Interpreting Equine Behavior

It can be fascinating to read about equine behavior, especially things like the organization in feral bands. However, when it comes to interpreting an individual’s more subtle responses there is a good chance we could get it wrong.

How many times have you heard it said that when a horse exhibits licking and chewing, e.g. during a body work session, it indicates enjoyment?  Another common interpretation is that it shows either submission or the horse is  “thinking about things” during a training session. Although not quite as positive as the first scenario, these are still interpretations of the behavior in a positive way.

However, a recent study reporting on behavior of feral horses found that licking and chewing occurred during aggressive encounters between horses – by both the aggressor and the target. In fact, it was more likely to be the aggressor doing it. This argues against licking and chewing indicating submission and suggests it is related to stressful situations rather than pleasant ones.

The researchers also noted it was triggered by tense situations and likely to be followed by a more relaxed scenario. It was suggested this may mean it is a transitional behavior or even a way for horses to calm themselves down but admitted more research that actually simultaneously measures stress hormones is needed.  In any case, it is clear  licking and chewing is connected to stress, not enjoyment. It’s a lesson not to interpret equine behavior based on what we think or wish it to mean.

Anthropomorphizing equine behavior can be dangerous. I remember a couple that took riding lessons with me when they were in their 50s or 60s. It was their first exposure to horses.  The husband was convinced his horse wouldn’t step on him if he fell off, “because he likes me ” because he gave him treats.  He refused to consider the real reason the horse would avoid stepping on him was to protect himself.

The wife didn’t have any appreciation of her own or the horse’s personal space, was often intruding in a way the horses found startling and as a result got a severe bite to her breast. When this couple decided they were experienced enough to go cross-country by themselves (they weren’t), they went to a stable hiring out horses.  The wife insisted her horse not wear a martingale because they were “mean” and the horse looked “nice”.  She was killed when the horse reared and went over backwards.

Even people who should know more often get it wrong. High-spirited horses for example will get labeled as crazy, dangerous or aggressive when that’s not true in many cases. I admit to being prejudiced because I enjoy this type of horse but I prefer to describe them as enthusiastic. Firey might be more fair since they shouldn’t be handled by people who are afraid of them but the point is they are not out to harm you. They’re bursting with energy like a toddler.

The way to get to know horses is to spend time with them, work with and around them. Apply your knowledge of how to safely work with horses then pay attention to the more subtle individual variations you will see in each individual. There is no one size fits all training or handling method. It takes time and patience to build that experience. This is called horsemanship and there’s not enough of it to go around.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Winter Skin First Aid

Winter means a break from insect related skin issues, but it has its own set of unique problems.

The cold, dry air in winter leads to a major cause of delayed healing, dehydration of exposed tissue. A moist environment is important for cells to migrate across the wound and for white cells to do their work cleaning up the wound. Suturing wounds that warrant it, and keeping other wounds covered with a protective salve, will guard against dehydration.

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Choose a topical treatment which will prevent the wound from drying

The cold itself can also be a problem because blood flow is decreased to the skin in cold weather. Inflammation helps counteract it in the early stages of healing but once that calms down, in 3 to 5 days, blood flow is not as good as in warmer weather. This slows healing by inhibiting cell migration and can also mean the difference between death or survival of areas of skin that have a damaged blood supply from the injury.

Because of the detrimental effects of cold, dry weather, wounds need more protection. Even small skin breaks in areas with a lot of movement, like the heels and pasterns, can quickly become painfully deep cracks.  Keep an eye out for wounds on your small animals too and regularly check their paws for cracking.

Good choices for holding in moisture on wounds are ointments and salves without a water base. Look for petrolatum, beeswax and oils.  Help with temporary irritation and discomfort comes from ingredients like Arnica, Chamomile,  Comfrey, Calendula, Witch Hazel, Plantain, White Willow Bark, Golden Seal and Vitamin E.  Natural ingredients with antiseptic advantages include Tea Tree Oil, Oregon Grape, Echinacea, Gentian, Sodium Copper Chlorophyllin and all essential oils.  Protect delicate new skin with the antioxidant benefits of  Chaparral, Burdock and St. John’s Wort.

For wounds on the lower legs, apply a generous amount of salve after cleaning gently with warm water then cover with several layers of gauze (never use cotton on open wounds) and a standing leg wrap over that. To avoid having your gauze slide down inside the wrap, use a dab of your wound dressing to hold the gauze layers together and also to hold it where you want it inside your leg cotton wrap, then apply the wrap as usual. Check and rebandage once a day for the first few days, or until drainage has stopped.

