I Am Very Grateful

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(above photo is the early morning skyline of Manhattan over Newark, NJ airport)

It is legal for me to be coming to farms as veterinarians are listed as essential workers.  We have been asked to limit our visits to procedures that cannot be postponed without adversely affecting the health of the horses.  My take on this is different but it is based on something I see every day that the average bureaucrat won’t acknowledge.  Prevention of disease, illness and discomfort is an essential part of caring for horses living in confinement.  This includes vaccinations, hoof care, clipping long hair coats and dentistry because without these, illness, pain and discomfort will shortly become evident.

Every person attending to the care of horses is following the protocol of distancing and washing our hands.  Working out in open air where dilution and air drying occurs more rapidly than in an office cubicle is an advantage.  Face masks are optional when working alone with a horse but might be effective when 2 people need to be close while working on a horse.  But if this encounter is brief such as handing a horse off from a groom to a practitioner, holding your breath has been recommended by health experts.  It goes without saying that if anyone is coughing and has a fever then they should not be in the barn.


We must also be aware of the psychological injury happening when our lives are disrupted.  For some, not being allowed to visit and touch their horses is traumatic.  Adding to this is having spouses and children constantly home or being unable to visit elder family members.  Losing a job or your business is a large cause of suicides in America (approximately 16% of suicides are money related).

Countering this is the attempt to keep a sense of normalcy and this appears when a vet, farrier or other horse professional continues to provide the care to your horses.  These people are risking their health to do this but in reality, this also helps them.  They are also affected psychologically.

Making It Work

The secret to making this work is simple.  Respect each other.  If there is a known health issue such as those listed as “co-morbidity” diseases that make the virus more deadly, then let everyone know and take steps to avoid contact with visitors to the barn.  These include obesity, heart disease, diabetes and asthma.  I would add alcoholism and drug addiction to this list.  If you have these then stay away and let the professionals do their job maintaining and caring for your horses.  The same goes for the professionals – stay home.

The world has changed much like it did right after the attacks on 9-11 or the financial crisis of 2008.  When outside forces greater than we can imagine force themselves on us the natural reaction is to be scared.  This is actually based on something we share with our horses.  There is a portion of our brain called the amygdala that is responsible to recognize a threat and attach an emotion to it such as death. It then connects directly to the motor cortex to make us move – or in this case, stay at home.  This is exactly how fear works both in humans and in our horses.  An emotion, supported or enhanced by the 24 hour news cycle, drives us to actions and thoughts without any thinking to dampen this reaction.

Thinking is the result of action in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.  This is where rational thoughts (some call this adult thoughts) come from and can supersede the reactive actions driven from the amygdala.  If you want to know how Melissa and I connect with fearful horses, we connect with them through their prefrontal cortex.  But there is more to this.

>Research has shown that if there is inflammation in the gut or any other organ, the chemicals of this inflammation block the ability to access the rational thoughts formed in the prefrontal cortex.  The more inflamed we are the less rational thoughts we have and the more emotionally reactive we become.  Does this sound familiar?

I have said this before, grain and daily intake of sugar throughout the year causes inflammation.  With the majority of our immune system in the gut, this inflammation can overwhelm our immunity.  We now also know that it can make our horses and ourselves more emotional and reactive.  Many horse owners and trainers call this getting the horse “hot.”  In humans we call it “road rage.” Now you know why.

Take Away Message

Being worried or even fearful is probably due to our gut inflammation blocking our ability to access rational thought.  There are a few things we can all do right now.  I am doing it.

  1. Laugh more.  Watch or listen to things that distract you from fear.  Meditate.
  2. Avoid negative things constantly entering your life.  24 hour news, negative people, negative social feeds.
  3. Try reducing the time you eat to only 6 hours in a day.  This has been proven countless times to reduce cellular inflammation as well as clean up the body of broken cells and cell parts (hormesis, autophagy and apoptosis).  It is FREE! And it will reduce your feed bill, improve your health and prevent or diminish severity of illness.
  4. Remove inflammation causing foods from your diet.  Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the most important followed by high starch foods such as grains and root vegetables.  Also remove all oils other than pure extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil or macadamia nut oil.

I heard someone say that it is not the courage to do the right things but the courage to NOT DO the WRONG things that helps us achieve our goals.  The above list are the things to do but when you feel hungry and the cookies, soda or pasta and the constant news feeds and social media feeds are in front of you, it is the courage you must find NOT to succumb to them.

