available so testing is not workable because of every 3 week deliveries of hay. It’s local pasture grasses–fescue, then some orchard and whatever else shows up in WNC hay. Our 28 year old pony with a history of laminitis episodes probably tied to gorging on acorns years ago is stabilized on a diet of TC Timothy cubes with very low NSC but fortified (which I am studying again for cheap versions of vitamins and minerals which may be in it), Cool Stance, salt, flax, herbal antiinflamatories and circulation support, and of course Prascend and metformin for the IR. I hate giving him the medications, but am worried that if I take away what he was on when the series of 3 laminitis episodes were finally under control in pursuit of a medicine free dietary solution, we may trigger the laminitis. His feet are great now btw. Advice? Thank you so much for all the information you share.

    1. This is a very tough question because every horse is different plus your horse is 28 years old – you could say that the laminitis has been 28 years in the making. The most logical advice I could give is to not change a thing in the few years he has left. Any changes you consider making should be done with your veterinarian.

      I like Coolstance as a non-inflammatory source of fat. Use it for adding fat especially in old horses and especially in winter.

      I am not a fan of flax or feeding any seeds. Be sure to look at the ingredients of the supplements. They often have hidden inflammatory ingredients. Even some salt licks have sugar added.

      Where is the protein??? Adding soybean meal should help with hoof strength and attachment but will need a year to complete. It should also help with the IR and EMS.

      All cellulose (the SC or structural carbohydrate of all grass and hay) is converted by the hind gut bacteria into short chain fatty acids which are converted into ketones. Ketones (fat) are a more efficient fuel with little pollution (free radical production) and for this reason, cellulose (“bad” hay) is the best food for laminitis. See the blog:

        1. My definition of bad hay is that it is moldy or it is over a year old. But hay with a low non structural carbohydrate (NSC or starch or sugar) level is usually considered as “bad” by horse owners because the horse won’t eat it. This is because there is no sweet taste. However the cellulose content (structural carbohydrate) will still be digested into short chain fatty acids which will eventually become the more efficient cellular fuel.

          Hay can be tested for its NSC level but if the horse is turning away from eating it you can consider the sugar content to be low. In time they will eat it because they are hungry. This will help feed the good hind gut bacteria and the horse will become healthier, though he will also loose fat.

      1. Any brand of Timothy hay cubes will work if from a reputable source. Standlee does an excellent job but there are others.

          1. I got this off of their web site:
            Triple Crown Timothy Balance® Cubes are a consistent, convenient, low protein forage replacement or supplement formulated with Timothy hay, beet pulp and specific minerals.
            In my research humans, horses, cattle and dogs with fatty liver disease all need added protein. This product is a low protein feed. I avoid the byproduct of the sugar beet industry and most minerals are already in the horse or in their water and soil. I have discussed my thoughts on adding chelates minerals.

            While hay cubes are good, the added things may not be necessary and also may not be as beneficial to horses with EMS.

          2. I’m assuming any user would take the vitamins and minerals into account and this balance is preferable to some fortified feedstuffs which may be poorly balanced for metabolic horses. I also feed Cool Stance and organic alfalfa pellets to boost the protein because it is so low, along with flax since free grazing isn’t an option for omega-3s.

          3. Metabolic horses have their root problem in excess glucose intake over time which has led to the visual and physical effects. There may also be a genetic component or a toxic environmental issue (mold).

            Protein is very important in resolving the fatty liver but feeding “protein” won’t work if there are essential amino acids missing. Alfalfa helps but is limited in its bioavailability (50%). Coolstance has proteins but also is a non-inflammatory fat source. Adding fat to an EMS horse may be counterproductive. A better protein source would be soybean meal. Think of SBM as a medical treatment if using it bothers you. There are also organic sources of SBM. In human and veterinary medicine it has been determined that there are specific proteins needed to release the fat stored in the liver. Also adding a broad variety of amino acids tends to satiate horses further reducing their caloric intake.

