Why Horses Should Not Be Fed Grain

Everything you swallow is NOT inside your body.

Think about this for a bit.

The things you and your horse swallow is placed inside a tube running through you from the mouth to the anus. There are no little people inside of you opening little port holes in this tube and shouting, “Got any mashed potatoes?”

In fact, if any of the “stuff” inside this tube escaped through a hole and entered your body, you would die – a very painful and agonizing death.

So what happens to the meals you and your horse eat? A simple process occurs that breaks down all food into microscopic molecules and it is these molecules that get transported across the intact but porous tube to inside the body. After this, the molecules are delivered to the cells for energy, construction, maintenance and repair. Very simple but very sophisticated where all needs to work correctly. When it doesn’t, lack of ease occurs and is known as disease to most people.

Disease can come in various forms. We all have heard of bacterial disease such as e coli that causes severe diarrhea, dehydration, and death. But there are also subtle diseases we all know about such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and chronic wasting. But what does this all have to do with feeding grain to horses?

My History With Grain

Looking back 50 years ago to 1967 there was certainly an interstate system but it wasn’t completed yet. Transport of materials such as grain was still in it’s infancy. So was sophisticated farming and distribution. The net result was that we did not have grain for our horses available from a local feed store delivered to our barn and stacked in neat, colorful 50 pound bags (easy for women to lift as determined by marketing research) in our feed rooms after just a phone call to the store. When I started with horses in 1973, we had 96 pound sacks of oats delivered 500 hundred at a time to our large farm by box car. It would take half a day with 4 people and 2 small dump trucks to unload from the rail road station and deliver them to the farm where we stacked them ourselves. It was great exercise. Young studs (me) would sometimes challenge other studs (Sam) to carry 2 bags at a time from the box car corner to the truck bed, and on occasion 3.

A few years later a new product became available called “Sweet Feed” which was an unregulated bag of mixed grains, supplements and molasses. The problems started to occur soon after with obesity and laminitis.

Inflammation And Food

Here is an easy question. Why can 1 donut cause one person to gain weight while in another person, they remain thin? The donut is the same with the same ingredients and calories. Why? Maybe not so easy.

Let’s go back to the idea of food being broken down to molecules and those being transported across the solid intestinal wall. We might all agree that there are certain things allowed and some things NOT allowed to pass. Water for example is allowed better than the pilot through the TSA entry point at the airport. In the same analogy, a person with a gun will be stopped by the TSA exam and forbidden access into the airport (unless he is recognized as a officer of the law). Some of these forbidden things are bacteria and toxins. In fact when they do show up for transport, the intestines accelerate their one way movement towards the end (diarrhea).

But what about the things in between that are allowed but with restriction? Like the TSA agent that asks the passenger to step aside for a personal exam of their baggage, some foods will cause IN SOME PEOPLE AND HORSES more scrutiny. Like the donut, some people’s intestines react with inflammation as the defense mechanisms pick up activity for certain foods. Think of people with a gluten intolerance or any other allergy. The result of this is basically one thing – consumption of energy from the battle the body puts forth to try to keep these molecules from being absorbed through the wall.

All inflammation is painful to a degree and also causes damage to the surrounding area. In horses, I have seen this exhibit as discomfort and intolerance when being brushed, girthed, clipped, or ridden (bucking, rearing, crow hopping). A general disinterest and uneasiness in the barn is common which in some horses can escalate to bad behavior including kicking the walls and attacking people with their teeth.

Other behavior associated with gut inflammation is colic, chronic diarrhea (the squirts following the normal expressing of feces), non-sweating, avoidance to loading onto a trailer for shipping, uneasiness when being trailered (kicking, weaving, pawing), and chronic poor keepers (underweight) with abundant intake of food.

In my practice, horse owners willing to try the two week no-grain challenge have seen the elimination of all of these signs of hind gut inflammation listed above in as little as 3 days. It is important to understand that it takes up to 6 weeks for the lining of the intestines to fully heal hence I like to have people trying the challenge to go at least 2 weeks before determining if their horse is inflamed by grain.

Understanding Digestion In Horses

Time for some more information to help you understand the digestion process. The horse is a continuous eater. While most of you realize this, there are many that don’t realize that cows (and all ruminants including sheep, goats, deer, etc), dogs, cats, humans, and most other common animals you know are meal takers. The evidence is in the anatomy of the horse. They have no gall bladder to store the bile produced by the liver to digest the food within the intestines. This is because they have no need to store it waiting for a meal because they are true continuous eaters.

The horse is known as a hind gut fermenter meaning that their colon is large and is made for digesting fiber (grass). It is also filled with trillions of bacteria that ferments the fiber into molecules with abundant energy production and absorption of amino acids to maintain life. Simply put, the horse was made to thrive on only grass and water.

So where did the idea of feeding grain come from? I’m not sure but like the donut to a human, grain taste good to the horse. As farmers using horses to plow and harvest the grain discovered, feeding the horses some of the oats seemed to help them along and give them some extra energy. One of the first diseases from this was “Monday Morning Sickness” where horses were fed their normal grain ration on Sunday but not worked. On Monday the horses would suffer severe cramps from the unused lactic acid production (energy formed by the digestion of grain). We call this today tying up or EPSSM (equine polysaccharide storage myopathy) which has a genetic component in many working draft horses.

Today we have several diseases with names that roll off the tongue of horse owners everywhere: insulin resistance, metabolic disease, obesity, body condition score of 8 or 9, Cushing’s, and of course lameness secondary to chronic lack of protein and excessive weight. These were not diseases that existed in veterinary text books in the 70’s and even early 80’s.

Instead of asking why these diseases are occurring at epidemic levels, we look to treatments. Anyone who has had their pony suffer laminitis knows the heartache, yet I am shocked when I hear of a laminitic pony still being fed a handful of grain “for his supplements.”

As with any inflammation, it is NOT the amount of cause, it is the PRESENCE of ANY amount in some horses. Some people can be stung by dozens of bees while one sting can kill another person. Some people eat peanuts by the handful while in others, one peanut can swell their bodies grotesquely and stop them from breathing.

What about the poor keeper that won’t gain weight when being fed as much grain as possible? The answer is that he is severely inflamed. The amount of energy being consumed by the horse to keep the grain out is greater than the amount of energy being produced by the digestion of the grain. A net negative energy consumption occurs causing the horse to use fat and muscle to maintain life. In these horses, removing all grain actually causes the horse to start gaining weight.

What is the 2 week no-grain challenge?

Get a calendar and mark the start date and record all your observations about the horse including physical and behavioral. Then remove all grain from the diet of the horse (no weaning is necessary – just stop all at once). This includes corn, oats, barley, wheat, wheat middlings, sugar beet pulp, rice and wheat bran, oat hulls, etc. Feed only water, pure rock salt (no additives), grass, and hay (grass hay and legumes such as alfalfa). That’s it.

Your horse may go through a behavior withdrawal at feeding time but this will pass in about 2 days. If you insist on offering a timed feeding (again, they are continuous eaters so the concept of breakfast or dinner makes no sense to them), then offer a “meal” of a few alfalfa cubes either dry or soaked in water.

When I say just grass, hay, salt, and water, I did not mean that treats, candy, carrots, or sugar cubes are OK. Remove all supplements too because most of them have grain of some sort. Remove the red mineral salt block (corn syrup and molasses). Just grass, hay, pure salt, and water for 2 weeks. Record your observations. Get others to help you observe without telling them what is going on. Make your own decision on weather or not to feed grain to your horse. The challenge costs you nothing and I have no agenda in you doing this other than for you to see for yourself the changes your horses go through.

Interestingly, in most cases, the horse needs no extra hay to maintain their body condition. In fact, most start to gain weight and become calmer. Read the testimonies of owners who have done the challenge (and be sure to write your own to add).

Some caveats –

In very old horses (25 years and older) be careful because the chronic inflammation may cause them to actually loose weight without grain. In these cases get a medium chain triglyceride source of fat to add energy that is non-inflammatory. I recommend CoolStance® which is shredded coconut meal as a great way to add non-inflammatory energy. Avoid ALL vegetable oils such as corn, soybean, flax and canola oils because they are inflammatory.

Another product I recommend for very old horses not gaining ANY body fat is Renew Gold which has flax seed, rice bran, and CoolStance® combined into a pellet.  Rice bran and flax seed are inflammatory but for these horses it sometimes does the job of adding body fat.  Start with ¼ pound and slowly work up to a pound to 5 pounds for a full size horse. Too much coconut or too rapid an increase will cause loose feces.

IMPORTANT – use your eye to evaluate every horse on the no-grain challenge. If this doesn’t work out for your horse, going back to what you were doing is simple and without problems. More importantly, if it does work and the bad things in your horse disappear but you want to add supplements, be sure to read the label carefully and find a supplement with little to no grain. Add only ONE SUPPLEMENT AT A TIME and wait 2 weeks and observe. If all goes well, then you can add another supplement if you must.  HOWEVER, I do not believe horses need any supplements except for high quality protein and hay (yes, hay is a supplement) as needed.

There is still more to tell you such as additional protein which will require more articles. But if you have any questions, look at the comment section below first to see if it has been asked. If not, brcome a member and add your question to the forum discussions.

Before I go, I want to tell you about the front page article in the Wall Street Journal on April 9, 2016 – “Awash with corn, imports increase.” See the images below.  We have a surplus of corn that the users are not buying now because it is cheaper to purchase and import it from Venezuela. So guess where all this extra corn is going? To the new market developed by the farmers 30 years ago – horse owners.

2 weeks, no cost to you, improved horse – a no-brainer.


  1. I have 3 QH air ferns and 1 hypp horse with poor dentition that I have to watch potassium level. I have the 3 on triple crown ration balancer plus Timothy hay pellets (also 24/7 pasture) and I supplement with equinety amino acid profile. I’ve read your blog on ration balancer so I will remove that. How do you feel about the equinety? I have one prone to laminitis so I add animed’s Remission to his. I will check for grain in that and remove that. As for the hypp horse, it is difficult because potassium levels are not listed on hay pellets. I know he can’t have alfalfa. I feed triple crown senior to him and beet pulp for fiber in the winter because he can’t eat long stem hay. What are your suggestions for him to keep something in his gut all the time? Thanks.

    1. Let me give you some resources:
      TheEquinePractice.com/feed – this is my FAQ page for feeding.
      “The Horse’s Advocate” which is the private Facebook group where these and other questions have been answered. It is searchable. Ask to be let in – it’s free.

      Equinity and all artificial amino acid sources do not guarantee amount, consistency, manufacturing or sources. Soybean meal is a plant that will guarantee the contents and freshness because it is grown and not manufactured.

      Laminitis is complicated but in essence, the horse probably is insulin resistant and this is directly related to glucose in the diet. In addition they are protein deficient which weakens the hoof. Change these two things to combat laminitis effectively.

      HYPP is a genetic mutation so you will need to monitor him closely with any diet change.

      Coolstance is shredded coconut meal which is an excellent source of fiber that is NON-INFLAMMATORY. Use this for horses needing to add fat on their bones whether they have good or bad teeth. It is easily chewed.

  2. I’m in the middle of the 2 week challenge. I have 2 Arabian gelding which i compete on in endurance riding. They are struggling to keep their weight even when fed additional grain (Started with Ultium most recently Total Equine. Tried numerous supplements like rice bran). I’m wondering what should I feed them during endurance rides? They get finicky at these events and I need to get salt, electrolytes and something (usually soaked for hydration)to sustain them during the event. Hay is sometimes not their favorite choice. Can you recommend a protocol to try to meet their needs and yet stay away from grains? Grass is usually in short supply.

    1. I have seen several hard keepers Carol who seem to remain thin when fed grain but who gain weight AFTER removing the grain. I believe that grain is inflammatory and the result is body fat. I am suspicious that what they are finding in humans and lab animals is also happening in horses – that glucose is being converted into fructose (fruit sugar).

      The purpose of fructose is to add body fat for the coming winter. It also depletes the ATP in the mitochondria to below sustainable levels triggering gluconeogenesis (protein loss on the top line etc). This enzyme develops in tested animals and humans after being fed glucose laden foods daily year round. this results in obesity, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver, diabetes, hypertension and more. Blocking this enzyme reverts tested animals and humans to normal conditions – reverses these diseases.

      Opposite to this are hard keepers and people who eat everything and remain thin. But are they healthy? I can only guess why this is happening. One guess would include a lack of the enzyme that converts AMP into uric acid which is the end point of fructose metabolism. Another guess is the inability to make the enzyme that converts glucose to fructose therefore eliminating the horse’s ability to create fat. In this case there are two thoughts that come to mind. The first is that the addition of inflammatory food (grain and byproducts such as rice bran) still causes inflammation. This would cause weight loss in the midst of plenty. The other thought is that this inflammation would cause exercise intolerance and / or poor recovery and also “finicky” behavior and a poor work ethic.

      While these are only guesses, we can all look at the fact that what you have tried isn’t working. In fact, the commonality of all hard keeping horses is that no matter what you try, they don’t gain (and they have other issues). We all are surprised when you start to feed a horse as they were created to be fed (ground plants when available), they start to gain weight. In fact some have become obese as the owner offers hay throughout winter as well as during summer pasture.

      3 Day Eventing riders have reported that the recovery times after the cross country event are very quick with horses asking if they can “do it again!” We all look forward to your observations as this ER season starts: weight gain, conditioning, recovery time, soundness, hoof health and anything else you want to add. Remember to add soybean meal to provide the amino acids they are not getting in the pasture and hay. An endurance horse is constantly rebuilding connective tissue and will require the branched chain amino acids. Now that you have stopped the loss of these AA’s (by not feeding excessive sugar every day and eliminating gut inflammation), adding them back is essential to remaining sound and healthy.

  3. Thank you for the really interesting article!
    I started no-grain challenge to my 10 years old OTTB about a month ago.
    He is eating hay better ,calmer , doens’t pin his ears at the feeding time ( he is eating Alfalfa pellet and SMB) but he lost his weight and still very skinny( score 4)
    He is at the boading stable and the owner is very worry about his condition.
    So I am thinking to feed CoolStance as well.
    What is your advice?
    Is it OK? or not?
    If yes, how much should I add CoolStance?
    Right now , he is eating 1 pound each / day.


    1. Yes adding Coolstance will help plus adding spring and summer pasture. Often OTTB horses need a year to recover. Watch the hooves for evidence of this. Also please write a diary to monitor your progress.

  4. I’ve been doing some reading about lectin online re humans, and many of the lectin-free diets say that flax seeds are OK to eat. Given the other benefits of freshly-ground flax seeds i wonder why you recommend against them in this context? I don’t want to jettison something that could be beneficial, especially from an anti-inflammatory standpoint. I understand that many horses wouldn’t be exposed to flax in the wild (though some must be…), but neither are they exposed to soybean meal. Granted, SBM is supposed to be temporary and reparative, but flax seems to be a good, supportive supplement. It’s a hassle to give, but again I don’t want to throw out things that can actually help my horse. For now I’ve stopped it along with magnesium to let your recommended course do its thing. My horse has more energy and focus for his work so there is benefit, and were only at 1 month with this change. I just wanted to resolve the flax question…TIA.

    1. I believe that all soft seeds are not meant to be eaten in an evolutionary standpoint. Occasional ingestion will occur but daily intake seems contraindicated. And why do horses need the Omega 3 oils? Why is there inflammation?

      One of the key principles of this program is to stop adding things to the diet for an effect. Removing inflammatory ingredients is the foundation and the proof of this is a calmer horse that loses body fat. You are correct in that adding SBM is needed because of the chronic protein deficiency from mitochondrial exhaustion plus the lack of variety of forage in the pasture and hay. Chronic protein deficiency is obvious in many indices. But removing inflammatory ingredients should negate the need for adding anti-inflammatory ingredients or medicines.

      The results posted on my blogs and on the Facebook group from around the world are all positive in their results of following the principles. What is missing is the hard core science but that will never come because 1) no money and 2) the sellers of inflammatory ingredients and supplements mount clever and persuasive marketing campaigns.

  5. Right after I read this article ,I started no-grain challenge to my 10years old OTTB!

    He is out in the pasture 5-6 hours everyday, lots of hay (some alfalfa), water and salt block in the stall.
    1lb Alfalfa pellets and 1lb SBM /a day .
    He lost his weight and stay that way after 3 weeks now.
    Do I need to be patient ? or better to feed CoolStance?

    He is calmer and nothing bad, just skinny.
    He is a cribber so hopefully no-grain will stop his cribbing or less.

    1. I have not found anything that stops cribbing.

      Weight loss means that your horse no longer has inflammation and insulin resistance. He is now allowed to remove his body fat which means he is healthier. This is great news.

      As horse owners we all need to stop interpreting “weight loss” as bad. It is the opposite. You can see this in his improved behavior.

  6. Hello!
    First and foremost I would like to thank you for the time and dedication you have put into this article. It is very enlightening and gives horse owners a lot to think about! This article makes so much sense and it’s hard to disagree with things that make sense!

