Rhubarb Pie, The Orbiting Earth and Your Horse

When I was a boy, my Mom grew rhubarb in the garden. She was very proud of the crop; while it grew, she would dream of the rhubarb pie we would all be blessed with in late summer.

I hate rhubarb pie. Nothing was good about it, and I dreaded getting a pie slice because of the impending disappointment I would see on Mom’s face if I didn’t eat it.

In an attempt to understand her obsession with the plant and its kitchen transformation, I decided one day to watch her through the process of harvesting, preparing, mixing, baking and serving. Then, I unexpectedly learned about the system we humans use to protect ourselves from harm. It is called the “Belief System.”

I asked my Mom why she chopped off and discarded the beautiful green leaves of the rhubarb plant. After all, wasn’t this the part of most plants we would eat? Isn’t this where the nutrients were located? My Mom said that if we ate the leaves of the rhubarb plant, we would die. I believed her, and I have never tested her belief to this day. This is what a belief system should do. Protect the species by handing down known facts that we would die if we doubted and tried for ourselves.

By the way, you may have been an experimenter like me who played with the hot stove. But like me, you probably have not tried to walk out in front of a speeding bus, at least on purpose.

Galileo’s Story

Galileo was an Italian astronomer who lived about 400 years ago. He discovered an amazing amount of things, and one of those things was that the Earth orbited around the Sun. Up until that point, everyone thought that the Sun circled the Earth. If I came to your barn and sat with you in the morning and faced east, I would show you that the Sun rose there and then went over our heads and set that evening in the opposite direction. After doing this for a few days, I would probably convince you that it was a fact that the Sun circled the Earth.

Galileo had questions that the model of the Sun circling the Earth didn’t answer. For instance, why did we have seasons? Why did the length of day change between winter and summer? No one asked these questions, or worse, they answered with something like, “Because that’s the way it is.” Frustrated, he made a lot of observations and came up with a different model that answered these questions accurately. It had the Earth circling the Sun in an elliptical orbit and bent slightly on an axis away from the orbit.

Galileo was sentenced to death by burning at the stake in the public square because of this belief. Fortunately for him, the Pope was a friend of his and commuted his sentence to a life of house arrest, plus he had to burn all of his published books. How is that for challenging a belief system? To think that offering something that would help to explain things for all of humanity would cause such an uproar that you would be sentenced to death is almost unbelievable. Yet this is how humans work.

Beliefs are just a habit of thought we have in our minds that shape our world, giving with it structure we can organize ourselves. When something challenges this structure, we either reform our thought and habits or fight the change. For example, if you pull your pants on every morning by placing your right leg in first while standing on your left leg, try tomorrow standing on your right leg and putting your left leg in first. This exercise is something I did about 20 years ago, and I found it extremely hard to do. It took over 30 days of training myself, and to this day, every morning, I place my left leg in first as a reminder to challenge all beliefs. Never accepting a belief, especially when more questions are raised from it than answered, drives me forward daily.

But what if a belief is so strong that you are unwilling to change it? For example, all horses should be fed grain to get their “nutrients.” Soybeans are bad for horses. Horses should be automatically drugged to have a thorough dental exam and to perform a thorough dental float. The horse’s jaw needs to be balanced by filing down the incisors.

If these beliefs challenge you, then you are using your brain, which is good. But if your beliefs only lock you into an unyielding system of action, you will never grow. Let me give you an example. The next two sentences are identical except for one word. First, I want you to read them and accept the one you believe; then, I want you to try to convince someone who believes the other sentence to change their mind.

Donald Trump is the BEST President ever.
Donald Trump is the WORST President ever.

Old-style stone wall with top rails. Walls divide beliefs in people’s minds and are sometimes hard to cross or take down.

Here is my dilemma.

