Don’t Complicate Your Horses’ Lifestyle

by Nikki Alvin-Smith

Through many decades of horse breeding, advanced level horse performance competition and training and worldwide clinician giving, I’ve learned that despite all our best efforts it seems that horses do best with an uncomplicated lifestyle. What do I mean by ‘do best’? Horses seem to stay healthier longer and do better both mentally and physically when they are not over-managed. The proverb: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” could even be applied in some instances I’ve seen during my travels where an over-zealous approach to horse care clearly results in a poor outcome for the animal. 

Most horse aficionados realize that Equus enjoy living in proximity to other members of their genus, and that good gut health and mental well-being can be achieved by allowing the wee critters access to good grazing and granting them freedom of movement. The need for dry forage options as well as grass, hoof and dental management and deworming/vaccination protocols do enter into the equation. Perhaps because I grew up in England, my viewpoint toward the more ‘down-to-earth’ approach in horse care (both figuratively and literally) was heavily influenced by how my horse career began. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by all manner of equestrian activity – from my toddler years sitting on a wall watching the ‘smithy’ that lived and worked at his forge outside his home three doors down at any opportunity, to teenage years living in the rich and verdant Buckinghamshire countryside that was awash with horses and a myriad of riding disciplines. 

Rural life offered a varied experience; horse shows and gymkhanas with my first riding partner, a donkey called Sage who lived until age 38 and riding borrowed neighbor’s ponies; riding prestige Grand Prix showjumpers under the watchful eye of a noted professional (who also trained the New Zealand team in their off-time from The Horse of the Year Show who arrived by helicopter every afternoon); and fitness training high energy foxhunting horses riding them for miles and miles on winding country lanes.

Horses were rarely bathed, grooming was the ‘de rigueur’ method for cleaning a horse and keeping it’s musculature and skin healthy. Hay harvests only happened once a year, when the seed heads were small and fine on the timothy stalks given the weather obliged. All hay bales were small and man-handled. Mother Nature was the only curator of the hay quality, aside from some Spring manure that was spread on the land, the packed mish-mash of bedding leftover from the cattle being kept inside barns during winter months. Amazingly despite the sincere high value of the horses, all were kept outside in a herd set up. If you wanted to ride you set off with your wellies on and navigated the usually muddy gateways to secure your beast that was required for riding and training activities. Admittedly the weather variances in England were not as extreme as I’ve come to know them in the U.S.A., but persistent rain and dampness levelled the playing field a bit regarding tendon/ligament injuries to horses that occurred during workouts or turnout shenanigans due to mud and poor footing, and arthritis was kept at bay mostly by the incessant movement of the horse in the large fields.

As I clambered up the equestrian ladder here in the U.S., and my husband and I (also a Grand Prix rider in dressage) began horse breeding and importation of breeding and performance stock, our attitudes and actions in horse care shifted to a more ‘hot house’ affair. Horses in training were turned out briefly each day and ridden twice or even three times a day for exercise; aside from breeding mares horses were kept in individual paddocks when turned out or hand-grazed in some cases as an alternative. Horse care became an intensive business. 

Various potions were secured to bathe the horses and keep them clean and replace the oils lost in their coats by the frequent washing; all manner of feed supplements found themselves into the feed room carefully lined up on a shelf and sealed, sheltered from heat and individually measured and fed to each equine; the vet was on constant call, proffering services for every field side technology and alternative therapists employed on a regular basis to provide massage and acupuncture treatments and other modalities. But it didn’t stop there. Holistic feeds and supplements were explored as adjunct treatments for perceived horse health and rider issues. Forage quality problems were discovered and attempts made to rectify with more feeding ideas. Sprays for insect control were implemented. Varietal clinics and intensive training retreats both home and abroad were taken throughout the year accessing the renowned masters of equestrian sport. It was a quest indeed.

But then another transition came – one also earnestly sought. The Hudson Valley location was surpassed by the place we now live in the tranquil Catskill Mountains of New York. And with it came a sincere change of heart. For all the efforts to keep our horses calm and collected, fit and well and on the top of their game or reaching their full potential, it seemed for every problem we thought we solved we created another one. We began to acknowledge that a simpler life wasn’t better just for us, but also for our horses. Perhaps it was the rise in popularity and sincere talent showcased by our British colleagues at the Olympic level and the way they kept their horses – or perhaps it was a final understanding of what had been hinted at countless times before during visits with iconic eventers such as Bruce Davidson or Ginny Holgate, or some of the German team members branching out to start keeping their performance horses at pasture. 

Whatever it was it had us pulling shoes off horses and learning how to barefoot hoof trim our equines, joining what was then just one other F.E.I. competitor that we knew of at the time to compete in that level on horses not wearing metal footwear. Our equines were put back together in appropriate herd situations and spent most of their time living outdoors. Footing in horse competition arenas became a hot topic internationally. Soon our field gateways and indoor and outdoor arenas were topped with special products to mitigate any mud issues or roll of material underfoot (though we still stuck with natural based products), and we began to home-produce hay following a Farmer’s Pledge employing organic growing and harvesting methods. And yes, the barrage of media promoting every ‘fix’ piece of horse tack was ignored. Bridlewear and simple bits (which actually we had always embraced), saddles and rider’s kits only contained items that made proper sense for horse and rider comfort. The feed room became less crowded with supplements, and a simple formula for supplementation was adopted based on real science. 

Thankfully the equine feed supplement industry underwent some much-needed changes too with monitoring of quality control and provenance of ingredients becoming possible thanks to the NASC, and supplements became better understood and formulated as a result. This allowed us to approach supplement feeding in a much more targeted manner. This meant we could save money as we came to realize that more was not better and advertising claims became less common. In fact we learned it was not beneficial to our horse program to simply follow the herd, buying highly-publicized brands as ‘leaders’ or go with attestations from people inspired by their high level of exposure to paid pharmaceutical sources, that limited our viewpoint. We could now better rely on our own research and understanding.

Hay and pasture and soils were tested for their bio-diversity and nutritional value. Feed rations for grain were cut down substantially, and a carefully formulated feed supplement was administered as a mineral/vitamin and prebiotic/postbiotic boost for the equines’ microbiome health when necessary. Vaccines were used with a judicial eye, and full-on grooming time and protocols were back instead of bath time except in extremely hot weather. The pure horse breeds we had been registering and developing for over 25 years were shelved for a mixed genetic approach, going from purebred Hanoverians to Dutch/TB/Percheron crosses, and finally Dutch/Andalusian/Lusitano designs. We had gone full circle. Riding/training and producing horses based on their abilities and virtues of the breeds, without prejudice to their brand or flavor. It was how we had begun our riding careers – it was all about the individual horse and the chemistry we could develop.

The take home message from these endeavors for us is clear. Our home-produced (proudly many from birth to Haute Ecole) horses have enjoyed great health and lived long and useful riding careers with minimal interruption of work due to injuries or medical concerns. They have been well-rounded animals that engaged happily with each other and with their human partners, whether on the ground or in the saddle. Willing and compliant, exuberant and happy critters that enjoy living life the way they probably should, as simply as possible. Perhaps that’s a good life lesson for us too.

Sometimes it’s good to step back and take a hard look at what we are doing and why – give it a shot. You may be surprised at what you discover.

 

About the Author

Nikki Alvin-Smith is a seasoned freelance writer who loves to share her lifelong experience with everything horse, rural lifestyle, and travel. Her works have been printed in more than two hundred fifty equestrian magazines worldwide and her published articles number in the thousands.

A Brit who has called New York home for more than 40 years, Nikki brings a unique perspective to her writing. Her experience as an international level Grand Prix dressage competitor, coach, and worldwide clinician, with a youth spent showjumping and foxhunting, provides lots of educational truths and fun moments to share with the reader. Additionally, she has been a horse breeder and importer of Hanoverian, Dutch and Iberian horses for more than 25 years. Together with her husband Paul Alvin-Smith, who is also a Grand Prix rider, operates Willowview Hill Farm, an organic hay farm and private dressage yard in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York.

Visit nikkialvinsmithstudio.com or horseinakiltmedia.com to learn more.