            There is also concern that many of the ingredients of these feeds and the added individual ingredients to horse rations such as the flax seed you use may be inflammatory to the gut. This affects the absorption of amino acids and chelated minerals. It also causes a dysbiosis (altered normal gut microbiota) that can lead to ulceration, inflammation, malabsorption and decreased vitamin production. Most if not all vitamins in the horse are made by the gut bacteria.

            The bottom line is that horses with EMS are usually fed by humans. Adding raw materials (food) other than what these horses were made to eat may be at the root of this issue. If there is evidence of EMS in wild horses I would love to see it.

          4. I’m with you in theory and have read some of these concerns in other posts. I’m in the process of studying the minutiae of their current diet to better understand how it lines up with essential amino acids and will include the best boost I can. But the life of a horse until somewhat recently was more likely to expose it to the. variety of food and and environment which equipped the horse to survive. Domesticated horses rarely have the same kind of life, or live as long as contemporary beloved elder horses. The ones lucky enough to live out 24/7 are not being exposed to the same variety of natural forage. They are likely to be exposed to single or at least less varied grasses. And horses like mine which matured, worked, and were fed in what was believed to be a high quality diet are aging and aged and few will have access to their ideal pre domestication diet. Soils are often depleted, treated with toxic chemicals, cut hay sprayed with toxic drying preservatives. Just occasional exposure to hay analyses shows some hay has serious deficiencies and also overloads.

            I understand the concern about creating imbalances but what about relieving existing ones? I understand the likely need to boost protein and the smell of ammonia in the urine being the marker that there is enough protein, but does that marker correspond the level of protein excess which turns excess protein into glucose—deadly for the severely IR horse.

            Is there a bibliography of studies and field experience behind these suggestions? It could really help. My horses are in almost transitioned to a an all forage diet and I’m working on the protein sources and intake. They are relocating from central FL to WNC for now so I’ll get what info I can about their grazing fields and locally grown mixed pasture grasses baled for their hay. Hopefully they will be fine but I don’t see any compelling evidence to take away stabilizing medications they are on for various aspects of EMS except guided by ongoing blood work to see how they do with a reduction of meds and hopefully elimination. Ironically I have seen changes in my worst metabolic one by mineral balancing for his IR. He is in primarily TC Timothy Balance Cubes and Cook Stance and Remission. Waiting to see on my non sweater how he will be with the change of diet and move to a less challenging climate.

            Thanks for all you do. Bottom line for me is the reliance on grazing and hay which vary so widely in quality and content that it’s close to a black box, with variables which can have an enormous impact on the horse.

          5. Katherine – you have a lot of great points here. The most notable is your “black box” analogy. Until the 1970’s horses did rather well as most people had pastures, hay was good, grains were not readily available and supplements were not an industry. Now the opposite is true and the results have been insidious on the horse and the marketing relentless on the horse owner. The results have yielded poor health for the horses and angst for the ones caring for them. Where do we go to learn the truth? Unfortunately there is little research that is non-agenda driven (unbiased). Almost all of what I have learned has come from human research where physicians are as frustrated as I am (books, podcasts, lectures, discussions, articles). Luckily, other than the raw materials, digestive physiology is relatively the same for all animals (gut microbiota, enzymatic digestion, glucose transport, fuel utilization, ketone and glucose as fuels, protein gluconeogenesis, Kreb’s cycle, ATP to ADP, etc). So I am extrapolating this information to apply to horses.

            I have asked horse owners to try a no-grain approach mainly because I believe that the normal gut microbiota has been replaced or diluted with unwanted microbes and this is what has been the root cause of poor nutrition, existing imbalances, unsoundness and illness. This includes poor vitamin production and poor mineral absorption as well as chronic protein deficiency (amino acid loss) secondary to carbohydrate dependency and lectin blockage of insulin (hormonal disruption). All of these need to be researched by qualified people. But who will pay for this? If my theories are correct that the way we have been feeding horses for the past 40 years has caused most of the illnesses and unsoundness in our horses today then there will be a lot of grain companies, farmers, feed dealers, tractor makers, truckers and veterinarians out of business. This is why there will be no research because there will be no funding.

