About 10 months ago, I started giving my Belgian mare Audelina some alfalfa hay each day – because she was nursing a colt. Then it became too much hassle to segregate her and ignore the pleas of the others, so I just gave them all some daily alfalfa. I was amazed at the changes I witnessed in every horse over the next 10 months.
Dr. Geoff Tucker DVM offers us a hypothesis, “that a chronic protein deficiency is the root cause of many unexplained medical issues in horses.” And he shares an in-depth webinar on this topic presenting the background, his ideas, and detailed instructions for how you can assess your horse’s protein matrix (they need a mix of proteins, not just one type). Dr. Tucker also displays pictures of various “well fed” horses and shows you where this protein deficiency shows up in their body – so you know what to look for in your own horses (he starts that at 7 minutes):
If you don’t want to watch the presentation and just want the cheat-sheet version, then add both alfalfa hay (or cubes or pure pellets) and hempseed or flaxseed (1/2 – 1 cup) to your horse’s daily diet and see how they do. Dr. Tucker advises you to feed your horse .5 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, depending on the needs of the horse.
“Alfalfa has a very unique and distinctive quality that sets it apart from most other plants. The root system of the alfalfa plant reaches thirty feet deep into the soil. This allows the plant to access a large quantity of un-depleted nutrients, salts, and other necessary elements, while most other plants simply don’t have this advantage.” (Source)
I found a few sources including this nutrition data sheet (data provided by USDA SR-21) saying that flaxseed is composed of 18% protein. However, I also found this extensive study done in Italy, showing that both flaxseed and hempseed have a similar protein content which is around 30% (varies according to species). So then I went to my database of human supplement Certificates of Analysis and looked up flaxseed and hempseed and they agreed with the Italian study, listing the protein content for both between 30-35%. Whew, so that’s settled.
Flax also contains lots of fabulous Omega-3 fatty acids for whole body health (hemp also has a decent amount of Omega-3), and soluble fibre which helps the intestinal peristalsis and encourages good bacteria to thrive in the gut. So in the winter I like to include ground flaxseed and/or flax oil – because flax needs to be kept cool or else it goes rancid easily. And the rest of the year, I top-dress my alfalfa pellets with hempseed and/or hemp oil.
Equine essential amino acids
Alfalfa contains all 10 equine essential amino acids (EAA), including Lysine (which apparently can be the limiting amino). Let me explain. Dr. Tucker asserts that most hay/grass does not contain enough Lysine, and the way that amino acids work, is that protein utilization caters to the lowest common denominator. This means, you might have 100 g of each of the nine essential amino acids, but if you only have 60 g of the tenth essential amino acid… then your horse can only use 60 g of every amino acid. Dr. Tucker says, “Lysine is the number 1 limiting EAA and it is often not available in large enough quantities in grass and hay. Lysine is the FIRST key to unlocking protein efficiency and supplementation and is essential for horses kept in our care today.”
Dr. Shannon Pratt-Phillips also writes, “Lysine is considered the first limiting amino acid, because it is required in relatively large amounts, and is not found in adequate levels in many foods.”
However, this article from the University of Minnesota tested amino acid levels in different types of forage, and you can see from their chart below, that the Cool-season grass (Kentucky bluegrass and orchardgrass) actually contains more Lysine than the alfalfa! So that’s puzzling. Note that the Teff contains far less – remember this point when you get to my observation below about horse’s tails in Arizona.
In addition, if we’re following the principle of Limiting Amino Acids… then the lowest essential amino acid in all of these is not Lysine, it’s Cystine. Now I’m even more confused.
Perhaps someone who’s really delved into the research out there can explain these discrepancies to me…
Regardless, it doesn’t change the key point that for protein to be utilized properly by your horse, it must contain all 10 essential equine amino acids: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Dr. Tucker’s preferred protein source to supplement hay is whey or soybean meal. I know that many vets and equine nutritionists advocate adding any kind of complete protein; including whey, casein, fishmeal, soybean etc. But personally, I like to feed what the animal would naturally consume if they were free-ranging on adequate terrain. No horse naturally consumes milk or fish. And soybean contains extremely high estrogen levels and is a top GMO crop.
Dr. Juliet Getty says:
“If hay is your only source of protein, it is not of good enough quality to allow for maintenance and repair of tissues. The best way to ensure that your horse has a sufficient amino acid pool from which to build body proteins, is to offer a variety of protein sources. So, in addition to grass hay, consider adding alfalfa as well as whole foods. Some include hempseeds (the highest quality plant source), ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, black oil sunflower seeds (not too many since they are high in inflammatory omega 6), pea protein, whey, and copra meal (coconut meal). Avoid soybean meal unless it is organic, and only use in small quantities (no more than 1/2 pound) since it is inflammatory.”
I suspect that when you combine hempseed, or flaxseed (or chia seed) together with alfalfa, there is a synergistic effect. If you add a grain-free multivitamin that also contains all the essential amino acids and probiotics, you will really be covering all your bases. Or, just add a therapeutic quality probiotic and Shazam! You have all the components needed for protein absorption and utilization. Remember, as with any animal, if you are feeding all the right stuff but the animal is still underweight, poor health, etc. then build the gut flora! Digestion and absorption/utilization of nutrients requires a beneficial gut flora. So if your horse has been given any drugs that destroy gut flora (like Bute, frequent worming, etc), then until you get that sorted, your horse is going to have a hard time thriving.
