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Nutrition

Back in the days when I was instructing full time, I used to think ‘training’ could solve almost all issues.

Then I realised you couldn’t train a horse effectively if it was in pain from it’s feet, saddle fit or the bit, or any other kind of physical pain for that matter, usually resulting from long term damage to the body from one of the above, or as I've now recently discovered - chronic mineral imbalance.

Now I have come to realise that even more issues are the result of the grass we allow our horses to eat, along with imbalances or lack of certain minerals and vitamins. Or the massive imbalance that rapidly growing grass can cause in Autumn and Spring, it has been widely reconised in cattle as grass tetany but until recently it has not been recognised or proven in horses.

So many people struggle with horses that are over-excitable, nervous, jumpy, suffer separation anxiety, have a sour attitude, can’t move forward, and are generally uncontrollable, and think that better training will fix the horse.
Sure, some horses can be ‘trained into submission’ with various techniques but that just causes the horse to shut down eventually – it doesn’t solve the cause of the problem.

Are these behavioural issues? What has changed in the horse’s life?
First, its best to check that pain isn’t causing a problem, then look at any changes made to their diet:
1/ Have they moved to a new paddock
2/ Is the grass short and under stress?
3/ Been fed something different such as ryegrass or clover hay?
4/ Their living situation, have they been removed from the herd, or lost a herd member?
5/ Has a particular grass such as Rye Grass, Clover, Paspalum, Couch Grass, Phalaris (Blue Canary grass), Cat's ear flat weed (looks like dandelion), Tall Fescue in reasonable amounts in the paddock?
6/ Has a weed increased, such as Cape weed, Patersons cures, St John's Wart, Fire weed, Poison buttercup, or Deadly night shade?
7/ Have you changed or cut out the vitamin and mineral supplement you feed in the past 2-3 months?
8/ Or have you made changes to the equipment you use (new saddle, bridle, pad, girth etc?).

Any or all of these can affect a horse’s behaviour.
So if you’ve changed your horse’s diet, then that could be the cause – especially if you’ve moved them to a fresh pasture, and especially if that pasture has grass that is toxic.
So what is toxic grass?
Any grass under stress or climatic conditions such as those of early spring and autumn, especially in drought-breaking rains or cool, cloudy, wet weather, including frosts, is subject to acute spikes of potassium and nitrate at the same time becoming low in sodium. This is exacerbated by nitrogenous fertilisers.
The potassium nitrate ingested is highly toxic and the body eliminates it by latching on to calcium and magnesium so is excreted with them. Hence the necessity to feed adequate calcium/magnesium and sodium while not adding to the potassium load with lucerne/molasses, many herbs/garlic/high protein feeds/supplements containing potassium.

Grass that is too high in sugars (NSC’s – Non Structural Carbohydrates) such as rye grass, or has oxalates (binds up calcium) such as Kikuyu, Setaria, Buffel, Green Panic, Pangola, Para Grass, Guinea Grass, Signal Grass and Purple Pigeon grass, or has mycotoxins that are produced by endophytes in grasses such as rye and paspalum, or has moulds/pollens or is drought stressed, is toxic.
It's also a good idea to find out from your local Department of Primary Industries what weeds are prevalent in your area that could be dangerous to horses.

Grass is a huge topic and I recommend you start by reading the article further down this page - 'Why do I need to know about grass' then, Jenny Patersons' web site www.horsemanshipnz.com (under Diet). It has a huge amount of information on the physical and behavioural issues that come from grazing the wrong types of grasses for horses.
In the past week I’ve had two people contact me about their geldings behaving like stallions and others noticing their horses have ‘changed’ and are becoming pushy and not listening. Clover is implicated here because it contains phyto-estrogens that upset hormones and also contains pigments that lead to photosensitivity which looks like mud fever (greasy heel) and sunburn.
The best way to figure out if grass is implicated in behavioural issues is to remove the horse from the grass, feed non-rye/clover/paspalum grass hay and supplements to assist with correcting mineral imbalances that can exaggerate the behaviour.