I hope this helps you in these difficult times.  Attached are some images of Newark airport I took this morning.  It was a virtual ghost town.  How can this country continue like this?  I want you on your rural farms to actually see the effect of this shutdown in the urban areas. It is unnerving..  As my plane lands back home in Florida I have signed a document acknowledging my understanding that I am self-isolating along with my wife in my house for 14 days.  But I’ll be back supporting you and your horses after this.  You can count on it. Thank you for helping all the horse professionals and for placing the care of your horses predominately in your thoughts.  We all are grateful.

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  1. Continuing on Cathie Christie’s comment, I have been told that pasture is totally off limits to a laminitic horse. Especially spring pasture. 2 hours at most with a muzzle – which leaves hay as something to keep them nibbling on during the long time between feedings and pasture time. I am going out on a rope and letting my lamanitic gelding out all day with a Green Guard muzzle. He is not happy with the muzzle as he hasn’t found a way out of it as with all the others I have tried. He has broken through two gates just to get out of the dry lot and be with the others in the pasture, so I’m thinking it is the less of two evils. He is only on alfalfa and timothy pellets and SBM, grass hay, water, salt, and now pasture. Should I be worried that he is going to put on the fat pads again and have all 4 feet reverse all the progress we have made over the winter? I get so confused by all the “experts” that disagree about all this.

    1. Unfortunately once a horse or pony founders there is a chance they can founder again especially when turned out on grass in the spring. We all agree there. But you are doing something about this by adding the protein needed to strengthen the hooves as well as removing all inflammatory feed. The last piece is only a hypothesis here and that is I believe there is inflammation caused by horses continually eating sugar in the form of starch in pasture and hays. In metabolic humans and lab animals, an enzyme is created that converts glucose into fructose and this leads to the formation of uric acid which inflames the kidneys. This leads to hypertension which is reversed by eliminating all sugar in the diet other than prebiotic sugars (resistant starches). For me it is unknown what these resistant starches are for horses so I defer to limiting the intake of all starches.

      Intermittent fasting is popular in humans and is unknown in horses other than seasonal intermittent fasting seen in nature. This is where the horse has no starch available during the winter. When glucose is unavailable for energy production, the cell goes through hormesis where the cell and cell parts repair themselves or are culled. In limited eating times the human and other animals tested are allowed to stop working – like a vacation. Like being isolated for weeks due to a virus, things get done around the house.

      Limiting your horse to the time spent on pasture is only part of the equation. Limiting the time where there is no food or the food is high in cellulose and low or absent in starch is necessary for the cells to repair and restore. This is the driving factor in reducing or eliminating insulin resistance which every horse with laminitis has. In humans there is a correlation between insulin resistance and high uric acid in the blood – a direct result of consuming glucose that is turned into fructose.

      You pony needs to live but also needs to be pain free. You need to make a balance between him frolicking in the pasture and him removed from food. I do not know the division but I would start with 12 hours or more of no food followed by 12 or less hours of only reduced starch hay (hay soaked in water). If there is a chance of laminitis then only a small window (20 minutes) of grazing with the muzzle then observe for a few days. Then slowly increase by 5 minutes a day the pasture availability. As he continues to eat a no starch diet his satiation will be good and he should not be a grass monger. As the summer passes into the dormant winter you will have another 8 months of improving the strength of the hooves with the soybean meal. Then next spring you will need to reassess but you will have more experience with your success.

      Please keep a detailed notebook and at some point, publish it along with your analysis so other can learn from your experience. Thanks Harriet.

        1. This is a very astute observation of my comment Elaine. No one is measuring the BP of horses as a routine health examination of horses. However most believe that in laminitis there is some degree of altered blood flow in the laminae of the hoof. If uric acid is the cause of kidney and pancreatic islet cell inflammation would it be reasonable to think that there could also be inflammation of the laminae with or without an increase in BP? There certainly is evidence of IR in laminitis horses and elevated blood uric acid in humans and in lab animals is seen with islet cell inflammation and the associated IR and diabetes.

          Additionally, routine blood tests in horses measure blood urea (from protein breakdown) but does not measure blood uric acid (from purines and in this case from enzymatic destruction of AMP). I think there is room for research in UA and BP measurement in normal horses and in horse with EMS / laminitis.