But enough of the data, let’s get back to the story…
More muscle, less fat
I became intrigued by this topic after adding alfalfa to my five horses’ daily intake. They have 10 acres of pasture to forage on and slow-feeders filled 24/7 with low-sugar orchard grass hay. Even though this year’s orchard grass hay tested out at 14% protein, since Audelina was nursing, I figured she needed a little extra.
The interesting thing is that the previous owner of my Andalusian horse Zorra, had told me to never give her alfalfa – had warned me that she couldn’t handle even the tiniest bit without getting fat. So initially I would separate Aude and baby Juno from the herd and only give her alfalfa. That lasted about 3 days and then I would toss the other 3 a small bit of alfalfa too – their pleas wore me down! Plus, as Jax is only 3 and Montaro 3.5 years, I figured growing boys could do with some extra protein too. Alfalfa generally contains between 16-20% crude protein.
After a few days of that (and Zorra my Andalusian seemed perfectly fine), I gave up segregating entirely and just gave them all about 60 pounds total of alfalfa loose (not in the slow feeders) per day. Since Aude and Montaro are the dominant horses I figured they would automatically consume more than Zorra, so I also gave them two flakes and the others only one – although Aude moves around the piles to make sure she gets the best bits!
I kept a close watch on Zorra though, and so was very surprised when I noticed that she was actually slimming down! Over the next few months, she morphed into the best shape I’ve ever seen her in; sleek with muscle and noticeably less fat. Keep in mind though, that all of my horses were in pretty good shape before we started daily alfalfa feeding, so the differences may not be dramatic, but they are nonetheless interesting.
The other thing I noticed was that the manes lengthened on every single horse:
Now keep in mind, in addition to the full feeders of low-sugar hay always available, I had also been feeding each horse this for a full year:
- Half a cup ground flaxseed
- 2 tbsp pure hemp oil
- 1 tbsp mixed seaweed
- HorseTech High Point vit/min pellets for Grass Diets
- Natren probiotics
The ONLY thing I had changed (that could explain the manes and fat loss) was to add alfalfa to their diet. My hay seller also told me that they don’t even bother to test sugar levels on alfalfa anymore, because it’s always low. Apparently, this is because it’s a legume and according to Dr. Martinson, legumes always have lower NSC levels than cool-season grasses like timothy, brome grass and orchard grass.
What you do need to be careful of, with alfalfa, is that you don’t buy from a farmer who uses a drying agent to speed drying time and prevent mold. This can cause soreness in the mucous membranes of the mouth. The alfalfa I give my horses comes from Alberta and my hay seller knows the farmer who grows it.
So this personal experience made me particularly fascinated to hear what Dr. Geoff Tucker had to say in his Chronic Protein Deficiency webinar (see above). His slides and stories are very interesting.
Essential amino acids = complete proteins
My biggest take-away from the webinar is the point that horses need a complete spectrum of amino acids and this is why Dr. Tucker doesn’t advocate just feeding one type of hay. He also points out numerous other protein sources you can use, especially if your horse has marked health issues or muscle wasting.
Equine nutritionist, Dr. Juliet Getty, echoes this information:
“If your hay is high in protein, but it is the only source of protein, much of those amino acids are doomed to be deaminated in the liver. To prevent this from happening, you’ll want to start by feeding a variety of grasses, not just one type of grass hay. Adding alfalfa will also help. But a preferable approach is to offer a small amount of non-grass feedstuffs such as ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and other whole foods. This results in a assorted group of amino acids, sufficient to meet your horse’s needs.”
But what exactly does Getty mean by “a small amount”? Well, on her site, she says that half a cup per day is sufficient to make up the missing aminos from your hay regimen.
When Kesia’s horses were boarding together with mine, they showed marked improvement from just the low-sugar hay and basic supplements. But, when she moved them to 500 acres where they could free-forage a variety of plants, they improved even more and for the first time her mare Amalia’s coat didn’t blanch out in the summer sun, nor did she lose any muscle over the winter. Perhaps this is because her horses had enough fresh land (not already eaten down, or pooed on) to forage the variety needed to provide the complete spectrum of amino acids?
And why did alfalfa make Zorra slim and muscular this time, whereas before it made her obese? Well, perhaps the difference is in the amount of movement available. In her previous home, she shared a large dry paddock area with her mother and sister and then in good weather had access to 3/4 of an acre. In her current home, she has free access to dry paddock areas plus 10 acres of field and forest at all times – and she lives with 4 young horses who wrestle and run around a lot!