Here is a wonderful story of one New Zealand farmer who ‘saved’ his horse by doing just that. Click Here.

“I started using Alleviate on my gelding in autumn and found he was not as stressed about leaving his mare behind when I took him for a ride. I was so happy with Alleviate, I decided to start my mare (Missy - pictured here) on it. She has had a great fear of being tied up from previous negative experiences, and as soon as we would approach the tie up rail in the past she was tense and stressed out and would run backwards.
Amazingly, after three weeks on Alleviate I am now able to drape the rope over the rail and brush her without any anxiety at all. I would recommend it to anyone.”
Vanessa Macdonald, Tas.

From Lucy Prior at Gotcha Equine - Something else we are about to add to our Provide It Plan is feeding your horses their hay first before they have a hard feed.
By giving the horses 30 - 60 minutes of hay first before they eat their hard feed it slows down the digestion of the nutrition in the hard feed and helps increase the absorption rate. This is particularly important for horses kept on a track or dry lot as their stomachs won't have as much in them, particularly in the morning they will be almost empty.
Hard food will pass through an empty stomach much quicker, possibly not allowing as much nutrition to be absorbed. I have noticed that the tox-defy also seems to be working more efficiently by feeding some hay first before the hard food.
It may take a couple of days for your horses to get used to the reversed feeding, mine looked at me in disgust for the first couple of days wondering where their hard feed was.
Another tip which I'm sure most of you are already aware of is to introduce your horses slowly from free grazing on grass to a track or large bare yard.
If you change your horses diet drastically it can kill off a large amount of the flora (good bacteria) in the hind gut that breaks down the fiber. If this happens your horse may go off their feed and the manure will go very dry. Try giving them a heaped table spoon (or a Vit & Min scoop) full of Phsyillin Husk night and morning this will help regulate the digestive system.
The Natural Horse World Store now stocks the whole Provide It range of products.


Why Do I need to Know About Grass?

Grass is one of those things we take for granted if we have it, and wish we had it if we don't, especially in times of drought.
If we have a paddock full of lush grass we think our horses are lucky.
But did you know grass can be just as harmful for your horse as much as it's helpful in providing nutrients?
Recent research by people such as Kathryn Watts from Colorado, has revealed that grass can cause our horse to show slight lameness, shortness of stride, tie-up (azoturia) after exercise, contribute to 'Cushing's Syndrome' and hoof abcesses, and of course, cause laminitis and founder.

Many of our horses probably die early or are 'put down' because of the problems they develop from eating grass either at the wrong time of the day or year, or the wrong type of grass. In fact it has been proven that animals who have their intake of calories restricted by 30-40% live a lot longer.
In other words, people love their horses so much they feed them 'to death'.
One of the most common reasons for horses to be retired or euthanaised is irreparable lameness and it's estimated that 80% of horses in the world show some form of clinical lameness.

Most of these lamenesses originate in the lower 1/3rd of the leg with a very high percentage in the hoof from 'diseases' such as navicular and laminitis, abcesses and seedy toe (or white line disease).
While some stresses to the hoof such as navicular are related more to the hoof form being out of shape due to shoeing and bad/neglectful trimming, most others can be controlled through diet. Laminitis, seedy toe and the abcesses that result from the hoof trying to rid itself of toxins can all be fixed with a careful diet that controls the damage done to the laminae inside the hoof.

Damage to the sensitive laminae cause them to seperate and destroy the bond between the inner hoof structures and the outer hoof wall. When this bond is broken, lameness occurs as it is a bit like us tearing a fingernail from the skin below - it gets pretty sensitive until it can grow more tissue and heal.
As the torn laminae grow down with the hoof wall towards the ground, the dead tissue spaces (seperation of the hoof wall) allows bacteria to enter and then you have seedy toe or white line disease.