            The result is that the horse owners themselves will need to take this knowledge and decide on their own but only if they are willing to try something different. With the help of their veterinarians, bloodwork can be followed to insure that no horse has an adverse effect form their trials and the existing medicine regimens appropriately adjusted. However what I am finding is that horse owners answer “It’s not!” when asked the question, “How is what you are doing now working for your horses?”

            Getting away from glyphosate now appears impossible to do as urine from humans show the herbicide existing in most people. It has also been found in organic foods. The effect of this chemical has been to kill many of the good gut bacteria and to disrupt the methylation processes by the replacement of the amino acid glutamine. The good news is that while glyphosate might be killing these good bacteria, there are much worse changes in the gut bacteria caused by daily sugar (starch) intake year round as well as the feeding of lectin laden materials (hulls, bran, middlings) and the inflammatory oils (vegetable oils) used to lubricate the pelleting machines. Removing grains and grain byproducts (feeds, balancers and stretchers) removes the majority of the glyphosate (assuming the hay you buy is not sprayed with it as a desiccant).

            The quality of our forages (pasture and hays) is a black box but if we all focus on getting the gut microbes healthy again by feeding our horses they way they ate thousands of years ago then they will sort it out and support the health of the horse – as long as we don’t interfere with medications that also affect the good gut bacteria.

            Thanks for all your thoughts and for trying the no grain challenge.

  4. My horses are 3 1/2 months eating SBM etc… they have all gained far too much weight. Not so good for the horse that foundered, I cannot work off any weight. He is hitting the obese realm. Huffing and puffing just walking 200 feet. None of them needed to gain any weight when I started, From what I have read, it seems most should lose fat, they have gained fat, not muscle, (had muscle already) are not look very good at this point. Its like 2-3 solid inches of fat on top of the ribs.
    Any advice?

    I have noticed another behavior change with all of them as well.
    After a good rain the bark on our trees would become good and wet, my horse would often eat the bark, sometimes removing all of it. The tree of course would die (not cool) About 80 days of SBM, they seem to have stopped murdering my innocent trees. I lost 15 last year due to the relentless assault, poor trees can’t defend themselves. Yea! slow clap…

    1. Adding SBM often changes the abnormal pica behavior because what they were missing is now there in the diet. Not only do they stop bark chewing, barn chewing and coprophagy, they also appear satiated. This stops the vacuuming of feed and overfeeding commonly seen in ponies and mini horses.

      As for gaining fat, I need to know more. I am assuming the “etc…” you wrote means that there is only pasture, hay, salt and water with no other food including treats and supplements.

      In humans if there is too much dietary protein then through gluconeogenesis the excess protein will be turned into sugar. In other words a high protein diet in humans (and I would assume horses) is actually a high carb diet. This is why I have written that adding SBM is needed at first to replace the deficient amino acid reserves. Once this is completed then only a handful of SBM is needed to top off the reserves. The reason for using SBM is the broad variety of amino acids. This appears to have worked on the bark eating behavior but if you horses have no other signs of protein deficiency then you should reduce the total protein (SBM + pasture + hay) down to a total of 0.25 g per pound of body weight. For a 1200 pound horse without exercise this would be pasture and hay to equal about 260g protein (roughly 10 to 15 pounds) plus 0.25 pounds of SBM. For competitive horses the pasture / hay can increase but additional SBM would max out at 0.5 pounds per day.

      Looking at this evolutionarily, your horses are fattening up normally because winter dormant pasture is only 5 months away. Then from Nov to April they will loose body fat but maintain their muscle. Unfortunately the way horses are kept today there is never a time where the body can rest from the daily overfeeding of sugar (grains and high starch from hay). this is called carbohydrate dependency and is written about here:

      What is confusing is that horses with EMS there is a need for protein to dislodge the fat from the liver. This starts the draining of fat from the body reserves. However there also must be a reduction in the sugar intake for this to occur. Adding the SBM will help this process but only if there is a reduction in sugar entering the digestive system. Starvation alone may not work so protein is just an aid. Also remember that the methionine and other essential amino acids in SBM will help any horse with laminitis to strengthen the hooves.

