There’s a saying that opinions are like noses – everybody has one. Not very respectful but not a bad place to start in evaluating opinions, including our own.
Another good one is that the right to have an opinion does not make your opinion right.
By definition, an opinion is not fact. For something to be fact, it has to be verifiable as true. Paper will burn in fire is a fact, not an opinion. Opinions can rarely measure up to that level of certainty, and if they did they would technically cease to be just opinions.
Opinions are a blend of what we believe to be true based on our experiences and what we think/feel/suspect is true from our reading, education, cultural influences or just personal preference.
If you are about to have a “Duh!” or “So what?” reaction about now, remember that opinions no matter how strong are not facts. Then think about how many of your horse care decisions are based only on opinions. If we’re honest, it’s a very high percentage. It doesn’t matter a whole lot for something like halter styles or colors, but when you get into the realm of diet and health care it certainly does.
Should you just trust your gut or your instincts? I hope not. That’s not a very strong foundation on which to build an opinion. We’re not born knowing instinctively how to correctly care for a horse. When asking others for advice and guidance you’re likely to get a hefty dose of opinion too, but not all opinions are equal.
Equine nutrition is an area where everyone seems to have an opinion.
Working the cash register in a feed store, or answering the phone, doesn’t make that person any more capable of correctly advising you on nutrition than a school crossing guard, or your plumber, but that won’t necessarily stop them from telling you their opinion. Equine professionals with unrelated specialties like trainers or farriers might be free with their nutrition advice too, but without any real background or training to back it up. In fact, many people like to fancy themselves as knowledgeable about nutrition when actually they’re not – or at least not as widely as they think.
Someone who has spent decades raising or successfully training thoroughbreds can tell you a lot, but if your goal is to work with minis their advice is potentially disastrous. Rule #1 is to seek out people familiar with your specific circumstances. If your horse has, or is prone to, any health issues it becomes even more important to narrow your focus. If your Arabian is only used very lightly for occasional trail rides you won’t be able to feed her the same as an Arabian actively competing in endurance.
Veterinarians don’t receive much in the way of formal nutrition training in school but they are uniquely qualified to study and apply nutrition in a clinical situation if they develop an interest in doing so. Even if your vet does not focus on nutrition he/she should be able to refer you to an independent consultant whose opinion really is based on solid facts and experience.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD