Functional Foods & Healthy Feeding for Modern Horses
Two weeks ago I was chatting with a client about her horse's diet. Her horse’s favorite foods include bananas and duck eggs. Another client has a horse who enjoys lemons. My gelding likes our Prickly Pear Chia Biscuits in the spring; Papaya Chia Biscuits in the summer; CarrotChia Biscuits in the fall; and will eat the Spirulina Chia, but his preferences are seasonal and specific. He resolutely refuses to have anything to do with blueberries in any form. Is there a “normal” when it comes to functional foods and a healthy equine diet, and if so, what does that look like?
In order to fully understand what horses eat and why, I think we need to look back in time at the evolution of the horse’s life and the evolution of the way we feed.
Horses Today vs Horses Yesterday
The horse has played a significant role in the advancement of societies. They have been our companions, our farm laborers, our main form of transportation, cattle wranglers, therapists, ambulances, entertainers, elite athletes, soldiers and more. They are extraordinary creatures! Take United States Marine Corps Sergeant “Reckless”, for instance. This mare’s bravery and determination saved thousands of lives during the Korean War.
Reckless ignored her instinctive fears and traveled alone, under heavy gun and artillery fire, to deliver supplies to US troops pinned down during the Korean conflict. She carried out her duties despite being severely wounded. Her story is truly incredible. “Reckless” allegedly started her day with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, pancakes and coffee. Arguably, these aren't what we may call 'functional foods' today, but it's hard to argue with the results.
With the industrialization of modern agriculture, the role of the horse in the United States has changed. One hundred years ago, everyone had a horse but few people had automobiles. The reverse is true today, and the majority of today’s horses are used for pleasure or performance and are kept on small tracts of carefully groomed land. They seldom pull a plow or cart and are now the cause of emergencies. They carry flags rather than ammunition for soldiers and run around barrels more often than they tend to cattle. As their role in our lives has changed, so has the way we feed them. For example, there's a higher emphasis on feeding horses functional foods. Some of what we have done for horses has bettered their lives and their health, but there has been a dramatic increase in the number of horses suffering from chronic disease processes and a 31% increase in colic. Why? I want to take a look at this topic in my next series of blogs.