  5. My crew has been grain free for several months now after doing the 2 week no grain challenge and then adding in the soybean meal. Both of my mates look great and I’m liking the changes I’ve seen in one of their work ethic. She still has a way to go, but we’ll take progress over perfection. Now that the grass in full bloom, one if my mares that has a tendency to get very fat and have fat pockets is headed that direction again. In the past I have kept her on animed remission to try and assist with this issue even though she has never been laminitic. We did blood work last year and thyroid levels were in normal ranges. My mates stay out 24/7 for the most part, but I’d sure love if she wouldnt get so fat with the fat pockets on sides and tail head. She gets a good bit of exercise 5 days a week either ridden or lunged at least 15 minutes, mostly at a lope, jogging to warm up and cool down. Any advice other than dry lotting her with plenty of hay to assist this? She currently gets no supplements or anything other than the soybean meal and grass. Thank you for all you do! Always enjoy reading the blogs.

    1. Some horses live on air, so it seems. The important thing is to keep up the protein so the liver fat becomes mobilized. Many ravenous horses become satiated after being on the SBM for about 1 to 2 months. You may find her resting more and consuming food less.

      Is there a way to increase her exercise? For humans the best exercise they say is High Intensity Intermittent training (HIITS) where the heart rate elevates for short periods of time. This also rejuvenates the mitochondria. Maybe 15 minutes of loping isn’t enough for her. Maybe a short burst of riding up a hill to really get the heart rate up will trigger the use of the body fat.

      The hay may have less sugar than the grass until autumn starts to turn the grass to a more dormant state. Hay plus dry lot may be the most reasonable approach until her metabolism adjusts to the no grain plus SBM. For some horses it takes longer – up to 6 months and more. It’s like they need to go through a year’s cycle before everything resets. We have more to learn but the most important point to remember is that every horse is an individual and requires a unique approach to resolving this metabolic syndrome.

      Thanks for this update. Come back and let us all know how she does this summer.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply. She is a barrel horse, so she makes runs pretty regularly. Last year I did try to do interval work with her and would jog the short sides of the pasture, gallop one long side, and sprint the other long side, but my long sides are only about 300 yards, so can be trying to get pulled up and a good speed work in. In my region, we’re pretty flat, so no opportunity for hill work, unfortunately. We will continue to try to increase work load and add some interval work back in as well. Thank you for your input. I’m loving this program and so is my wallet. My horses look great, feel great, are bright and shiny. Nice not to have to spend $25 for a bag of feed or supplement 10 different things! I will keep you posted as things progress, and hopefully as we continue this program, she will level out. Thank you for your blogs. I’ve sure enjoyed reading and learning!

  6. I have a friend with a shellfish allergy. Though she was initially very sceptical that removing grain could have the impact it has on my horse (was dangerously explosive, went no grain six months ago and have not had a single explosive incident in those six months), she said something that has stuck with me and has helped me explain the impact of grain to others, and helped me commit 💯 % to no grain and no added sugars:

    If you are allergic to shellfish, it doesn’t matter if you have a pound of shrimp or one single shrimp, you still get sick!

    I think that explains the changes Rebecca has seen with her horses. They weren’t getting much grain, but even a little was still upsetting their system. Removing it ALL got the results!

    1. I often ask how much wheat can a person with celiac disease eat? The answer is none.

      As you say here, it’s not “just a little,” it’s “any” that can cause inflammation. It is also why the overlay of genetic individuality that determines why some horses are more sensitive to the same food – why there are easy and hard keepers. The bottom line is if what you are feeding isn’t working, keep removing until it does. Don’t keep adding things hoping to find something that works.

      Thanks for your comment!

