Blog Hop: What's In Your Bucket?
I graduated with a college degree in Equine Studies in 2008 and an understanding that the average American show or pleasure horse is grossly overfed, and most likely overweight. Being a minimalist at heart, I could totally accept that most horses need little more than good quality forage (that's hay or grass) and a handful of ration balancer to make sure they're getting all their vitamins. A horse in solid work that needs to maintain muscle & condition might need a bit of pelleted grain for the extra calories, but stuffing a horse with pounds and pounds of pellets or sweet feed just isn't necessary most of the time.
When I brought Dino home in November 2010, he was a fat flabby blob of hairy pony:
|Attractive. Look how proud I am of my little chubby camel!|
I put him on a diet of about half a bale of grass hay a day, and blanketed him minimally since he was a corpulent mammoth.
Dino came out of that first winter looking pretty shitty, and not sweating very well as the temperatures started to rise. He also wasn't shedding out, so I opted to body clip him. At that point I put him on a handful of sweet feed (what my barn owner was feeding everyone at the time) with OneAC added in to help the sweating, and I would give him extra sweet feed snacks on days that he worked. I also tried to let him graze as much as possible.
|Newly naked, and ribby.|
But Dino's body condition didn't improve, and he was still a patchy sweater, and something was Just Not Right with my pony, so I had my vet come out and test him for Cushing's. At 12 years old, he was still pretty young and not at a typical age for the disease, but my gut was telling me that he was Cushingoid. And wouldn't you know it, his bloodwork came back with evidence of low-grade Cushing's Disease.
Time for a feeding revamp!
Cushingoid horses and ponies have trouble processing starches and sugars, and are highly prone to laminitis and founder, two serious hoof conditions that can be permanently damaging or even fatal, and can be caused by too much sugar and starch in the diet.
First things first, NO MORE SWEET FEED. Since Dino still needed to gain some weight, I immediately put him on Nutrena Safe Choice, a low-starch grain that won't risk founder in horses with Cushing's and other metabolic diseases. I continued the OneAC, and started him on Pergolide, a drug that has successfully treated many, many Cushingoid equines. He also got to wear a grazing muzzle to limit his intake of sugary grass. So far, so good!
THEN Dino started tying up randomly and feeling superduper lame behind. I freaked out, called my vet, and of course when I trotted him up for her he was completely sound. But then he tied up again, so we did some bloodwork. It turned out his muscle enzymes were OFF THE CHARTS, and after consulting with the internist at a local equine hospital, Dino was diagnosed with PSSM.
This lovely condition happens when a horse's muscle cells can't use sugars like a normal horse, so they build up and cause muscle cramps, tightness, pain, etc. When I look back on how he acted in college, he was really a classic PSSM case. Treatment for this condition is a regimented exercise program, lots of turnout, and a low starch/high fat diet. I kept Dino on the Safe Choice grain, and added corn oil as an added fat source. I experimented with a Vitamin E/Selenium supplement as well, but found it didn't help him very much, so I ended up putting him on a DMG supplement from SmartPak, which helps the muscles flush out lactic acid, and he hasn't tied up ONCE since he's been on it. I was also able to take him off of OneAC at that point, which my wallet was happy about.
|June 2012, finally getting our shit together. Good weight, good coat, good muscle, healthy pony!|
The only change I've made to Dino's diet since then is to switch from corn oil to canola oil, as corn has an imbalance of Omega 6 fatty acids that can promote inflammation, and no one needs more inflammation in their lives.
That's the long, long tale of what's in our bucket, and why! If you don't know what your horse is eating, why he's eating it, or what his nutritional needs really are, I encourage you to do some research. Healthy horses start from the inside out, and what our equine partners eat is very important.