Abcesses commonly occur to rid the hoof of the dead tissue from within, especially when the horse has suffered laminitis and a large amount of toxins must be removed. When the blood flow that carries these toxins away from the hoof is compromised by shoeing or lack of movement such as when the horse is footsore and cannot move much, then an abcess is the only way to force the toxins out.
So what has this all got to do with grass I hear you say?

Well, grass manufactures sugars in the form of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) and when these sugars overload the horse's hind gut, in simple terms, it causes the gut to release toxins into the blood which then flows to the hooves and effects the laminae as described above.
So, if we know how to limit the NSC to a safe level, then we can save our horse from a lot of suffering and save ourselves from a lot of vet bills.
Most people already realise that a horse who gets into the grain bin and gorges, will founder, as do ponies on rich grass in spring time.
This is the extreme end of the scale, but if we are more aware of what is happening to our horse's hooves, they will show us that minor episodes of laminitis (a major episode is called founder) are happening in response to the grass or concentrate feed our horse is eating.

Commonly, horses become sensitive in their hooves when they have a minor laminitic attack. You may notice your horse is reluctant to move forward, takes short steps or 'plays up' when asked to circle. They will be footsore on gravel or rocky surfaces, always looking for the edge where the grass grows or the going is softer. That's what makes most horse owners reach for the phone to call their farrier to put shoes on, when in reality they should be restricting grass intake and buying a set of boots to help protect the hooves in a healthy way when they want to ride.
Some footsoreness can be due to lack of good hoof form ie; flat soles therefore sensitive, but this is also just another symptom of mild laminitis. The soles appear to have dropped but what's really happening is the hoof wall is seperating and growing forward from the coffin bone because of a weak laminar attatchment, causing the sole and coffin bone to become weight bearing and therefore sensitive to direct pressure.

As you can see, the root cause of many hoof problems and therefore soundness, is the damage to the laminae which is like velcro - it holds the hoof together.
The cause of damage to the laminae is commonly the toxins released from the horse's hind gut in response to an overload of sugar.
The sugar overload comes from a high level of sugar or NSC in the grasses the horse eats (even in the dried grass - hay) which is the reason we need to know more about grass.

We need to know when it is safe to allow the horse to eat grass or when the grass has a low level of NSC's.
We need to know what types of grasses have lower levels of NSC and which ones have a higher amount - usually those developed for the beef and dairy industries to grow lots of muscle, fat and milk.
We need to know what affects the NSC content of grasses - like the weather, fertilisers used, when it is cut for hay etc.

For more information on grasses go to www.safergrass.org


How magnesium can help your equine cope with spring grass.

In the spring when grass is growing faster due to an increase in rain, sunshine and sometimes fertiliser, it produces excess potassium. Potassium slows the uptake of magnesium which horses have a limited ability to store. Magnesium uptake can be aided by the presence of sodium which is why it’s important to have a salt lick available for your horse at all times, but especially so at times of rapid grass growth.

Modern day diets are often low in magnesium and the high stress lifestyle of some equines leads to an increased need for magnesium. Areas with acid soils and soft water may not provide enough Mg in water and soil for the needs of performance horses.

Magnesuim is a very important mineral. It helps regulate a number of body functions. As well as regulating moods and muscle function, it is essential in regulating some of the metabolic issues inherent in chronically foundered horses, such as blood sugar levels and thyroid.
A lack of magnesium has been blamed at least in part for a number of conditions including equine metabolic syndrome and obesity, both precursors to laminitis.

Though it is hard to overdose a horse on magnesium (they get diarrhoea when they get too much), it is important that magnesium and calcium are fed together since they "compete" for the same amino acids, be sure the horse is getting adequate amounts of both. If you feed Speedibeet which is high in calcium, or a small amount of lucerne chaff, that should balance it out.

Which form of magnesium?
Epsom salt magnesium is the least readily absorbed, although some of the magnesium does get taken up by the body so it can be useful in an emergency situation. Magnesium oxide is next in line. Magnesium oxide is the form found in most feeds because it is the cheapest. More digestible magnesium is in the "chelated" form, ie it has amino acids attached to make it more useable by the body. There are many different chelated magnesium products available and all are better than magnesium oxide in digestibility.