          Until the research is done, we are left with just hunching our shoulders and raising our palms upwards. No one really knows the cause of EMS but from my perspective: 1) obesity is increasing in all domesticated animals and humans, 2) I’m tired of doing nothing but starving fat horses and 3) I am frustrated in not understanding the mechanisms in horses yet finding so much research in humans and other species.

          If anyone is reading this and is a researcher, please help the horses by getting the funding and getting to work. Caution – don’t go to the feed companies for the money.

          1. It seems like this wasn’t going on with so many horses many years ago. Or people just didn’t know what was gong on or what was causing it. Maybe most people just put their horse down when it foundered or had laminitis and tossed it off to being one of those things that just happens to horses some times.

          2. Things have certainly change in the almost 50 years I’ve been with horses.

      1. Okay, sorry to keep harping on this, but I thought horses needed to graze consistently so their stomachs don’t empty and get acid problems. If they can’t graze, are locked up and feed only every 12 hours and given soaked hay how does that work for their gut? His hooves are half grown out with more sole depth than he has ever had. It was last September when he was lame. He has front shoes on and is trimmed short. Runs and walks normally. Isn’t the stress of being confined damaging too?

        1. The psychology of isolation, as we are all now learning about, can cause problems. However so does consuming excess glucose every day and every hour. Laminitis is an awful disease causing pain and suffering for horse and human.

          I have also believed that horses needed to have hay in the stomach all the time but this actually came from racing horses. When they were trained on an empty stomach the acid would splash on the unprotected portion of the stomach. The lead vet who developed Gastro Guard gave a talk the year it came out and told all the vets listening that you really don’t need this medication if trainers would offer hay BEFORE training in the early morning. It is now known that all ulcers in humans are caused by a dysbiosis in the section of the gut affected. It is NOT going without forage for a part of the day but feeding grains and byproducts that cause the ulcers.

          Unless you are galloping your horses at 5 in the morning after not eating all night…

          I’m glad the hooves are developing a good consistency. Adding protein is the best way to strengthen them and I know you see this too.

  2. Dr. Tucker, I have an Appaloosa who had a terribly painful year recovering from laminitis & hoof recovery…What is the special feed talked about in one of the comments above? Cath in WA

    1. Eliminate all food you feed to your horses that is not grass or legumes. These are normal ground plants which the horse’s digestive tract was created to eat. Pasture is always the best for horses but grains not only cause inflammation but they also deplete the body’s protein in a process called gluconeogenesis.

      Unfortunately in today’s world most horse owners consider hay (any hay) to be “natural” food for horses but it is not. It is actually preserved grass from last summer with the higher sugar content than in dormant winter grass. Horses with laminitis should not be fed unlimited hay all winter. In the REAL world, horses eat dormant winter ground plants high in cellulose and low in starch (sugar). Cellulose is digested into the more efficient fuel called ketone bodies. In addition they convert body fat (triglycerides) into ketone bodies. They are supposed to get thin (lose body fat) over the winter. If they don’t do this then, believe it or not, they think they are dying because of cellular oxidation (bad) and mitochondrial exhaustion (bad) due to the constant use of the inefficient fuel called glucose. Worse, in some horses (if they are like humans and other lab animals), when glucose is fed daily it is turned into fructose (the sugar of fruit) which adds body fat, causes hunger and leads to metabolic syndrome (obesity, fatty liver, hypertension).

      When the cells start to die from exhaustion, the body starts to convert their own amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into glucose. There is a reason for this even though at a glance it doesn’t make sense. This chronic loss of protein causes muscle wasting (poor top line), poor hair coat, connective tissue injury, immune suppression, hormone dysfunction, neurologic dysfunction and poor hooves. Each of these are basically proteins and when they are being diminished, the associated diseases occur including laminitis.

      The best ingredient to feed horses (abundant, inexpensive, full amino acid profile, easily absorbed and with for me a 50 year safe track record) is soybean meal. Not soy. Not soybeans. Feeding 1 pound of soybean MEAL per 1200 pound horse per day in addition to removing ALL inflammatory ingredients and limiting the sugar of hay will help to reestablish the proteins that connect the hoof to the coffin bone.

