Get Your Brain Right, Get Your Horse Right

(Original March 5th, 2020; Updated April 17th, 2023, read on podcast # 074)

The Wall Street Journal often has some excellent articles. For example, this weekend’s issue (Feb 22nd, 2020) had an article on bias in the media (“Detecting Fake News Takes Time” by Alison Gopnik). It had a different point of view that I had not thought of. Let me quote:

“David Rand of MIT and Gordon Pennycook of the University of Regina have suggested that “cognitive laziness” may be a bigger problem than bias. It’s not that people can’t tell or don’t care whether a story is true; it’s just that they don’t put in the effort to find out.”

My zoology professor predicted this in 1971 and told our class, “Man is basically lazy.” Back then, “man” was short for HU-man, so ladies, you’re not off the hook. Most people are lazy, regurgitating what they have memorized without putting effort into thinking. But it’s worse because most people don’t understand their words, so they seek validation or advice from others who are also regurgitating what they don’t understand. If two or more people say it’s true, it must be!

Dr. Daniel Amen, the well-known psychologist with hundreds of books, articles and TV shows, was asked by Tom Bilyeu on his Feb 27th podcast, “What is the number one thing society does that is eroding health span right now?” His answer included being “oblivious” in that “we are not reading food labels” and “that we are just not thinking about our brains and our bodies. Get your brain right, and your body will be there.”

By extension, get your brain right, get your horse right.

Whack-A-Mole Medicine

I was cognitively lazy for many years. It’s easier not to think but to trust what you have learned from teachers and mentors or to believe in the experts around you. That is how my school (and all medical schools) taught me. See this disease? Do this. See that disease? Do that. It was like the Whack-A-Mole game where a mole would pop up out of the ground, and you would try to hit it on the head with a hammer before it ducked back down. I’m sure there is a YouTube video of the game. I must also credit this expression to David Sinclair, Ph.D., from his book “Lifespan.”  

Doctors depend on people trusting them blindly. So do auto mechanics. But now, thinking is fun, especially with what we know now. Putting together the pieces and getting answers covering many medical issues is exciting. It’s like doing one thing that prevents all the moles from popping their heads out. What if doing one thing solved equine metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and Cushing’s disease, making your horse more comfortable and sound? You are correct! Many vets would be looking for another way to make an income.

I’ve stuck my neck out in these podcasts, blogs, nutrition and dentistry courses, topic posts, and my private Facebook page, “The Horse’s Advocate.” There are a lot of thinking people who have commented or have led discussions in the group, and I am grateful for them. Many ask thought-provoking questions that lead everyone to a deeper understanding of a topic. However, I often look at or listen to many words written or spoken by people who subscribe to “cognitive laziness.” There is no evidence of any effort on their part to read the material and dig for answers. Instead, the opposite occurs. They conclude from old misunderstandings held on to by horse owners and professionals. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues are usually too busy to question what they learned in school, so they perpetuate the whack-a-mole approach to their practice.

The Filter Of Agendas

Misunderstandings may be an understatement. Propaganda, false advertising and calculated misdirection may be more accurate. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is the world’s largest association of horse veterinarians. The most considerable financial support of the AAEP comes from feed companies, pharmaceutical companies and nutritional supplement companies. Magazines proclaiming their authority about horses stuff themselves with advertisements from the same supporters of the AAEP. The agenda-driven dissemination of quality information for horse owners is so prevalent that I can’t be put on a podcast or asked for a magazine interview, as this would upset the advertisers. 

So instead, I write here and on my social media. I gain nothing from this other than receiving remarkable acknowledgments from people who have decided to dig in, learn and apply what they have learned to their horses. The results have been spectacular in many cases. I am not selling anything except for a membership and courses filled with information to help pay the expenses. My nights at home and in hotels are filled with learning and conveying what I have learned to you for the benefit of your horses. If you don’t believe in my words and thoughts, move on or question me. Both are OK.

The author of this Wall Street Journal article coined Cognitive Laziness. They were investigating if “fake news” was something. They concluded that readers were too lazy to dig in to understand but just accepted what was before them.