    Secondly, I would like to ask some questions about the two week no grain challenge. I own a 28 year old mustang who has chronic diarrhea in the winter(this is the second winter this has happened) when the grass runs out and he has to eat hay. Last winter I observed that if I took him out in a open hay field and let him graze for a minimum of 30 minutes the diarrhea would firm up and if he got enough grass, would even stop. This winter his diarrhea started around November and I began feeding him Nutrena’s Safechoice Original horse feed and some alfalfa pellets. He was underweight when I started him on the horse feed and had a topline score of D. I eventually weaned him off of the alfalfa pellets and he currently gets about 10 pounds of the horse feed. Now it’s mid January and he has a body condition score of between 4 and 5 and still has a topline score of D. I no longer call him a “skinny horse” but he sure looks old! I honestly think that the only reason he gained weight on Safechoice was because it contains high quality protein and the three limiting amino acids – lysine, methionine, and threonine. Aside from his initial weight gain I haven’t seen any other improvements from the feed and his diarrhea seems to have gotten worse(after reading your article, it’s probably because I took away the alfalfa pellets) and is irritating his skin. The feed just goes in and goes out. I recently started him on Opti-zyme by MannaPro( same company that sells Calfmanna) and he’s looking a bit better because he’s getting more out if what I’m feeding him.

    I guess what I’m wondering is: is my horse is too old to bother changing his diet to simply forage? Would changing his diet now still benefit him? If I do change it, should I do it slowly? You said there was no need to wean them off grain just to stop all grains, and supplements and feed only forages, legumes, salt and water but my horse is old am I’m pretty sure that his digestive system is inflamed especially since I’m feeding so much grain and he does seem to be a bit sensitive when I touch his barrel. I hope I don’t sound like I’m questioning what you’ve said I just want to make sure I’m doing the best for my horse. Also, if I switch him to forage only I guess I should take him off Opti-zyme too? Would you recommend I give him Coolstance or Renew Gold for added protein?

    Thank you so much for your time!

    1. The top line is made of muscle which uses the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. The limiting AA’s that you mention are important too but the hay does not provide all the essential AA’s. The best source of all EAA’s is soybean meal. Please read ALL the articles on protein (the most current has the most up to date info). It will take 6 to 12 months to improve the top line but the hay belly goes away in about 1 month. Most horses start to look “less old” within 3 to 4 months after starting soybean meal.

      If the gut is inflamed from 1 or more ingredients then removing them as quickly as possible is the best solution to stopping the inflammation. However, in older horses (especially in winter), the body fat will quickly come off. It is like taking the coat off a body of a skinny person with no muscle. The horse will look awful and the owner will say, “He’s losing weight!” Then the horse is put back on the inflammatory ingredients and the horse becomes fat. The coat is put back on.

      We all want to see an athletic body underneath the coat but it just isn’t there. This is where the soybean meal adds the needed amino acids to build that muscle. Exercise alone will never build muscle. The ingredients need to be there.

      In older horses in winter you need to remove the inflammatory ingredients causing the inflammation (loose manure, irritation in touching and behavior, added body fat) and keep a close eye on them. Add Coolstasnce as a non-inflammatory fat source. Add blankets as needed and get them indoors if too cold. Heat the water they drink. Use common sense and get them to summer where the grass is available to help restore the normal gut microbiome.

      What you can do now is 1) read ALL the nutrition blogs and their comments, 2) join the private Facebook group “The Horse’s Advocate” and 3) enroll in the nutrition course I offer (find the link in the blogs). Through these resources you can become equipped to feed horses as they were meant to be fed and more importantly, understand why on a cellular level. And it is NOT complicated!

      Thanks for trying the no grain challenge – Doc T

      1. Thanks so much for all the information!

        Just a couple more questions…

        Would it be ok for me to trade out his horse feed for a mix of timothy and alfalfa pellets? I would like to give him soybean meal too but should I wait to add that till the two weeks are over?

        Here’s what I’m thinking:

        Start transitioning from grain to only orchard grass hay and alfalfa and timothy pellets, salt and water.
        Once he’s completely off grain and Opti-Zyme start the two week no grain period. Does this sound ok?

        I’m just not sure when the soybean meal comes in. Also, you said to give a flake of alfalfa hay with the soybean meal. Would about 3 pounds of alfalfa pellets be ok instead?


        1. There is no need for a transitioning period. The sooner you remove the inflammatory ingredients the sooner your horses will start to feel better.

          Some people add the SBM right away and others wait for 2 weeks. There is no set course. If your horse is severely inflamed in the gut then the SBM may not be absorbed until the inflammation is reduced or eliminated. If this is the case then you are wasting the SBM, but there is no way to really determine this. From the horse’s point of view, adding the SBM at any point is good and there are no bad things that will happen from this.

          Giving alfalfa pellets is OK. I would guess that a flake of alfalfa is about 4 pounds though (10 flakes in a 40 pound standard bale so 4 pounds per flake).

  7. Interesting-and part and parcel of this puzzle on feed! Thanks! I have pleasure horses and dairy goats…and live at high altitude-with water quality changes throughout the year secondary to irrigation stress on the aquifers as well as run off and winter…Mineral supplementation actually seems to be a seasonal requirement for all my “species” buds. Their health truly suffers-sometimes to the point of massive symptoms with out it. This is even in the “non-stress seasons” for both species.

    In particular-we supplement with thiamine as well as cobalt and selenium, magnesium and phosphorus. Everyone has access to native grass pasture-which is a mixture of marginal native grasses and some really nutritious ones, as well as super alfalfa/brome hay supplementation-to condition. The goats get whole, unprocessed grain at milking, but I have used soaked, un-molassesed laced beet pulp for years to put the minimal supplementation’s in for the horses. This beet pulp is fleshed out with higher calorie pellets and alfalfa pellets, all soaked and topped with soybean oil-which I can get in bulk-as our horses age-because honestly-as they loose their teeth (I just put down a 34 y.o. and have two in their late 20’s), they just don’t keep condition on the hay-as you mentioned. They all get dental work as needed twice a year-or if symptomatic. I have one oldster who-like some you mentioned-eats all day and never gains weight-that was even as younger on straight pasture…hay supplementation seemed to help then-but now-I have been forced to add up the pelleted feeds to twice a day. Within a week or two-his entire demeanor changed for the better-even though he is still thin.

    I’m a firm believer in open air, and pasture 24/7 with the three sided shed for shelter, and as much trail riding as we can get in-where I also always allow them to graze on the native grasses when I tell them to eat as we adventure. I have never been a fan of the training module of not letting them eat on the trail…I just make sure it is my idea and I have no problems with constant grass snatching or disobedient stopping.

    I agree that genetics are a creeping and insidious variable in this- as longevity and soundness are not at the top of the list for priorities in genetics-but color, appearance (to our eyes) and specific performance conformation abilities. It does not surprise me that it is showing up in mustangs as well-because there has always been interbreeding of domestic and wild horses…It has happened in dogs as well-with mutts showing up with all the sad traits that pure breeds have been known for over the years.
    Thank-you for sharing. And thank-you for listening too!

    1. There is a lot here Claire and I’m not sure if I agree with everything you mention. Goats are ruminants and are fed differently than hind gut fermenting horses. What exactly are the expressions of the mineral deficiencies you see? Thiamine is Vitamin B-1 – what do the horses show as a deficiency Of B-1? I’m not a fan of feeding byproducts to horses including sugar beet pulp. What are the ingredients of the pellet you “flesh out” the sugar beet pulp with? Soybean oil is inflammatory in the human gut and I assume it is also inflammatory in the horse. Where is the protein in your feeding program?

      I plan on writing a blog on genetics but in a nutshell, the genetics aren’t the real problem but the expression of the genes via the epigenome. I know, what?? But what you eat can affect the expression of the genes and what is fed is all we can control.

  8. Thanks so much for your input, your findings and your recommendations. I’m using Triple Crown 30 as a ration balancer (as recommended by an equine nutritionist.) Every thing you’ve said and recommended makes perfect sense. One of my geldings (the more sensitive one; the herd “lookout”) has off & on “squirts” and sometimes cow plop poops. So we are definitely going grain-free–and no more treats! Usually I have alfalfa pellets in my pocket as treats, but like you said, they really don’t need it; just nice praise and a rub will do. The Selenium issue is so very interesting, plus I’m getting rid of the red salt blocks. By the way, the above mentioned gelding licks his salt block much more than all the others. Thanks again. also…I went to a hoof care clinic with Pete Ramey years ago, and we were talking about horse health, feeding, hoof care, etc. and all the stuff we throw at them, including hoof supplements. He joked and said actually, all they need is 2 sticks and a rock–to get his point across that they didn’t need a majority, if any, of all the supplements we think they do. haha

  9. What are some acceptable treats for horses? Can they eat peanuts?

    1. Peanuts in the shell are a common treat for horses and is what I recommend if you MUST feed a treat. A kind word and a gentle touch work well too and cost nothing. I do not like sugar cubes, carrots, apples or “cookies” as all are inflammatory to some degree.

  10. Are there any acceptable non-grain non-sugary treats for horses? If peanut hay is ok, what about peanuts? Thank you for all this great information!

    1. Peanuts in the shell are a common treat for horses and is what I recommend if you MUST feed a treat. A kind word and a gentle touch work well too and cost nothing. I do not like sugar cubes, carrots, apples or “cookies” as all are inflammatory to some degree.

  11. Where are you finding soybean meal? I only se it available by the ton, or in a 3lb. bag sold as fertilizer. Would that be safe to feed to horses? thank you so much for all the great information!

    1. Never use the SBM made as fertilizer as a feed for any animal as it has other ingredients added that you do not want to feed to animals.

      SBM is a common feed for hogs and other livestock. Call feed stores up to an hour away and you will find it. Usually about $20 for a 50 pound bag (or more $ for non-GMO or organic).

  12. I give my horse a little bit of LMF gentle balance which says no grain. They get grass and a little alfalfa. I keep having issues where their poop is normal but they fart liquid. Sometimes it is a lot and sprays. I have tried prebiotic, probiotics, Purina outlast gastric support, smart digest…… it is only my two mares. The gelding seems fine and they all get the same thing. It’s only been the last couple years and what they get has been the same for the last 6 years.

    1. I call this “the squirts.” In some sensitive horses anything can cause this. I have seen the red mineral salt licks cause it as well as carrots with no grain in the diet.

      The elimination diet (only grass, water and mined salt) should be tried to see if any removed ingredient was the cause. If things clear up and you want to add back the LMF gentle balance then do only this and observe. I do not like ANY ration balancer as most have several inflammatory ingredients.

  13. I have a question. If you notice a difference in your horse after removing the grain, you said it takes 6 weeks to heal the gut. After the 6 weeks do you start re-introducing grain again? Or do they stay off the grain forever?

    1. All grains are inflammatory to the gut of horses therefore you remain off of all grain and grain byproducts to retain the success you find after going no-grain. The “6 weeks to heal” comment is for some horses that take longer to get the results. Most owners see an immediate improvement while a few take several weeks for a slower response.

  14. We currently have a 4 year old Belgian mare that stretches out and spreads hind legs and lifts her tail looking like a pee stance but is in pain. However she will still bolt/run at another mare if she’s mad at them and looks fine doing that. I have been doing some research and think it maybe EPSM or Shivers. Her weight is fine and she seems to be healthy other than these episodes. I have been doing some research and thinking about pulling her off our grain (500lb oats, 300lb corn, 100lb Kent supplement, 50lb soy oil, 50lb molasses per 1,000lb of feed). She is in foal though and changing her diet this late in pregnancy has me a little worried. We are also thinking about giving her another Selenium/Vitamin E shot. We usually only do one in the late spring but thinking maybe trying another for her. Do you think pulling her off the grain this far into pregnancy may be an issue?

    1. I do not think removing all grain in a pregnant mare is a problem. It seems that you already have a problem with this posturing. EPSM and shivers look different but your vet can rule these in or out. I can’t from here. The ingredients you gave here are all inflammatory. More importantly, feeding a mare in the last trimester is really feeding the foal. This is the primary cause of developmental orthopedic diseases in foals (OCD, contracted tendons, bent legs, epiphysis, etc). The WORST thing that will happen in a pregnant mare that has the grain removed is that the mare loses fat revealing the chronic protein deficiency in the form of a lost top line. Adding a protein source such as soybean meal will help the mare in all facets of delivery and nursing.

      Selenium is an interesting subject. You might measure her Se blood levels before you inject E-Se. I never found the injection which I gave 30 days prior to foaling had any improvement in retained placentas or dystopias. In fact many without an E-Se shot delivered without complications. But this is a matter between you and your vet.

  15. I have a 26 year old Arabian gelding with a heart murmur and Cushings. We are a year and a half post surgery for a pendiculated lipoma at Cornell University. 6′ of interestine was removed followed by an exploratory surgery 10 days later due to a backslide in recovery. Nothing was found to be wrong, he was healing internally very well and made a full recovery and was released after a 20 day hospitalization. The surgeon recommended staying on a senior feed and nothing less than second cut grass hay as they were skeptical if he could digest first cutting again. He is on a low NSC senior feed and second cut hay. He has had a bout of laminitis and gas colic so I have to be cautious with how much grass he eats and when. We are also very cautious changing his diet or adding anything new but if he could go grain free and still have a diet that is complete in nutrition requirements, I would prefer it. I live in upstate NY and our ground is selenium deficient. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

    1. I cannot comment on a specific case especially one that has gone through 2 surgeries and is 26 years old. Please be very cautious in any changes and work with your veterinarian to understand any risks with a diet change.

      Everyone in EVERY state (seriously every state) says their soil is low in Selenium (Se). I think this is a myth. A vet who follows me found a study of deer in NY that all had normal levels of Se. I just don’t believe that Se is a problem.

      My belief is that horses can get what they need for the ingredients horses were developed to eat: grass and a variety of ground plants. Horses confined to a mono grass pasture and fed 1 or 2 types of last summer’s grass (hay) don’t do as well. Add inflammatory grain and byproducts on top of this and bad things happen. But after 26 years and 2 colic surgeries, any change away from what his gut microbes are used to may not give you the results you are looking for.

  16. With this philosophy how do you get all the vitamins and minerals necessary into the daily diet? I have my hay tested and it is no complete with all needs. I too believe in a high forage diet however I still feed a non GMO ration balancer for vitamins and minerals.

    Also, I love coolstance and renew gold but again these products don’t balance all nutritional needs with forage so again there is the question. Also, you say no rice and no beet pulp….renew gold is a rice product and beet pulp helps hind gut troubles. Actually the only way I found to keep the gut good is adding alfalfa and beet pulp, can you comment on this as well?


    1. Please read all my blogs here: TheEquinePractice.com/feed or enroll in my nutrition course. There you will find a discussion on vitamins and minerals. Also join the private Facebook group “The Horse’s Advocate.”

      All vitamins are made by the gut bacteria (except D). It is a big misconception that vitamins come from food. The food supports the gut bacteria and if this is wrong and a dysbiosis occurs then there will be a vitamin deficiency. However it is rare to see a vitamin deficiency in horses other than in starvation cases. Mineral come from water and from a mined salt source. Again it is rare to have a mineral deficiency other than starvation or excessive sweating (thumps). Unfortunately most ration balancers have inflammatory ingredients (even non-GMO) which promotes chronic protein deficiency. Most people including your listing of ingredients never mention a broad spectrum source of amino acids (good protein source). Protein is the most essential ingredient and from protein almost all things are made including vitamins.

      Alfalfa is a legume as well as soybeans from which soybean meal is made. these have been fed to horses for a very long time with an exceptional safety and efficiency record. But sugar beet pulp is a byproduct of the sugar beet industry and is a recent addition to horse feeds. It is not a natural feed for horses in any form, GMO or not. Rice bran is a byproduct of the conversion of whole rice to white rice. Both of these byproducts were being thrown out until they found a home with horse owners looking for something to add to make their horses “go better.” Yet during this search they conveniently forgot about 1) the effects of feeding starch (sugar) daily year round and 2) chronic protein deficiency caused by the daily feeding of starch.

      Some say that beep pulp is a resistant starch that feeds the hind gut bacteria. I believe in resistant starches especially in horses and humans that need to support their hind gut. If your horse needs sugar beet pulp to aid in the health of the hind gut then fine. But I would also ask why is the hind gut needing support especially from a product that is unusual for horses. I human medicine they are discovering that a low Vitamin D (actually D is a hormone and not a vitamin) is leading to poor sleep which leads to poor body recovery and repair. adding a lot of Vet D leads to a Vet B deficiency as the gut bacteria cannot keep up with the repairs being made during the newly increased deep restorative sleep.

      See how complicated this is? So trust the system and feed it correctly. Adding vitamins and minerals and byproducts may, for many horses, actually cause more problems. We just don’t know. And then there is the epigenetics of individual horses. This is where the genes are signaled by the environment including the food to either express or to suppress gene expression. People with Lyme disease that don’t respond to antibiotics are learning all about epigenetics once they find out they really have toxic mold poisoning. Both cause the same expression of the genes that show symptoms of Lyme.

      Start with feeding only what a horse developed the gut to eat. Replace what is missing (protein). Add back, one at a time, an ingredient that you think your horse is missing – not the miss-mash of a ration balancer. The process might take a year or 2 so be patient and write it all down in a journal.

      1. I couldn’t find where to jump on with comments so I hope you see this. I had several horses with Heaves. I tried all the chemicals The vet sold me but it wasn’t helping much. I studied all I could (wish I had run across you back then). I read that grains in people cause inflammation and pondered that if does that in humans why not in horses? I took all my horses off grains, switched to pelleted grass / alfalfa served in small quantities in addition to grass hay and daily turn out ). have not had an outbreak in my barn over 5 years. I do feed vitamins but I’m starting to re-think that, too. Each horse has Redmond Rock in their stalls. Some devour it like candy, others do not. Most blocks of Redmond weights about 10 lbs.