Also be vigilant for signs of the #1 cold weather skin infection, Dermatophilus congolensis, aka “rain rot”. This organism thrives inside a dense winter coat, especially if the horse gets wet. It is most likely to attack immunocompromised individuals, like seniors, but no horse is safe.

Look for areas where the hair seems to be standing on end in little tufts. Also use your bare fingers or very thin gloves (like ski glove liners) to feel for tiny scabs. The scabs are easier to remove early in the infection.  To support skin recovery, remove as many scabs as you can. Use a tea tree based spray to saturate the area, or a tea tree salve rubbed in well to make sure you get down to skin level.

Tip: For ease of use and your horse’s comfort, do not store wound products in the cold – including in tack trunks.  Keep them in a heated room and when working on your horse place them inside your clothes as close to your body as possible until you are ready to use them.

Winter weather is no friend to skin.  Fight compromised healing by preventing tissue dehydration with oil/wax based salves and ointments and taking advantage of many helpful actions of herbal ingredients.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Preventing Colic in Winter

You have probably seen this topic appear several times and in many places – with good reason. Colic is more common in winter (and fall), and the risk factors can be mitigated for the most part.

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Impaction colic is always mentioned but risk of other types of colic can also increase. The factors include:

  • Insufficient water intake. This dries the intestinal food contents as well as things that shouldn’t be there, like sand accumulations which become more physically irritating. Poor intake can be secondary to both insufficient water availability and the water being frozen or too cold.  Contrary to what you  may have heard, the horse will drink cold water. However, they drink less of it than warm water. Inadequate water is the major risk factor for impaction.
  • Diet change. Transition from pasture to hay immediately slashes water intake considerably. It is also a diet change and should be done gradually to allow the organisms time to adapt. High fiber diets may be poorly tolerated by some horses, especially seniors, with development of diarrhea and/or colic.
  • Inadequate salt. Many people think horses don’t need salt in the winter, or that they will always take as much as they need from a salt block. This is false. Suboptimal salt intake lowers water consumption. Adequate sodium from salt in the intestinal tract also enhances the absorption of many nutrients.
  • Pica. Without grass to leisurely munch on all day, a bored horse that runs out of hay or becomes tired of it may sample wood, dirt or any type of bedding. This may contribute to colic.
  • Inadequate exercise.  This factor is often ignored but exercise is very important to intestinal motility. Even with light controlled exercise, horses going from pasture to stalled have drier feces and decreased motility despite drinking more water: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=horse+exercise+intestine+motility . This is most pronounced for the first five days but the pattern will repeat any time there is a significant drop in movement – e.g. during a storm.

You can help combat all this by dividing an ounce of salt between feedings, or dissolve it and spray on hay (daily dose for average size horse). Make sure water is at least protected from freezing and keep it at a tepid warm temperature if possible. Feeding bran mash, soaked beet pulp or hay cubes/pellets and wet meals of any type will help get that critical water into the horse.

Feed hay from nets or feeders to slow intake. Keep hay close to the water source as horses will often eat for a while then drink when it is convenient to do that. Watch for excessive consumption of bedding or dirt.

Last but not least, make sure the horses get as much exercise as possible. Keep stall time to a minimum. Spread hay over a large area with several bags. Ride as much as possible and pony another horse or two along with you.

This is definitely more work than a quick visit to the barn to toss out hay and knock ice off water but lowering colic risk is well worth it.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Winter and Stiff Joints in Older Horses

Retired seniors that are holding weight and getting around comfortably in the warmer months can experience greatly reduced strength and mobility in the cold, to the point they may have difficulty getting up. The explanation for this is multifactorial.

Reduced exercise:  Use it or lose it is very true. Horses may be stalled more in winter and if outside seek shelter and stay there. Very hard frozen ground or slippery conditions also restrict movement and play.

Reduced strength:  It’s well known that even healthy racehorses run slower in the cold. Blood flow to muscles is reduced. The body also makes energy generation less efficient so that more of the calories burned are going to heat, a process known as nonshivering thermogenesis.  Human studies have shown even dexterity is affected by cold, although it is unclear whether this is a muscular or neurological issue (or both). Shivering is also a drain on muscular energy so shivering horses have even less strength.