I am challenging everything taught because from 50 years (since 1973) of working with horses, I see epidemics of illness and unsoundness in every state I visit in this country. I see things that were not in the textbooks when I went to vet school: EOTRH (Equine Odontoplastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis), fractured cheek teeth, dropped fetlocks (DSLD), white line disease, kissing spine, head shaking syndrome, and anhidrosis (only 1 paragraph was on that). I am also seeing epidemics of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), insulin resistance (IR), Cushing’s disease (PPID and other names), suspensory ligament injury, and an increase in sudden sleep disorder (misnamed narcolepsy). Why? Since my vet school training, the rise in health issues in horses has driven me to keep learning about the things unheard of even a few years ago.  

The latest information is that animals can convert glucose (starch) into fructose. When ripe, fruit converts glucose into much sweeter fructose, increasing the chance of being eaten and spreading the seeds of the fruit. We also were taught that the purpose of fructose is to add body fat for the upcoming winter. But now they find out humans and mice are reacting to the high glucose diets (in horses, the continuous feeding of hay and grain) by creating an enzyme that converts glucose into fructose (aldose reductase). This increase in fructose from glucose in humans and mice leads to fatty liver disease, increased triglycerides in the blood, increased body fat, increased blood sugar and an increased appetite through leptin suppression. It also causes the mitochondrial exhaustion I have discussed in the past, increased uric acid with inflammation of the kidneys and a  subsequent rise in blood pressure. Believe it or not, increasing salt intake in a dehydrated state in humans and mice will also convert glucose into fructose. For example, eating salted fried potatoes (starch plus salt) and washing them down with cola is a recipe for early death from human metabolic syndrome and heart disease. 

No one has tested this relationship between glucose, fructose, and uric acid in horses. Still, horses on a grain diet with abundant starch-filled hay or grass have metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and other diseases I have associated with a chronic protein deficiency secondary to mitochondrial dysfunction. Laminitic horses turned out on spring pasture with rising fructose levels are prone to another, often fatal, bout of laminitis. Add to this, some add salt to the feed with the possibility of feeding this high-salt diet to dehydrated horses. So could the mystery of laminitis be explained by increased uric acid causing inflammation in some way to the laminae in the hooves?

This past year the World Health Organization (WHO) listed “aging” as a disease for the first time. And the number one reason for aging and brain disease in all animals tested is mitochondrial dysfunction, exhaustion and cellular death. Aging seems to bring on a lot of conditions in all species, including horses. And what we feed them is at the root of almost every disease we see in horses. Preventing these from happening is in the best interest of our horses but not in the best interest of veterinarians, feed dealers and all the others in the feed chain. No wonder veterinarians oppose the no-grain diet and the feeding of protein. No wonder they draw more blood to confirm their diagnosis and treatment plan rather than to monitor for improved health.

There is no place for cognitive laziness in advocating for our horses. It is up to all of us who are investing our time into learning to pass what we have learned on to others. By teaching, we solidify what we know. Then we need to dig in and rechallenge ourselves by looking for the results we want, and if we still need to get them, ask better questions. I plan to do that for the next 50 years with horses.

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  1. I have 13 rescue horses. I’ve always thought simple is better. I feed my horses alfalfa pellets twice a day except for 2 horses who get it 4 x a day and 1 gets it 1 x a day plus oats. I also give them trace mineral salt block, and Liquid 747. I have a brand new bottle which will be sitting.

    I’m going to start the no grain challenge. I’m excited to see what happens. I have a pony who has a bad liver and of course it shows up in her feet. I found out when she was 4 yrs old. She is now 17 yrs old. She has her bad moments especially when the the weather goes from 80 degrees and drops to 20 or even 0. I also have a blind horse with Recurrent Uveitius. His leptos was off the charts. The vet did it twice because he’s never seen it so high. He was abandoned for 3 yrs. I found out about him and brought him home. So I’m hoping this will help him.

    I have a horse that I believe is autistic. And I have another who also has mental problems and I’m just now getting him to quiet his mind. When I got him, he wouldn’t sweat but the diet I have him on now, he does and has no problems breathing like he did before. So it’ll be great to see what happens when I put him on this challenge.

    Thank you for writing all of these articles. I haven’t gone through all of them but I’m working on it. I hope to come back and be able to say “the horses thank you too”

    1. Thank you for finding this and trying the no grain challenge. There are so many inflammatory ingredients in the feeds and supplements of horse feed and there are an infinite amount of responses to them – as many as there are horses. But overall, all horses benefit from their removal.