        I’m so glad I finally found you.

  17. I have a horse who I have struggled with for years with stomach and hind gut ulcers. He is currently on a grain diet. Do you consider Coolstance a grain? Or would that be okay to feed? I am wanting to try this but would still like to keep him on his supplement and I know he will not eat it plain. What are you thoughts on alfalfa pellets? Could that be an alternative for mixing in supplements?
    I currently have him on Assurance Gi Soothe 1lb am and pm, grass round bale outside (winter months), pasture in summer. Alfalfa hay at night. He is on Kentucky Equine Research’s supplement RiteTract.

    1. Coolstance is shredded coconut meat which can be a non-inflammatory fat source for horses, especially very old horses, that need to add fat to their bodies. I recommend it to all underweight horses 25 years or older who are facing winter and need an extra bit of help. I usually recommend discontinuing it once green pasture returns.

      Almost every supplement has inflammatory ingredients. I do not recommend any vitamin or mineral supplements. All vitamins are made by the healthy gut bacteria and the minerals come from water, a mined salt source and forage.

      If your horse has any kind of gut ulcers then your horse has a dysfunctional gut microbiome and the number 1 reason for this dysbiosis is feeding inflammatory ingredients (grain and grain byproducts). Get the gut microbes right and the ulcers will resolve. The one exception is in stomach ulcers where you need to fill the stomach with pasture or hay before exercising them.

      Alfalfa pellets are OK for horses but be careful not to feed too many pellets of anything at once as some horses will choke unless they are moistened.

      Please read my blogs at TheEquinePractice.com/feed for further informations and consider enrolling in the nutrition course to dig in deeper.

      1. You mention in these comments that you’re not a fan of seeds – flax or otherwise – but you don’t say exactly why except that you consider them inflammatory. Everything I read is that they are anti-inflammatory (omega 3). Do the hulls have lectin then? After treating ulcers on both my TBs (and going grain and sugar free myself) I took them off rice bran and switched to ground flax over alfalfa pellets. They are currently on pasture from 8am-8pm but we are in California where we have grass from Dec-May and then it’s pretty dry and non-nutritious (but plentiful in their pasture). At night they get crappy orchard hay in nets with the alfalfa pellets and California Trace. My younger horse gets magnesium and an amino acid supplement for calming. He is sensitive, tense, doesn’t like to be touched and back sore. Older guy is chronically laminitic in one (club) foot and can’t grow any toe. During summer/fall they also get aloe Vera juice with herbs (licorice, marshmallow, slippery elm) since the daytime feed is not providing much. After the ulcers I worry. But I’m wondering now if I stop the flax I may not have to do anything else?? Selenium is an issue in California so the trace mins might be necessary… I’d love some more info on flax specifically, do you have blog posts about this?

        1. Please read all of the blogs here. Omega 3 oils is a misunderstood but popular subject in humans. Where would a horse get their Omega’s The answer is that the Omega’s are fatty acids and the gut bacteria break down the cellulose of the “non-nutritious” pasture into fatty acids (see my blog The High Fat Diet ).

          Every one says their state is low in selenium (Se). EVERY STATE has written this to me. Where is the proof? Where are the Se deficient horses? Why are there studies done of Se levels in the wild animals that find normal Se levels? This (my state is low in Se) is a myth as far as I am concerned.

          Finally, I do not see an adequate protein source in your horse’s diet. Please read Chronic Protein Deficiency In Horses and The Importance Of Protein.

          I am not a fan of California Trace as there are inflammatory ingredients and I do not believe that a horse on adequate protein needs a mineral supplement.

          1. Ha ha, thank you! Some people around here have done blood tests for selenium, no deficiencies, but I HAVE seen tests come back for deficiencies in Vitamin E (I’m guessing your response will be that it has something to do with lack of protein…!) If I’m really worried I guess I can test the blood yearly to reassure myself. For now I have been reading the blogs and just ordered the soybean meal, have stopped flax and CA Trace but I”m having trouble (mentally) putting down the magnesium and the other (amino acid) calming supplement…I’m also finishing out the aloe with herbs. I will report as the SBM starts making a difference.

          2. Thanks for trying this Sylvie. Just 2 weeks and you will see for yourself that you don’t need the Mg to calm your horses. Removing the dicalcium phosphate will take care of that! All the amino acids you feed in the calming mix are in the soybean meal.

            Vitamin E could be either from gut inflammation or a protein deficiency – or both. We tend to add (supplement) rather than look for the reason why they are deficient in E. By the way, are we sure the “normal” level is normal? While the test says “low,” what does the horse say?

  18. Have you looked into the feeding of CHIA seed to boost protein and omega 3’s magnesium and calcium? Feeding this to weanlings along with vitamin E supplement (Elevate WS) who are otherwise on hay (no pasture available in Vermont in winter).

    1. No I have not had a reason to look for another source of protein. SBM has a safety and efficacy record of half a century, is inexpensive and is abundant. It is a legume which is a natural feed for horses. I don’t worry about Omega 3 oil or minerals or vitamins because all of these come from either a healthy gut microbiome (not feeding inflammatory ingredients), water, mined salt and forage.

      It is a mistake to think that you have no pasture. The cellulose of dormant winter grass and of the hay become the fats and oils the horse needs to thrive in winter. See my blogs about carbohydrates, fats and cellulose at TheEquinePractice.com/feed. My premise with the no grain diet is that we add too much which disrupts the gut microbe environment. By feeding the horse only what they were developed to eat they will restore themselves back to health and your wallet will be restored back to wealth.

  19. Too many comments to read all of them. One easy question: when you say salt… not a salt block? How do I know I am giving the right kind of salt please?

    1. But the good nuggets of info are in the comments and my answers! There are not “too many comments,” just not enough time in your day!

      Use mined salt – this means salt that comes from a mine. Ex Himalayan. White salt blocks are just sodium and chloride (usually) and trace mineral red salt blocks have molasses and corn syrup – both are inflammatory.

      1. I agree with you 100% and see the proof in my own horse! After suffering a bout of laminitis 1 1/2 years ago I took my 8 year old qh mare off of all grains and started her on a good protein(about 17%), low sugar hay diet with Himalayan salt and water only. The difference is amazing! Her hooves are strong and soles are cupped like they’ve never been before, her mane and tail have grown in thicker and faster than before and she has a beautiful shine all year round…even with a thick winter coat! I haven’t been feeding a mineral/vitamin supplement as I figured she didn’t need one and after reading your comment about minerals being in the water I now feel good about that decision. Thanks for such a great article and all the excellent info!

      2. Hello, I have been working with two vets but am.looking for some more ideas. I had an old mare that’s been out on the for the last five years. Always did fine. Goes out to pasture with 200 head of beef cattle during the summer, in the fall they would throw haylage out to the cows and fresh hay for the mare. This fall the lessor noticed her starting in with diarrhea while only being out on pasture grass but after they had thrown haylage for the cattle. They then brought her into a smaller pasture for the winter. Over a matter of a month she dropped about 200 to 300 pounds. She would only eat the charger blue seal grain they were feeding her and would not touch first or second crop hay. They gave her ivermectin, this seemed to slightly help for about a week and then back to very bad diarrhea. She has been back with me for just over a month. I had her teeth done which improved her eating hay. I took her off charger and put her on purina equine senior, alfalfa pellets and a small amount of nutrena empower balance because it is 30 percent protein. I also added elevate vit e and selenium as that is something horses lack in maine according to one of my vets. She will not eat beer pulp wet but will dry but shouldnt have it dry. Same with alfalfa pellets but I am running out of options with her. I gave her probios but she hates it. Today I am starting a round of fenbendazole for 5 days as suggested. But I am looking for some new ideas. She is 27 years old and a quarter horse. I dont think i could do the no grain diet as I’m afraid she would drop weight again. We are in Maine and it is cold right now and she will only eat about 2 flakes of hay before she wastes the rest, I do always give her a little.more than she ends up eating. I have a salt lick for her as suggested by vet to absorb some.of the water she drinks as she will easily go through 10 gallons over a 12 hour period… today Frank down all 5 gallons in less than 3 hours and refilled 10 more gallons to go her over night…. any ideas or suggestions would be appraciated.

        1. I am not your vet and cannot comment on your horse specifically. You need to ask your vet to test the urine at least for specific gravity but a complete urinalysis will help. It sounds like diabetes insipidus which is a dysfunction of the pituitary. In my opinion this is caused by chronic protein deficiency which I have written about extensively in my protein blogs found here: TheEquinePractice.com/feed. I also have a 1 hour webinar on pituitary dysfunction under “HorseTalk” on my website TheHorsesAdvocate.com.

          The leading cause of protein deficiency is feeding grain (explained in the blogs). Also the digestive tract of horses is completely different than cattle (and all ruminants) – see the blog “Grazers versus browsers.” Haylage is fermented hay which some horses can do well with but in others it alters the normal colon gut bacteria which will cause diarrhea.

          All ration balancers are filled with inflammatory ingredients and should be avoided in horses. While 30% protein looks good on the tag it is misleading for 3 reasons. 1) Much of the protein is from alfalfa which drops the 30 to 15 due to bioavailability. 2) Because of the inflammatory ingredients much of the protein never gets digested. 3) You don’t feed enough to make a difference. Read the blog on feeding protein to learn how much and of what to feed. Also consider enrolling in the nutrition course mentioned in each blog if you really want to dig in deep. But all the info you need will be in the blogs.

          Finally, you cannot base your feeding choices on fear. You must base them on what is right for the horse. Find out if your horse was overweight by 200 pounds and what you saw was lost fat. This can be good but is shocking because you then see the chronic loss of muscle that has been occurring for years underneath the layer of fat. Grazing in abundant fields during the summer will add fat from the high starch in the forage. The purpose of this is to add fat for the upcoming winter. Then they lose the fat but retain the muscle as their diet transitions from high starch to high cellulose (winter pasture). This is all in my blogs.

          Your description of being a picky eater, preferring sugar (grain) over forage, increased urine output and water intake, weight loss and the diarrhea all seem to point to a chronic nutritional issue. Things to consider is diabetes insipidus, medullary washout from the increased salt intake, chronic protein deficiency due to lack of protein in the pasture (usually 1 or 2 grasses and not an abundant variety of plants) and adding grain and a disrupted normal gut bacterial environment. Please take the time to understand how the equine digestive system works and then work with your vet to get your horse right. This would also include writing down clearly in your own words a list /description of all the things you are observing about her including appetite, condition and attitude. Focus on removing the gut inflammation first without the fear of her losing more weight. Weight loss is common with gut inflammation. Once she settles then start to add protein but get the kidneys and bring tested first. Come bake in a month or two with an update.

  20. I am feeding alfalfa hay and grass, American Family Feed (alfalfa based) Nutrena Senior complete and renew gold. I also supplement with Formula 1 blue label and healthy coat oil. (Writing it out sure seems like a lot) Anyway, I haven’t really seen any problems per say, but he does switch back and forth on hind legs which I think is similar to an above post. Can you tell me what you think of the feed I am giving and if I do the no grain challenge, what I should add back if anything. Thank you, this has been very interesting to me.

    1. Every horse reacts differently to ingredients and medications given. Not all horses will show overt signs and many will only give subtle signs like yours. In today’s world people are always trying to add something in fear that in the environment their horse is living in, there is something missing. Another way to view this is that every ingredient added will have some effect on the gut system and the microbes there. The premise of the no grain challenge is to remove everything then wait and observe. In almost every case, doing less returns more in behavior and health.

      Give pasture, hay, water and mined salt (no treats or supplements) and watch what your horse does. It will take about a week for them to loose their gut inflammation and another week to prove to you that the new horse is a consistent one. During this time, read all the blogs here and get to understand the importance of adding protein. This is what is missing in almost every horse diet I see. When ready, add the protein (I suggest soybean meal) and write all of your observations down in a diary. In 1 to 6 months watch the transformation of your horse into something more like what you were trying to get before.

      PS – read ALL the comments in all the blogs to get many people’s opinion and to get any questions you have answered. Also join the private Facebook group “The Horse’s Advocate.”

  21. I am so glad you write this article. We have a barn of reining horses in full time training but never used to feed grain – just free choice alfalfa and loose mineral. After a relocation and change in hay source, we began feeding some grain for that “extra bloom”. We soon had a barn full of issues. 18 months we kept feeding various professionally-prescribed grain/supp regimins – plus ulcergaurd, sucralfate, sand clear, IR meds, probiotics, succeed, calcium carbonate, and literally all variety of goodies on the market to promote health. We had stall monsters, poor doers, non-bloomers, ulcer issues, lameness issues etc. We had one youngster that had ulcers so bad it was lame (tho at the time, the vet diagnosis and treatment was joint injections and 30 days off.) It was not until we quit all grain cold turkey that things miraculously turned around. Renew Gold + free choice alfalfa + free choice loose mineral and we have a barn full of bloomy, sound, good footed quiet horses. THANK YOU for confirming what we experienced. You are right on the money. (Just wish I’d have read this 2 years ago!!)

    1. Thank you for this comment – it will help others reading this blog. By the way, I am from now on using the expression “Stall Monsters!”

      Succeed is owned by John Hall who is a friend of mine. We meet every December at the AAEP conference and I tell him how I am trying to put him out of business. He laughs and wishes me gook luck, but as long as people are feeding grain he will remain in business. He is a big fan of my blogs and reads every one of them saying I’m “Spot on” (with a few tweaks). He will be glad that you are no longer feeding grain and therefore do not need his product.

  22. I have a 25 year old Throughbreed that is on stall rest for a minimum of 3 months due to a torn (peroneus tertius?) tendon, I believe that is the correct name for it anyway. He has been on a no grain diet for going on a year. He gets 5-6 flakes of Orchard hay and 1/2 -1 flake of alfalfa daily. He also gets 1/4 scoop, 1 scoop Vita Flex Pro Accel Lifetime Pellets, and a scoop DAC digestive aid. I have been giving him the digestive aid since his colic surgery last December. He has stoped eating his alfalfa pellets (I believe its the dac he isn’t a fan of).

    What chages to his diet would you recomend? I want to make sure hes getting everything he needs, espicially while we are trying to heal this tendon injury.

    1. Hi Amelia and so sorry to hear about your horse’s hind tendon rupture. I hope he is not too painful.

      All tendons need a full spectrum of the essential amino acids. You can read all about them in my blogs on protein. This is a MUST for you to read to understand as well as the other blogs to see why it happened in the first place.

      Tendons are connective tissue which is all protein and are built with primarily the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. These as well as all the other amino acids are found in soybean meal (SBMN). This is why I would suggest feeding SBM at at least 1 pound per day for a 1200 pound horse. Increase this to 2 pounds per day per 1200 pounds if he likes it and until healing occurs.

      It is also important to remove all inflammatory ingredients from the diet as this causes protein deficiencies in the first place. Both of the products you are adding have inflammatory ingredients including wheat middlings, (maize) distillers dried grains with solubles, corn oil, mineral oil, cane molasses and artificial flavors (see the ingredient lists for both). In addition, chelation of minerals is the body’s natural regulatory mechanism for mineral absorption so I don’t believe in adding chelated minerals. The reason for any mineral deficiency is probably due to a low number of amino acids in the diet used in chelation. Horses that are not sweating or bleeding usually don’t need minerals. Vitamins are made by bacteria and if the inflammatory ingredients are removed then the horse will have all the vitamins he needs. The exception would be vitamin D which he needs sun exposure to get.

      Seeing that your riding time has been shortened, take that time to read all the nutrition blogs. You will find that the best thing to do for this and all horses is to remove all inflammatory ingredients and add soybean meal until the protein levels have been restored.

  23. I have a 29yo QH mare with Cushings, diagnosed at age 20. She has diahorrea constantly & has had it on and off for years, particularly in Winter. Vets have stated it is a combination of winter/old age/reaction to Pergolide scours. I have tried everything! The last fecal testing revealed no Bacteria, zero worms & minimal sand. She is of good body weight , happy and still trail ridden on occassion. She is on 10ml of Pergolide per day. I am in Australia and she is fed 1 biscuit of Meadow Hay & 1 biscuit of Lucerne in the morning and 1 biscuit of Meadow Hay and a hard feed of Wheaten chaff, Speedibeet, salt, calcium, vitamin & mineral suppliment & an Omega 3 & 6 oil. She only had access to grass a few times a week for around an hour. If I remove the Beetpulp from her diet I am worried she will loose condition. What else could/should I feed her and should I continue feeding the suppliments as stated?

    1. Hi Merridee and thanks for this question. Intermittent diarrhea is a problem for a lot of horses and there have been several ways to get it cleared up. Unfortunately no one way works for all horses. This is what wee now call “epigenetics” where each individual horse has a different expression of their genes to the same triggers. Adding a daily medication doesn’t help and in fact is included in the triggers.

      I believe that there are 2 issues. The first is gut inflammation causing a leaking gut where things that should remain inside the intestines leak into the body. This will cause an imbalance in water in the gut which leads to diarrhea. This is often seen as “squirts” or “dribble” at the end of defection but can also lead to “cow flop” consistency and even projectile diarrhea. All of these can be without any signs of illness from the horse. In these cases, removal of all offending ingredients is needed to remove the gut inflammation. With epigenetics, what one ingredient does for one horse (nothing) can do something else for another (diarrhea). The second is a dysbiosis of the gut bacteria. This means that the resident gut microbes are either abnormal or they have shifted position in the gut tube. This will also cause diarrhea as well as vitamin deficiencies (the gut microbes make the vitamins).