  7. Hello Dr T,

    I am officially 4 weeks of zero grain. This approach made sense to me, I am generally a less is more, but had begun to slide down the scoop of this, that, and the other rabbit hole.
    The information on the Calcium Carbonate, and elevated calcium in feeds, which blocks the absorption of protein and magnesium was enlightening. (100 wat light bulb moment)
    After reviewing every label in my feed room, then making contributions to the garbage can, I spent the last few weeks browsing ingredient lists of the different feeds available, along with supplements, and treats.
    Also, reading about the other/better calcium supplements the feed manufactures could use instead of calcium carbonate, and have concluded, it is about price and saving money.
    In addition, the use of Zinc Oxide as an additive. Zinc Oxides is great if you don’t want a sunburn, but taken orally, isn’t bio-available. A quick search will give you an idea of the 7 different Zinc supplements, which are more or less bio-available, big surprise Zinc Oxide is also the cheapest to purchase. (all these years I naively trusted the feed industry)

    I will be honest, I didn’t expect to see much difference in my 3 horses, mainly because I didn’t feed much grain due to owning easy keepers.
    We are at 30 days no grain, no sugars, and on 1pound SMB and 1pound Alfalfa and Timothy pellets. Using, Alfalfa/Timothy Cubes broken into smaller pieces for “good boy” treats.

    The 3 horses run 12 acres with Coastal pasture, have access to a 40X60 3 sided barn with 6-8 inches of shavings, and I keep a Round Bale in the Barn, a convince, it is protected from the weather, sometimes it rains 8 days straight, the horses have the option to stay dry, and still eat.
    They are only locked in 3 hours a day while I ride. Having an open and airy shelter, I have, at times been surprised of the urine smell. Around 15 days of no grain, basically no smell. Wowza!!!!!!

    1st- 12 yr old Swedish WB mare 16.2 h 1325 pounds of Queen-Bee attitude, Eventing is our game. Received 1-1/2 pounds of 14% (low starch) 2 times a day. She is a very sensitive, hot, chestnut (red head) with many opinions, and believes there is a” boogie man” behind every blade of grass, jump judges sitting in the shade have proven more of an obstacle than you can imagine. Still bold over fences…go figure.

    15 days into the no grain life. I can say, many of the” boogie men” have vacated, and now, when something startles her, I can feel her thinking it through, and deciding not to react. Huge!!!! insert, slow clap.

    2nd- 7 yr old Half Andalusian/Friesian gelding 15.3h 1350pound easy keeper, and basically all Unicorn, super easy to train, tries hard to please. Received 1/2 pound 14% (low starch) 2 times a day. Sadly he foundered, I actually believe from protein deficiency. Emaciated when I purchased him at 14 months old.(there is a story here, not sure sharing is needed)

    30 days no grain, plus SMB etc. He has visibly lost tummy. This is also Huge!!!! and of course he is not being worked, moving around the 12 acres is his only exercise, currently busy growing a new hoof.

    3rd- 6 yr old Dutch/Friesian cross gelding 17h 1450 pound easy keeper, with PSSM, one of the…no, the hardest horse I have every started or ridden, super athletic, with a buck that launches me into aerospace, doesn’t have much try, not wanting to go forward. Learns fast in hand though. Received 1/2 pound 14% (low starch) 2 times a day. To be fair, he had surgery as a foal, I am going to assume his Gut Flora has never been good. I suspect he needs more than 30 days, to develop a health hind gut.

    30 days no grain, etc. Lets be honest, 1/2 pound 2 times a day isn’t much for a horse this size, it was more of a way to deliver electrolytes, the mare needed her 3 pounds to keep her curves, and they are all fed in a group, giving 1 grain and not the other 2 would be a little hard. As I said, I think he needs longer to repair his hind gut, that being said, I feel a little more “Try” under saddle, and over all, generally seems a bit more…content. Hoping to see more improvement over the next few months. If he becomes a stand up citizen, Dr. T you will be the first to know!

    None of the horses have lost topline during this change, I do supplement with a pure Amino Acid, the 10 EAA plus Glutamine for muscle building and recovery. I do hope my founder boy will continue to lose fat.

    I see these changes as significant, for a couple of reasons.
    a) Not feeding much grain to begin with. This seemingly small adjustment, that delivered results should not be dismissed. I can only imagine what people observe who had been feeding larger quantities of grain.
    b) Also found hidden sugars and wheat middling’s, in many things that are now no longer in my feed room. (kind of grieving for not studying sooner, I am so careful about my own diet, why did I trust a feed manufacture)
    c) The lack of ammonia smell is such a wake up moment, and major bonus.