      Soybean meal is the “special feed” you are asking about but you needed to hear why it is needed first. Please read all my nutrition blogs and enroll in the nutrition course to fully understand this process. TheEquinePractice.com/feed. Thanks for reading and asking this question.

  3. When you say reducing reducing the time you eat to within 6 hours are are talking about eating breakfast, lunch and dinner within a 6 hour time frame? Usually that ends up being more like 10 hours. What is the reason for this?

    1. Restricted eating is what a lot of people call this while others call it intermittent fasting. In humans, it has been shown abundantly that calorie restriction to within a 6 to 12 hour window will reduce the caloric intake while also cleaning up the inflammation (oxidative stress) caused by the burning of the fuel in the cells (metabolism). Longevity experts have shown in lab animals and in humans that fasting and lowered caloric intake lead to healthier and longer lives. I personally limit my meals to 1 a day within a 6 hour window. I’ll add a handful of nuts or a protein bar (with no inflammatory ingredients) and of course lots of water. But it isn’t 3 meals packed into a short time. It is 1 meal without sugar other than from vegetables.

      When I wake I will drink some water and then 16 oz of coffee blended with grass fed butter. This keeps me in ketosis through the fast while reducing my urge to eat until the afternoon. The other day I woke up, had my coffee, floated a lot of horses and then casually drove to get my first meal after 3 pm without feeling run down, tired or h-angry.

      The result of this is reduced inflammation from the gut caused from reducing the amount of work it does (digestion) and limiting the raw materials eaten to non-inflammatory foods. This helps to connect the prefrontal cortex to allow the production of rational thoughts.

      Fasting may take a bit to get started because eating styles are basically habits. There are many podcasts on intermittent fasting that you can find on your favorite podcast source (for example Apple Podcast app). There are also apps to track your fasts.

      Seasonal fasting seems to also work in horses where they only eat what is found during the season. They do lose their body fat over the winter but they don’t lose their muscle and other proteins. They also are calmer to work with when not having gut inflammation.

  4. You and your insights are a Godsend at a time like this. I love reading your Travel blogs and getting to know what a caring person you are. My horses are certainly grateful for your knowledge and openness on sharing. My 28+ year old was at deaths door when I got him and he is now out running with the others, head up, and looking quite spry. That after 7 months on your feeding program. My MFT that had laminitis in all 4 feet is doing exceptional. He has more sole depth now than when I got him, and his feet look great. He has lost all the fat pads and enjoys grazing with a Green Guard muzzle instead of being locked up in a barn. Thank you and blessing to you for all the help you give us.
    Harriet H.

    1. Thank you Harriet for doing the best you can for your horses by searching and asking questions. Guess what? Now you have to pay it forward by telling others (I’m sure you already are) because this is how we can change things – together.

      I am grateful for you. Doc T

      1. I have been telling everyone I know who has horses, but I just get that blank stare and the attitude that I am new to owning horses and what would I know? Even my farrier who sees the vast improvement just shrugs when I attribute the lami horse’s improvement. I won’t stop, but sometimes it is like talking to a wall. When I was an international quilt teacher I was in the same position you are in – couldn’t write for magazines and was snubbed a bit because what I taught was not mainstream – it just worked! That is why I love you and your program – based on what works not herd mentality. I do miss teaching, but don’t miss the controversy.

        On a different thread, my mare has been heavy duty mating with the 28 year old in the pasture. When I got her, they came together and she was pregnant – giving me a beautiful little filly. He is supposed to be a gelding – looks like a gelding, but doesn’t act anything like a gelding! Well we’re at it again! If she is pregnant, is there any changes I need to make feeding her?

        Happy Easter and stay safe. We need you!!

        1. I gelded my 7 year old stallion personally and I got the job done. However at 24 years he took an interest in an older mare (that tiger!). Full erection but his belly was an obstacle he had difficulty overcoming.

          If he has no testicles then he has no viable sperm. He may be fully interested but he can’t make babies. If he does then there are a lot of people who will want to hear about it. Keep monitoring your mare’s cycles to confirm that she is not pregnant and if you are in doubt, have your vet pregnancy check her. If she is then you can ask me about feeding her. Hint – the same way you are feeding her now!

          1. To finish their story, they were surrendered to the rescue at the same time, a year before I took them. There are no studs at the rescue but she became pregnant and delivered in May. The filly looks just like him, so I do question the whole situation. I will let you know if he is a miracle boy 🙂