      The idea behind the elimination diet is to remove everything but forage for about 2 weeks to see if the diarrhea clears up. I had 2 horses on the same field and same hay that both had projectile diarrhea. Only the removal from the pasture cleared up the diarrhea. Hmmm….. After the elimination of all ingredients and assuming the diarrhea stops, add back one ingredient at a time and wait 2 weeks. If the manure is OK then add back another ingredient.

      As far as the pergolide goes, I have a theory that you will need to work with your vet on. I believe that PPID (Cushing’s disease) is a neurodegenerative disease (also this was said at the 2018 AAEP meeting). Several horses have been able to be removed from pergolide with the direction of their vet once a protein source was added. See the comments under the protein blogs and in the private Facebook group “The Horse’s Advocate.”

      If the gut bacteria are healthy and are normal in population then there is no need for vitamin supplementation. Unless your horse sweats a lot or has bled a lot then she should be getting all the minerals she needs from water and forage. Sugar beet pulp is a byproduct of the sugar beet industry and is a new feed for horses. Maybe it is inflammatory for your mare. Many horses that are “hard keepers” start to thrive and gain weight after inflammatory ingredients are removed from the diet. Most Omega oils come from fish which is not a normal food for horses. What I see lacking is protein. See the blogs on protein for more information.

      In today’s age of marketing we all feel the need to ADD something. But in reality we need to REMOVE things and restore gut health to where it was intended over several hundred thousand years of development. While 29 years is considered old, it is not too old to see beneficial changes from diet changes. Of all the 25+ year old horses that have changed diets, the worst result is that nothing happened. It turns out this pony was still being fed carrots by someone. Remember to stop feeding all treats during the elimination period. carrots, sugar cubes and cookies are ALL ingredients that need to be accounted for.

  24. Hi there! I just stumbled upon your post and its insightful!

    One of my horses, he poos on the wall of his stall. He has no sugars or sweet feed. And his feed is phase V and enhancer from the company BROOKS FEED.

    He has no bad behaviour in any way. Or any other bad tempers or tantrums. He a really happy horse. But the pooping directly on the wall i find that a bit alarming.

    could it be ulcers?

    1. Any inflammatory ingredient can cause a dysbiosis of the colon and hence the diarrhea. Try the 2 week no grain challenge where all they eat is forage (grass / hay), water and mined salt. Most “enhancers” have inflammatory ingredients. Read all the blogs for more information.

  25. I have a couple of Qs about the timing of my no-grain challenge…. In couple of weeks my three horses (all currently at different barns) will be moving to new barn, and it might be great time to start no-grain challenge. The new barn has far better grass pasture than the current barns. I’d assumed that I would need to gradually lengthen their turnout to adjust to the better forage. Is there anything about the no-grain challenge that should change my thinking on that? Also, one horse will be graduating to better hay – she’s currently mainly on fescue, but at new barn will be getting timothy-orchard mix (with some alfalfa, as recommended in the no-grain challenge). Same question – is there anything about the no-grain challenge that would affect the way I change her to the higher-grade hay? Thanks!

    1. The idea behind removing grain and grain byproducts as well as supplements is to remove all causes of inflammation to the gut. This is step one in restoring the health of horses in all aspects. This includes the ability to change environments and diets as you are describing here. Based on this, removing the grain is not stressful to the horse but actually reduces the stress.

      It is always a good idea to introduce horses slowly to a new pasture. The reason behind this is the changes to the gut microbiome from a change in the forage. Sudden changes to that environment can lead to digestive upsets. However, removing grain before this change occurs you allow the “good” bacteria to reestablish in the gut while removing the “bad” bacteria. This will increase the mucopolysaccharide lining the gut which protects it from changes in sugar content of the grass and hay. This will soften the effects of a sudden change in forage.

      Horse owners often “grade” their pasture and hay and use relative terms such as “better,” “lush,” or “poor.” All forage is made up of starch and cellulose. The starch (NSC or non-structural carbohydrate) is digested by the horse into glucose (sugar) and the cellulose (SC or structural carbohydrate) is digested by the gut bacteria into short chain fatty acids (butyrate or fat). Therefore all forage (pasture or hay) has a NSC to SC ratio and this is what makes a forage richer or poorer in sugar content. If the gut bacteria are close to normal for a forage diet (less starch fed due to the removal of high starch grains AND a better gut wall due to less inflammation from the feeding of oils and byproducts) then they will be more effective in digesting the cellulose of any forage. This will release more short chain fatty acids into their systems which protects the gut lining, provides more quiet energy, enhances body fat loss and creates satiation.

      Your questions are great! My answer would be to do the no grain challenge before moving to heal any inflammation in the gut and provide an optimal gut environment for the new pasture / hay. Take a week to transition the horses to the new pasture and hay by bringing with you some of their current hay. My rule of thumb has always been this for pasture change: 15 min on day 1, 30 on day 2, 60 min on day 3, 2hr on day 4, 4 hr on day 5, 8 hr on day 6 and full turnout on day 7. For the hay, divide the days into the hay: 1/7 new hay and 6/7ths old hay on day one, 2/7 new and 5/7 old on day 2, etc. This is arbitrary I know and you will need to closely watch each horse for any troubles especially if they are metabolic or have insulin resistance / laminitis. EVERY HORSE OWNER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OBSERVING AND CLOSLY MONITORING THESE TRANSITIONS. Using this guide and going no grain will help.

      Please return here and reply to this comment after you have moved with your observations and comments for all of us to learn from your experience. Thanks in advance, Doc T

  26. I bought my current gelding in August 2018. I had him on sweet feed which is what he was already on. He started losing weight even after I increased his hay and feed so I switched his feed in late December or early January to a senior feed. He put his weight back on but has coliced 3 times since then. He is currently at the vet. He is only eating about 2 pounds a day along with 12 hours of turn out on good coastal Bermuda grass. He also gets some alfalfa hay and some coastal hay when he is stalled. I have fed other horses just like this with absolutely no problems. Could that small amount of feed be causing this? He is a wonderful horse but I can’t afford to keep treating colic. I’m thinking of taking him off the grain but I just don’t know. He doesn’t have ulcers. He is 17. Mostly a pet. As a side note. He has moved a lot in the last year or so.


    1. This small amount can absolutely cause these problems. I have seen the removal of carrots from the diet in horses and in others the removal of red mineral salt licks return the hors to normal gut function. The removal of grain has caused weight gain in hard keepers. Give it a try and record everything

  27. I had decided to discontinue grain for my pasture pets even before I read the posts. I am however considering alfalfa pellets. I won’t feed them dry as my mare choked when I tried it just once. Thankfully I was there to stroke her throat until the pellets were dislodged. Due to the harsh winter in the midwest and the winter kill of many hay fields it is hard to find good hay. So what are the concerns about hay pellets or cubes (other than not feeding dry)? Even feeding wet causes some concern. Sorry if this topic has already been addressed.

    1. Pasture is always the best food for horses. To help horses survive severe winters we started to harvest the summer grass and legumes making hay. In recent years manufacturers have found ways to store good crops of hay as chopped, cubed and pelleted. The advantages include drying, adding mold resistors, adding pelleted ingredients and homogenizing the product. All of these can be good but there may be disadvantages. These include using moldy hay which can be covered up. Some of the added pelleted ingredients may be inflammatory or unnecessary such as molasses. And as you mentioned, many horses have choked on cubes and pellets.

      For horses with poor dentition (older horses with missing teeth) these products have extended their lives when they have been soaked.

      Remember that horses have done well for hundreds of thousands of years eating “poor” pasture because of their large hind gut that ferments the cellulose into fat. This is a much better fuel than glucose from starch which is more abundant in “good” pasture. Hay follows this same thought. What I call “poor” hay is moldy and dusty. Washing this hay can help. When a horse eats a high cellulose and low starch (sugar) hay they will eat less of it because they gain a more efficient fuel. If fed an added source of broad variety amino acids (soybean meal) then they become even more satiated because they no longer need to hoover the pasture / hay looking for the amino acids they need.

      The drawback of poor pasture and hay is when the horse owner sees their horses not eating in winter and the fat being removed from their backs. They fear the horse is loosing weight without understanding that this loss is normal. More importantly when they start consuming the body fat, the mitochondria in the cells are regenerating, the protein is being preserved and the horse is becoming healthier. It is the ebb and flow of life.

      Adding some alfalfa pellets or cubes will add some protein but it isn’t as broad in amino acids as soybean meal nor is it absorbed as well. Feed them wet or only a handful at a time. Buy only quality manufactured products without additives. Most machined products have an inflammatory oil (vegetable oil, soybean oil, canola oil, etc) added to lubricate the machine.

  28. What are your thoughts on the Crypto Aero feed? I have a 13 year old barrel horse that will not eat grain, period. We buy a complete feed and she picks at it but will eat all the hay you put in front of her.

    1. Crypto Aero is a responsible feed manufacturer with a great grain product, if you want to feed grain.

      I find the second part of your comment fascinating because your horse is basically saying to you that she doesn’t feel good AFTER eating grain. Think of it this way. If flying in an airplane makes our stomach sick, will you willingly board another plane? The way I see it, your mare knows better than to eat inflammatory foods.

      However I understand why you want to feed grain. Many think their competition horse needs this extra energy boost. The sugars in grain are actually a poor fuel producing 20 times LESS energy than fat. Horses get their fat fuel from the cellulose in the plants they eat (pasture and hay). In addition, the grains will cause gut inflammation through the lectins which create a leaking gut. I describe all of these in the blogs and it is worth your time reading all of them. I also have a nutrition course where I lecture via video and then test you on your knowledge.

      Grain also upsets the mineral balance in horses triggering hyper excitability. This is not what you need in barrel racing. Rather a focused mind and an abundant energy supply will help shave off the time fractions. Grain’s inflammation will also prevent the absorption of protein and the cellular exhaustion from the poor fuel of sugar lead the the horse converting the protein it has into sugar. I know this sounds funny but it is the reason horses breakdown or become ill at the height of their career. Remember to add protein to her all hay diet.

      Your horse is preserving herself by rejecting grain. Unfortunately this is rare as most horses fed grain suffer from its effects at some point in their lives.

  29. I have a horse who said chronic diarrhea for three years. We have tried everything from Cocosoya, to probiotics, prebiotic’s minerals, supplements etc. the vet cannot figure it out she is fed grass and grass/alfalfa . No grain. Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on this she always seems very uncomfortable does not like to be touched. Thank you for your help.

    1. This is the same horse as in your other comment but you say here she is uncomfortable. Get some Succeed to determine if this is hind gut ulcers. Also stop feeding everything except the hay, Himalayan salt and water. No treats. Nothing. 10 days and see if she feels better. If so then it is gut inflammation. then look at the other things I mentioned in your other comment.

  30. I took my OTTB mare off grain Six months ago and switched her to alfalfa pellets, Cool Stance and Power Horse ( trace minerals) …. and guess what! No more ulcer problems, her weight is perfect and her shoeless hooves are hard and trouble free!!

    1. Fantastic!! And thank you for posting this here so others reading can learn from your experience. For those of you sitting on the fence about doing this, what are you waiting for?

      I recommend Coolstance as a noninflammatory source of fat for calories in older thin horses especially as winter approaches. But for routine feeding when there is green grass it may be too much for dome horses. Trace minerals is a common thing for horse owners to add but 1) is you horse showing signs of a mineral deficiency and 2) are you feeding enough protein so the minerals can become cheated to cross through the gut wall? I am not recommending adding any minerals even in selenium deficient areas because many deficiencies are a malabsorption issue and not a supply issue. Calm the gut inflammation and add a broad variety of amino acids and you probably will not need to feed vitamins or minerals. If anyone has proof that this is not good advice and is NOT associated with a vitamin / mineral company please reply here. In other words I believe that marketing rather than science is driving horse owners to spend on horse supplements that are not needed.

  31. I love reading your blogs, thanks!

    We’ve fed hay and grass only, with small meal of alfalfa pellets once daily for years. Once horse is 1400 lb, 17.2 and we’ve never had a weight issue with him. People comment on how healthy, shiny my horses are with nice toplines and they seem happy. I do wonder/worry about any needed supplements. I have fed Platinum Performance Equine in the past, do you see any negative ingredients: Flax Seed, Flax Oil, Rice Bran, Low Lactose Whey Protein Concentrate, Sunflower Seed, Cane Molasses, Performance Minerals™, Natural Vitamin E (d-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate), Calcium Carbonate, Mixed Tocopherols, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Glucosamine Sulfate 2KCl, Chromium Yeast, Selenium Yeast, L-Carnitine Tartrate, Zinc Gluconate, Magnesium Citrate, Manganese Citrate, Copper Gluconate, Cobalt Chelate, L-Lysine, Vitamin A, Vitamin D3, Iodine Chelate, dl-Methionine, Choline Bitartrate, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Biotin, Aloe Vera Concentrate, Vitamin B12, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid

    I know it lists molasses (but not enough to notice or taste … I’ve tried it) and whey protein concentrate – I think this would be different from wheat middlings, but not sure. Can you comment on these ingredients? I am willing to try the ProAdd Ultimate if you still recommend it. Thanks for your feedback.

    1. There are a lot of inflammatory ingredients and many unnecessary ones too. If your horse looks good already why add these? Does your horse have any mineral or vitamin deficiencies? Probably not but most owners are concerned that they might be missing something. They are covering the bases justifying it by saying that there is no harm in adding these ingredients. With many horses there is no “harm” evident but some do bishop signs of inflammation.

      Remember that horses are grazers meaning they are supposed to eat plants that grow on the ground. If there are seeds available then they eat them, but they are not available year round so the gut has a chance to heal from the short periods of exposure. As you probably know from reading the other blogs here on nutrition, cellulose is converted by the hind gut bacteria into fats. Additionally the healthy gut bugs also help to make the vitamins. And minerals are in abundant supply in the water as well as the pasture and hay. However – with a low protein diet and where the proteins are being over consumed due to carbohydrate dependency, the minerals may not be absorbed, the vitamins may not be made and the horse may become over-fat. Alfalfa provides a lot of the necessary proteins AND an no grain diet preserves the existing protein (top line, hooves, etc). As long as the gut is not inflamed and there is some variety of protein, your horse should continue to look good.

      Whey protein in the isolate form is good but is expensive for the amount needed to feed a horse. Low lactose whey protein concentrate is the cheapest form of whey and has inflammatory ingredients at lease in humans. Whey protein is unrelated to wheat middlings which are the outer part of the wheat seed. I no longer recommend ProAdd or Calf Manna unless you absolutely cannot get straight soy bean meal. Be aware that these 2 products have inflammatory ingredients and grain. Soybean meal is a better choice to ensure your horse has a broad spectrum of amino acids.

      Be sure to read all the blogs at TheEquinePractice.com/feed.

      1. Thank you for your quick reply and useful info. I will make sure to read all the blogs. Sincerely, Vicky

  32. I would love to go this route–if only my boarding barn had grass pastures and/or quality hay (the hay hasn’t been analyzed but visibly the quality is inconsistent. I add alfalfa pellets.) I’d like to hear how others in boarding situations deal with this when they don’t have full control of how their horses are managed. (Difficult to find any boarding barns in my area that have sufficient grass, for instance.)

    1. Read my blogs about cellulose in hay and how what you say is poor quality hay is really a high fat diet with all the benefits of that. For me dusty hay is poor quality. So if there is no dust then don’t worry about any perceived quality. Remember this annual crop is now at the bottom of the quality pile. June is almost here.

      Many boarders prepare 1 meal of soybean meal plus alfalfa pellets. (1 pound of each for horses between 1000 and 1400 pounds) and feed that each day they visit. They also mount signs on the stall saying “NO GRAIN AND NO TREATS”.

  33. I basically have no pasture. Will access to coastal Bermuda hay in a round bale be sufficient for my horses? One horse is 28, the other 26 is a hard keeper. One of my mini’s is a hard keeper also.

    1. Hard keepers have responded well to the removal of inflammatory ingredients. In fact many gain weight after the grain is removed. However they may at first loose the fat they do have revealing the lost muscle underlying the fat. To add top line muscle add soybean meal. I have written extensively about protein loss and adding soybean meal. See my blogs and more importantly read the numerous comments in each blog.

  34. Just stumbled across your articles in an attempt to help my three, very different horses. My first horse is a 32 year old TB that was recently diagnosed with low grade PPID. She is NOT overweight…quite the opposite actually. Poor body score, muscle wasting etc. Vet suggested upping her grain and adding alfalfa pellets to her meals. She can still eat hay but it quite picky. She has access to pasture 24/7 but she shares it with two other horses so it’s not “rich” by any means. She is currently also on Pergolide. The vet seemed quite sure that she would gain some weight and topline back, but she hasn’t at all. She has on and off diarrhea. I’m really interested in all of your grain free options, but I see that you caution it in very old horses. What is best for an old horse like her? I want to do the best that I can for her!

    My second horse is a 26 year old standardbred. He’s also recently lost a ton of topline/muscle although his weight is decent. He is lame due to a number of ailments and currently not ridden, but I’m also interested in the best type of feed for him. He lives in the same situation as the TB, with 24/7 access to pasture and hay fed as needed.

