Reasonably Natural Diet

Pay For Hay Now, or Pay The Vet Later

We cannot have an honest conversation about hooves if we cannot talk about the equine diet. Without the diet being addressed first, the hooves will never look healthy. Regardless of the trimming method. At the moment there is no honest dialogue happening on the diet front in relation to hooves. There is much finger pointing, a lot of bickering around the subject of hoof care, no one can agree on any one thing. As a result, horse owners are taking the matters in their own hands, researching, joining various groups to figure things out. There are many traps, dead-ends and confusion between what information is true and what is not. For most part the truth remains hidden, tucked away and covered up with widespread misinformation about what horse as a specie is, about what the natural diet of the equine is, about naturally shaped hooves, and the natural habitat. Genuine hoof care is inseparable from the subject of diet. No trim method will ever fix the problem that is not created on the level of the hoof. Presence of pathology in the hoof is a result of an inflammatory response of the entire body to a diet not suited to the equine species. How do we know this is true? Because of the evidence pointing at soundness of the wild, free-roaming horses living in the U.S. Great Basin. On the contrary we cannot say the same about the wellbeing of horses in domestication.

Is grass the natural forage of the equine species?

One of the most conflicting subjects is grass and grazing. Not just any grass and any pasture. Grasses grown in temperate climates have different nutritional attributes to those present in high desert biomes and are known to be the laminitis trigger. Grazing management including strip grazing, use of muzzle, or rotational grazing such as equicentral, do not address the risk of laminitis that comes with grass ingestion, but rather address the land and pasture management practices. These approaches to horse husbandry do not remove the root cause for manyfold issues plaguing domesticated equines. The U.S. Great Basin Wild Horse Model points to a high desert biome as the adaptive – natural environment for the horse.

If not grass, then what is the best forage for horses?

Despite the popular belief that horses are grazing animals information documented in the NHC literature suggests that equines are foragers. They live “on the go” moving on well-established paths and eating diverse plant life while moving across their home range.  Equine diet and foraging habits are not known to us, because no research in the U.S. Great Basin has been done by qualified professionals. Many claims are made about the natural diet of the horses, however, data and theories produced within the horse industry are primarily based on information gathered in a controlled environment – meaning that the findings are based on incomplete information. For sound research to take place, the subjects must be studied in their adaptive (natural) environment. Only then we can work on a reliable model.

What can be safely recommended is presented in the NHC literature. Safe grass hays have been noted to be a suitable substitute to forage available in the U.S. Great Basin. Reasonably Natural Diet recommendation was developed as a result of running a natural boarding facility in Lompoc by Jaime Jackson and Jill Willis and is available from the AANHCP website. When manoeuvring through the landscape of information available on the internet, one must exercise caution. Each hoof tells a true story about the overall horse’s health.

How is grass hay going to provide for the nutritional needs of my horse?

Safe grass hays cannot alone provide for all the nutritional needs of horses. In domestication, additional supplementation is needed for a variety of reasons. Moving back and forth between the lives of wild, free-roaming horses of the U.S. Great Basin and horses living in human confinement present disparity in quality of life, including the availability of forage, daily movement, socialisation, and everything else that life lived in the wild encompasses. Supplementation must be deliberated, otherwise, one is posed with the risk of having one or more ingredients become a laminitis trigger. When choosing supplementation caution must be exercised to avoid products containing high doses of sugar such as molasses, fructose, or beet pulp amongst other less obvious ingredients. Natural sources of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and proteins are recommended. The presence of stress rings coming down the hoof wall will be an indication of trouble. The best approach is to proceed with caution.

But horses are individuals!

Yes, they are, and it also means that these individuals had a unique history of experiences. The history of boarding conditions, time in turn out, handling, feeding, socialising, performance, abuse, drugs – EVERYTHING matters when evaluating horse health and the individual needs of the horse may have to be taken into consideration. For example, horses that had been deprived of socialisation may need good herd dynamics to settle in and recover from sole confinement. Horses that have been on restricted diets such as muzzle, grain, or set meal times will also need extra care when being introduced to track life, unnatural diet practices might have taken a toll on their digestive and immune systems. Equine life in domestication and different forms of confinement alter foraging behaviours. Natural lifestyle provides the perfect balance between forage and movement.

Natural diet of horses is not known. No research has taken place yet. No reliable information about the source of their main forage is in existence. We do know, however, that the U.S. Great Basin biome suits the adaptation of the modern horse, and using available information on dietary recommendations produced by AANHCP when applied diligently can facilitate horse health and vitality. Not all wild horse populations in different parts of the planet inhabit their adaptive environment. The rocky, uneven terrain, vast open space, and hard and dry ground with a diversity of plant life is consistent with the high desert biome of the U.S. Great Basin. When exploring dietary requirements it is wise to look at the type of forage, examine any products that you consider adding to your horses’ diet and compare this with the safe diet recommendation provided in NHC literature.

…nature surely would not have created highly flawed species with terrible hooves after millions of years of evolutionary descent through natural selection.

~ J. Jackson

Jamie Jackson Laminitis book cover
If you want to understand more, a complimentary read on what laminitis is, how to successfully deal with an acute attack and its prevention are found in the Laminitis, An Equine Plague of Unconscionable Proportions (2016, Jackson) - a must read for any horse owner.

Before Laminitis strikes…

Before laminitis becomes apparent and noticeable in the horse’s body, it silently leads to the degradation of different tissues and organs. The signs of Laminitis are most visible in the hooves, because of the delicate dermal structure that creates the hoof capsule – known as Supercorium. The presence of stress rings, widening of the white line, or blood in the white line are the more subtle signs of Laminitis. Sometimes the hoof wall may appear healthy at first sight, and stress rings will not be visible. This can indicate that the trimming method involves rasping of the hoof wall and the complete removal of the ugly truth.

The NHC publications suggest that Laminitis is really only a symptom of a much deeper problem which affects the whole body, known better as a Whole Horse Inflammatory Disease (WHID).  It is the inflammatory response of the body to grass, sugary feeds, drugs and anything else not natural to the horse.  Hind gut flora is sensitive to anything passing through the digestive tract including IV (intravenous injections). Imbalances in the lower intestine lead to the creation of a toxic environment invariably showing symptoms at the hoof and elsewhere in the body. This subject is taken up and discussed in more detail in the recommended read on diet below, including the Laminitis book (Jackson, 2016).

Excessive focus is being placed on the level of the problem, and not the preventative measures in the horse-using community. Very little to no medical attention is needed when applying the Four Pillars of NHC. Embracing prevention is the key strategy in maintaining horse health, it is a much more financially viable option in contrast to costly treatment and symptom management. Eliminating the need for expensive therapeutic applications means focusing on creating an environment conducive to good health. Laminitis and known forms of WHID are curable and preventable. Thus, an understanding of the healing pathways is key.

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Books and publications relating to diet