    Of course I am excited about learning more, and have shared this with others. As expected, couple of friends have been interested. Now for the “intrigue” the response from a few people, who for a moment, considered not feeding grain for 14 whole days, I am pretty sure I saw a panic and horror flash behind their eyes. As you said in this article, marketing has done an excellent job!

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing knowledge, much gratitude! Looking forward to how they develop in the next 6 months.

    Save travels,

    1. Thank you Rebecca for trusting and trying and then sharing not just with your friends but with everyone reading this comment here. I am the one who is grateful – and so are your horses.

      I often ask, “How much gluten do you feed a person with celiac (gluten intolerance).” The answer is none! So it’s not how much grain you feed a horse but for many, it is ANY grain.

      Isn’t it nice not to see the fever in them at feeding time?

      There is no test to find out if the horse is getting enough protein. You just need to look at the horse in several different ways I have discussed elsewhere. You say you are supplementing with an amino acid mix. While they say there are all 10 essential amino acids, are you feeding enough? Reading the label and then multiplying the amino acid concentration times the amount of the supplement you are giving will tell you how much of each EAA is being consumed. However it does not tell you how much is being absorbed. Additionally there are no minimum values for EAA requirements. This is why I recommend the time tested feeding of soy bean meal (see the several blogs on this). It is 80% bioavailable and 1 pound a day for a 1000 to 1400 pound horse seems to work well. It is basically feed to effect which is about 1 to 2 years.

      Thank you again for this report and sharing it with others. We all look forward to future reports. I also hope your friends will try it. It costs nothing and it’s just 14 days.

  8. My only concern is what about cortisol??? Studies are showing that severely restricting forage causes spike in cortisol. Horses hang on to the weight we are seeking to decrease. All of the vets talk about starving these horses. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Beth! I agree. Starving any animal would lead to increased stress and therefore cortisol including humans. By adding the protein you would be satiating via natural hormone feedback (ghrelin and leptin). The horses stoop eating on their own because they are no longer looking for “something” that can’t be found in a starvation diet. This, along with removing all grains, causes the horse to remove body fat, liver fat and maintain muscle and other proteins no longer belong converted into fuel.

      The addition of protein is documented in Dr Diver’s AAEP talk on the liver 2 years ago and is also echoed in human medicine. Yet who is listening?? You are and so are the others reading this blog. Time to share! And thank you so much for commenting here. I hope winter is being kind to all at the farm.

      1. Do you or anyone have any information on getting nonGMO soybean meal. Also, what is the best form of Vit amin E to give your horse?

        1. We googled non-GM SBM and found a bulk dealer in the US. Others in the NW have found local sources after hunting for it. My thoughts on GM SBM use have been described in other blogs here. If you look at the problems evident in horses from chronic protein deficiency as something that needs a “treatment” then the use of any SBM for 1 to 2 years becomes acceptable. In other words there are much more severe and present dangers of many of the medicines we use in horses (bute, antibiotics, ulcer meds) but the cost to benefit ratio leans towards their use in many situations. 3 months of antibiotic use in my son plus 1 anesthesia saved his life but he paid a toll for over a year. There are no outward signs of glyphosate problems or GM problems in horses but there is mounting evidence that including SBM for a year or two has huge rewards.

          The vitamin E supplement should use the “D” form and not the “DL” form.

          Both of your questions were asked and answered on the blog “A Question About Soybeans.”

      2. Finally got a feed store to order SBM for me. I feed a total of 1 cup /day/horse along with alfalfa pellets & Cool Stance.

        1. The dose I recommend is 1 pound SBM per day for horses weighing 1000 to 1400 pounds. Adjust for the horse’s weight if different. Also young horses may not need as much while very old horses with severe top lone loss may need 2 or Morse pounds per day for a while.

          Adding SBM is temporary at this dose. Your horses may need 1 to 2 years of supplementation. When the urine starts to smell of ammonia you will need to reduce the amount.

          I like the diet you are feeding but Coolstance is an added non-inflammatory fat and protein source. You probably don’t need to feed the Coolstance in the summer if there is good pasture available or if your horses gain too much fat. Also the SBM provides all the essential amino acids so the amino acids in the Coolstance will be redundant.