    Third horse is a 15 year old QH. I’m definitely interested in the grain free route with this one! He’s a great weight, but has always seemed to lack a little topline. He’s long backed to begin with, but also tends to be back sore/often stiff starting out our rides. He does have navicular which is managed very well with a low starch diet (he’s on minimal grain). He also lives with the other two under the same conditions.

    Is it feasible to go “grain free” on the older horses? Is Coolstance the best protein option for all of them? I’ve read several of your articles and am thoroughly interested in doing the best for my horses!

    1. All 3 of your horses seem to have a protein deficiency: lost muscling, unsoundness, hormone dysfunctions and loss of use. The answer to all 3 horses is 1) eliminate gut inflammation by removing all grain and sugar treats, 2) add sufficient protein through the addition of soybean meal and 3) record everything in a daily log for each horse.

      The older horses will lose fat and will be perceived to be losing weight. The assumption that this is bad is wrong as the fat loss means they are converting to fat for energy. This is when the cells repair and the horse stops consuming their own muscle to survive. Doing the grain removal at this time of year with summer approaching is the BEST time for these older animals. Adding soybean meal will take 6 months or longer to achieve the desired results and that is perfect timing for the approach of winter.

      Coolstance is a non-inflammatory source of fat fuel. While it also has amino acids it is not as good a protein source as soybean meal because of the bioavailability and the spectrum of amino acids. It will help to add fat on the older horses for winter but with green grass and warm temperatures here now I would wait until fall before deciding to add anything else other than the soybean meal.

  35. Everyone in my barn has accepted my horse has a “strong inflammatory response” i.e. a mosquito bites him and he gets a massive lump or he gets a miniature scratch and the whole leg swells up or I use a dressage whip behind the leg with slightly too much flick and he gets a mark that looks as though I’ve beat him…I’ve always written it off that he’s a chestnut TB. Is that the same type of inflammation or otherwise related to the inflammation caused by gut dysfunction? Is it an indication of an ongoing problem? Since chestnuts do seem to have some sort of greater skin sensitivity in my experience, do chestnuts and/or TBs have any greater sensitivity/lower tolerance to grain than other breeds and colors? Just curious.

    I found myself feeding a mostly-grain free diet over the course of this winter and have been convinced after finding this to discontinue all of it. I’ll be curious if that “inflammatory response” changes…

    Why don’t more vets think this way?

    1. It is interesting, Lea, that my thinking has diverted from what most of my colleagues think about nutrition. But I kept asking, “Why?” After not getting any good answers, I started to research myself and found myself immersed in the world of restorative medicine in the human world. Most of what I talk about in horses is from human research within the last 3 to 10 years. Most importantly, these MD’s mostly move away from adding things and focus on restoring the body to the way things are supposed to function. I think more vets are moving in this direction though healthy horses will have a reduced need for vet care (reduced illness, colic, lameness).

      I agree that TB who are chestnut in color seem to be very skin sensitive. But most of them also have gut inflammation from feeding grain and they are also chronically protein deficient. In humans, some are finding that all autoimmune diseases are caused by lectins, the plant proteins made to injure those eating the seeds of these plants. All grains have these lectins and they cause gut leakage. Many of the lectins move on to other parts of the body inflaming joints (rheumatoid arthritis) or disrupting hormone function (insulin resistance). I agree with your thought that reducing gut inflammation may also reduce the skin sensitivity. At least it is worth pursuing. Please keep accurate notes over the next 6 months and be sure to add soy bean meal as a protein source to restore the amino acid reserves. Please read my other blogs if lectins and proteins seem new to confusing to you. TheEquinePractice.com/feed. Thanks for finding this blog and trying it on your horses. Doc T

  36. I also thought I fed very clean. Feed one cup of Coolstance and one cup rice bran a day and supplement with kelp, MSM, sprirulina, rosehips and garlic. Should I remove all of that for the no grain challenge? I have one horse that had severe ulcers. Sadly it took me and my vet a few years to figure it out, I thought he was just really lazy cause he just wouldn’t go when riding. We treated the ulcers with Omeprazole for 30 days and then kept on OE Align or ulc r aid since so he wouldn’t get them again. But he has developed a REALLY bad trailering issue .He still gets in great but then he kicks and kicks, hurts other horses and himself. I told my vet who checked him for ulcers (just felt for them) and he seemed fine but on your list of symptoms it sounds like this issue could be ulcer related. Is it safe for me to remove OE Align and ulc r aid to do no grain challenge or will I be making things worse for him? Should I worm before starting no grain challenge?
    I feed Purina loose mineral right now. Would you recommend removing that too? Are the blue salt licks ok?

    1. There is a lot to “chew” on here Rochelle. The simple answer is to remove EVERYTHING for 2 weeks and feed only pasture, hay (grass plus 1 flake or 4 pounds of alfalfa), water and pure salt such as Himalayan salt.

      I have seen just carrots (6 per night) cause inflammation in the hind gut. Everything you are adding to the food intake of your horse may be causing the problems you are seeing. It is simple to remove everything and then observe. If you don’t like what you get you can always go back. It’s only 2 weeks.

      As far as the medication for the gastric ulcers, they all alter the pH of the stomach which makes him feel better but it also shifts the gut microbes from further down the gut up towards the stomach. This is called dysbiosis. The “dys” means dysfunctional and is the cause of all gut ulcers in humans. After removing the potential inflammatory ingredients the gut microbes will start to reestablish themselves and removing any anti ulcer medication should be possible. However please remove any prescribed medication only after consulting your veterinarian. The feed type anti ulcer medications I would remove gradually over the first week of the challenge.

      Do you know anyone who doesn’t like to fly? It’s usually because they get sick to their stomach as the plane hits the bumps. I believe this is the reason horses show trailering behavior like yours. I even think that horses that refuse to load may anticipate the ride and show that they don’t want to experience it. The video I have on my page TheHorsesAdvocate.com/grain in the testimonial section is about a horse that exploded in the trailer (just like yours) but 6 months after removing grain, the horse loads himself and goes anywhere.

      You do not need to feed extra minerals. There are plenty in the water and hay. However minerals need to be bound to proteins to be absorbed effectively and if your horses are low on protein then all the added minerals are leaving in the feces. Eliminate the inflammation in your horse and then read TheHorsesAdvocate.com/protein to learn about that then start adding it.

      Better yet, take my nutrition course and study this information and then teach others.

      1. I can see potential trailering issues and a no grain connection with my horses as well.
        I am now at 90 days no grain.
        Before I would load my horses once a week for a 30 min drive to my jumping or dressage lessons, I found it odd, they would resist loading to come home. They go home to a 12 acre pasture… who wouldn’t want that? I now have zero loading issues away from home. I suspect they had an inflamed hind gut bouncing around on the ride to the lesson, and did want a to that again so soon. I have made no other changes. Useless to work on loading at home, since there was never an issue loading at home. Looking forward to hear more from Rochelle and Lea.

        1. I look at horse loading issues much like humans not wanting to fly because they associate flying with nauseousness. Many horses, once their gut inflammation is resolved, also resolve their loading issues with no other therapy.

          In your case maybe it was the added exercise that made their gut feel uncomfortable. They were only marginally inflamed at home. I wish horses could talk with specific details. But it seems clear that once the gut inflammation was resolved the trip home loading issues also resolved and I’m good with that.

          Thanks for this comment

  37. Doc T have you researched Total Equine Feeds? I would really like to know your thoughts on this feed.
    Sincerely, Marna

    1. Hi Marna – I don’t like the ingredients in these feeds. Wheat middlings are in the 3 horse feeds they offer. They also have added kelp which in some horses may induce goiter (enlarged thyroid). They also use Ascophyllum nodosum which is the seaweed you see if you receive fresh lobsters. It is a source of minerals and other macro and micro nutrients – but I have yet to see a horse swim in the north Atlantic where it is found foraging for this marine plant.

      My view of feeding horses is based on the simple principle of eliminating all gut inflammation by removing all feeds not natural to horses. This includes vitamins and minerals of suspect origin and few companies are willing to show the sources of these ingredients. In a recent conversation with Biostar feeds, they are proud of sourcing their ingredients from ethical and effective sources.

      Hind gut fermentors are the equids, the tapirs and the rhinos. They all ferment grasses for nutrition. They were never made to consume on a regular basis any seeds and certainly not processed seeds and seed parts such as wheat middlings, flax, rice bran and so forth. Unfortunately in today’s times there is little pasture available and what is available is of a single grass source. Add to this the harvested summer grasses (hay) and there are deficiencies especially in proteins. Add to this feeding excess carbohydrates year round and the horse starts to consume its own proteins to stay alive. It is all insidious culminating in lost top lines, unsoundness, poor hooves and illness. The solution is NOT to add things but to subtract them leaving only pasture and grass / legume hay. However adding extra protein to fill in the loss is necessary until the reservoirs are restored. Then all they need is a small amount of protein to make up the lack of it in the environment they live in.

      1. Thank you for the info. What about oats and or barley with an oil? I feed an oral joint supplement that helps my horse tremendously but I need to feed it somehow. What type of oil?
        Thanks again☺

        1. Oats and barley are grains. In humans, all oils are inflammatory with the exceptions of EVVO, coconut, macadamia and avocado. I would consider adding your joint supplement to Coolstance (shredded coconut) as this seems to be non-inflammatory in horses.

          Most oral joint supplements are medium chain sugars much like the mucopolysaccharides that line our gut. It is theorized that the joint supplements bind to the offending lectins of the food before they become absorbed therefore reducing the inflammatory load on the joints. Removing the offending lectins of the grains would do the same. Many people who eliminate lectins from their diet have an elimination of their joint pain due to the autoimmune aspect of rheumatoid arthritis. Many horse owners experience increased activity in their horses after eliminating grain and I suspect it is from the removal of inflammation. Remember that inflammation in the gut is reflected in other parts of the body including the joints.

          My recommendation is to first remove all inflammatory food. Then after this you can add back in 1 supplement at a time. And remember the importance of supplementing with protein to help restore the amino acids which help to repair connective tissue.

          More info can be found in my blogs at TheEquinePractice.com/feed or by enrolling in my nutrition course (link in the blogs).

  38. Thanks for this article.

    Question, how do you feed the salt while doing the grain free challenge? Is it loose rock type salt?

    I’m in Cambodia. We have 6 ponies and we have been feeding them rice bran and banana palm stem. We’d like to take them off the rice bran. But we don’t have much pasture and can only source rice hay at certain times of the year.

    Also, would banana palm stem cause any problems?

    Thank you

    1. Hello to you in Cambodia! Thanks for finding this blog and for reading and commenting.

      Salt can be either loose or a block. Redmond or Himalayan salt is good because it has minerals. Avoid the red trace mineral salt blocks as these have corn syrup and molasses.

      I agree with you wanting to remove rice bran from the pony’s diet. All brans (rice, wheat) are removed from human feeds due to their inflammatory nature – maybe lectins. I am unfamiliar with rice hay but all hay is made from grass (Timothy hay), grain (oat hay) or legumes (peanut hay). All of these provide cellulose required in horses.

      Banana palm stems are also new to me. I would look at their cellulose content versus the lignin content. Lignin is wood-like cellulose found in taller plants. Horses (grazers) are poor lignin digesters as opposed to all ruminants (browsers such as cattle, goats, sheep, deer, etc) that easily digest lignin. While I don’t know for sure, I don’t think banana palm stem would be a problem but they might not be nutritious either.

      Are there any other sources of grass there? In Florida, tropical and sub-tropical grasses store their sugar (starch) in the root system to protect during drought. However it is the cellulose that horses need and all grasses have that.

      Please let us all know in a reply what other horse owners do in your area. Thanks, Doc T

  39. Wanted to let you know: I thought I was feeding as clean as possible in the last 3 years. As I’m sure you know flax seeds are heavily promoted and high fats. I started flax in my mineral mix from Horsetech and later added horseshine which flax is in. My horse has stood with one back leg behind him and not always the same leg. He been thru several vets and they would say it’s just the way he is or hocks or back so on and on. But my Holy Spirit would always tell me to keep searching. What was baffling is he can work the prettiest barrels! And run! I pulled the minerals and flax bout 2 weeks before I started your class! The last four days he is standing square! If he does stand one leg behind himself it’s bout 1/2 what he was doing. But I am catching him more and more square! 3-4 years of searching! And thinking I was crazy! And started thinking maybe that’s just the way it is and maybe epm did more damage than I thought! So now I’m convinced after your class and pulling vit/min and flax I had hind gut ulcers! Tho he didn’t act like or look like ulcer guy! I feed just grass and alfalfa with a little oats when I started this clean feeding bout 3-4 yrs ago but my horses went downhill and bc I live by a smelter place I didn’t understand what was truly going on and thought they need extra vit/min and fats! I’ll be honest your class was my last ditch effort bc I was gonna say screw it! I’m going back to grains! But I’m so happy I took one more shot! My horse no longer looks pregnant with no top line. But I do think i do not have enough protein so I have added that. (Calf manna) all I could find in my area. Both horses are happy eyes super bright! I thought they was happy before but I can tell even better! Sorry so long! I know that the Topline gonna get better and better as time goes on!
    I haven’t been running last 6 mths bc of my own deal but I’m excited to get them back in shape and see how much better it’s gonna be!
    Thank you and so sorry so long! I know you busy! I hope I can take the dentistry and whatever future classes you may do!
    I’m hoping when my horses get to running and winning I can spread the word on how to feed to help more horses! And of course tell them to take your class!!!
    Thank you!
    Shelly Hares
    You just don’t know how I’ve struggled and how happy I am!!!!
    Thank you again!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. Thanks Shelly. If there are any other readers who have experienced their horses holding a hind limb back and have resolved this with the no grain challenge, please comment here under Shelly’s comment.

  40. I am getting ready to start the no grain challenge and am wanting to supplement with the Pro-Add ultimate. On the bag it states to feed with existing feed. Is it ok to feed by itself or with some alfalfa pellets?

    1. You can feed this alone or with some alfalfa pellets.

      Did you read this blog? https://theequinepractice.com/protein-for-horses-revisited/ ProAdd changed their formulation and I don’t think it is as good as straight soy bean meal. That is what I recommend now. If you already bought the bag go ahead and use it. Then switch over to straight SBM and you will do better for your horses.

      Thanks for trying the no grain challenge. Try only pasture and hay (and water and salt) for about 10 days to reduce the gut inflammation. As the fat comes off the horses (especially in the winter) you may see the loss of top line. That has been gone for a while but the fat loss revealed it. This is where SBM will shine. In about 6 months the top line will be almost back to normal.

      1. No, I hadn’t seen that article. I hadn’t purchased it yet. Thanks for the information and and will keep you updated on how it goes.

  41. Since it’s winter, we have no grass. My horses are outside 24/7 with round bales. Do you recommend feeding alfalfa or Timothy in pellet form or chaffhaye? My horses are all on a low sugar diet, but it’s still grain. Very interested to try out no grain. Thanks for this info!

    1. “No grass” really isn’t so. What you have is dormant grass which is cellulose which becomes fat when digested by the colon bacteria. Fat is at least 20 times more efficient a fuel than glucose (starch). However when feeding grain all winter the glucose short circuits the natural process of using body fat and giving the cells a rest by using ketones rather than glucose. Our eyes see the body fat remain which pleases the owner but in reality is perpetuating inflammation in the gut and elsewhere (joints, muscles) and causes gluconeogenesis (top line loss, lameness, infections, unthriftiness).

      Please read all the nutrition blogs or enroll in the nutrition course to get all of this information. Yes I recommend about a flake a day of alfalfa (hay, cubes or pellet) and an additional variety of amino acids. But to get a broader spectrum of amino acids you should add soy bean meal. See the blog about “Chronic Protein Deficiency In Horses.”

  42. Dr. Tucker
    I wanted to let you know how we are doing with the no grain challenge. I started the no grain challenge in August after listening to the on-line classes. The horses are doing wonderful! Coats have shined up and they are calmer. Have not lost any weight that I can tell. I am supplementing T&A hay during winter months although they have 24/7 access to pasture. Obviously though the grass is not growing now. I’m very happy with the results so far.
    Thank You!

  43. Anyone out there familiar with THRIVE feed? I totally believe horses do better without grain, BUT I run a barn and can say none of my boarders would ever quit feeding grain. We saw immense improvement of a couple of horses taken off various grains & put on THRIVE. Wondered your opinion. *Also, we have a very old pony mare with tooth issues, can’t have teeth floated due to respiratory and heart issues. She’s very thin. Would y’all recommend feeding just grass (which she “quids”, makes into a bird nest, and spits out. Would you do soaked alfalfa pellets?

    1. Thrive feed has an interesting website because the owner is passionate about doing what is best for the horse which I find commendable. Hoewver digging into the ingredients there are some questions. For instance he says that horses fed correctly don’t need supplements yet Thrive feed is supplemented with kelp, minerals, vitamins, buffers (calcium carbonate) grain byproduct (rice bran), diatomaceous earth (why?) and grain sorghum (causes insulin spiking according to the last AAEP meeting I attended but not clear if this is the case with Thrive’s “processed” sorghum).

      Thrive also uses “whole soy meal” which implies that the hulls are included (a possible source of inflammatory lectins) and the soybean oil is included (inflammatory to the lining of the guts in humans).

      In addition, assuming that there is a chronic protein deficiency in most horses, the minimum crude protein in Thrive is only 15%. Most of the ingredients are grass hay, legume hay and grain sorghum whose bioavailability of protein is about 50%. Being generous with the inclusion of soybeans and making the bioavailability of protein 60%, that means the protein content of 1 pound of Thrive is about 272 grams. However the amino acid spectrum is unknown and is why they have added lysine and methionine (2 of the 3 limiting amino acids) to the feed.

