Many horses require specialized diets to optimize health and performance, to properly support a health condition (short or long term), to support aging and longevity, or growth. Horses undergoing long term stress can also benefit from specialized diets. It doesn't matter if the horse is a pasture pet or an olympic athlete, many horses benefit from these diets to meet their personal requirements. These diets examine in detail available forages, processed and natural feeds, organic and inorganic supplements, medications, etc. The key factors to consider when formulating the optimal diet include: product availability, affordability, degree of horse health and/or demand, product knowledge, interactions, and of course the horse! The unique specifics of a horse often will make the process of finding the ideal diet a "trial and error" or "work in progress" process. Not all horses with similar conditions will respond favourably to one type of diet. But once the ideal combination is found, results will be noticeable, and your horse will be healthier and happier!
So what are the steps in finding that ideal specialized diet? Let's go through an example to better understand. My horse, Nikah, was 8 years old when she was diagnosed with PPID (aka Cushings). An unexpected series of unusual events (pulled hind muscles followed quickly by founder in the front hooves) caused an immediate need to investigate further if there were any underlying health issues. In this case, it took some time to try different supplements, forages and combinations to find out what really worked for her. The goal was to optimize her health as much as possible, while keeping any inflammation at a minimum. I immediately created a journal to track diet changes and responses. With each adjustment I would wait 30 to 60 days (and sometimes longer) to determine if there were any improvements. In some cases, these improvements were seen (or not) based on the season (winter vs. summer).
My first step is to choose optimal forages for that particular horse. Then, balance the vitamins and minerals in the diet by adding feeds and supplements to compensate for any deficiencies in the forage. My "Forage is First" rule always applies to every situation and to every horse. In cases of PPID, I look for forages "good" in quality, low in sugars and starches and low levels of iron. (The only way of determining forage suitability for any horse is through a forage analysis, which is relatively inexpensive to do.) Not all hays are created the same, and variability depends upon growing season, soil conditions, location, harvest date, etc. Because Nikah had a severe case of founder (rotation) she was immediately removed from pasture and to this day remains strictly on hay. Horses with PPID are at an increased risk of laminitis/founder so pasturing in many cases may not be an option. This is because sugar, starch and fructan levels are often highly variable and unpredictable in pasture grasses.
The results of the forage analysis is then inputted into software (Feed My Horse Nutrition Software) to determine what I need to add to optimize her diet. Because there are many different vitamin/mineral supplements on the market, this software makes it easy to choose which one works best with the forage and her condition. Then I add specific nutrients that would further boost and support her health, and I must say I am very pleased with the results! Her diet consists of quality hay, a small amount of pelletized commercial feed (no grain), a premium vitamin/mineral supplement, probiotics, flax, and additional supplementation of Biotin + Zinc, Vitamin E and C, Selenium, and Magnesium. Not all supplements are created equally so each are chosen carefully! She still remains on her 1 mg of Pergolide per day and is routinely monitored to keep her as healthy and comfortable as possible. It has been a difficult journey to recovery since the initial episode, but formulating the ideal diet for her has made all the difference to her health, hooves and quality of life.
Do you have a horse that requires a specialized diet? Do you need help in determining the best combination? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story!
Healthy Horses. Happy Owners. Superior Results!
Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc.
www.SuperiorEquineNutrition.com ~ www.FeedMyHorse.ca ~ SuperiorEquine@gmail.com
The articles contained in this column are for the purpose of education and are not intended to take the place of proper veterinary care. They may be used in conjunction with such care to facilitate healing and maintain health of the horse.