Hay is great stuff for horses. They love it. They know how to deal with it, how much to eat of it and it digests in their stomachs so easily that they’ll run much less of a risk of catching any of those awful ailments that bedevil the horse, such as equine colic. When it comes to horse nutrition, hay is really hard to beat.
If, however, you don’t have such access to good quality hay, then you need to do some tinkering with your horse’s diet so that he gets the best treatment that he can. There are so many horse feed brands out there; each one of them telling you that they’re more wonderful than the last. Where to begin with all of this?
The first area to look at is that of boosters of protein. These are the Timothy balance cubes and horse grain of this world, but there’s more to it than that. The key is to mix it up. Don’t just give him rice bran oil for horses. Instead, give him a little of that in the morning, with maybe some horse grain at lunch, some beet pulp in the afternoon and then some Timothy balance cubes in the evening. This way, you’ll be aiming to vary the different types of amino acids that the horse will be ingesting. Horses are so beautiful.
Another one to give him is the packet of dried peas. These peas are just like the ones that you buy in the shop to feed yourself, but they can also be bought in bulk for those with horses (or maybe for those without horses but who really love peas… a lot.) at certain outlets.
They’re used around the world either mixed in with other horse feed brands or used on their own and horses really love them from my experience, at least. They’re usually a favorite feed because they’re so low in sugar and high in fiber. In fact, they contain 25% fiber and 25% protein.
Flax seed has plenty of fatty acid content too (omega three). In fact, the levels are as close as you’ll get to fresh green grass and they almost qualify as a great foo d in itself and not just as supplements for horses. I feed my horses with this stuff all the time. In over 23 years, we haven’t had a single case of equine colic amongst our 43 horses on average. Treat your horse right.
And let me remind you that we live in an area of Wisconsin where we just can’t get the good quality hay – not without paying through the nose for it, at least.
The other problem with hay is that it’s dependent on the weather as to its quantity and quality. The crazy weather of the last couple of seasons have meant that access to quality hay is deteriorating, sending the costs of hay skyward to the degree that it becomes an unaffordable option. This is the case of my brother over in Arizona who keeps a herd of about 20 horses. He’s using beet pulp and rice bran oil for horses on a daily basis but doing it right means that his animals are as healthy as a horse.
Finally, the important message I want to leave you all with is to be careful and not just simply give more horse grain in place of the hay that’s missing from your horse’s diet. This is a big mistake because your four-legged friend’s gut is designed to absorb fiber and not grain. The hay takes care of a number of functions, including the fact that it allows the horse to better absorb vitamins, so you’ve got to replace the function of the hay as well as the hay itself. I love horses.
Advancements in medical care and equine feed have led to an increased understanding of the diseases that strike horses. For several decades Equine Cushing’s disease has been recognized, but it’s only been recently that we’ve been able to understand how and why it strikes horses. With the knowledge that we now have it’s possible for a horse to live a longer, healthier life than ever before.
Cushing’s disease is a problem in the pituitary gland of a horse; it produces and releases hormones into the body that help to control functions. Horses that are afflicted with Cushing’s disease have pituitary glands that continually release chemicals into the body, causing health problems.
A horse with Cushing’s disease will frequently develop an oversized pituitary gland that can lead to tumor cells that push on the brain. In advanced stages of Cushing’s, severe neurological problems can occur if the gland gets too large. Although Cushing’s is often described as a benign tumor of the brain, there is still some confusion over whether it is a tumor or hypertrophy (enlarged tissue from increased exercise). So while the pituitary gland may lead to cells that grow into a tumor, no one really knows which comes first: the tumor or hypertrophy.
Overactive pituitary glands can lead to a variety of health issues including insulin resistance in horses and increased cortisol production in the adrenal glands. Research has answered a lot of questions about Cushing’s disease; we now know that dopamine is secreted by specific nerve cells located in the brain. In a normal horse those cells work to inhibit overactive pituitary glands. A horse with Cushing’s disease has dopamine-supplying cells with lowered amounts of antioxidants that can result in death.
Clinical signs of Cushing’s disease are that of an older horse that is unnaturally thin and hairy. A lot of people mistakenly believe that this is a sign of their horse getting older, especially when you add in the fact that many Cushing’s horses are easily tired and sweat profusely. They may tend to blame the change in their horse on the diet, and wonder why a switch to senior horse feed is not sufficient to bring back the energy their horse once demonstrated.
Horses with Cushing’s disease are also at increased risk of developing laminitis, a potentially fatal equine disease. As the horse’s cortisol levels increase, the body’s immune system is affected and the horse becomes susceptible to a variety of infections like tooth and hoof abscesses, fungal and sinus infections, or delayed healing of injuries. If the disease continues untreated, a variety of bodily changes occur and the signs of Cushing’s become more obvious.
Cushing’s disease is usually managed through medication, particularly pergolide, a medication that’s used to combat Parkinson ’s disease in humans. A proper diet is also crucial to maintaining the horse’s health. Although there are no set rules, most horses with Cushing’s disease respond favorably to a reduced sugar diet. This means that grains and alfalfa may not be the best choice for a horse afflicted with Cushing’s. Timothy balance cubes are a good choice for horses who need a low-sugar diet. If the symptoms are not too severe, beet pulp or soy can be added to the feed to help keep weight on.
Cushing’s disease is easy to recognize and treat, but there is no cure for it at this time. This disease progresses slowly, and is easily overlooked in its early stages. Unfortunately, many horses remain undiagnosed until in the later stages of the disease. If, however, it is caught early enough it’s possible for treatment to reduce a lot of the clinical signs associated with Cushing’s and an afflicted horse has a good chance to go on to live a normal life, particularly if proper horse nutrition protocols are applied. For horses that are in the advanced stages of Cushing’s, treatment can mean a longer, higher quality of life.
It’s a mixed blessing that modern horses are allowed access to feed all the time. Horses are simply not designed to eat as much as they want as frequently as they’d like and as a result, they develop fat stores which can have dire consequences on equine health.
It’s very important that a horse with Cushing’s disease remain as active as possible. A horse that is properly exercised has a reduced risk of developing laminitis and will show fewer symptoms than one who is allowed to become sedentary.
Cushing’s is not something that you need to be afraid of, but it is something you should be aware of so you can take the steps necessary to keep your horse around as long as possible.