      I believe Thrive makes horses feel better due to the high content of grasses which is an ancestral diet for horses. Adding calcium carbonate helps to raise the pH but adding it in the feed raises it everywhere including the stomach where an acid environment is essential for protein digestion and disease prevention. Additionally adding seaweed is foreign to horses and the effect of this and other ingredients on the gut lining is unknown. Remember the first step to helping horses “thrive” is eliminating all sources of gut inflammation.

      As far as helping your boarders understand the damage of grain and the benefits of eliminating it, consider having them try a 10 to 14 day challenge agreement. At no cost they can try feeding hay pellets or hay cubes as a replacement for the meal of grain. Have them write down the problems they are having now (squirts, poor ride performance, girth, tail swishing when brushed, poor trailering, moody, poor behavior) and compare it after the trial. They can always go back to grain – no one will suffer during the trial. Remember no carrots, apples, sugar cubes, treats during this time and remove any sugar added electrolytes or salt licks too. You can offer a peanut or 2 in the shell as a treat.

      Old horses with limited chewing abilities always need management changes in their feed. Finding the righ combination of grass / legume hay formulations (cubes, pellets, chopped, soaked) is critical to their survival. Remember that these older ones usually are protein deficient as seen in their poor top line. Add soy bean meal to give the amino acids needed to rebuild this (these are not found in hay). To add fat in very poor horses consider adding Coolstance which is shredded coconut meat (a non-inflammatory source of fat). Do NOT add oils to the feed as all oils from seeds are inflammatory.

      People have asked me to make a feed for horses as Thrive has done. But horses are grazers (not browsers like ruminants and therefore cannot eat wood or woody plants and bark unless starving). All they need is what they can eat from the ground. Hay, a man made product. supplements this to extend the horse’s ability to work for us during the winter. Because of carbohydrate dependency most horses have become chronically protein deficient and this must be added back. My “mix” would be pasture, grass and legume hay and until protein competent, soy bean meal (no hulls, oil extracted). That’s it. Those who have tried this are excited with the results in their horses and in their feed and supplement bill. Oh oh – some people won’t like that. But I am here for the horse by DECOMPLEXICATING their care.

      Thanks for this question.

  44. I have just purchased a horse (10 year old) that is only on pasture, hay and water (will change the salt). I live in the sand hills so I started giving beet pulp (wet) to push the sand through. Any other suggestions instead of the beet pulp. Also he has gone from 12 acres of grass to about 2 acres ( concerned with possible losing weight from change of pasture size. Not feeding grain is new to me. Finding your input has really helped. Will timothy hay work as well as the alfalfa. In the past when feeding alfalfa hay to my horse, it seems to give added energy which I do not want since I only trail ride now. Really loved reading your input. Looking forward to your input for healthy diet for my horse.

    1. Sand accumulation is still not fully understood but one thing most agree on is that adding a lot of fiber to the diet helps “push” things through. But from what I have been reading it could also be hypothesized that by removing gut inflammation, the gut can now improve peristalsis yielding the same effect. While there is no research, it would be interesting to get data where the diet of horses with sand colic is correlated.

      If the size of pasture is reduced then the amount of hay should be increased as hat is really summer pasture preserved.

      Timothy is a GRASS and alfalfa is a LEGUME. When you added alfalfa in the past, was he also on grain and other carbohydrates? Some horses do react to alfalfa with some spunk. Add a small amount and gradually build up to about a flake a day.

  45. Doc T:

    Thank you for answering my email and encouraging me to try skipping the ulcerguard for my out-of-town training trip. It was a leap of faith, but I’m listening to my horse and six weeks into the No Grain challenge I’m seeing such promising results that I took the plunge. (I took the gastroguard along just in case.)

    The trip went REALLY well! No ulcerguard/gastroguard and he trailered and stabled very well and was a joy to ride. I got excellent work from him and my trainer hopped on and took him through the entire Grand Prix test for the first time. There was one moment in the first piaffe that he got backward thinking and went up when corrected, but that looked like greeness handling the pressure. Nothing explosive like the issues that led me to your grain free challenge.

    Six weeks no grain and he looks great and acts happy and has the energy for the upper level work. We will see how it continues with shows and other pressure situations, but I think I have a horse I can enjoy and progress with again. Hallelujah!

    I’ve sent at least ten people the links to your nutrition blogs in the last three days. I’m enjoying delving deeper into the issues through your video courses. The more I learn the more comfortable I am with the new feed program (it’s hard to accept at first what seems like such a radical change). My vet here says “that’s a really stomach friendly diet regiment.”

    I’m really hopeful that you’ve given me an important key to keeping my horses happy and comfortable.

    I have a 21-year-old gelding on stall rest from a check ligament injury. From reading your blogs I think he’s protein deficient. I think he’s putting on topline while on stall rest just from the diet change to SBM. The vet doing his shockwave agrees that his topline has improved in the past four weeks (time of injury).

    My girthy mare is still girthy but not as viciously so, and she has been “startling” under saddle in situations where she might previously have spooked. A welcome improvement.

    The 20-y-o draft cross seems no different but is doing well on the SBM too.

    Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge and ideas and time.


  46. Hi I have a very old mare in her thirties, she is very thin and I have tried lots to help her put weight on. She has no teeth at the back so can’t eat hay. She is out 24/7 . Any advice on what to feed her to help with her weight and condition. We are in the UK. Regards Lynne.

    1. The answer is to get ANYTHING past her throat and into her stomach. At 30+ I find any diet changes may not be as effective as hoped for. But if the horse isn’t swallowing then they are being self-starved.

      Grass is always the best. Chopped hay and soaked hay cubes are good. Hay pellets may cause choke so be careful. Shredded coconut is a great source of non-inflammatory fat and efficient energy. Coolstance (stance equine.com) in the USA is really beneficial for horses like yours.

      Protein in any form (preferably as soy bean meal) is also essential to help add top line and cheek muscle as well as improve hair coat and overall health. Consider reducing grain or even eliminating it as gut inflammation may be adding to her weight loss. But at 30+ this may not work as intended because removing inflammatory grain causes body fat loss which makes them look worse even though they are healthier.

  47. Finally, a DVM, with common sense LOL! I have never had a Vet tell me to stop feeding grain! I have been feeding a small amount of grain pellets (for easy keepers), by Safe Choice, a Nutrena product. I would add supplements to this like Flax oil, ground flax or herbs that were specific to certain symptoms that any particular horse might have. For instance, my Insulin Resistant horse had his feet almost destroyed by laminitis about 2 years ago. I put him on a herb mix, developed by another Vet, which was mixed into his grain pellets along with Flax. He did really well, lost weight and with a good farrier, my horse became sound again. I cut back on these gradually until he was only getting a couple of handfuls of the Safe choice with some flax oil…. and then this spring he developed COPD… severe!!! Lots of mucus coughed out, could barely breathe some days and then he became lame again. He had been dripping some mucus for a year or more, before this but nothing like what was happening now!

    The medicine given by our Vet (antihistimines and some steriods) were not working well. I turned to herbs like turmeric, elecampane, citrus tinctures and others to help him. The turmeric appeared to make his breathing worse so I stopped that. The mucous kept on coming… poor boy was gagging and coughing blobs of phlegm. When cough suppressants were given, his breathing became worse. When steriods were given to help his breathing, his coughing up phlegm became worse… followed by more pain in his feet. It was looking very grim. I had already replaced his bedding with salt instead of any other bedding, to keep down dust and any possible mold. My horses are brought in for their grain and for periods when the flies are just impossibly nasty outside. The hay was a bit old, baled two summer ago but I could not tell if there was mold, it smelled okay. I hosed the hay down and sprinkled more salt on it too.

    We also use a hay net with 1 inch spaces. Three days ago he was at his worst, I thought the end was near! I took him off of ALL his supplements and grain pellets. We got a new shipment of fresh hay too, a mix of natural grasses and alfalfa from a hay field that is 40 minutes away. Our present hay was baled locally as ditch hay. That was a Saturday, by Sunday morning I was dreading going out to see him… thinking he might be worse.. Instead I was greeted by a happy horse, and his breathing was normal!!! He still had some residual mucus stuck to his nostrils but nothing fresh. Today, Monday, he is still happy and doing well, I cannot even hear the lung noises that he had before! Today he kicked off his EasyRide boots in the pasture (he’s allowed out for about 2 hours every other day, the rest of the time in the corral with netted hay), the boots are still sitting side by side where I collected him LOL! I am overjoyed!

    At this point, I don’t know for sure whether it was the hay or the grain (or both) was causing his problems, but after reading your article, I will not be giving him any more Safe choice grain. I was also putting a handful of beet pulp on his mix to make his medicine more edible. I just bought a new bag of the Safe Choice, maybe the store will allow a refund. We still have a lot of the older hay left over so we’ll try to sell it for a great discount to cattle or sheep owners around here. At this point, I do not want to experiment to see which was the problem! I had to put another horse down 2 years ago who also had severe COPD complicated by a muscle injury. That horse did not have the terrible mucus and coughing but had severe breathing difficulties. Thank you for your great insight here 🙂

    1. It is almost fantastic how some of the things we all think are OK for horses actually are not. Great story. Now read about protein and if all is well, start adding protein to support a better immune system (which are proteins).

  48. Hi! Love this article! I have a 14 yr old Morgan gelding that just stopped sweating. He is on pasture and hay only, no grain or treats. What can I try for gut health for him or what is the best protocol? Thank you so much!

    1. Discovering that a lot of non-sweating horses start to sweat after removing grain was a surprise to me. I still do not know the mechanism behind this but many people have found that it works. Now your horse comes along so let me say a few things.

      If it is true that it is the inflammation of the gut, you will need to look at any cause for this. Included in this would be: any chemicals added to the pasture or hay; increased sugar content of the spring grass; spreading of organic material (horse, cow, pig, chicken manure); anything else.

      If nothing has been added, then try removing or limiting your horse to the pasture. This can be an experiment done for only a week to test the results. If it is true that some change caused him to stop sweating, then that change needs to be found and either eliminated or addressed.

      After you exhaust all possibilities in finding the cause, you can try to add something to calm the hind gut. My go-to for this is Succeed. Get the starter pack of paste followed by granules. Be sure he is still not sweating when you add this and then record the results. If it works, the result may be permanent or you may need to continue it until cool weather come back.

      I really would like a follow up to this as you get more information. I see that you also read my other blogs on this subject so be sure to comment there too.


  49. I started a week ago feeding soaked alfalfa and beet pulp (no molasses). I have noticed a huge difference. I just came across your article.
    Should I just do pasture grass and alfalfa cubes? Why is beet pulp not good?

    1. The whole name is SUGAR beet. It is one of the leading sources of sugar in America. The pulp is the left over byproduct after the sugar has been extracted. In addition, the appellate court in 2015 ruled that all sugar beets can be legally be modified genetically in America. Finally, most plant lectins are found in the skin of the plant. As most lectins of plants new to the horse are reactive, it would be logical to assume that the lectins of the sugar beet are in the pulp and can possibly affect the horse.


  50. Inspiring read, thank you! I have a 9 year old Quarab mare, who is extremely reactive to saddle fit, a hard keeper, and long guard hairs throughout her winter coat (these do shed out).
    I am going to try her on Grain free to see if some of her reactivity is related to inflammation/Grain. My current plan is 3 cups alfalafa pellets, 1 Cup Renew gold, 1 oz camelina oil, and 1 dose of bio star supplements per feeding. Unlimited grass Hay. Has turnout, but grass is minimal due to winter.
    Would we be better looking at the cool stance? Would it be wise to add a Chia or flax supplement? (I know the renew gold has flax already).
    Appreciate your time!

    1. Keep us all posted for the results you get. But if you really want to see things work, then feed only pasture, grass and water. No oils, Renew Gold or Bio Star. These along with chia and flax may be inflammatory but after the gut inflammation calms down then you can add back in – one at a time – extra ingredients.

      Adding protein before all else is a better alternative ( https://theequinepractice.com/protein ). More on this in future articles.

  51. What would you feed a 6 month old weanling that has been fully dewormed with fenbendazole double dose 3 times, a tripple dose strongid P and now once with ivermectin. He has tested negative for Lawsonia and has a total protien of 54. He eats well and no diarrhea, but he has a big belly and ribby on top. Since his last two dewormings, he is developing a bit more of a top line, but still has a ways to go. A fecal showed a 1+ for strongyles before I dewormed with the last two dewormers. What would be the best combination of concentrate and vitamin mix if he can’t eat grains?

    1. The term “fully dewormed” is confusing because you never state the FREQUENCY of deworming. How often the medication is given is critical. In addition, cleaning the environment is even more critical. I gave you some links in your last comment. ANY POSITIVE FECAL EXAM IS A WARNING.

      Cleaning the environment, removing inflammatory products such as grains are the 2 most important steps. It is now being discovered that deworming medicine can also kill off whole groups of gut microbes. So BE PATIENT because it ewill take months to heal the gut and re-establish the microflora.

      Adding any protein source you can find will help in his recovery as long as you read the ingredients and try to avoid grains such as corn. ProAdd Ultimate (prognutrition.com) works well. So does Barn Bag from Life Data. There are others listed on The Horse’s Advocate web site.

  52. Hi, i have a weanling who eats hay, grain, supplements and no grass. I understand the idea that horses don’t actually need grain and that it’s possibly harmful to them but what about supplements? dry hay doesn’t contain the same amounts of essential minerals and vitamins as fresh grass. So what would you recommend for a growing foal with no issues but also with no access to grass (winter)? And when you say to give them protein, what source of protein should be used? Thanks

    1. Hi Julie – I’m glad you understand that grains cause inflammation and it is this inflammation that is preventing the vitamins and minerals from getting absorbed and utilized. Removing the grain actually improves the vit/min use from hay. Remember, it is the re-establishment of the microbiome within the gut that will help more in the vit/min department than adding them as a supplement.

      There are a lot of protein supplements available. Look for whey, soy, alfalfa and coconut meal – it is the variety that is important.


  53. What about a 6 month old weakling? He looks pot bellied and lacks muscle and thinner on top. He has been deformed with everything but Quest and had a fecal done and tested for Lawsonia. What can I feed a weakling and not stop proper development. I am in Canada.

    He was negative for Lawsonia.

    1. Hey Janet – don’t you love spelling auto-correct? So a weanling who is a weakling, right? LOL

      Deworming is often incorrectly done. In fact, ask your mother how she dewormed you and you will begin to realize that no chemicals were given to you. Yet all the deworming medicines approved for use in horses are also approved for use in humans. The answer simply is that you did not eat where you defecated. If your 6 month old is suffering from parasites, then the environment needs to be cleaned AND he needs to be dewormed once a week for 3 weeks. It is the frequency that is important. Giving deworming medicine every 8 weeks is a waste in most situations especially where the environment is dirty.

      It is the horse’s immune systems that kills the parasites. All parts of the immune system are proteins made of the amino acids you are feeding him. If he is not being given enough of a variety of proteins and what you are feeding him is not getting into him due to gut inflammation, then this will lead to muscle wasting that causes a pot belly and a poor top line.

      Talk with your vet about deworming him once a week for 3 weeks with ivermectin. Remove any inflammatory feeds such as grain and grain byproducts (wheat middlings, brans, hulls). Add a good quality protein supplement with whey, soy and alfalfa along with the vit/min but without grains.

      More info can be found here:

  54. I’m a bit confused. You list rice bran as a grain that should be avoided, yet then recommend Renew Gold which has rice bran as its main ingredient. I am searching for a vitamin/mineral supplement for our easy keepers and don’t know whether rice bran is an acceptable ingredient. Thank you.

    1. Nice catch! Renew Gold is a distant second to CoolStance (StanceEquine.com) as a noninflammatory fat source for older horses to add fat to their bodies. With your easy keepers, neither Coolstance nor Renew Gold is needed.

      Adding protein is more important than any other nutrient after removing the inflammatory grain. Nutrena’s ProAdd Ultimate (actually it is Progressive Nutrition at prognutrition.com) has protein with vit/min without grain. Barn Bag from Life Data also is good. There are others but you need to read the ingredients.

      All brans (wheat, oats, rice, beet (pulp)) are the outside of the plant or grain where the highest concentration of lectins are located. Lectins are the plant proteins that cause the gut lining damage. Removing all grain and grain products such as wheat middlings removes these inflammatory agents allowing the gut lining to heal and the micro-flora (the microbiota or microbiome) to re-establish itself and the horse to become healthy. Adding protein advances this process.

  55. Do you have a vitamin/mineral supplement suggestion that does not have the grain base?

    1. ProAdd Ultimate by Progressive Nutrition owned by Nutrena (prognutrition.com) – all the extra protein your horse really needs along with the vitamins and minerals we think horses should have. Works well. Also Barn Bag by Life Data works well.

      Feeding extra vit/min without seeing the chronic protein loss will not get you to where you want to be nutritionally with your horses. See The HorsesAdvocate.com/protein (become a free member and then log in first)

  56. What would you recommend to supplement if my horse is on a dry lot with no pasture. Also should work be limited during the two week transition from grain?

    1. Lisa – The idea is that grain is causing gut inflammation so once it is stopped, your horse should have more energy. Therefore there is no need to limit work and in fact, there is no need to “transition” from grain. Remove it all at once and watch the transition occur as he improves. As far as supplements, first eliminate everything to help the gut restore order in the microbiome. Then find a non-grain protein source or one with as little grain as possible and supplement protein to help the top line. See TheHorsesAdvocate.com/protein (become a member for free and log in first).

  57. I have a very easy-keeper half-arab pony that gets for Breakfast (dry) 1 cup of Nutrena Topline Balancer and 2 cups of timothy grass pellets -then she’s out on pasture for the day. Then for PM feeding she gets 1 cup of Nutrena Topline Balancer, 2 cups of timothy grass pellets, 1 cup no-molasses beet pulp pellets, 1 tsp of Himlaylan salt, 1 tsp of Vit E & Selenium, 1/3 cup Psylium Husk wetted down – she then gets 2 flakes of hay in her stall overnight. She has lost about 100 lbs since the beginning of October when i started her on this diet. Would she benefit more from not getting anything but hay and pasture grass? But She really needs to have the Vit E and Selenium supplement since we have had 2 episodes of tying up and the vet having to come out.

    1. Mindy – It is important to list here the total amount of pasture and hay she is eating. This is the base. Then it is necessary to list the ingredients of all the supplements befor any further analysis can be made. Please reply.

      1. Sapphire will wander with the other 3 horses (1 large thoroughbred, 1 large pony mare and 1 weanling) around the whole 10 acres (4 small fenced off sections) of hilly pasture grazing but there’s not a lot there now with all the snow coverage – so i’m not sure how much grass she’s eating. At night in her stall she gets 2 small flakes (maybe about 10# total) of 1st cutting hay. I get the small 2-stringed bales – they weigh approximately 50 lbs each. The supplements she gets are: 1 tsp of AniMed’s Vitamin E & Selenium (AM & PM feedings), 1 tsp of pure Himalayan salt (AM & PM feedings) and 1/3 cup of AniMed’s AniPysll (psyllum husk) at PM feeding. Sometimes she doesn’t always finish eating up the hay in her stall by the morning either. This is also my winter routine for my horses – they’re stalled at night during winter months because of my hard-keeper Thoroughbred mare. Mid-April to mid-November they are out 24/7 but i rotate them through the 4 sections.

        1. I think what she is missing is protein. I don’t see her getting enough in the diet. I see in the follow up that you are no longer feeding the top line balancer. Most balancers have wheat middlings in it which is inflammatory to the gut. I prefer ProAdd Ultimate (prognutrition.com) sold through Nutrena because there are no grains in it.

          When you see a loss of any weight (in your case 100 lb) it is important to determine what was lost. If it was just fat then this could be an indicator that inflammation has been removed and this is good. Unfortunately when fat is removed the muscle loss that has also occurred is realized. Adding protein will help to restore this lost muscle and improve the top line as well as tighten up the belly. Be sure to add about 1/4 pound of ProAdd for 250 pounds of horse daily for 6 to 12 months. After this you can decrease the amount.

  58. What about feeding Crypto Aero? Not sure if you are familiar but what are your thoughts on that?

    1. We know the owner of this company and are impressed with their commitment to integrity in their industry. If I were going to feed any grains to horses, these are the people I would go to. No lie. Very honest.

  59. My pony does not get grain but this happens to him when he eats hay, especially in the winter when the grass is no longer available. And suggestions?

    1. I’m sorry Lacy but what is “this?” Do you mean the squirts?

      Be sure he is not getting anything but hay (no carrots, sugar cubes, apples, treats, supplements with grain etc) and if so, then vary the hay he is being given. Be sure that the hay is not treated with anything. Try chopped hay because if his gut can’t digest long stems well, then mimicking the grass length with chopped forage may do the trick. Also eliminate parasites as the shortened day length will cause the encysting of larvae which may lead to gut inflammation. As always, check with your vet.

      1. I have a horse diagnosed cushings at 5 years old. Gets fat on air. Progressed to miserable disposition. I’m going to try your suggestion w no grain, although all he gets is 1 lb enrich plus twice a day, no grain per se. how do I get his pergolide jn him w/o his ration of enrich plus to eat?

        1. Every horse responds to ingredients in different ways just like people and gluten. My blog Betrayal is about a “ration balancer.” Avoid them all.

          Add the pergolide to a handful of hay pellets. Moisten if necessary.

          Please take the time to understand carbohydrate dependency, mitochondrial exhaustion and the need to add protein (all in my blogs here). Cushing’s disease is now called a neurodegenerative disease. Pergolide is a neurotransmitter replacement. All neurotransmitters are proteins.

          Adding proteins as well as removing all inflammatory ingredients will allow your horse to become satiated. This will cause him to want to eat less which will help him loose fat and stop the loss of protein. Have your vet test several times during this year for Cushing’s and see if this diet makes a difference. Several comments under the protein blogs have reported their horse now have normal cortisol levels. Also join the private Facebook group, “The Horse’s Advocate.”

  60. Have you had any experience with a horse urinating more frequently with the ingestion of grain? During a 2 hour outing my 4 yr old horse will sometimes urinate 4-5 times. It seems he urinates more frequently than all my other horses I have owned.

    1. Urination is a complex process. The first thing to do is a urinalysis (specific gravity, dipstick and microscopic exam) and blood work for kidney functions. If it is truly associated with grain then it may be part of a hormonal disruption of ADH (anti diuretic hormone) which is diabetes insipidus. This may be tested for by giving pergolide (Prescend) or by removing the grain. Check with your vet to look at these options.

      Signs of diabetes insipidus are increased water consumption and increased urine volume with a low specific gravity.

  61. I can’t find the testimonies of people who have done the challenge?

  62. One question, 100 years ago the soil was not depleted due to over farming, In Ontario we are selenium depleted, essential in prevention of white muscle disease and placenta development, enough cannot be found in grass and hay. So for bred mares and foals what would you suggest?

    1. Great question!

      Back in the late 1980’s at Cornell the researchers were testing Selenium supplementation in cattle and they were not getting the results they hoped for. After an investigation they discovered that the mineral content of the water was preventing the cows from absorbing Se. So Se levels in all animals can be affected by not just the lack of it in the soil but the absorption of it in the gut.

      Eliminating the inflammatory grains from the diet might just actually elevate the Se blood levels as the gut will now be able to absorb even low levels in the feed. This is just a hypotheses and in no way is a recommendation for you to try a no grain approach to your pregnant mares. However it may be worth a look especially if you are supplementing now with Se and the mare’s blood levels are still low or you are experiencing retained placentas or WMD.

      You always have the option of injectable Vitamin E and selenium. However in my practice a long time ago I never saw an improvement of RP’s in post foaling mares who were injected with E-Se prior to foaling. This would be an interesting thing to discuss with your vet and if possible, draw some Se blood levels before going “no-grain” and then follow up with samples and note any foaling problems. Let us all know.

  63. T is an Apx QH, 21 years old and is a hard keeper. He has all the symptoms you have described. I feed him Nutrena Sr. and Boost supplement, hay at night, pasture during the day. I’m starting the no grain diet tomorrow. Thanks for the article.

    1. Please come back and let us know how it went. With winter upon most of the northern world, remember to make him comfortable as you do this. Also remember to deworm him if that is a problem. But for almost every hard keeper (exceptions are the 30+ year olds) the results of the horse gaining weight after about 2 weeks is amazing. Remember that in the first 2 weeks the horse may not gain or even loose about 10 pounds as the gut microbes readjust. Usually by day 3 the feeding anxiety goes away and by day 10 you will be convinced that you are on the right path.

      Looking forward to your update.

    1. Great question! These “kids” are like teenage boys eating everything in the fridge and still looking good. It seems almost irrelevant if these hard exercising 2 and 3 year olds are fed a lot of grain. The damage is still occurring and if not seen now, will be seen as they get older.

      Removing the lectins in grains will reduce the gut inflammation which will lead to many good things seen in older horses on the no grain challenge: calm and focused work ethic, exceptional recovery post race, reduced joint inflammation and healthier skin and hooves. Be sure to add protein to these working young horses. If the feet and skin look good then you are probably feeding enough of a broad spectrum of amino acids. See https://theequinepractice.com/protein/

      Try it on a few horses in training especially if they are high strung and not working to their potential. It won’t cost you any money but you may start to see the horse come into himself. Remember to add some protein if you just feed hay and water. They should have lean body mass but good muscle definition and strong top line.

      1. I have an ex standardbred race horse stud came to me underweight, dropped pasterns and overall unthriftiness. Put him right to haylage, (protein is higher) didn’t take 2 months to have him back to a beautiful, healthy horse. That being said I think alot of race horses would benefit greatly from grain removal. I also think the main thing people don’t understand is that they are constant grazers and feeding twice a day just hay may not show them the true benefits… Mine have hay available 24/7.

        1. Horses are one of only three groups of animals that are grazers. The other two are tapirs and rhinos. These are grouped as odd toed ungulates. There is no gall bladder in these animals because they are hind gut fermenters of ground plants. This is a very inefficient digestive process while ruminants (even toed ungulates and browsers) are the world’s best digestive system.

          And while the protein may be higher in haylage it may not have all the essential amino acids. Remember that it isn’t just “protein” but it is the quality of the proteins. The more variety the better.

          1. I feed my horses a product called enrich from Purina. It is designed to do exactly what you are saying. It is a supplement for horses on hay. No need to feed grain. It is high in protein and provides selenium and other needed vitamins. We feed it to all of our 8 horses. They eat it well. I provide enough hay to have it in front of my horses 24 hours a day. All our horses look healthy. Strong hoofs, good muscle, tails that have to be trimmed to keep off the ground and full long manes. We have all ages from a 30 yr pony to a yearling. Even the pony looks awesome. We ride all of them. My vet highly recommends we keep our horses on it with no grain. My horses are never lame and any injury heals quickly and we have had some major injury’s due to accidents that would have been bad. Amazed some vets how quickly my horses have healed with no scars or long term effects. You are barking up the right tree!

          2. Thank Lisa. If this is working for you then don’t change a thing. However, my blog Betrayal discusses ration balancers. Do you know what lignin sulfonate is? I didn’t but it is the 10th ingredient. Wheat middlings, wheat flour, cane molasses and soybean oil (all inflammatory) are before it.

            In addition the protein content is about 30% with the amino acids coming from soybean meal and alfalfa. Have you calculated the actual amount of absorbed protein? You need to weigh the amount of the balancer and then multiply that by the bioavailable protein in the ingredients.

            Before you glaze your eyes, what I am trying to say is this. If all of your parameters for your horses are OK, then great! However there are other horses out there who do not do as well on ration balancers. It may be that your pastures are better than those with poor or no pastures. There are so many factors. My goal here is to help owners understand that the primary problem in horses today is the feeding of inflammatory ingredients with the subsequent protein deficiency.

            Thanks for your comment. My reply is to help other readers here understand that their results using a balancer may be different than yours.

  64. I’ve not fed grains for a long time, but our “hard keeper” is now getting Renew Gold and rice bran pellets to keep his weight on. Can you recommend an acceptable amount of rice bran?

    1. Renew Gold has rice bran as its main ingredient. Remember that fat is usually a sign of gut inflammation. I like feeding Coolstance which is the 2nd ingredient in Renew Gold. If you can’t get Coolstance in your area then Renew Gold is an acceptable 2nd choice. No need to add rice bran.

      The expression “weight” is often misused with horse owners. If you really want to put weight on your horse quickly, purchase a weight belt from the local scuba store and put it on his back! In reality, as you remove the inflammatory grain, the horse immediately consumes the stored sugar in the form of fat on his back. However, because of the inflammation and the horse “starving” in the midst of all the sugar being fed to him, you now notice the poor top line caused by chronic protein loss and muscle wasting.

      Instead of adding a non-inflammatory fat such as coconut (Coolstance) you should be adding a source of protein (whey and soy protein). This will add the top line your eyes are seeing as “weight loss.” See my blog https://theequinepractice.com/protein/

  65. Very interesting article. I have a 3yr old that does everything hard up to the wall. Have had her checked by a Vet/Chiro, nothing wrong with her. So maybe it could be diet. But, she doesn’t get any grain. She gets lots of hay, Meadow & Lucerne. Hard feed is Wheaten Chaff, Lucerne Chaff, wet Copra with salt 60g, Lime 30g, Rosehip 5g and added Linseeds 0.25 cup. Could such a small amount of Rosehip and Linseeds cause inflammation?

    1. The short answer is yes. Remove them for 2 weeks and observe. Remember that seeds have the lectins that are trying to make us ill. It is not how much for sensitive individuals. Look at how much gluten (a plant lectin) is needed in a person with Celiac disease to be affected. Not much! So just pasture, hay and water for 2 weeks. If you feel they need the other things, add one and wait and observe.

      1. I am confused by your comments about avoiding lectins and your advice to use soy for protein. It is my understanding that soy has lectins in it. Why then, is soy a good source of protein for a horse?

        1. To be clear, I recommend soybean meal (SBM). This is not whole soybeans. The hull has been removed, the oil extracted and has been heated to destroy unwanted enzymes.

          Lectins are in all plants and the ones in grain are well known to affect humans. This is one of several reasons not to feed grains to horses. But soybeans are not a grain but a legume. Horses do well with legumes (alfalfa, clover, peanuts and peanut hay) whereas humans do not.

          SBM is an excellent source for proteins in horses because 1) it has high bioavailability of these proteins (80%), 2) it has all the essential amino acids, 3) it is very economical and abundant and 4) horses love it. There may be one or two horses in hundreds who have a dislike for SBM but the vast majority of horses that have used SBM as a protein source are reporting substantial results.

          And one more thing. I was feeding SBM in 1973. This is not a new idea But something with a long track record.

          1. HI! I have been completely amazed by all the “dissing” of SBM over the last few years. I am glad to see you don’t drink that Kool-Aid. I too have been feeding it for proper supplementation of protein deficient grasses and hays, since the early 80’s. Until recently, that is, since it’s almost impossible to find on a regular basis.

          2. SBM is out there. There is a surplus of soybeans in America and SBM is used extensively in hogs and cattle. There are other sources of proteins for horses including pea protein, hemp and coconut meal but none have the track record of effectiveness, safety, broad spectrum of amino acids and low cost that SBM has.

            Thanks for this comment. I was using SBM in 1973. Then it was in mixed products such as Calf Manna and others but recently these products have added inflammatory ingredients such as wheat middlings. And horses love SBM!

          3. How much SBM would you give to a 800 lbs horse please

          4. 1 pound SBM per 1200 pound horse daily will provide the minimum amount of protein when added to a diet of 20 pounds of hay / pasture per day.

            The number 1200 is easily divisible by 100, 200, 300, 400 and 600. A 800 pound horse therefore would be ⅔’s of 1200 so feed 0.66 (⅔) of a pound per day.

  66. My horse has no grain at all, he is fed a completely natural all grass based diet with yeassaac slippery elm marshmallow and milk thistle and still he has got an upset tummy recently, I think it must be down to the frosty grass. I am at my wit’s end. Suggestions please

    1. Emma – gut inflammation is caused by the bacteria in the gut being damaged and losing their proportions. For example, there are 700 individual species of bacteria found in the mouth of humans. Adding one NSAID or one antibiotic damages the relationships by removing a whole section of good bacteria. The gut is a very delicate environment that is easily upset by adding things a human or horse never had access to. The “No-Grain Challenge” is all about removing all feed that is not normally ingested and giving the gut bacteria a chance to reestablish itself. In really sick humans and other animals, a fecal infusion (normal feces with normal gut bacteria made into a suspension and given via rectal tube into the colon) has saved countless lives. I think not feeding grain is an easier way to help the horse. Remember that if you are not getting the results you are looking for as you feed hime what you are feeding him, then you need to change what you are feeding or your results won’t change. Pasture, hay and water for 145 days. Then add back the items you mentioned – one at a time – and wait a week and record the signs.

  67. You should check into sweet date feed. All natural feed no added sugars. Wonderful feed. Research it. I feed it to all ages with no problems. Been using it for almost three years.

    1. Thanks Connie – but it’s not the sugars but the lectins in the grains that are preventing the horse from using the glucose at the cellular level. Decreasing sugars helps but removing the grains with their lectins is the underlying issue that causes leaking gut, hormone communication disruption, and decreased protein absorption among other things. Dates are much older than grains so there is a chance that the horse (and humans) have accommodated for their lectins and thus you are getting good results. Remember, all fruits eaten ripe and in season have the ability to add fat to the animal eating them. But fruit fed out of season only continues to add fat and thus the animal no longer has the natural ebb of weight needed as spring approaches.

  68. Hi would you feed hay or haulage on your 2 week grain free trial .

    1. The horses should just eat pasture and hay. We don’t feed haylage usually in the US but it is the cellulose that the gut bacteria want so I would assume haylage would be OK. Just don’t feed any grains or carrots or treats made with grains.

      1. You are crazy. Horses have been eating grains for centuries

        1. Name calling gets everyone nowhere. So rather than calling me crazy take the time to investigate all the blogs that describe the science behind my thoughts. Sure horses have been fed grain for centuries but horses are about 55 million years old and in servitude of man for about 4000 years. Grain was not carried by cowboys or the Calvary or the explorers crossing and discovering this country.