Tissue Stiffness: The flexibility and elasticity of connective tissue, tendon and ligament decrease with age. Cold doesn’t help. Studies have shown greatly increased muscular and tendon stiffness with cold exposure.

Arthritis and Bone Health: Not every older horse is arthritic although the majority probably have at least one easily identified arthritic joint that gives them problems from time to time. As the condition progresses, pain, soft tissue scarring, loss of cartilage and bone changes restrict the movement of the joint. Although the mechanism is still unexplained, weather conditions have been confirmed to influence arthritic pain. Musculotendinous stiffness in cold also restricts the mobility of joints, “locking” them into smaller ranges of motion.

Finally, the hormonal changes of aging and of PPID lead to weakening of bones. This predisposes the horse to fractures in the event of a fall. Fractures in areas such as the pelvis or hip can be difficult to identify but significantly influence the horse’s mobility.

General Health: Cold is a significant stressor and cold exposure can lead to all the consequences of severe stress including immune system compromise, hormonal imbalance, poor appetite and depression to name a few. Young animals can deal with this much better through homeostatic mechanisms that keep them in a balanced state but seniors typically do not have those reserves.

How to help:

  • Relocating to Florida would be nice but barring this keep the horse as warm as possible. This means shelter from wind and precipitation, blanketing, wrap the lower legs or use lined shipping boots, neoprene wraps for knees and hocks overnight
  • Make sure the horse has an area to lie down that has ground insulation, good footing, and is easy accessible to a small tractor or front end loader in the worst case scenario of the horse needing help to get up
  • Expand your joint regimen from the usual glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronate to supplements which include proven antioxidant activity and herbals which can interact with gene activity to enhance normal homeostatic repair and balancing functions in joints. These useful substances include Yucca, Devil’s Claw, Turmeric, Boswellia, Golden Rod, Astragalus, White Willow, Perna Mussel, Cat’s Claw, Golden Rod, Phellodendron, Fever Few, Egg Shell Membrane, Hydrolyzed Collagen, fatty acids, Silica, Boron, Vitamin C, essential amino acids, B vitamins, copper, zinc, Bioactive Whey, MSM, Resveratrol and other flavonoids abundant in brightly colored fruits.
  •  The above nutrients also support bone health in the older horse
  • Consider a mild adaptogen to support the horse’s hormonal system in dealing with the stress of cold weather. Jiaogulan is an excellent choice.

My personal favorite cold weather comforting measure is to pack the feet with a warmed poultice or pine tar packing, wrap in a few layers of heavy plastic wrap and boot them. Ahh.

The benefits go beyond pampering. The goal here is to minimize the effects of normal aging and cold weather on your senior so he or she can enjoy yet another Spring.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

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Cold Weather Feeding

As the country rapidly slips into winter, questions on cold weather feeding increase.  People want to know what to feed and how much more in winter. The short answer is, it depends.

If you have done any reading on this you have come across the term “critical temperature”.  This is the environmental temperature below which the horse’s body has to work to maintain normal body temperature.  For horses with a summer coat, it is 40 degrees F (4.4 C) and with a thick winter coat it is 18 F (- 7.7 C).  For coats that are in between slick and full, the temperature will also be in between but it’s important to realize that length per se does not predict the warmth of the coat. Most important is the presence of a dense undercoat.

For every drop of 1 degree F, the horse needs 1% more calories.  For example, a 500 lb pony eating 10 lbs of hay/day needs an extra 0.1 lbs = 1.6 ounces of hay.  This is a very small amount and it’s perfectly reasonable not to make adjustments until you reach a more easily measurable amount such as at least half a pound (8 oz) so in this case you would adjust by adding half a pound for every 5 F drop below critical temperature.  If you had a 1000 lb horse eating 20 lbs/day you could adjust sooner because every 2.5 F drop would = an 8 oz change in hay.

You could also make more frequent adjustments using something more easy to measure than hay – pellets or cubes. Keep a scale in your feed room to measure ounces accurately and just add the pellets or cubes to your feed bucket.  A fish scale works well.

If your horse is eating both grain and hay, you can either increase both by the same % or  convert the increase in grain to extra hay instead.  This will keep you from overfeeding grain. It is also of benefit because the fermentation of hay in your horse’s intestinal tract generates heat.  To convert from grain to hay, multiply the amount of extra grain by 2 if plain grains, 2.5 if sweet feed and 3 if high fat feed. In other words, to go from 1/2 lb of extra grain to hay, it would be equivalent to 1 lb of hay for plain grain, 1.25 pounds of hay for sweet feed and 1.5 pounds of hay for high fat feed.  These are approximate.  You may need slightly more or less.

Several things can influence your horse’s critical temperature and how much you need to feed. Young or small horses have a higher ratio of body surface area to weight so lose heat faster. Thin animals have less fat insulation.  Horses without good shelter lose more heat (use the wind chill corrected temperature in this scenario). Heavy blanketing or obesity reduce the extra calorie requirement. The individual’s metabolism will also play a role.

Remember that more food can’t guarantee the horse stays warm and horses don’t always hold weight as predicted by equations.  Any horse that is shivering is cold.  Palpate deeply through the coat to feel for ribs on a regular basis and increase calories if needed.

As mentioned, hay is the best thing to feed because heat will be generated in the intestine in the process of fermenting it.  The same is true of high fiber feeds such as beet pulp and soy hulls. Horses that don’t drink well won’t eat well either so feed salt and provide water at a comfortable temperature. Finally, if you have increased hay or feed it free choice but are still detecting weight loss, don’t hesitate to feed a more dense calorie source of grain, fat or high soluble fiber from flax, beet pulp or soy hulls.

Note: If your horse is overweight consider not increasing his winter feeding unless you can feel his ribs. The calories he needs to stay warm can come from his stored fat rather than more food.  In the cold, the horse also produces internal heat by making energy generation in the mitochondria less efficient, a process known as uncoupling. The fat calories that don’t go to making ATP are converted to heat.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

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Hard Keepers

Overweight horses are grabbing all the headlines but horses that tend to be very thin can also be a major headache for their owners.  While obesity is clearly to be avoided, there is such a thing as too thin.

Photo:  Endurance World

Successful endurance horses are fit and lean but never gaunt

Horses that are underweight have reduced performance capacity, reduced immunity, less tolerance for cold, reduced fertility and poor physical reserves in the face of a serious injury, illness or major surgery. They are at increased risk of side effects from even common things that are normally distributed to the fat tissue such as vitamins A or D and moxidectin.

If the horse has developed trouble holding weight as a new issue, with the usual offenders of dental issues or parasites taken care of, you need to involve your veterinarian to rule out a serious disease as the cause.  Some things are very treatable, like PPID/Cushing’s which is  a common cause of unexplained weight loss in older horses.

When the horse is otherwise healthy, low weight is a nutrition and digestion issue.  The place to start when weight gain is needed is free choice hay.  Hay racks or nets will reduce waste so you can gauge intake more accurately. The average adult at maintenance or light work needs to be eating about 2% of body weight in hay per day.  If the horse is eating this much or more, and won’t increase further, it’s time for other measures.

Senior horses often have poor chewing force even if their teeth look good. They will do well on soft grass but not hay, even if there is no quidding. The solution here is to use hay cubes or pellets, well soaked, and soak all other feed as well. This makes it much easier to chew and digest.

Otherwise, things to try include:

  • The horse needs both adequate calories and adequate protein to hold a normal weight.  If hay is of questionable quality, add a few pounds of alfalfa for a protein boost.  If hay crude protein is adequate, an essential amino acid supplement is good insurance.  Lysine is most often deficient, followed by methionine and threonine
  • Reasonable amounts of fat are a good way to add calories without excessive bulk because fat is more calorie dense than carbohydrate, fiber or protein.  The Uckele Coco- line gives you many options. The original CocoSoya is an incredibly palatable oil that will also ensure the horse eats all meals well.  CocoOmega  can be used to boost intake of omega-3s when horses are not on pasture. CocoSun uses a special high oleic acid sunflower oil to produce a blend which does not add more omega-6 to the diet. Most horses can have up to 8 oz/day but do not exceed 4 oz in horses with insulin problems.
  • Older horses, horses with a history of intestinal problems or surgery and horses with erratic appetites may benefit from support of digestive efficiency from supplements with generous levels of probiotic yeast and bacteria with digestive enzymes.  This helps them extract as much nutrition as possible from their food.

It takes some experimentation but with perseverance you can get your hard keeper to a healthy weight.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

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Getting Nutrition Advice

Nutrition is a science which incorporates physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry and biology.  Nutrition is also as much a specialty as Orthopedics, Pharmacology, etc.. Nutrition can be studied at the Masters degree or Ph.D. level.

Veterinarians are not taught much nutrition in school.  Neither are M.D.s.  Farriers/trimmers, chiropractors, body workers, barn owners, trainers, fellow owners, clerks at the feed store and anyone else you can think of that does not have an advanced animal science or nutrition degree know even less.

Does a horse owner know more than a cat owner?  They know more about what is fed to horses but not necessarily why.  The why is where the true knowledge of nutrition comes in. What are the calorie, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements? What types of foods and supplements are digestible, bioavailable and well tolerated? What things are toxic and at what level? That’s just the beginning.

Like all science, equine nutrition evolves as we learn more.  Some people say changing recommendations means science is basically unreliable and worthless because it can change but that change means it is evolving, refining and improving. It still has a core of basic facts that is the foundation.

Despite the fact that nutrition is a complex science there are myriads of unqualified people doling out nutritional advice, either to sell something or because they want to make a “discovery”.  The latest claim I heard is that equine metabolic problems, arthritis and navicular can all be significantly improved by removing sulfates from the diet. This seems to refer to supplements in sulfate form, e.g. copper sulfate.  The claim is that sulfate is pro-inflammatory and increases iron absorption.  Problem is, that’s not true.

The second problem is the vast majority of the sulfate in the horse’s body comes from water, sulfate in foods and sulfate produced from the sulfur-containing amino acids.  Stopping supplements in sulfate form would not have any significant effect – which is a good thing because sulfate is absolutely essential for life and health including production of the most widespread detoxifying, antioxidant and antiinflammatory compound in the horse’s body – glutathione.  Bottom line is that the whole thing is ridiculous.

Another one trending at the moment is “whole food” feeds and supplements that claim to provide every nutrient the horse needs, with no supplementation of individual nutrients.  I’m surprised the FDA and state Ag departments haven’t caught up with some of these feeds yet.  Their own analyses show they are not complete and adequate. The supplements don’t measure up either.

The truth is the more of these unsupplemented “whole foods” you give the horse in place of hay or grass, the more likely you are to have protein and mineral deficiencies. The only thing you can be guaranteed this type of feed gives in adequate amounts is calories.

This list goes on and on.  Some of it is  just wacky, some actually dangerous especially for special needs situations like metabolic syndrome or myopathies and groups with very high needs for growth, lactation, pregnancy or performance.  Remember, nutrition is one of the few major contributors to your horse’s health that is completely within your control. There’s no place for unsubstatiated advice.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

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Nutrition Advice

Nutrition is a science which incorporates physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry and biology.  Nutrition is also a specialty

 

Veterinarians are not taught much nutrition in school.  Neither are M.D.s.  Farriers/trimmers, chiropractors, body workers, barn owners, trainers, fellow owners, clerks at the feed store and anyone else you can think of that does not have an advanced animal science or nutrition degree knows even less.

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Weanlings Have Special Needs

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Nutrient dense diets are those that have high levels of protein/amino acids and minerals per calorie. As you might expect, mineral requirements are extremely high during periods of rapid growth. At 4 months, the horse has higher daily total mineral needs than they do as a yearling despite having lower daily calorie needs. If you really think about this, it is immediately clear that trying to feed weanlings the same diet being fed adults is going to be severely inadequate.

Calories:  Calories are actually the easiest part of feeding weanlings.  In fact, most are too heavy and this has been linked to developmental orthopedic disease.  A 6 month-old weanling requires 7% fewer calories than he will at maintenance at his full adult weight.  If feeding him 93% of the adult diet, he will also only get 93% of the adult protein and minerals, much too low.

Minerals: The foal’s body can’t create the minerals it needs for growth and stores at birth are minimal to none. This is where the needs of the weanling and those of the adult show the greatest difference.  For example, the 6 month-old weanling needs almost twice as much calcium and phosphorus as he will when he’s a full grown adult.  Obviously 93% of the adult diet won’t get the job done.  The weanling may be falling short by as much as 20 grams of calcium.  This has been linked to developmental orthopedic disease and may set the stage for joint disease and breakdowns when started in training.

Protein: While calorie requirements were lower than adults, protein needs are 7% higher and lysine 10% higher.  If you are feeding the adult diet at the 7% reduction, the gap gets wider.  For a horse that will mature to 50o kg this amounts to a deficit of 90 grams of protein overall and 4 grams of lysine *if* the adult diet was adequate for lysine in the first place (many are not).