The magnesium in dolomite is as absorbable as that in magnesium oxide but the problem is calcium and magnesium share some absorption pathways and the body preferentially will take the calcium first. If the diet already has an excess of calcium, some of the absorption pathways will be blocked to both calcium and (as a secondary effect) magnesium. This is why it is best to use a pure magnesium supplement first when trying to correct a serious and longstanding magnesium deficiency. Once the symptoms have abated, you should then switch to a supplement program that contains both adequate magnesium and all other minerals in correct balance.

References: Equine Clinical Nutrition By Lon D. Lewis, Anthony Knight, Bart Lewis, Corey Lewis
Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Fifth Revised Edition, 1989 (1989)
Board on Agriculture.

You can purchase an organic chelated form of magnesium called Alleviate, from the Natural Horse World Store for the fastest results and then for a daily maintenance diet, good quality magnesium oxide can be purchased from www.frst.com.au


Autumn Flush brings on Toxic Grass

It's wonderful to have finally had some rain and with a tank full of water it feels like the drought has broken. The weather is still warm enough to grow grass but the lovely green tinge is already presenting problems for some horse and pony owners.

When grass has been stressed by drought and suddenly has a growth spurt, it contains toxins which are designed to protect it from over grazing. Our domestic horses not having a lot of choice when confined to small areas (less than 1,000 acres!) can be affected by this grass, commonly called the 'Autumn flush'. Cases of lamintis in prone equines increase at this time of year, almost the same as in spring.

Horses who haven't had a severe laminitic epsiode may show minor symptoms such as tenderness when ridden on gravel, or shortness of stride and refusal to jump.

Some horses can even show signs of ' grass staggers' - which are exciteability, nervousness, a staggering unsteady gait or trembling. An excellent site for information of how mycotoxins affect horses (and these occur in other grasses, grains and hay as well) is www.horsetalk.co.nz

Horses that show symptoms of any being affected by grass or other toxic plants such as capeweed and flatweed (false dandelion) do well if fed additional magnesium.

Magnesium plays a role in the metabilism of the muscular and nervous systems. One very good high quality source is a product developed in New Zealand called Alleviate. It is an organic chelate - the highest grade available and inlcudes boron which is required to reduce the excretion levels of magnesium. Alleviate is now available through the Natural Horse World Store and you can read a more detailed product review here.

The Horsetalk link above also has some interesting info on magnesium and for feeding magnesium as a part of a custom mineral mix for maintenance, www.frst.com.au has high quality magnesium oxide.


Minerals, vitamins and supplements

can be one of the most confusing aspects of feeding horses.
How do you know which ones to use? Or which brands are best, or even if your horse needs them?
Here are some reasons for feeding supplements:

1. The pasture/hay might not be providing the right balance of minerals or enough to keep your horse healthy, epsecially if the soil is depleted. Horses deficient in minerals often show signs in their coat and hoof health, with skin conditions, faded coat colour and hoof wall cracks good indicators that something is lacking.

2. The mineral/vitamin needs of a horse vary according to age, health, workload and whether they are breeding or lactating. A pasture pet may get by with just a salt lick but if you don't want problems to arise when the horse is expected to do something, then supplements are a must.

3. Supplements in prepared feeds aren't always enough and aren't balanced to the roughage your horse gets which should be 80% of the diet. Unless you feed the exact specified amount on the bag the mineral/vitamin intake for this portion of the diet is reduced.

4. Free choice minerals or licks can not always be relied upon to provide everything the horse needs. Minerals are generally unpalatable except for salt which horses will seek out themselves and should be available in loose form at all times. Licks may not give adequate intake especially in hot climates or when the horse sweats.
Licks have molasses added to get horses to lick/eat them but they still won't take in enough on their own especially when the horse is low in the pecking order and by the time they get a turn at the lick, the rest of the herd may decide to move on, so they feel the need to go with them.