          Horses in the wild would have access to grains only in their season and not throughout the year. It is the CONSTANT feeding of grain that is leading to carbohydrate deficiency, mitochondrial exhaustion and chronic protein deficiency. In the 46 years I have been with horses and the 35 years as a vet I have seen an increase in disease and unsoundness. In fact there are several diseases commonly seen now that were not in the text books in the 1980’s. Examples include dropped fetlocks, kissing spine and EOTRH of the incisor teeth. Why is there an epidemic of suspensions injuries? Why are the top lines of so many horses poor? Why does every horse seem to have a history of insulin resistance, PPID / Cushing’s disease, Lyme’s and EPM? Even the genetics behind EPSM is triggered by diet.

          How in the world did the horse survive 55 million years without the help of humans and their abundant supply of grain. So, my friend, I agree that grain has been fed for centuries. But it was fed only by those who could afford it and only when needed, and in my opinion the horse has been paying for this in the demise of their health. It’s time to stop drinking the marketing cool aid and start asking why are these horses suffering so many “new” ailments. When I do, especially when I have so many years with them, I see only the advent of the abundance and the high availability of grains, supplements and marketing miscommunication. Take a moment and explore the possibility and then return here and let us all know what you discovered on your own. Thanks again for commenting here – I truly mean this. My goal is to reach everyone but like in politics, we need to listen and keep open minds. It is how we learn and advance – and how we become advocates for our horses.

          1. I think your article is quite enlightening, however – I have a BLM mustang with dropped fetlocks – both rear legs. He came off the range in 2000 I adopted him in 2002 and he never had grain. He was coon footed and almost club footed in both back hooves. Years of careful trimming and balancing his feet worked well. He was diagnosed with DSLD/ESPA in 2009 – I wonder if the grain he had been eating for past 6 years (very small amounts as he lived outside with pasture in summer and gay in winter) contributed to his condition, however Dr Kellogg and Gus Cothran are showing it’s a genetic mutation. My other horses are doing fine

          2. Genetic mutations do occur but what causes these mutations? The study of epigenetics is fascinating and is evolving in humans. In a very small nutshell, epigenetics is the way genes express themselves when exposed to certain stimuli such as food or environmental toxins. I find that saying there is a genetic mutation is just an easy answer without proof or substance. I first saw cases only in Paso Finos and only in the mares that had foals. Then it spread to Thoroughbreds and warmbloods. Now you see it in BLM Mustangs. How did a mutation spread across these very different breeds?

            DSLD was not in the text books in the 19080’s. Nor was white line disease, kissing spine, EOTRH of the teeth and other diseases. bushings and insulin resistance may have occurred back then but not close to the degree it is occurring now. In the show circuit there is an epidemic of suspensory injuries. We can blame all of these on breeding or genetic mutations, but I think there is a more simple and universal answer. From my perspective of being with horses since 1973 I see only one overall change. This is the ubiquitous availability of grain and grain byproducts being delivered to our barns with only a phone call from us – and stacked neatly in our barn’s feed room.

            With your horse predisposed to tendon issues (coon footed is a form of dropped fetlocks which is from tendon laxity) and club foot (which is contraction of the deep digital flexor tendons and rare in the hind hooves), I would tend to think that his mother may have had a problem. These tendon issues are usually seen at birth. With the predisposition of your horse to tendon issues, adding grain and its associated protein loss could have aggravated the weak tendons. For what I know about DSLD, it occurs in horses with normal hind limbs at birth and develops later in life. My hypothesis that a chronic protein deficiency is the cause of DSLD and other issues (lame horses, pituitary dysfunction, loss of top line, poor hair coat and hooves, immune system disorders) is surrounded by the volume of horses I see where these issues evolve between 10 and 14 years of age in most horses (younger in racing horses). This is also based on another hypothesis that all connective tissue regenerates every 6 years. Hence at 6, 12, 18, 24 and 30 years we see evidence of aging, lameness and disease in horses with the worst surrounding their 12th year.

            I wish I had the money to do the research but that will never happen. Until we know for sure I will continue to post my observations, question all that we know and I will not take a short answer trajectory blaming genetic mutations for all things. Genes mutate every day in all living things including us. Remember also that the trillions of gut bacteria and billions of mitochondria also have their genes which are also mutating. Same with viruses, fungi and plants. It becomes way to complicated for the “Keep It Simple” approach. The simple answer is that this one horse was weak from birth and needed more protein to support his needs while the other horses may also be protein deficient but were built right from the start.

            Thanks Jacqui for this account of your horses. I wish there was an answer for him to remain comfortable. Trimming will only go so far but it wouldn’t hurt to add protein to his diet to help prevent further breakdown. If it isn’t genetic then it couldn’t hurt.

          3. This is spot on and I have cared for and managed over a hundred show horses (at different times) without feeding them grain. I stumbled upon it through the past 15 years and experimented alot with many different problems in horses. The most noted was that by removing grain you can basically cure navicular and arthritis! I went totally grain free over the past five years on every horse in my charge. The results were so positive I am convinced grain reeks havock with most horses. They also are happier off of grain and so much calmer because of it. When you work every day caring for them you can see and feel their change off of grain. My horses never lacked ‘show bloom’ or energy. Pictures all over my FB of beautiful conditioned winning show horses. No grain just hay, alfalfa pellets, flax seed. No supplements ever… those are full of fillers…no smart paks in my barn!

          4. Thanks Amy. Please read the rest of the blogs to understand the “why” behind your discovery. I am not a fan of flax seed as all seeds can be inflammatory to some horses.

          5. I have never grained my horses and they seem to be happy and healthy. I had one live to be 30 years old and I bought her at the age of 6. I recently purchased I pony/horse cross. She started to act agitated a few days after I bought her and she bucked me off. Which she didn’t do the first 2 times I rode her. The woman told me she fed her 15 lbs of gran and a whole bale of hay per day!!!! And all the supplements she had sent me in a photo was almost the entire section TSC sells!!!! She was also under weight when I got her. I took her off grain and everything the woman had her on from day one. She now gets 3 flakes of hay per day and has gained all the weight she needs in just 2 weeks. I’m thinking the bucking was because of the changes she was going through? I am currently now only doing ground work until I feel she’s safe enough to get on again. As I ended up in the hospital for a day with a severe concussion and am on a 2 week no riding per the doctor. I do not believe horses need grain any more than dogs need kibble food. It was something some person came up with. To make money? Probably.

          6. Hey Mary – wear a helmet!!! Seriously I hope your concussion heals completely!

            Your story rings true about grain making money for someone but it is not in the best interest of horses. I too have seen “hard keepers” being fed 10 or more pounds of grain become very sensitive to grooming, riding and trailering (all involve touching or jostling the intestines). Removing the inflammatory ingredients actually adds the weight the owners were looking for. Remember though to add in the protein as the grain has caused them to lose it (read the blogs to understand why).

            The mare tossed you because it takes up to 6 weeks for the guts to heal from the inflammation and this can actually make them feel worse before they feel better. Think of it this way. Instead of a constant bad feeling you can “live with” the feelings become intermittent like a stabbing feeling – an imputes for bucking!

            Thanks for your input on this. Doc T

    2. I have been a straight hay feeder long before it became known the issues grain was causing. We feed haylage in the winter and have never had any issues, horses love it and come through winter with great weight. Never sileage, it is generally grain based in our area.

      1. Haylage is not commonly used in the US but is popular throughout the world. Whether it is hay or haylage, it is all last year’s summer grass preserved and stored. It is better than any grain but it is still circumventing the idea behind carbohydrate dependency and will lead to protein deficiency. It will keep fat on the backs of horses so they look good coming out of winter but the “weight” seen is more fat and less protein. The protein is not lost just in the top line muscles but all connective tissue, hooves, immune system, neurotransmitters, enzymes and other systems. It may even upset the normal gut flora leading to vitamin and mineral imbalances.

        The point here is to remember that when feeding a horses in a way that is not in alignment with the millions of years of ebbs and flows of nature will alter the overall health. This said, haylage and hay is always better than grain. Just add some protein and all should be better even though it is looking good to our eyes.

        1. What are the differences between baled hay and haylage which above you say “still circumventing the idea behind carbohydrate dependency”, or are you saying both do?

          1. Haylage ferments the grass which may eliminate any lectins and may prevent mold. I am not sure of the effect on sugar levels.

            The idea of the ebb and flow of carbohydrates is the driving force behind what human research is finding for the cause of obesity and insulin resistance / diabetes now. Alzheimer’s is now considered diabetes type 3 and is related to gut inflammation.

            In south FL and other places there is a company delivering daily freshly sprouted grass hydroponically grown. I am concerned that horses being fed this daily throughout the year may get further away from this ebb and flow.

            So I am saying that feeding last summer’s grass (or hydroponically grown grass) in any form could be considered carbohydrate dependency BUT then how do we prevent severe starvation in heavy winters or produce competitive horses? For me the answer is to use your eyes. Don’t worry if your horse becomes a little thin over winter or a little fat in the summer. It’s OK and healthy. But horse owners freak out when their horses loose weight in the winter so they feed them more. This only adds fat and covers up the insidious loss of top line muscle and overall protein.

          2. It is a byproduct of the sugar beet industry. Sugar beets are the 2nd largest source of sugar in the US. They are pressed and what is left over is then manufactured for animal feed. It is not a normal feed for horses. It is a new horse feed introduced in the last 30 or so years top a horse that spent hundreds of thousands of years developing a digestive system that was fed mostly ground monocotyledon plants.

            Don’t ask me what I think about carrots….

  69. If my horse eats only alfalfa hay and fresh grass all day what balancer for proper vitamins and minerals is recommended?

    1. This is only for a week or so to see if your horse starts sweating. But if you do continue, be careful of “ration balancers because almost every one I’ve looked at has grain, especially wheat middlings. READ THE INGREDIENTS. Find vitamins amd minerals mixed with a variety of proteins – and avoid inflammatory items.

        1. Absolutely. All blogs have a Creative Commons copyright. No changes plus attribution. Thanks!! Doc T

        2. Absolutely – the more who read it the more horses helped! All my blogs are Creative Commons Copyrighted which means that as long as you don’t change a thing and attribute the article to The Equine Practice, Inc you are free to copy and post or use without permission (but thanks for asking).

      1. I have a horse who has had diarrhea for three years. I don’t feed her any grain. The vet cannot figure it out and we have tried everything from supplements to gut helpers to probiotics etc. She eats grass and grass alfalfa hay. She always seems very uncomfortable. Any suggestions?

        1. Have you tried the Succeed fecal test for hind gut ulcers? You vet should be able to get this. If positive then try Succeed.

          Also test for heavy metals. If found they need to be chelated to be removed.

          Also test for any enteric bacteria that don’t belong there (ex salmonella).

          Probiotics don’t work because they are digested by the stomach acid. Prebiotics though are food for the gut bacteria and the best is fresh grass. Any chance of moving her to a new field of grass?

          Some horses cannot tolerate alfalfa hay and some grass hays. Try different varieties.

          Remember no treats – even apples and carrots. Only let her eat what her ancestors ate at least to determine what may be causing the diarrhea. I have one horse in SC with the same issue. Adding a little senior feed seemed to help. I know, this doesn’t follow my advice but every horse is an individual and the gut bugs are also tailored to that individual. You are feeding them and NOT your horse. This will take some work and detailed observations with your vet. Please let us all know what you find with your trials. Thanks in advance.

        2. My friend’s horse is unable to eat long stem forage. Took her and the vet over 10 years to realize this was the cause of his chronic diarrhea. He now only eats short stem (hay cubes, alfalfa pellets, dengi, etc) and has not had diarrhea since! Worth a shot (be careful of dengi, can have molasses and other additives)

          1. I saw a horse today with chronic diarrhea that also only eats hay pellets and a senior feed mixed and delivered with an electronic gated feeding system. Only small amount delivered throughout the day and night from a reservoir outside the stall. This has worked for him.

            Remember that it is the gut microbes that digest the stems into fuel. It is not the chewing of the food though chewing does start the process. What some have done is perform a fecal transplant but it is not as successful in horses as it is in humans. However this is something your vet can look into to help with chronic diarrhea. But first try the no grain (and no supplements and no treats) diet and give it 2 months to allow for the gut to heal from any inflammation.

            Thanks for your thoughts Amanda.

        1. None! Please read my other blogs where I discuss vitamins and minerals as well as carbs, fats and proteins. Remember that in horses, ALL vitamins (except D from sun exposure) are mad by the healthy gut microbes. It does NOT come from the food.

      2. My mare has come down with breathing issues and a cough this summer. We don’t have any of the normal asthma triggers so I’m looking into nutrition. Took her to the vet and they gave her Dexasome and Ventipulmin. It’s not helping much. I started the no grain diet this week for both horses. Soaked alfalfa pellets, grass hay and pasture. Hope it helps. I’ve spent a fortune so far with little to no results.

        1. Breathing issues have been a problem that has not resolved with this diet I’m sorry to say. However, I am always hopeful. But the addition of high quality protein in sufficient amounts has not really been tried. I recommend 1 pound of soybean meal per 1200 pound horse per day to get the protein intake to the minimum amount of 0.5g per pound of body weight. But the recommended range is 0.5 to 1.0g per pound. If you are interested, you can increase the SBM to 4 pounds per day (for a 1200 pound horse) to reach the high end (174g absorbed protein per pound of SBM assuming 454g absorbed protein from 20 pounds of hay / pasture per day).

          Let us all know how she does if you decide to do this. Remember there are not reports of adverse effects of protein given in excess of 1.0g per pound in humans if the amount of sugar is maintained at a low level. It is the low carb / high protein diets that keep insulin low and provide weight loss and add muscle as, by definition, add other proteins as well that enhance the immune system, enzymes, neurotransmitters etc.

          Here is another thought – adding vitamin D. This is actually a hormone and it modulated immune reactions. The homeless in the US have a 45% infection rate with Sars CoV2 yet there are zero cases of COVID-19. When measured, their Vit D3 levels in the blood are all high while the D3 levels in incubated and dying patients are low. We don’t really know anything about Vit D in horses so this might be an avenue you and your vet can explore. I personally take 10,000 units a day which is a high amount and after about a year at this level, I seem to be doing well.

          Food for thought.

    2. Wendy, The only way to know is to take samples of several bales of your hay and get an analysis done at a lab. You can do the same with your pasture. Take handfuls from a BUNCH of places in the field and dry it. It is not just the amounts of minerals to consider, but also the ratios of each to the other. There are other needs as well, such as amino acids, and more.

      1. Your local cooperative extention agent or agriculture commission (or whatever it is called in your area) should be able to do this for you for free. Many Ag supply stores will do this too in order to apple the correct treatment to your fields.

        1. Everyone in every state asks this question believing that their area is low in Se. Maybe in your area there are horses suffering from low Se. If so I would like to know how many and what the signs are of this deficiency. I have not seen a Se deficient horse. It has been established that a Se deficiency in foals causes white muscle disease. But decades ago Se was fed to cattle at a research facility to measure its uptake in the body but the results were not what they were expecting. Even with supplementation there was no increase in Se in the tissue. It turns out that the minerals in the water was preventing the uptake of Se.

          Whenever I measured for Se the levels were low normal. Then I injected Se about a month prior to foaling to prevent retained placentas (RP) but in my practice, there was no correlation between a Se injection and the prevention of RP’s.

          If you are worried about the Se levels in your horses have them tested. If low AND there are signs of a Se deficiency (muscle weakness) then supplement either orally or by injection. Remember that all minerals need to be chelated to be absorbed and the most common chelating agent are amino acids. So now we go back to supplementing the protein intake so that there are enough amino acids for all the other things they do including chelating minerals.

    3. I now have my hay tested for low sugar and work with an equine nutritionist who balances the hay with minerals. I soak Timothy hay balancing cubes with the minerals, along with flaxseed, salt and Vitamin E. I never want to see Laminitis ever again. My Haflinger is IR but thankfully doesn’t have Cushings.

      1. Thanks Donna! Soaking hay is the best way to remove non-structural carbohydrates (sugar in the form of starch).

        I am not a fan of feeding any seeds to horses (corn, oats, wheat) and this includes flax.I am also not a fan of adding minerals as I believe there are enough minerals in water, in mined salt and in forage. There is no evidence that horses are mineral deficient but may appear so due to a lack of protein in their diet. Proteins are made of amino acids and these are the major ligands used in chelating minerals so they can be absorbed. The regulation of mineral uptake is closely regulated by the horse. Excess loss from sweating and blood loss will require addition of minerals in the diet and chelation will regulate this.

        Where does a horse naturally get vitamin E? Certainly not in fish.

        Insulin resistance, I believe, is caused by mitochondrial exhaustion primarily and by lectins, specifically wheat germ agglutinin in wheat and wheat middlings, blocking the insulin receptor sites on the cells. IR leads to the horse consuming its own protein converting it to sugar to stay alive. Over time there are not enough amino acids left to build a solid hoof and its connection with the underlying coffin bone. Specifically, the disulfide bonds of methionine, a limiting amino acid, diminish and the hoof tears away from the coffin bone (laminitis or founder). All of this is written in the blogs found on my site here.

        Based on the diet you provided here, I would be adding protein and be cautious of any possible inflammatory ingredient such as flax seed and oils. Monitor the IR in your horse and if it isn’t improving or your farrier is not 100% happy with the hooves then consider changing the diet to include protein and eliminating inflammatory ingredients.

  70. […] client’s horses by taking the 2 week no-grain challenge. Learn more about grain problems at TheEquinePractice.com/grain. Take the 2 week no-grain challenge with your non-sweating horse and post the results. No harm in […]

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