The Solution:  What to do about this? You can scrap the idea of feeding your regular adult diet entirely and go with a specialty mare and foal feed according to directions.  If you do that though, the diet can be 50 to 60% grain based with much of your protein and minerals tied to grain calories.

It is well known that overfeeding in general is linked to early orthopedic problems across the board and high grain feeding rates put some horses at higher risk for osteochondrosis.  It also used to be believed that weanlings had to have a high percentage of grain in their diet because they couldn’t handle a high fiber diet as well as an adult.  Recent research has proven that false.

Going back then to the adult diet with modest levels of grain/concentrates and heavily based on forages, how can it be fortified for the weanling?  Assuming the adult diet meets minimum protein and mineral requirements, look for a supplement with about 25% protein, lysine minimum 1.5% and 5% calcium with a balanced mineral profile.  Feed 1 pound per day of this.

Some diets have adequate trace minerals for the weanling but come up short in the critical nutrients for building bone. If that is your situation, a broad spectrum bone support supplement with calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins A and D will fill the gap. Consult your veterinarian or nutritionist regarding dosing.

If you are already feeding enough supplemental minerals across the board and don’t need to add more, it’s very useful to have an unfortified high protein source.  Look for 40+% protein, at least 2% lysine and a mixture of milk/whey protein with vegetable sources.  Feed 1/2 lb/day.  If total protein is adequate but all or most from hay with unknown lysine content, supplement with an amino acid supplement containing 10 grams lysine and 2 grams threonine per dose.

Finally, for fall and over the winter with no pasture available you need to think about essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are fragile and largely destroyed when hay cures and during storage.  Adequate supply is required by the eyes, heart and may even influence disposition.  Flax and Chia are good sources, 4 to 6 ounces/day.

Tweaking your diet to fill weanling needs is not terribly difficult or expensive but the pay back in terms of growth, health and soundness can be enormous.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Treats

There are many behavioral and safety reasons not to give your horse treats but for those who can’t resist, this is for you.  If you must give treats, at least do no harm.

This feral horse skull shows remarkably clean teeth.

In choosing treats for your horse, please avoid the temptation to go with things that remind you of your grandmother’s kitchen or the pastry wall at Starbuck’s.  Cookies, buns, biscuits and muffins are not for horses.  While the horse is equipped to appreciate sweetness to help guide him to calorie rich plant material, feeding high sugar items is not good for oral health.  The fact he will eat fries, creme donuts or peanut butter and jelly on white bread then wash it down with Coke or Pepsi doesn’t mean you should let him do it!

The bacterial population in the mouth depends on what is in there to feed it. Sugar or starch rich foods support bacteria which thrive on these carbohydrates and release acid which damages the teeth and inflames gums. These are common issues in domestic animals and nonexistent in feral ones.

If purchasing treats, you have to be careful to actually read the ingredients list. One treat that calls itself  natural,  crunchy and carrot has wheat as the first ingredient.  It also contains wheat midds, molasses, corn and a long list of inorganic minerals.  The name doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s in them.

Why not keep it truly natural, simple and good for the horse at the same time?  There are many things the horse would appreciate eating that don’t belong in a candy dish or cookie jar.  Some you will have thought of  – others not so much.

To our senses they have all the appeal of driveway gravel but split dried green peas are relished by most horses.  I don’t know how they can tell it’s even something edible but horses will readily snatch up the rock hard little green peas. Avoid dried beans though. They interfere with digestion unless cooked.

Another one you would probably not think of is cubed Kudzu root. This is available inexpensively from bulk herbal suppliers.  The little cubes look like cork and have no human detectable aroma but the horses eat them right down. They are loaded with antioxidant bioflavanoids.  Speaking of crunchy antioxidants, many horses love Rose Hips as well.

Oldies but goodies on the list of things you can safely carry in your pockets are peanuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, carrots and celery.  Very healthful but more of a challenge to carry around are grapes, prunes, bananas and berries of all kinds.

Last but far from least is a simple handful of freshly picked grass and/or clover. There’s really nothing they like more.  If you are going for the convenience of a bagged treat, look no further than alfalfa or grass hay as the base.  If you want to  mix up the flavor a bit, apple,  cherry, banana, fenugreek and peppermint are all favorites.  You can get the appeal of grains, without the high starch, from Brewers or Distillers dried grains which are grains with the starch fermented out of them.  Avoid molasses, dextrose or maltodextrin (all sugars) in favor of the natural herbal sweetness of Stevia which has been proven to not cause an insulin rise in horses.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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