Dietary Principles For a Calm, Healthy Horsepersil grass affected!

These are the principles we follow in our diet recommendations.
If you follow these, the next time you fill out the tick boxes in the Calm Healthy Horses Checklist 'after' columns you will have less ticks or none at all.

The more extreme the issues the more meticulous you will need to be but there is no doubt whatsoever that they will work so long as you follow them.

It really is about changing your focus from “getting the horse right’ to “getting it right for the horse”.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with your horse, only what is wrong with how we try to keep them!

PIC: This is a classic picture of a “Grass Affected” horse whose system is not coping. The syndrome is manifesting as extreme agitation – separation anxiety, fence walking and a general inability to think – therefore unsafe to ride!


 Be mindful of potassium intake....

ALL forage is very high in potassium and low in sodium. For example a forage test that has a potassium level of 3% means a horse consuming 10kgs is ingesting 300gms of potassium. That same forage is only .02% sodium meaning the horse is getting a measly 2gms of sodium. He is ingesting 150 x as much potassium as sodium

Reducing this very high ratio to an acceptable level for normal functioning (2-5 x as much potassium as sodium) the horses must excrete the excess potassium in their urine.
The trouble with modern horse keeping is far more potassium going in than going out; a bit like trying to empty a swimming pool while the hose is running in flat out at the other end....

Adding to this already high potassium load with even more potassium rich forages and feeds (Lucerne, clover, soy, most protein meal, kelp, many herbs and molasses) places unnecessary stress on the mechanisms which are working hard to meticulously regulate these levels.
Eventually these mechanisms are compromised leading to metabolic catastrophes which manifest as health and behaviour problems. (Becoming Grass Affected)

Check salt intake

It is not rocket science when you see the figures in DP #1that it is vital to add salt to your horse’s feed.

You can relax. Salt will not harden the arteries. Force feeding salt has been the ‘nutritional tip of the century’. How simple and what a difference it makes for many of the grass-affected type issues. It not only reduces the critical potassium to sodium ratio, but also promotes the electrical neutrality necessary for normal bodily functions.

The balances between potassium, sodium & chloride are intimately linked to fluid balances and together they determine how much fluid is retained and how much is excreted in urine, & manure. High sodium levels are recognised by receptors in the brain which trigger the thirst response so the animal will drink more water. Low sodium levels in the blood mean levels don’t get high enough to trigger thirst resulting in lower than optimal fluid levels in the body.

Horses lose a good tablespoon of salt per day regardless of exercise. If he does exercise and sweat he will lose even more. So even if you are not riding your horse he needs at least this amount in order not to lose ground.

A good rule of thumb for salt intake is 10grams per 100kgs, split into 2 feeds is best and this amount can be increased in hotter weather and according to exercise intensity.

So a 600kg horse would get 60gms of salt per day. Deduct off this the amount of salt included in other feeds you are feeding. See post on this 30th July

Horses who ‘sweat with very little exertion’ or ‘sweat in odd places’ (on the top of the rump or neck) need more salt. You will notice the threshold at which they start to sweat goes up significantly.

If you do increase your horse’s salt intake you need to keep an eye on water intake. For this reason water needs to be palatable and clean. Bucket out and scrub your troughs regularly!

Chronic lack of salt in regions of high humidity can lead to a condition called ‘anhidrosis’ which is dangerous because the horse has lost the ability to sweat at all.

To ensure your horse is ingesting adequate salt you need to ‘force-feed’ it. In other words put it in a feed rather than relying on a salt lick from which they will never lick enough!

Customize Access to Grass

Some grass (eg grass grown on unfertile land which we would call ‘good’ grass) is better for horses than other grass (eg fertilized dairy grass which we would call ‘bad’ grass).

‘Good’ grass for horses is ‘low nutrient density’ because they eat all day, deriving a little bit of nutrition from a lot of mouthfuls. Whilst there is merit in the idea of organically tending the soil so you grow ‘healthy’ grass, what can happens is that you end up with PROLIFIC high nutrient density grass and you can’t let your horse on it 24/7 anyway!

Some horses can handle ‘bad’ grass (until their system finally gets overwhelmed) while other horses whose system is already overwhelmed cannot even handle ‘good’ grass!

It is a gross misconception that we are advising horses shouldn’t have any grass at all. Of course this is not true. Horses evolved to eat grass – but (and here’s the thing) they were never meant to be CONFINED BEHIND FENCES consuming REGROWTH grass, let alone fertilized, so called ‘improved’ grasses and legumes like clover and lucerne.

How much grass you can allow your horse to graze depends on the following…

  • ·         The sort of issues you are having – the more serious the issue, (Laminitis, head flicking, dangerous behaviour - see Health Check -the less grass your horse can have UNTIL they are back to normal.
  • ·         The sort of grass you have got
  • ·         The stage of growth of the grass
  • ·         The sort of facilities you have access to
  • ·         Climate and season

In other words there are many variables to take into account. You will soon get to know what suits your horse in your location and how to adjust according to the weather and the season. Once you become familiar with the signs listed on the Checklist you will make adjustments sooner so the serious issues won’t develop.

If it is your own property then investing some resources into a good ‘Dry Lot’ makes keeping horses comparatively easy as you have a means of controlling grass intake.

If your horse has serious issues then removing them from grass completely is the fastest way to drop potassium intake down to normal.

You will need to plan well ahead and it is ALWAYS good to have plenty of hay in the shed!

The same horse as the one above - clearly Grass Affected and unable to cope with her companion going out for a ride.

Feed High Spec Vitamins & Minerals

Premium NZ Horse Minerals and Supreme Vit & Min for Australian horses - These products will compensate for the lack of access to the wide variety of plants, weeds, shrubs, bushes, grasses and trees that the horse in his natural habitat would have access to. Horses were never meant to be confined behind fences eating regrowth fertilised or stressed, over-grazed grasses.

There seems to be a mind-set that says “It is only an animal therefore the cheap minerals will do”! However the fact is that we would like our horses to have a long and useful life. To ensure their longevity and postpone the onset of the degenerative diseases that shorten it, we need to provide them with the best nutrition that we possibly can with our knowledge to date. Both Premium and Supreme Minerals contain nutrients which really do make the difference, nutrients that are not included in regular mixes.

To enjoy your horse you need him to be calm and healthy, then he will be as safe as possible for both you and your children. It presents a serious dilemma if a horse becomes unsound or unsafe to ride or be around. Accidents are more likely and precious confidence is easily lost. Be at the ‘top of the cliff’ by following these principles and ‘get it right for the horse’ rather than being at the bottom always trying to ‘get the horse right’!

It is a learn curve but it can be a rewarding and enjoyable one when you get passionate about it!

Make sure your hard-feeds are suitable.

Let’s begin by saying “if your horse is already calm and healthy on your current feeding regime then no need to change anything”.

On the other hand if your horse has any ticks in the boxes of the ‘Health Check’ then it is worth making some changes to your horse’s diet because mineral levels/ratios are the result of the total diet, not about any one in isolation.

If you choose to feed plain feeds and add your high spec minerals then you can alter quantities fed according to energy/weight gain or loss requirements without altering the amounts of essential selenium, copper, zinc, vitamins etc. If you alter the amount of a complete feed which already contains vitamins & minerals then you are altering the intake of everything in that feed.

Feeds like pollard, copra, boiled or rolled barley are suitable to feed so long as you are adding a supplement which will balance their poor calcium: phosphorous ratio (XtraCal/ SOS/ AlleviateC)

The problem with feeding many of the processed/complete feeds to grass-affected horses is that they contain ingredients (Lucerne, soy, vegetable proteins, molasses, extruded grains) that in our experience we need to avoid, at least temporarily, in order to return the horse to normal.

 Therefore a simple and economical option is to feed plain feeds to which you can add your high spec minerals.

Grow Good Grass for Horses

If only we had access to the fabulous grasslands in Dr Gustafson’s article (Link)! Of course the vast majority of horse owners do not have enough land to grow such wonderful native grass and therefore the thinking is to  increase the yield on the small acreage they have for their horses.  Strategies that focus on increasing yield unfortunately do not produce grass conducive to achieving a calm, healthy horse.

It is not about YIELD.

A farmer wants to grow as much grass as possible because it is the cheapest way to feed livestock that are only expected to live for a few years.

However, when you own a horse it becomes a very expensive exercise when you are constantly dealing with one issue after another, buying new saddles, not making progress or being unable to ride at all because the horse isn’t ‘right’!

Horses have the opposite requirements to production livestock because they thrive on LOW NUTRIENT DENSITY forage that has grown more slowly, rather than high nutrient density grass grown at speed for the purpose of fattening livestock and producing vast quantities of milk.

Your horse CAN live with the low nutrient density grasses because you can ADD nutrients to a hard-feed to keep them calm and healthy. Even oxalate grasses like Kikuyu and Setaria are fine because it is a case of ADDING a good calcium supplement like XtraCal.

It is much more of a challenge to try to live with rye grass and clover which has been fertilized with Potash (potassium)/NPK/urea because you cannot SUBTRACT the problematic minerals from their diet. It’s too late, they have consumed them and whilst  the horse has the ability to excrete the excess potassium and nitrates and metabolise the high sugars,  it is a constant stress to his system and eventually he is overwhelmed.

Yes it is worth getting the soil tested if it is your own property and you want to keep horses long term. Then you can address any gross deficiencies and assess whether lime would be beneficial. The exception is selenium. This will be the subject of another post but it is best with horses, to leave the soil deficient in selenium and add it daily to feeds by way of supplementation.

Don’t let anybody talk you into applying commercial fertilisers, especially those mentioned because YOU CAN NEVER UNDO IT once it is done. Your riding could be ruined for years to come!

PIC: (below) Spot the difference – Dairy grass vs proper horse grass

Grass grown for producing milk - Dairy grass - rye and clover, never allowed to mature,
rather kept green and lush all year.

Vs Great Horse Grass - rough, mature mixture of grasses - no clover or rye.
Just look at how these horses are thriving.
Zephyr on the left is rising 3, Merlot is 15 and Persil is 31, just coming out of winter; all ages and stages of horses do well on this with their added minerals.