I believe that all grains are harming our horses, especially the byproducts of the agriculture industry, including wheat middlings and sugar beet pulp. I think they’ve plant proteins called lectins, which are causing inflammation of the gut wall leading to the gut wall leaking these foreign proteins into the body. As a result, they are causing chronic protein loss (poor top line), obesity, underweight (yes, the opposite of obesity), lameness, joint pain, laminitis, skin disease, colic, an inability to sweat when hot and an assortment of other illnesses including insulin resistance and pituitary dysfunction (Cushing’s disease). Other problems include general malaise, squirts with each defecation, unthriftiness and poor behavior, including an unwillingness to be girthed, reluctance to be brushed, and unwillingness to load on a trailer and to buck when asked to move faster than a walk.

Like Galileo, I often feel frustrated as I continue to see stacked in people’s barns the fancy colored bags of feed with huge unpronounceable words on the back with marketing slogans appealing to the hearts of the owners trying to do the best for their horses. Yet sewn into the seam of every bag, in every variety of grain product, is a tag required by law listing the ingredients. The number one ingredient is most often wheat middlings, the byproduct of the wheat industry, and full of WGA which mimics insulin. By the way, if you want to think just a little further out of the box, has anyone asked about the preservatives added to the feed? All these high-fat feeds need preservatives to prevent the food from becoming rancid. And what about the lining of the bags they come in? Has anyone looked at the chemicals applied so that the oils from the grain mix don’t penetrate the bag? All these are going into your horse and disrupting the delicate balance of your horse’s gut microbes, altering their normal process of protecting the horse from illness-causing lectins.

While I could go on about the specific damage caused by feeding grain to horses, I won’t. The purpose of this blog is to start you to think about your belief systems in caring for your horse. If they work for you, there should be no need to change. But if they are not working, why keep repeating the same process expecting a different result? If you want to change, stop feeding all grain for the next two weeks and accurately and honestly record all your observations. Then when you are ready, add in a protein source that will replace the chronic protein deficiency your horse has been going through. In 6 to 12 months, you will have a happier horse that will be healthier. And if you want to know why this is happening, stay tuned for more.

In the meantime, don’t eat rhubarb leaves, marvel at our planet’s orbit and change how you put on your pants. Then come back here and let this veterinarian with over 44 years of experience with horses mess with your beliefs about horse care. It will be refreshing.

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  1. A question about beet pulp. Do you mind commenting on why you do not recommend it? It is often recommended for IR or overweight horses. Just curious.

    1. Beet pulp is the byproduct of the sugar beet industry. I see it more as an income source for them and an afterthought with little research done on the horse. This said, a very smart veterinarian said that beet pulp has a low glycemic index and is therefore a good food source.


      The message I am working on is very simple. It’s NOT the sugar! It is the lectins that are causing the insulin not to function which in turn causes the sugar to be free to do the damage. Lowering the amount of sugar really does help. but removing the cause of the insulin dysfunction is the key for preventing the disease in the first place. This requires a change in our belief system and a shift in view of the problem. For all we know, sugar beets may also have a lectin that is negative to the health of horses. As we all know now, the lectins are concentrated in the outer layers of every plant. Guess what part of the sugar beet the pulp comes from?

  2. I don’ feed any extra grain. My horses’ are not working hard enough to justify it. I feed Bermuda hay, ( it’s the only grass hay available in my area) & Purina Strategy, Equine Senior, Almetza bermuda pellets, & a local brand of hay cubes, 70% alfalfa, 30% timothy or oat hay. The amounts per horse, per feeding is approximately, 1lb. each of the fortified feeds, & 2 lb.’s of the pellets, & cubes. They get this 3 x’s per day, & hay is always fed first. I make a thick slurry out of the bagged feed mixture. My vet said,” I don’t know what you’re feeding, but they sure look good.” I have to feed a lot of bagged feed because I have a 28 year old (my youngest is 14)TB. mare ( & grey to boot) who has no grinders @ all. I used to feed alfalfa hay, Omelene 200, & Calf Manna, but they were passing whole kernels, in spite of having their teeth checked twice a year, & floated when needed, along w/ vaccinations, routine check-ups , etc. , & my old mare was not thriving. She’ doing great now, all of them,& my vet is amazed @ how well she’s doing now, 3 yrs. ago, we thought she was a gone-er. So yes, one has think outside the box, if one wants to make a difference.( I wasn’t ready to give up on her, until I had exhausted every ave. available, while she still had some life left in her) I worry most about botulism, w/ the bagged feed though.