My litmus test for, “Is my horse fat?” is to look at my horse square on from behind. If their belly sticks out further than their butt, then they’re packing some extra weight. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing (sometimes horses chunk up seasonally and there’s nothing wrong with that if they can move naturally) but it does provide me with one more bit of information…
So here on the left we have the purebred Andalusian, Zorra. And on the right, big Belgian mama, Audelina. Both these breeds are known for being “easy keepers”, or, prone to putting on weight easily. But after receiving loose alfalfa daily for 10 months, I think they’re looking pretty darn good! Perhaps both of them were protein-deficient before. As Dr. Tucker points out, you can receive a lot of protein, but if it doesn’t contain the full spectrum of amino acids needed, then the body will still be deficient. Note the long, thick tails on them. Speaking of which, during my recent trip to Arizona, I have to say that I never seen so many stringy-tailed horses in one place! I must have seen about 15 horses and every single one of them (regardless of breed) had a thin, stringy tail.
I wondered if perhaps this was due to the hay they feed and the lack of natural forage? I believe Teff hay is popular in Arizona and it has a similar protein content to Timothy. But again, does it provide all the essential amino acids needed? Dr. Tucker suggests we don’t feed just one type of hay, but rather feed two or more types to provide a broader spectrum of amino acids.
In the human world, we sometimes see this with vegans who don’t know how to combine vegetarian-source proteins to receive all the essential amino acids. The reason they’re called “essential” is because the body cannot be healthy without them.
Perhaps all the negative stories about alfalfa are from horses confined to a stall or paddock? Or also fed daily grain? Or horses who for one reason or another, simply don’t experience natural movement?
Perhaps my horse’s manes have thickened and lengthened because their bodies now have enough protein left over (from vital bodily processes) to splurge a little protein on their hair?
I will also be interested to see how Zorra’s ability to carry a rider changes with this new protein intake. The last time I dialogued with Zorra about this issue, she said that she doesn’t have the musculature to carry me. But she is happy to carry a lighter person:
Zorra suggested we begin conditioning her by starting with kids and gradually building up the weight. That’s our project for this summer. But you can see from this photo that having me on her back – I even tested sitting on different parts of her back to see if that changed anything – causes her significant pain:
Perhaps Zorra is also now receiving the protein required to build that musculature… it will be interesting to see what happens with this issue as the summer progresses.
Well, I thought I’d throw this out there and see what y’all have discovered. Any experiments or experiential knowledge – I’d love to hear about it!
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
45 thoughts on “Does Your Horse Have Chronic Protein Deficiency?”
Jini…here I go again…I feel like this is hitting home for me. As you know I live on 12 acres and my 3 boys have access to all of it. But since my ol guy Big Acea passed last August I have not fed any alfalfa. I use to use it as a winter food and a treat, to get forage in him because he loved it. He had a bad teeth situation and he loved to pick the soft flowery parts out & I would help him get all the best bits & then my other two would clean up the rest. After he passed I guess, I, just like you said, thought alfalfa was a bad thing for horses for a lot of reasons. Mostly because of all the talk about making them fat and that it was suppose to be for cattle. I had read many things that said it was not a good choice for horses. I’m sure for all the reasons you mentioned…lack of movement & being confined and or alone. I have just recently started to feed alfalfa cubes (soaked and separated) as a treat to try and cut back on there carrot consumption so I am not feeding all that extra sugar that carrots have. In just a short amount of time I have noticed my lane paint Banner moving a bit better? He has been a huge inigma to me. Just when I feel I making progress with him he will start moving badly again, or get some infliction. As I have wrote before he is the horse that all things go wrong for. Pigeon fever, summer sores, super lame, loss of tail and mane hair & seasonal welts. He use to have a really gooey eye also but I have recently started feeding Spurlina (for the welts) and all of my horses eyes are clear as a bell now. It has been a huge added bonus and the welts are gone too. I also have not been able to get the sheath swelling we talked about to go down (from what I still think is related to the pigeon fever) ..but about a week ago I started to feed the oregano oil to him and now his sheath swelling is going down a bit…is this the alfalfa or the oil or the chia seeds I started to feed a few days ago also, IDK? I try not to change things(feeding) all at once so I can have a reference to how things are affecting my guys but this situation just kind of happened. After this article I will definitely continue with the alfalfa cubes and see if mane& tail improve for him. The people who had him before me fed him only alfalfa and he did have a beautiful tail & mane, but he was stalled and blanketed & had metal shoes and plates, so I have always contributed a lot of it to the fact he couldn’t rub on all the trees and things like he does now. I also fed it periodically for my first few years of having horses and I’m not sure but can almost say that when I stopped that’s when his mane & tail deteriorated? Very interesting, I never made that corilation until now! One of the other reasons I quit feeding it is the quality I was able to get at the feed stores was awful. My farmer friend from where I use to live had a source that was good and that’s another reason I use to feed it more frequently. I will definitely watch the above video and keep you posted on any good or bad affects I witness. I also will search for a better source. I’m sure the alfalfa cubes are not the best source. I just need a treat that doesn’t have a lot of sugar and hopefully is healthy at the same time? I have tried flax cookies but my new Arabian Dreamer gets welty from them. If you have any good snacks you feed I would love to hear about them ?
And as always thanks for the great article gives me all new things to think and ponder on.
Very interesting Michelle. Zorra tends to get the goopy eye thing from time to time (I have yet to figure out the triggers) so I will give her spirulina and see if that makes a difference. How much do you give and any particular brand?