      The second phase is to restock the lost amino acids (proteins) caused by this inflammation as well as the continuous feeding of glucose (starch). Adding soybean meal (SBM) at 1 pound per 1200 pound horse per day is the time tested, safe and economical way to do this. You can read more about this on the individual blogs, enrolling in the nutrition course, joining the private FB group “The Horse’s Advocate” or reading the FAQ page at

      Thanks again for your comment and we all look forward to hearing about your results. Doc T

  2. Hi Dr. T,

    I’ve read a few times in your various comments that it is important to replace lost amino acids (usually with soybean meal), and I would love to hear your opinions on amino acid supplements like Equinety. Would that be a way to replace amino acids without adding calories for a horse who doesn’t need more calories? Thank you!


    1. In a nutshell, amino acids are manufactured but their quality cannot be assured and most companies don’t guarantee the quality, the sources / storage / manufacture date or the accurate total amount of AA’s in the container. There is no oversight of manufactured amino acids and this is why I don’t recommend them. Rather I recommend feeding an ingredient that is grown and the research has been done on that ingredient. Soybean meal (SBM) is one protein source but there are others. I have used SBM since 1973 so it’s track record is impressive.

      Calories is a misunderstanding in discussing nutrition. While amino acids can be converted into glucose for use as a fuel, they are normally converted into non-fuel things such as enzymes, connective tissue, hormones, immune structures, neurotransmitters and integument. In horses severely affected by the feeding of glucose foods (starch) every day of the year or if they suffer from PSSM then the conversion of proteins (amino acids) into glucose (sugar) should be considered. For most horses that I see, the conversion of amino acids into sugar is occurring within the body where muscles from the top line, connective tissue, immune system and the neurotransmitter supply are all being lost to the making of glucose for fuel.

      Calories are a factor but gut inflammation, carbohydrate dependency and lectins far outweigh calories in the preservation of health in us and our horses. Please read all the blogs (and their comments!) here and consider enrolling in the nutrition course to dig in deeper. Also join “The Horse’s Advocate” which is my private Facebook group – a safe place to learn, search for answers and ask fresh questions.

  3. Dr. Geoff, I just started the 2 week no grain challenge yesterday. My Teddy was diagnosed with PPID in 2013 when he foundered . It was February in N.Y. so I did not suspect that as the cause right away. Teddy has never gotten more than a cup of grain because he was always an air fern . I switched him to renew gold about a month ago. He has also been on Platinum Performance CJ for at least 5 years. Of course as of yesterday he is just getting soaked hay cubes, a quarter cup of soaked alfalfa pellets , Himalayan salt and regular hay and water. He is 27 years old and his teeth are worn. this was the first winter that he was underweight. I ordered the soy bean meal, no one close by carries it regularly I will have to drive a couple of hours to pick it up once it comes in. I have a couple of questions . Do you know how long the soy bean meal stays fresh so that I can judge how much to get each trip? I will have 3 horses on it. will I be able to resume giving the Renew Gold down the road or the Platinum? I just stocked up on both because of the stay at home orders. I am truly enjoying reading all of your insights, thank you. I have been a veterinary technician since 1978, I am always asking questions it drives everyone around me crazy. Funny thing the person that told me about your website was an employee at our local feed store. If this 2 week challenge helps my horses I will definitely be signing up for your nutrition course.

    1. Thanks Kathryn for trying this approach for Teddy. Having foundered and also having PPID both show us that there is room for improvement in nutrition for him. The first order of business is to feed him something he can handle with older horse teeth so if he can swallow everything you feed him then you are all set on this point.

      When people say their horse has lost weight over the winter I respond, “Good because that is what they are supposed to do – loose fat.” Unfortunately when they burn off the fat the underlying loss of muscle in a poor top line is now exposed. The knee jerk reaction is to feed them more grain to cover this with fat. But this continues the underlying loss of muscle.

      Adding a pound of soybean meal (SBM) per 1200 pound horse per day helps them get back on track but this is a slow process – at least a year. Spring is perfect though because of having fresh grass available plus you have 6 to 9 months before the snow and cold is bad again. It will start to improve the muscle development as well as work on the PPID and strengthen the hooves.