          Reducing the amount of SBM plus continuing Coolstance is also an option but keep an eye on their body fat and adjust according to that.

          1. Can feeding coolstance plus vit/mineral without sbm be enough? Of course , plus forage. My guy is fat but doesn’t do soy.

          2. Coolstance is a great way to add or keep fat on a horse. It also has amino acids. But historically soy bean meal works the best.

            I’m not sure what you mean when you say he doesn’t do soy. Whole;e soy is not soy bean meal. Almost every horse loves to eat it and I have had zero adverse reactions to it in horses. There are a few who turn up their nose. For these just give a handful mixed into some dry or moistened hay pellets. It is cheap. Continue to offer this small amount until he changes his mind. The few who have said no to SBM in about 2 weeks love it. Let us all here know if that works.

          3. Hi Dr. T,
            So since soy has lectins, are horses sensitive to lectins like people can be? Since it looks like lectins can be a culprit in leaky gut in people. Thanks for your work!

          4. I agree that all plants have lectins. But horses seem OK with legumes as a class of plant. In addition, lectins are found in the outer areas of seeds and beans. In SBM, the outer layers have been removed.

            I have not seen any gut inflammation in horses caused from SBM as far as outward appearances. Only a postmortem exam with histopathology of the gut wall would tell us for sure.

  9. This coincides with all the obese people in this country now. Most people’s dogs are obese too. There is an epidemic of obesity in this country.

    1. There is an epidemic of carbohydrate overload. Just look at any convenience store. All sugar and little good quality protein.

  10. As always, excellent article. I have a horse with cushings (Friesian 18 years) and a Q-horse (0ver 28) boarder with the same. Both do not have EMS. Both are 4-5 on a 9 BCS, no crest, and have a bit of trouble shedding out. No real symptoms at all. But these are the factors that have kept me up to date with EMS info. I know of one EMS morgan gelding and the owner has found certain hay cubes to help. You are right though, nothing on protein. There is a graph available for these horses that might interest you. As I am not a nutritionist, which of these listed items would provide the protein? My herd eat hay and in the winter, alfalfa hay cubes soaked. The cushings horses of course get pergolide.

    1. Chris – I sit far outside what all my colleagues say about EMS, IR, ID, PPID and others. I dig deeper than the “how to treat” aspect and look at the better question – why did this happen?

      It is common for these horses with excessive fat to be hungry all the time. Why? Because they are looking for something they are not getting and for my thinking, the missing thing is protein. Research shows that higher protein intake along with resistant starch is recommended in humans, horses, dogs and cats with high fat levels in the blood and for non alcoholic fatty liver disease. This actually curbs the appetite which allows the people / animals to clear the liver and reduce body fat.

      Horses willing to go on the no grain diet and then supplement with soy bean meal after the gut inflammation subsides find that the bellies disappear, the top line fills in, hunger is satisfied, hair and hooves improve, disposition improves, pergolide is reduced or eliminated, non-sweating horses sweat again, and more.

      There is no down side to adding protein until the amino acid levels are restored in the body (6 to 24 months depending on the age and severity).

      The ECIR website, as you say, doesn’t mention additional protein. I have read somewhere that the protein content of soaked hay may be lowered as well as the sugar. These horses on the restricted and soaked hay diets are unhappy. Additionally, hay is a processed feed and soaking it is an additional processing step taking it another step away from natural grass.

      Wouldn’t it be nice to replace our fear of sugar in fat horses with actually fixing the underlying problem? Better yet, let’s prevent the problems in the first place and reduce the obesity epidemic in our horses.

        1. With every step the top line is exercised. But if the materials aren’t there to build the muscle or if the muscle continues to be converted into fuel to survive then the top line will never return even if the exercise is increased.

          All the horses who have eliminated gut inflammation and have added protein experience improved top line and a reduction in the Hoyt belly (increased abdominal muscle tone) WITHOUT added exercise.