I don’t use treats for training (only scratches) so I give them 1 carrot each and sometimes half an apple in their feed dish with the supplements listed in the post. I also save pretty much ALL fruit rinds (orange, watermelon, canteloupe, mango, banana) from our kitchen and share them out between the 5 (horse compost!) – but all the fruit we buy is organic. So the total fruit/veg they get is one – two handfuls (depending on the day), four times a week. And then I also rotate on and off with various dried herb blends (I’ve written a couple of posts on that). And that’s it. The problem with making any kind of treat is you either need to add a flour (grain) and bake it, or you need to add molosses or some type of sugar to make it sticky so it holds together. Not to mention the labor! Maybe experiment with the different fruit rinds – a lot of the vitamins, antioxidants, phytonutrients are in the skin.
p.s. I think we live in a parallel universe!
Wow , this is a great article. My super trainer Jess Fobert suggested I put my hard keeper OTTB on alfalfa hay cubes. What a dramatic change in his overall health appearance and vitality. He went from needing to wear a blanket 24/7 in cool to cold weather. He has 4 different weights of blankets that he no longer needs . Now to address his dislike of any flying nuisance .
Very nice Sherry – How soon after feeding the alfalfa cubes did you notice the change in his cold tolerance?
Jini…Happy Mothers Day to you….I feed about 1-2 Tablespoons of Spirulina…the brand is MicroIngredients and I purchased it on Amazon. It’s usda certified organic. I started with only about a teaspoon because most of what I read said horses need time to build up a taste for it. It smells awful but I have not tasted it…I really should though!!. So Like with most things I started with a very small dose in there nightly herb/vitamin/mineral wet bucket and have worked my way up. My Arab Dreamer is very suspicious of new tastes and smells and he was skeptical but he is gobbling it down now with no hesitation. But like I said it is added to there array of different things, I feed in there wet bucket. I’m still a bit shocked at the 100% difference in all of there eyes, especially because the may face flies are now upon us…and even though I did start using fly masks a portion of the day about a week ago some of there eyes were very yucky even in the winter. My routine is to put them on when the day heats up and the flies get extreme, then I take them off at dusk…because I feel that no one wants to wear something foreign 24/7… I know I personally can’t wait to get my bra off at the end of the day…Lol. Please let me know if you end up having the same results? I also listened to the webinar above and took a lot of good info from it… So thanks again.
JIni, Do you mean 60 lbs of alfalfa per day for 5 horses, so an average of 12 lbs. per day per horse (with the dominant ones getting more and the others less). If an average horse eats 20 lbs. of forage a day (maybe more for your bigger breads) then that’s 50% of the diet in alfalfa? Is that correct? I completely support the amino acid issue. My concern about too much alfalfa has been the calcium / phosphorus balance. My understanding is that alfalfa is higher in calcium and would therefore need to be balanced with the phosphorus. Have you run into this? A holistic vet I once had said that horses can handle up to 20% of their diet in a legume. If they can handle more, I’m all for that, I’m just wondering about the calcium issue. Thank you.
Yes, Mary that is correct – 60 lbs split between 5. Keep in mind Juno has been a foal during this time so maybe split between 4.5 horses! They free-feed their low sugar hay as well. They average about 40 lbs/day each of their low sugar orchard grass hay. On rainy days they eat more, on sunny days, less. Keep in mind my smallest horse is 15.2hh and all but one of them is still growing. I haven’t seen any phosphorous issues, but I’ve also only been feeding the daily alfalfa for 10 months.
To be honest, I’m not sure I agree with the avg 20 lbs/day of forage per horse. That has always seemed very low to me. Personally I’d use it more as a minimum and then see what each horse actually eats, depending on breed, movement, weather, etc. What’s your view on it?
It’s unusual for me to have a discussion with someone who is as detailed as I am. Thank you. Let me give a more accurate measurement of the amount of forage per day. 1 1/2-2% of the horse’s body weight as a starting point, then up or down from there based on the individual and what they need to maintain their weight. The horses I have had have been in the 1000-1200 lb. range and are able-bodied seniors in retirement. So they aren’t burning a lot of extra calories, nor are they growing. So that’s where my 20 lbs. a day comes from. If you don’t mind me asking, how much do each of your horses weigh? It looks like they average a total of roughly 50 lbs. per day per horse. If that’s the case then the alfalfa roughly comes out at 20% of the hay diet (not counting the pasture). I think I’m thankful to have low-key seniors eating about 20 lbs. a day. I can’t imagine going through double that per horse. Thank you for the perspective.
Yes I think mine eat so much because they’re still growing, plus they’re quite active, plus they’re big horses. They range from 1200 – 1900 lbs. And yes, my monthly hay bill is substantial! So yours are eating about 20 lbs a day from slow feeders that are always filled? Or is that just how much you give them per day?
