Can Horse Food Supplements Offer Hope For A Healthy Horse?
Enter today’s independent horse feed manufacturers! As horse owners become more savvy, manufacturers are beginning to offer “cleaner” options for food and horse food supplements. Long established regulatory hurdles make this a challenging endeavor but as the demand for clean products has increased we may begin to see both an industry and a regulatory shift.
Whole Foods For A Healthy Horse?
“Nature (and that includes us) is not made up of parts within wholes. It is made up of wholes within wholes. All boundaries are fundamentally arbitrary. We invent them and then, ironically, we find ourselves trapped within them.” -Peter Senge
Foraging vs Grazing
I view grazing and foraging as slightly different types of eating. I think of cows as grazing animals; animals that are content and healthy eating grasses, hay, and legumes like alfalfa. I think of horses as foragers; animals whose diets would more resemble that of deer if they were able to wander about and select food on their own. The deer that share my urban neighborhood have access to lovely grass and a variety of weeds, but have also taken a liking to my shrubs, the bark on my trees, my tulips, my echinacea, my liatris, my rose bushes and fruit that has fallen off my neighbors tree.
Horses Born in a Paddock
Domestic horses get ulcers, laminitis, have weakened immune systems, EMS, PPID, diabetes and a host of other diseases. Current research strongly tells us that these chronic health issues can be traced back to what they eat. Our horses are, for the most part, kept on limited acreage. My spoiled horse can turn on the haunches and eat for an hour without running out of food because the acreage he is out on is so well tended by the barn owner.
Most of us supplement this high quality, high volume forage diet with highly processed, synthetically fortified horse feeds, vitamin and mineral supplements, ration balancers and other horse food supplements; all meant to make up for any additional nutritional deficits in our horse’s diets.
As the market for horse food supplements has burgeoned this has become increasingly costly and complicated. Despite our best efforts we have seen a 31% increase in colic deaths in horses in the last decade. That significant and startling statistic tells me we are going the wrong direction when it comes to caring for our horses, and that we are relying on veterinary intervention instead of examining ways to change what we feed to get the results we want.
Wild horses in the Great Plains rarely suffer from ulcers, do not suffer from laminitis or diabetes and are legendary for their “hooves of iron”. Their reproductive health is stellar, with some Rangeland Managers labeling them as “pests” because they reproduce so effectively. They do this all without constant care and horse food supplements. What are the eating habits of these horses and how can we reproduce these results in their domestic counterparts?
Studies of the eating habits of free ranging herds of horses indicate that their diet varies seasonally, and unlike their domestic cousins, who consume as few as five plant proteins per day, wild horses consume 25 different types of plant protein every single day. These nomadic creatures roam 10-25 miles per day to find food, water and shelter, and as they travel so does their food. The wild horses diet also changes seasonally, as the higher quality forage available during the spring and summer goes dormant during the autumn and winter.
The diet of the wild horses consists of low quality plant foods: stemmy sagebrush, sparse broadleaf grasses, fescue, juniper, lupine, berries and berry bushes, roots, bark, members of the cactus family, and reed grasses along waterways in riparian habitat. They work hard for food, water and shelter, get no vitamin or mineral supplements, no ration balancers, and yet somehow they are, in so many ways, the very embodiment of “healthy as a horse.” What’s their secret? Stay tuned.