      SBM does expire quickly if not kept in a cool dark place. It also needs to be kept in metal trash bins because the rats love it. It comes in a 50 pound bag so 1 bag for a 1200 pound horse will last 50 days. In other words, 1.2 bags will last 1 horse 60 days / 2 months. Get 4 bags at a time because this will give you a 2 month and 1 week supply for 3 horses (3 x 1.2 bags = 3.6 bags).

      Renew Gold, if it works for your old horse, can be added back in the winter. I prefer Coolstance alone as it does not have the other 2 ingredients which I am not sure need to be in a horse (rice bran and flax seed).

      Thank you for finding me (and thank your feed dealer too). It is important to keep asking questions especially when what you are doing is not working. As a vet tech you see it differently than just an owner. Keep asking!!!

  4. Hi Dr. T.
    I am starting tomorrow on your grain free diet for my 5 year old Missouri Fox Trotter who did not sweat well during last years Florida heat wave in July Aug and Sept. I have been reading your information for about 3 weeks now and decided to take the plunge. Thank you for all the info and work you do in getting all this information out to us lay people just trying to understand and do the right thing for our beloved horses. I am hoping for good results this summer and will keep you posted.
    In deepest gratitude.

    1. Thanks Marcia for trying this for your horse. We all look forward to your future reports! Doc T

  5. Doc T, I like the way you think. You and I are very alike in regards to wanting to know “why” some health problems occur. I’ve been this way for the most of my life but it became more evident when my 1st baby suffered with severe eczema. I didn’t fall for the idea that it was just a “skin” problem. I was told to use lotions and creams and on the day we wanted baby pictures taken, to load up on steroids a couple of days ahead so he would look good in the pictures!! I told all the doctors that I didn’t care what he looked like, I wanted to know the root cause so I can cure it !!
    Keep up the great work that you do. I spread the word to the few that I know have horses.
    P.S My 34 year old horse is being supplemented with soybean meal (also a couple of ounces of brewers yeast / my idea ) and has gained weight 🙂 I will be able to see if it has helped his top line once he has shed his winter coat. My fingers are crossed but he definitely gained which was necessary! Thank you !!

    1. Your baby’s eczema is a great example of “Whack-A-Mole” medicine.

      Looking forward to your update this spring of your 34 year old after shedding the hair. Thanks, Doc T

  6. Thank you Dr T for all the information you pass on to us. It so important to do the right thing for our horses. Knowledge is power and when humans get lazy they give their power away. Sad really…

  7. Doc T, it was good to see you in Aiken, again, last night. Thanks for coming! I would be encouraging cognitive laziness in others not to point out that laminitis falls into two categories, metabolic and mechanical. Causation is the difference. I’ve seen horses needlessly tested for Cushings, etc. and put on drugs based on “borderline numbers” due to “laminitis” that had nothing to do with anything but very poor farriery and/or the associated ensuing body soreness. While I admire the hard work of vets, I find that very few understand the equine foot and a farrier’s impact on the equine body. Of course, long term mechanical laminitis compounded by the on-going pain and stress reactions in the body may eventually lead to metabolic laminitis, but that’s a matter for on-going research to determine.

    1. I have always thought of laminitis as a primary metabolic event and a secondary mechanical event caused by gravity against a compromised system. I do not believe they are separate causes though it can be argued that “road founder” (concussion) may be different from grain overload. I believe that the root problem is a chronic protein deficiency with a deficiency of disulfide bonds plus the inflammation possibly caused by uric acid secondary from fructose metabolism (yet to be proven).

      We as “hoof experts” (vets and farriers) need to look at the health of the hoof first before we look at the mechanical effects of physics (forces applied by vectors). It would be like looking at load capacities of a barn roof without looking at the amount of nails used in the trusses.

      I believe in the KISS principle – keep it simple stupid. I want to think there is a single cause behind all of the factors affecting the feet. For example it is rare to see laminitis in a fit and horse without IR. But IR is involved in so many cases – why? Is there a common cause? Time will tell…

      1. Fortunately, research is ongoing on this topic. Some of it is leaning towards IR being linked to chronic pain, particularly that associated with mechanical laminitis (i.e. sheer forces inappropriately distributed on the interior/soft foot by improper trimming of the hoof). And, yes, time almost always tells. Best wishes for safe travels!