Ok. 1900 lbs. and 40-50 lbs. a day. That makes sense. I think I’ll stick to my little retired guys. The 1150 lb. retired senior horse I have maintains his weight on an average of 20-24 lbs. of hay per day in the winter when there’s not much pasture grass. In the summer it drops to about 10 lbs. per day. (I had a 1000 lb. 14 hand senior that maintained his wegith very well on 15 lbs. through the winter and 10 in the summer with pasture) Since the 1150 lb horse tends to be a hard keeper, I don’t limit his hay. I tried the porta grazer for a short time, but slowing down how fast he ate was never an issue for him, so when he got his leg stuck that one day and I saw that he would chew with his head high, I figured whatever benefit he may have been getting from it wasn’t measurable enough for me to continue using it when I could clearly see the downside. This year I started feeding his hay free choice (along with pasture), and I just note approx. how much he eats each day. I let him balance the hay and pasture himself, and if he starts to get into trouble with too much grass, I will limit it. What I have noticed this year is that he handles grass much better when he has free choice hay at all times, i.e. fiber in the diet.
Very interesting info Mary – thanks for giving us the details. And your experience confirms Dr. Getty’s position that putting a horse on a “diet” only serves to slow their metabolism; the same way it does ours if we try to diet. The message over and over seems to be: Control the sugar, not the quantity. I also think it’s pretty normal for horses to chub up during whatever season is more abundant (in some regions that is winter, in others spring/summer) and I don’t think we should control that either. Unless of course, it causes a clear health issue. My horses and ponies in Alberta chubbed right up every summer and not one of them had a health issue in 10 years.
Just looking at your slow feeder grate is it metal?I made two with s/ feeder hay nets but they chew through them, have difficulty getting anything else in we Zealand, do ‘ nt want to damage there teeth. Suggestions would. be helpful.
Yes it’s metal. All 5 of mine have no damage to their teeth from it – the openings are 2 inches wide. If you don’t want to use metal you could try plastic – one of the videos in my Slow Feeder Design Comparison article uses a plastic sheet with round holes in it. You can see it here:
UPDATE: Just came across this comment and wanted to add that I have since discovered that the size of the grate needs to depend upon the type of hay you are feeding. If the hay pulls out easily, then you can use 2×2″ openings. But if it breaks off, or they have to press on the grate to ‘dig’ it out, then you need to use 4×4″ openings. Best is to check teeth and gums monthly for any wear and let that be your guide.
2nd Hoof pics
Wanted to follow up with you with a picture of Dreamers hooves after feeding alfalfa and chia seeds. You can definitely see the difference in color with the line that shows the growth since that point. I am hoping this will also result in even stronger hooves for Dreamer. His hooves are rock crushing but Bullet & Banners not so much and they have also have changes that you can see with the growth line since I started feeding more protein. Just thought you would be interested in these pics. I will post again when the growth reaches all the way to the ground on all 3 horses. ✌?️❤️?
Holy crapsters Michelle – that is SUCH a change!! It’s always cool when things are so visible. I can’t wait to hear how that hoof is when it reaches the ground – please keep us posted, for sure!
And I wanted to update you on the spirulina for eye goop. Even though I couldn’t get Zorra to eat more than 1/2 teaspoon 4x/week, she also told me to feed her broccoli stems. So I did both and her eyes are the best they’ve ever been. I would say the issue is 85-90% resolved. Hmmm just thinking now and I guess she would eat a higher dose if I mixed in some molasses (which she loves) – she will even eat garlic flakes if they’re mixed with molasses! I might try that, but honestly, there’s not much of a problem anymore, so may save myself the hassle and continue with the smaller dosage and let it resolve/heal over time. THANK YOU so much for that suggestion! Zorra thanks you too.
There was a huge slug in my tack room the other day, so I sprinkled some spirulina right near his head and he went right to it and gobbled it up 🙂
Yes the Spirulina has been amazing. Have not even had to use fly masks it really is a great discovery. Will try cutting down on dosage in the winter but I ran out for 5 days and I could tell there eyes had started to get a little bit of goo. I feed a heaping tablespoon everyday In there dinner mash which is probably to much I definitely need to try and cut that in half as it is a bit expensive & see if anything changes? I wanted to ask you on a different more recent blog I think the…. showing your set up video? you said you had not trimmed one of your horses hooves in many years? Can you tell me a bit about that? And do you trim your other horses and how frequently? Is it different for each horse? I had written with Kesia about it in the past and I am still on a discovery about not trimming and letting the hoof do what it needs to do. I have a hard time seeing cracks and chips and flare and all kinds of ugly …..but yet they seem to function better when we leave them alone? Which I can never do …for to long? I have read the Rockley blog for years but I am curious of your discoveries with your herd? Rockley has tracks and they do a lot of lunging of horses and I don’t have tracks only hard dry rocky terrain and so so decent herd movement (older horses..3 geldings) with some riding (Dreamer only) & Liberty sessions for exercise.Dreamer does have rock crushers and when we came together last year his hooves were rock solid. Then we trimmed him and he was sore? The next few trims we were way more reserved and he was way better and back to normal. Now I am wondering what would happen if I just stopped and let them chip and crack and look all ugly? Will they continue to function better or will they get wonky and cause him problems. Also with my poor lame Banner his hooves are so wonky but he tells us not to trim them. He will lift any hoof I ask for when it’s just me with my hoof pick each day, during our liberty sessions, to clean his hooves, but if it is time for trimming he says not to his fronts and has been for a long time.(we always think they need to look a certain way) …& saying ok to slightly cleaning up the backs. I know that’s probably my answer right there just listen to the horse but it’s so hard when the hooves look so neglected? I know your herd is young and some are previous wild mustangs so I am super curious of your thoughts and experiences with your herd and there hooves? Are they all chipped up and ugly fugly or do they look tidy and rounded? I am sure it’s a whole blog in itself but if you have time I am so interested..Thanks ✌?️❤️?