5. Health problems may benefit from specific supplements for example horses suffering from stringhalt respond well to magnesium as do those with laminitis or behavioural issues caused by the toxins in some grasses such as rye and kikkuyu. 'Big head' and facial bone bumps indicate a need for additional calcium and 'tying up' could indicate a need for Vitamin E and Selenium.

Photo: Supplements can improve coat colour and condition - the horse on the left was fed supplements from the Natural Horse World Store Both horses were otherwise on the same diet.

While I am not qualified to tell you which supplements to use and indeed there are so many variables, you need to research what supplementation each horse requires.
My aim is to simply to raise awareness about a subject that is sometimes neglected or ignored becuase its all too hard.

With the ability to search for information so easily on the internet these days, there's really no excuse for not looking into what your horse might require for optimal health.
There is also a wealth of
knowledge and advice available from independent Equine Nutritionists at very reasonable rates (see the Services Directory) and well researched books such as Natural Horse Care The Right Way available from the Natural Horse World Store giving good advice.

In last month's nutrition news, I covered the options for finding advice and help on nutrition.
The Horse.com has a very good article on minerals and another on vitamins here - its free to join so you can read it. They also have a fabulous Nutrition Newsletter you can sign up for here.
For another article on Mineral Feeding Options written for this website click here.

So, if you want a healthy horse you need a consistent supply of minerals/vitamins - feed something - its better than nothing!


Mineral Feeding Options

There are so many different approaches to feeding minerals and what to feed that it pays to do your research, keep up to date with new information, find what works for your horses and how best to give them access to minerals.

Here are a few examples of how horse owners approach the mineral puzzle:

  • 'What minerals? My horses should get all they need from the pasture'.
  • 'I get whatever the local feed store recommends or has on special'.
  • 'Isn't that what a salt lick is for?'
  • I feed the same as my friends do'.
  • 'I only give them minerals if they have a problem or look deficient'.
  • I read up on it and mix my own depending on what I can afford and what my horses need'.
  • 'I get an equine nutritionist to formulate a diet for me and that includes minerals'.
  • I feed a commercial horse mix and that has minerals added'.

As you can see there are many and varied approaches, some good and some not.

Minerals are manufactured in the soil so where your horse's feed is grown will dictate the minerals it has. If your horse is mainly pastured it's a good idea to have your soil tested and if it is lacking, then address that by supplementing the pasture, rather than the horse.

Be extremely cautious when supplementing minerals to your horse as one mineral may interfere with the absorption of others and imbalances and toxic levels may occur.

Minerals can be organic or inorganic. Organic minerals are simply substances that are bonded to an organic material. In the old days, these types of minerals were referred to as chelates, but you may now also see names such as proteinate, or a description of the organic mineral such as polysaccharide mineral complex. Inorganic versions of these compounds are usually referred to as sulfates or oxides.

Organic minerals properly supplied with a balanced diet prevent muscle abnormalities, developmental orthopedic disease, and other health issues. Problems may arise when the minerals are not adequately metabolized by the horse. This is rarely the case with the organic minerals.

There are many natural sources of minerals and vitamins that we can supplement with little detrimental affect. These include kelp, rosehips, dolomite, apple cider vinegar and sea salt.

"So what is the best way to do that?" I hear you say.

It really depends on your situation, how you feed and what you supplement with.

If you are bucket feeding a performance horse or breeding stock, then adding supplements to their feed is easy - but be careful what you're giving doesn't conflict with any prepared feed mixes.

Be aware that almost all prepared feed and mineral mixes are designed for the 'average' type of horse on the 'average' type of soil. You need to know what your soil is lacking in, and supplement with that. Or in some cases your horse may show some reliable physical signs such as a faded, curly on the ends coat indicating a copper deficiency, or erratic behaviour in spring when the grass is at it's richest indicating more magnesium needed.

But what if your horse lives in a herd and doesn't need regular bucket feeds?

Then free choice minerals may be the best way to offer them. There are a couple of ways to do this - take a selection of supplements like the natural ones suggested above, out to the horse each day in a small bucket and leave it with them while the weather is fine. These supplements are ususally too expensive to risk being ruined by rain.