    1. The horses “look” good because you are covering everything in fat. As a rule, grain is NOT good for horses even if they look good. It is the underlying muscle loss along with the list of illnesses they often have. The BEST example of this is that you see whole corn in the feces. This is NOT from teeth but from hind gut inflammation because the gut microbes are unable to digest the corn.

      I repeat – teeth are NOT the reason you see grain in the manure.

      Botulism can be found in bagged hay where animals have been baled. In addition, botulism can be a regional issue as in it is more common in certain areas such as Kentucky but is not in New York and Florida.

  3. I accept that grain is not ideal. Even without the preservatives and all the other unnatural chemicals involved in its manufacture, the horse’s digestive system is simply not designed to process it. But what do you do when you don’t have access to lush pasture (and that’s an all-year-round dilemma for me) and the hay is not the best. Don’t get me wrong–I get the best hay available that I can, but it’s nothing to write home about. How can you keep enough weight on your horse, as well as ensure he’s getting all of the nutrients he needs?

    1. Hi Pat. The grain inflames the lining of the gut which prevents the absorption of the proteins consumed. You can add ProAdd Ultimate (prognutrition.com and available from any Nutrena dealer) to get the proteins in. To add energy in a non-inflammatory way feed a pound of CoolStance (stanceequine.com) per day.

      Remember that the term “weight” is often misunderstood. We want a healthy horse with weight added with muscle and bone density, not just fat. Yet our eyes only see the fat covering, like the clothes on a person. Take the clothes off to see the “real” body underneath. Take the fat off to see the real lack of muscle on the horse.

      Add weight back on correctly by adding protein and regaining the top line. In your case with no pasture and winter around the corner, add Coolstance until spring or early summer, then stop this fat source but keep the protein. I have dozens of horses (especially 25+ years old) I don’t recognize a year later after this protein addition plus grain elimination. It is astounding to see these older horses become so healthy looking.

  4. I find it easy to let go of a lot of my beliefs but hard for some others. As I am always looking for more information, ideas, etc., I have changed a lot from where I was 5, 10 even 20 years ago. But I am still stuck on many things like soybeans and GMOs…partially because of the research on humans. I know horses are not humans but it is still hard to think that some of the issues humans have, horses might have. And GMOs…although I do eat some bad food from time to time that came from GMOs. How does one get past it? I keep looking for answers but there is little to no research…anyway…I understand that I am fighting my belief system here on why I struggle with these two…hoping that one day something will click in how I feel about them and change.

    1. I understand your concern. Are there any reports of damage to horses from soybeans? I have not heard of any. What I DO see are illnesses caused by grain including a chronic loss of protein leading to poor top lines, poor hair coats, poor hooves, poor immune systems and possibly Cushing’s Disease and insulin deficiency.

      Relative to this list, I am not afraid of any soy based problems in the horse. But as an alternative, you can get straight whey protein (Platinum Performance) or Tri-Amino (various sources) which contains the 3 limiting amino acids lysing, threonine and methionine.

      Please read my thoughts here: https://www.thehorsesadvocate.com/chronic-protein-deficiency-in-horses/
      and here: https://www.thehorsesadvocate.com/protein-sources-for-horses/

      The bottom line is that if you don’t like soy, there are other options. But there is no option in avoiding that protein deficiency is a problem in horses.

      1. I haven’t heard of any research on soybeans causing problems in horses either. Just have read people’s experiences or opinions. You could be right that no problems will occur. I am sure it wouldn’t hurt to try and see what happens. I do agree that protein deficiency is a problem. And I want to avoid any problems as mine get older. I will look into the whey protein too and then make a decision. Thanks!

  5. I always love your novel way of looking at fundamental ideas and challenging others, in a very animated but non aggressive manner, to view the world around you differently too. Talking to you or reading your blogs allows me to see new colors, hear new sounds and think new thoughts … thank you for sharing your fascinating philosophies about horses and life.