I just had a thought – do you also feed seaweed? Because I feed 1 tbsp of mixed kelp, dulse, etc. So maybe that lessens the amount of spirulina needed?
Your hoof questions are VERY interesting and exactly what we’re exploring in the Unhaltered Hoof Trimming video series we’re shooting now. Montaro’s hooves are TERRIBLE in this dry, hot weather we’ve had – I’ll post some pics for you. But, so far, he won’t let Kesia trim them. So yes, we’re just leaving him and watching what he does and what happens. He has a nasty crack up his left rear hoof BUT it does not hinder his mobility at all – he tears around on all terrain, pivots, slides to a stop and so on. So perhaps everything we’ve been told about hooves is not quite correct? Perhaps a varied diet and natural movement really are the key elements of sound horses – regardless of what their hooves LOOK like?
And by the way, none of mine were mustangs. They were semi-feral horses from the interior of BC – owned by humans, but not touched or fed by them – and kept on a large fenced piece of land, not free-roaming on thousands of acres.
Here’s that cracked back hoof!
This is one of his front hooves – you can see how he is self-trimming it.
After thought…some pics of banner hooves
Right front hoof
Wow, this one is SO interesting to me – there’s a whole story in this hoof! One of the things we talk about in the video series is how – when left in charge of their hooves – horses will use their hoof shape, length etc. to correct imbalances in other areas of their body. Zorra refused to let Kesia trim one side of her fronts for months, so we followed her wishes, and then realized how she used that lopsidedness to correct a shoulder imbalance she had had for years. Once the shoulder was fixed, she allowed Kesia to trim normally. Listen to your horse!
Bullets back hooves a little trimming over the last 3 months
That growth line where you started feeding alfalfa is just amazing! Any change in their musculature, manes or tails?
Thanks for all your input & I will be so excited to watch and read your new hoof series that your doing. Sounds so interesting and right up my alley. Montaros hooves are ugly fugly. This will definitely help give me strength and guidance to hold off trimming…just for the sake of a so called certain proper hoof look? Function is so much more important then looks. I I have not noticed any dramatic changes in mane or tail. Bullets tail has always been picture perfect. It’s full and thick and gorgeous. As you commented previously in a blog a while back Banners tail is not good and I use the neem oil on the dock of it but every time I let it go for more then a week & It starts to get it looking good he rubs it out on old Oak …Big Pa Pa. ?….I also have not noticed any huge change in muscle…but to be honest it’s not really been a focus so I might just not have seen the changes. Well thanks again and can’t wait for the hoof series. You girls are so inspiring. ✌?️❤️?
He might have some kind of infection/parasite in the dock area… why don’t you try wild oregano oil instead? I’m thinking a 3:1 dilution with olive oil – really saturate it. Apply every 3 days… listen to your gut for how many times, it might need only 2-3 applications, or it might need it once per month for a while. Just feel into it.
Hey Jini…I have recently been following a few barefoot trimmers on FB and they really comment frequently about how bad they think alfalfa is for hooves. They say it causes white line separation and basically is detrimental to the hoof. I am wondering if you have thoughts on that and how you feel it has affected your horses hooves? I had sent you the pics of my horses hooves and the definite line and change in contrast from what seemed to coincide with when I started feeding it and that part is now starting to make contract with the ground and both Dreamer and Bullet seem more sensitive. Keep in mind there are other changes going on like weather …we went from crispy dry (love your description ) to having some sporadic rain and the hooves are softer after being like rocks….and I took there heels down and that might be the reason? I also feed beet pulp and I read so many conflicting things about it…( & on your blog)? I feed about 2cups a day to each horse and always thought it was suppose to be good fiber? I so wish everything in the horse world was not so conflicting? I know every horse is an individual with its own circumstances but I just want to do right by my boys and I feel like sometimes the choices are so complex? Another thing I have been reading about is the ….water…& to much Iron……we have a well…….do you test your horses water source…..and is it different with times of the year based on rainfall? Anyway I know hooves are such a vast subject with so many variables & opinions…. I just remember you mentioning something about some hoof videos that you an Kesia did or were doing…& I thought I would reach out …..wondering if that is still in the works? So appreciate your opinion ✌?️❤️?
Michelle I’m going to get Kesia to weigh in here on the hoof stuff first…
Sorry ladies, I don’t have any good info on any of this! I know both alfalfa and beet pulp are hotly contested issues – I have heard that they are godsends and I have heard that they are the devil, and I can only assume it depends on a lot of factors in the sources, processing, and individual horses.