This method will suit the 'at home' horse owner who can retrieve the buckets or just leave them with the horses to take what they need while they attend to grooming or paddock maintenence. .

For those that don't have the luxury of living with their horses it's easier to have free choice minerals under cover either in a shelter shed or if you haven't got one of those, make something up like the apple bin above converted to hold the minerals. Facing it away from the prevailing weather will protect the contents.

Whatever form of feeding minerals you adopt, remember that horses always need free choice salt so it is imperative to supply a block to lick or if you can keep it under cover, loose or rock salt.

Many mineral or salt licks can contain a high amount of molasses that encourages the horse to gorge and costs you a fortune so look for blocks that contain 3% molasses or less.

Click here for more comprehensive information on feeding mineral supplements.

Another highly reccomended site is www.balancedequine.com.au
"Optimal nutrition is important for good health and performance in horses, Balanced Equine offers independent nutritional advice and mineral balanced diets."

Also - Katy Watts from www.safergrass.org has a new CD on Minerals so go to her web site for lots of good info or to purchase a copy.

Understanding Beet Pulp as an Equine Feed – click the link to read this article which explains how beet pulp becomes an equine feed and why it is so useful.


Clover Turns Gelding into Stallion – by Vanessa Smith
Last autumn, I was at my wits end as to what to do with my 14 year old gelding that I have owned for two years. Echo is a beautiful grey Arab cross. I had always thought he was a rig as he loved mares and acted a bit like a stallion.
Echo was given to me because of his stressed out and over-reactive behaviour, resulting in past mistreatment. He is a sensitive horse and demands patience but I was becoming afraid of him.
He acted so much like a stallion that he was unsafe to be around when he was near a mare. My mare came in season and he mated her fully. He could not concentrate when I took him away from the mares and would head toss and roll on the ground, sometimes displaying mild signs of colic.
My own baby was six months at the time and I thought that with the limited time I had, I would not be able to change his behaviour through the hours of training he’d need.
I was also desperate to ride again and Echo was my only riding horse, so I had long nights full of anguish and frustration. One day when I went to feed the horses Echo nuzzled me and started making deep snorting sounds and then he struck out with his front hoof and when I had a woman massage him the next day and he was unhappy and went to bite. I was so upset that I thought about giving Echo away. It was a hard decision as I felt Echo and I, had over the past two years formed a good relationship but now he seemed unreachable.
I sent Cynthia an ad to put on her website, looking for a home for Echo. She said that he would be unable to find a better home than mine because of his sensitive nature. She also sent me a book that saved Echo and me.
“The Key to calm healthy horses” by Jenny Paterson helped me understand what was happening to Echo. As I read the pages I cried, the book was describing Echo exactly, Tossing his head constantly, sour cranky behaviour, walking all over me, unable to concentrate, intense stallion behaviour.
I realised that the clover paddock he was in was creating a toxic effect that resulted in all the above behaviours.
I removed Echo off the clover and also fed hay and began to feed him Alleviate, which is a magnesium supplement and Supreme Vit & Min. and over a few weeks Echo slowly began to change.
I also came across a product called Attitude blend from Country Park Herbs, designed to balance the hormones of horses.
During the winter I was amazed at the change. Echo has always tried to mount my mare, yet just a week ago she came into heat and he didn’t bat an eyelid. Today I went out to brush Echo - he stood quietly with the mares around and without a halter on he just stood there and enjoyed the experience, and so did I.
I am still aware that there is clover on my property and I know that even when he gets to munch on some he changes. I also know that the spring grass and autumn grass can change his personality in a day.
I am happy now armed with all this new positive information, and know that Echo and I are destined for a long life together.

 

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Disclaimer: The information contained within this website is solely the expressed views and opinions of the author, unless otherwise stated, and the author accepts no responsibility for the way this information is used by viewers. The information is provided to help PREVENT problems, not to replace veterinary advice.

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