Thursday, May 15, 2014


(post by Jason) As most of you know I have been doing some equine nutritional consulting the past few months. Most of the time when I am initially discussing a horse with a client the first question I get asked is whether or not their supplement program is correct for treating the situation or condition at hand.

In most cases I think telling my clients that I have no idea really gave them pause as to whether or not dealing with me was a smart idea. The experts that they'd previously consulted, including several well known nutrition professionals, had ALL been full of free advice and not so free products that would help cure the situation of the moment. Off the cuff advice is worth exactly what you pay for it in most cases. I can tell you that after twenty years of nutritional consulting on thousands of farms across two countries there has only been a hand full of cases where adding or deleting any single ingredient or series of ingredients without understanding the bigger picture has provided a magic bullet that cured the problem at hand. That's why adding a supplement or ingredient, even on the advice of "experts" who don't first take the time to understand the whole picture, is almost always a waste of time and money.

The big picture always begins with a hay sample or pasture sample or both. I've heard every excuse in the book for why owners aren't interested in taking them. Mostly it's that the forage changes quite often.  I understand that forage changes over does here too which is why we send out multiple samples throughout the year. It's not that expensive and if nothing else it helps give you an idea if you are actually getting value for your money when you buy hay or other forage. When I do a nutritional analysis I want to see the full picture of what the horse is eating *today*, not next week or next year. Forage, either pasture or hay or both, makes up the lion's share of almost every horse's diet. Most people have no idea what it's bringing to the table or not, and without a test I don't either.  I absolutely do not have enough information to make an informed decision about supplements without having a current hay and/or pasture analysis at hand.

The second part of the big picture is all about understanding the environment that the horse lives in as well as the horse's disposition and mindset. Gaining a feel for the owner's disposition and mindset is a part of this as well. There is no substitute for seeing the horse and it's stall, turnout, feed, etc with my own two eyes. When distance or budgetary constraints don't permit an on farm visit I will ask clients a very long and thorough list of questions. In addition I ask them for recent pictures of the horse and the areas of the farm in which the horse lives.

When I feel like I have built a complete picture the next step is to analyze the horse's current diet to see what comes of it. I have a ration balancing program on my computer that I use to help me do this but analyzing rations is at least as much an art as it is a science. I then write a report to share my findings with my client and ONLY AFTER THIS HAS BEEN DONE will I offer management solutions and feed changes which may be appropriate to treat or help fix the problem at hand.

I think it's important to note that I am not affiliated in any way with any company that sells equine nutrition products. Product reps and equine nutrition professionals that work directly or indirectly for companies that sell products can absolutely offer up good information if they're willing to take the time to do so. Just understand that since the company pays them most or all of their wages they are getting paid to offer solutions that involve one or more of their products. Most of my clients have point blank asked me to recommend products. I often recommend product categories instead of one specific product, and I also give them a list of ingredient sources to look for (and some to avoid) as they compare labels. This gives them some flexibility as far as finding a distributor and price point that works for them.

Always remember it is important to know what you are supplementing and why, otherwise you are simply having to guess.



Gus rolling with Asterik photobombing his picture

Stormy, Rocky and Bergie

lined up shortest to tallest; Renny, Dutch, Murphy and Wiz

Walden and O'Reilly

it's too bad this picture of Walden, Clayton, Kennedy and Toledo came out blurry

Traveller and Norman

Cinnamon and Silky

George and Asterik having fun splashing around in a puddle


Suzanne said...

Amen! I thoroughly believe we over supplement, do not understand contraindications, are swayed by slick marketing and do not put enough attention towards forage! Thank you!

RuckusButt said...

As you know, I learned first hand just how complicated this can be when trying to figure out Willie's nutritional needs. Not that the best solutions are complicated, often the opposite, but all the info that goes into a thorough analysis sure can be. It is definitely an area I would seek professional advice for.

In talking to the rep for my feed brand, I've found them very knowledgeable and I never felt pushed into buying an additional product from their line. Perhaps it's because I already use their products but my ration balancer pellet isn't the same company and she easily could have suggested an alternative. Instead she took the info from our hay samples and the grains I had been using and sent me a spreadsheet with all the info and a simple synopsis including 3-4 different options. I was quite impressed.

When I bought Armani, I opted to do a full blood work-up to establish a baseline and identify if anything was out of whack. He was iron-deficient so I put him on an iron supplement recommended by my vet for it's good absorption. I think it was about 3 weeks of supplementing, during which time I also changed his feed, then I stopped for 2-3 weeks and re-did the bloodwork. Iron was back up so I left it and retested a few months later.

I know the bloodwork doesn't cover everything you might want to supplement (joint issues come to mind) but for a young healthy horse with no obvious problems, I think (hope) this is a reasonable approach.
(sorry for the novel, I'm home with a headache and bored, plus this is an endlessly interesting topic to me!)