I don’t feed either; my guys are on a rotation of local hays for the winter and looking good, and nobody grows alfalfa near here. I have considered trucking in a load if I decide they need it. Actually, I do feed alfalfa cubes now and then, and use the soaked to carry any supplements, instead of beet pulp.
Sorry I can’t be of much help here. I will keep an eye out and pass on anything I find…
I haven’t seen any negative effects in my herd’s hooves. But I am also only feeding 1/2 bale/day between 5 now – so 30 lbs total. I just go by feel and my gut told me to reduce the amount about 5 months ago.
Which brings me to my next point: I would like to challenge you to step more fully into your power and connect with each horse directly, each day, about what and how much to feed. If you need to do a little meditation or guided meditation to get yourself into that space of ‘connection’ every day, then just use the one Montaro gave us (scroll to bottom of page):
This will be FAR more effective than any research or guidelines anyone else could give you. Because you’re right – there is SO much conflicting info out there all the time! Each of your crew knows what their body needs and in what amount. I had an excellent low-sugar hay and the horses were in great condition, then they started telling me they wanted another type of hay – for variety. Now whether that was taste/texture (to grind down their teeth) variety, or nutritional variety, I can’t say – it felt like a bit of both. So now I’m mixing it up. Although they don’t “look” as good – the other hays I’ve been able to find all have higher sugar levels – I trust their body wisdom. And I will keep looking for other low sugar hays!
And perhaps in a bit they will have received what they need and we will find low sugar version(s) they like. Maybe you need to move into this space with your own body too? Of really dialing in and asking your cells, tissues, organs what they need (not tastebuds!). This would also give you more experience/practice doing it for the horses. You definitely have the ability to do this and it would bring you great freedom and peace of mind. <3
There’s a woman in New Zealand who rehabs laminitic minis and ponies with great success. In the special diet she feeds them, she does not feed alfalfa at all because with laminitic horses in her experience it can trigger further laminitis.
Do you have a link to this woman, Mary? And thanks for sharing!
Jini, It’s the Mini Ha Ha Horse Haven on facebook. She references another website in new Zealand: http://www.CalmHealthyHorses.com.
Michelle, She is opposed to alfalfa when rehabbing laminitic horses and then maintaining horses who have had laminitis so they don’t have a recurrence. If your horse is not laminitic or pre-laminitic, it does not apply. Dr. Eleanor Kellon has some great online classes that can give you a starting point sorting out all the conflicting info. Meanwhile, I second Jini’s idea to start trusting your gut. Education along with intuition is a powerful combination. Good luck.
Thanks Ladies….I knew this was a loaded topic….& Mary I have watched a few of the videos from the mini-rehab lady …her minis are so fun to watch…& I am sure that is one of the sources I read recently who opposed alfalfa. I know it ultimately comes down to my gut and my horses guidance. I just want to educate myself as well as possible so I am making good choices. I came to horses late in life and it has been a huge learning curve. I feel grateful that I was an open slate to learn…but at the same time experience can be an invaluable teacher. I want so bad to trust my intuition ….I feel it has been so helpful in my journey with the horses…especially in regards to relationships and connection…that part comes so much more naturally to me…..But when it comes to equine nutrition …it is one of the hardest parts for me, to tune into. I have made some big mistakes …so I am afraid of making more. Thank you again though….I do appreciate all the comments from everyone. ✌?️❤️?
Thanks for being so honest Michelle. Perhaps your horses want you to walk this path – and I think that’s key: Realizing that it is a path, a journey. Not something you either can, or cannot do, but something that you get better at with practice. So set up tests for yourself. Tune in and see what your intuition tells you Dreamer (for example) wants or doesn’t want. Then ask the divine/universe for confirmation – a dream, an article, an overheard conversation, anything! And be on the lookout for that confirmation. If you get it, then action. If you don’t get it, then go back to tuning in. Also, don’t be afraid to use intuition-helpers; like medicine or oracle cards to check the info you think you’ve received. AND allow yourself to make mistakes! Mistakes mean you’re learning!
I’m also really loving the free-choice kelp thing! That’s another way we can give the horses more responsibility/power; by letting them choose what/when/how much. Course this doesn’t work too well when sugar is involved!
Lastly, check out this Zoopharmacognosy – maybe a workshop appeals to you?:
BIG HUGS 🙂
I love that your helping to get this message out there! I’ve been feeding my horses this way for a few years now… at first I thought my young mare couldn’t tolerate alpha-alpha (lucerne as we call it) – she went bunto! Then with a little research, combined with my own knowledge of nutrition I switched up the sugary hay and grain based hard feed for low sugar and starch but high protein, high fat small hardfeeds and low sugar type hays, plus lucerne. She started to thrive…a very good doer became a normal doer, especially once I got her minerals better adjusted (specifically magnesium, copper, zinc and salt). So her feed became 24/7 hay and or pasture, 1 slice of lucerne am & pm, a small hardfeed consisting of a lupins, mungbeans, sunflower seeds, full fat soy, and soy hulls, linseed oil and beet for extra ruffage to bulk up a pretty non-existent feed. Plus some minerals. I alter amounts depending on pasture, for instance spring, when grass is full of protein but high in sugar and low in magnesium (I decrease feed a bit, add more plain roughage and increase magnesium). In summer when our pasture is browned I increase full fat soy…just a little!