      1. Way back when, last fall maybe, you wrote about the no grain diet and I wrote you about my boarder (who has the cushings). I went no grain and all the problems with his gut went away. It came back though, and now he gets a supplement which has helped again. He gets a leaky gut in the winter on hay, but is great on grass. Here in Southern Ontario that means hay until June at least.
        Either way, the question is what can we give horses that is a protein? In humans, meat, beans etc can get the protein. What supplement should a horse have to get protein in their diet while on a no grain, hay only feeding schedule?
        I agree that soaking the hay can get rid of the protein and I always do a hay analysis. In the past years it has not been great for protein. This was the latest report Protein % (N x 6.25) 11.49 ..10.27. So not wonderful for here, although in 2013 it was Protein % (N x 6.25) 9.55 8.41.
        All thoughts are appreciated.

        1. I have several blogs on protein for horses. Here is the best one:

          Please read all the protein blogs on my site. My clear choice is soy bean meal (SBM), Soy beans are a legume and not a grain. They give all of the amino acids a horse needs to consume and 80% of what they eat is absorbed.

          I have heard about some horses who get diarrhea on hay. Remember that hay is a man made substance that is really processed summer grass. any hays are now sprayed with glyphosate to help dry it for mold prevention. You could try to find organic hay with no preservatives. You could also try to purchase better quality hay from a different hay dealer of from a known local hay maker. You could also try feeding reduced hay plus added hay cubes or bagged chopped hay from someone like Standlee (Google for a dealer).

          You should also consider using Succeed during the hay giving months. This product I wholly endorse for leaky gut and hind gut ulcers. Use as directed.

          But adding SBM is really the first step in bringing back the horse to a more normal state. For reasons stated in my blogs I believe a chronic protein deficiency is at the root of most disease and soundness problems we see today in horses.

          And there is nothing like a field of wild grass – the elixir of life for horses.

          1. my pasture is primarily fescue grass and the baled hay we feed is fescue . I limit summer pasture for my POA pony, mini Horse and mini donkey. I feed soaked Timothy pellets am/pm to add herbs for Adrenal/pituitary support. I have problems with big bellies in the mini Horse and donkey, laminitis in the pony and big belly on my horse an Arabian. Any advice.

          2. Add soy bean meal as a protein source. This will eliminate the big belly and will decrease their appetite so they are no longer hungry all the time. Most people report that the big hay belly is gone in about 1 to 2 months.

            Adding protein will also help strengthen the hooves which should help with laminitis hooves.

            Please read all the nutrition blogs on my site here: It is a lot to go through but if you take the time you will get the results you are looking for.

            Thanks for commenting and reading this blog.

          3. Are you giving your horses that have Cushings and laminitis Prescend or only herbs? Just giving them herbs is not going to get the problem under control and the Cushings will progress.

          4. I don’t practice that part anymore. I just do teeth. However I suggest to my clients with horses diagnosed with Cushing’s to understand that it is a neurodegenerative disease. Pergolide is a dopamine agonist. Then I ask them WHY does their horse have a degeneration of the nervous system and then I ask if they realize that they are treating with a neurotransmitter. And neurotransmitters are PROTEINS.

            Sever horses that stop the gut inflammation and add protein are telling me, with the help of their veterinarian, that they retest their horses and get them off pergolide. More research needs to be done here but I was very glad this year at the AAEP conference when they called PPID a neurodegenerative disease.

          5. Thank you again. I have read the article and will be purchasing the SBM from our local feed supplier today. I checked with my nutritionist who likes this product, plus my farrier who uses this on his barrel horses. 🙂

            I presume you know, or know of Don Kapper. He has done a lot of work on protein in horses and totally supports your points on protein and topline.

            As the weeks/months unfold I will continue to keep tabs and report back.

            Many thanks again, hope the weather where you are is warming up, we are at 1C today and up to 15C on Wed. That is a lovely way to melt all the darn snow!!

          1. The best place to start is on this blog: The picture of the manure on the wall tells it all.

            Another would be .

            All the other blogs at will fill in the missing pieces. I also have the University course on feeding horses which walks you through all the parts involved in Micronesia dysbiosis and leaky gut –