I’ve thankfully never had a laminitis episode! And my good doer with a grass belly became fitter looking, stronger! We also had less behaviour issues!
Q. New mare…a hard doer TB who I was told under no circumstances could tolerate lucerne (alpha-alpha). Shd was on a high sugar starch and grain diet, barely any good protein sources and her manure came out like waterfalls! So when she arrived my main focus was to sort out her gut. A course of protexin, 2 months of aloe juice and onto lecithin granules, and on low sugar hay with a better adjusted hardfeed, in just a month she had solid healthy manure and was filling out nicely. Winter hit her hard though, much colder than where she was previously, I stopped exercising her and started adding bits of lucerne into her diet. Now on the same as my other mare I paddocks them together. She too thrived. Her shitty feet started to pick up – actually grow! And her coat was improving. She shed her winter coat very late that first year, very late! A year in I decided to take her bare so we could get on top of her ill-formed feet! Transition wasn’t easy but we persevered. Still not perfect 12 months on but much improved and this horse that could never go barefoot is flying around the paddock like a 5 yr old. She’s also spent her first winter majority unrugged! Without losing condition! In winter I’ll increase lucerne at night – aids to keep them warm. And on much , much less total hardfeed than she was previously!
So what I’ve found apart from body changes (stronger) in feeding a low sugar/starch, high protein hardfeed diet is my great big fat doers become normal doers. But my skinny hard-doers become better doers! Feet improve, hair and muscle tone all thrive and so do their minds!
Environment, mineral selection appropriate to the season and herd life also help, but having tried and tested the protein theory, it definitely hits home just how important a mix of amino acid feeds are to horses. I had 5 mares at one point, all sensitive types! And not one of them had behaviour issues on my feeding regime infact, quite the opposite…all of their mental states improved!
Ooooh LJ – the MARE issue is one I hadn’t even thought of! Brilliant to know – but of course, hormonal balance is directly related to nutrition and stress, in all creatures. THANKS so much for taking the time to share your experience here. And yes, the minerals are also key.
When I got my 6 new wildies (mustangs) I put out free-choice Hoffman’s Minerals and they ingested massive quantities for about 3 weeks. My friend was actually getting worried – but I said, nope, just let them be, they’re obviously correcting a deficiency. And sure enough, intake just plummeted at about 3 weeks and has stayed low (normal) ever since. They also have 24/7 low sugar hay available and a daily ration of lucerne/alfalfa (and their vitamins, flax, seaweed) – along with my graveled areas, they have all now self-trimmed their hooves (which were in terrible condition).
That’s fantastic about your TB though, and that she can grow a good winter coat now too. Makes sense though as hair/fur is a whole lotta protein! Just wonderful. 🙂
I read some while back that desert creature donkeys should be allowed to walk daily in shallow water like they might in a desert water source for the health of their hooves. Wonder if that might help a horse also?
I don’t even own a horse or donkey, never have, but this is interesting and inspiring me to buy a few supplements for myself!
Yes in dry climates it is definitely helpful to have a wet area for hooves. Most people set their water trough to trickle over and create a muddy area around the trough. Or here are some more ideas:
Hey Jini, thankyou so much for this info, so timely. I have been concerned with hoof and hair health, now I realize Jarrah has chronic protein deficiency. He was sooo skinny, huge cracks in hooves and scrappy mane/tail when i rescued him. A year on he has improved immensely but still i see the signs so I will be onto it and see how he is in time.
I will have to source probiotics in Aus, if anyone has any recommendations I’d be grateful.
What a huge learning curve for me!
To be honest, sometimes I feel so inadequate being responsible for the health of such a large creature, also being a newbie to it all aargh! scary stuff. I am soo thankful l was led to your site.
Also thankyou from Jarrah. 🐎
I would love to hear what happens – please take before/after pics!
Unfortunately, you can’t get my favorite probiotic in Australia (your govt is very tough on imports) – Equiflora by Natren. But this company seems to have a good handle on the topic so perhaps theirs will work:
Keep us posted!
Hi, round up isn’t used on alfalfa hay, as it’s sole purpose is to kill the plant from the roots up. Therefore leaving the dead plant, alfalfa is a perennial plant as are most hays. Unlike grain crops which are reseeded yearly. Cheers
Yes that makes perfect sense. So I did some digging… unfortunately there is also a GE Roundup Ready Alfalfa seed and:
“The label states to apply 22 to 44 ounces per acre when newly seeded alfalfa is at or before the third to fourth trifoliate stage to avoid gaps due to stand loss of susceptible alfalfa once plants are larger.”
To accommodate changes in GBH (glyphosate-based herbicides) use patterns associated with genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant crops, regulators have dramatically increased tolerance levels in maize, oilseed (soybeans and canola), and alfalfa crops and related livestock feeds.
I also found this interesting article on the use of drying agents:
I wonder what effect the excess potassium carbonate has on the horse – do you know?