Horse Safety First – Why You Should Read Your Horse Feed Supplement Label Two Ways

by Nikki Alvin-Smith

Busy horse owners often find themselves inundated with health information and suggestions for best care and nutrition for their equine partners. A barrage of e-blasts, catalogs and online advertising proffer an overwhelming array of advice that can make any horse owner, however diligent, feel they are coming up short somewhere or missing out.

While it’s true that sometimes the proverbial wheel does get reinvented, for the most part the market forces dish up so much fodder it is hard to keep track. The net result of all this hopefully salient advice is that the horse owner, whether a keen amateur or an experienced professional, throw everything they can into the feed bucket to try and cover all the bases.

 

What Exactly Are You Feeding Your Horse?

Once a feed product has been purchased, there is a fundamental step that many horse owners overlook that can make the whole purpose of the project trip at the first fence. Whatever horse feed supplement you choose to utilize as a responsible equine caregiver, there is one simple thing you can do to make sure you are on point with your horse feed supplement program that will also probably save you money. 

The chemistry of your horse supplement and its efficacy hinges on one major factor. You take the time to read. Throwing money on pots of equine supplement gold, often expensive products that make claims of fixing everything from your horse’s nose to tail (even ailments you didn’t know he had), is not a good route to follow for best equine health care.

While reviewing the product’s specifications published online and intended uses is an obvious necessity, it is amazing to think that perhaps despite our better judgement many of us simply opt for a quick fix and follow along with whatever is touted as fact being indeed, fact. Snake oil sales folks are still out there in various guises. Shopping is still a buyer beware situation and making a good decision on what to buy rests squarely on your shoulders.

After all, your horse cannot talk. He cannot tell you if he’s actually feeling better after you religiously disguise the pellet or powder and add to his feed, or apple sauce up the flavor of the paste medication to get him to swallow it without a fuss. 

Your horse cannot explain if he’s experiencing blurry vision, if his metabolic levels are out of balance, or if he has a pounding headache or feels depressed or anxious. Despite being as observant as we can possibly be of our equine partners, subtle signs of illness or distress in our horses is sometimes masked by their stoic natures. 

The reality is that by the time we can confidently announce our horse has a problem, it is likely that damage to his health has already been done. Damage that will take some time, effort and expense for him to recuperate from that could have been prevented in the first place.

 

Read The Label Two Ways

Many horse supplements include a long list of ingredients. The amount and quality of each ingredient contained in one recommended dose can only accomplish the results-driven, evidence-backed research that showcases its efficacy if those ingredients actually exist in the mix.

As an experienced horse breeder, horse trainer and advanced level equestrian competitor I’ve learned, when in doubt ask a professional. That person may be our team vet, our team farrier, a nutrition expert, an alternative or holistic therapy provider, or a fellow competitor. To understand the problem the horse is experiencing in the first place and then to figure out how to not just solve it but resolve it permanently, is often not an easy task. 

 

Product Transparency

When it comes to trusting what my horses ingest as part of their daily diet, it is essential I know what I am putting into the feed mix. Thankfully, there are some manufacturing companies owned by individuals that lead with integrity and where transparency is truly exhibited.

As some of you may know, leading the ‘first flight’ in working with The Association of American Feed Control officials {AAFCO}, the Food and Drug Administration {FDA} and helping to establish the National Animal Supplement Council {NASC} to ensure quality controls and safety protocols governed animal feed supplements, was Grand Meadows’ owner and C.E.O., Nick Hartog. He helped shepherd the lucrative and previously unregulated and sometimes dangerous industry practices into some form of accountability and control. The National Animal Supplement Council (www.nasc.cc), an organization that has a profound impact on the safety, transparency, and legitimacy of the animal supplement industry, is an agency that conducts strict audits of all companies that gain its seal of approval, to help ensure that what manufacturers claim is in their supplements actually is contained therein, and in the quantities and qualities claimed. 

“Prior to the introduction of the checks and balances that were introduced with the NASC systems the horse supplement market was essentially like the Wild West. In 1999 I tested 32 joint supplements to see if they matched the label claim and only two passed – clearly the industry had major problems,” explains Nick Hartog.

While certain elements of the formulations in supplements are not tested, due to the expense or legitimacy concerns of present-day testing availability, the majority of formulations are examined and tested in each product that receive the NASC seal are validated as being present and correct. This gives the consumer some level of protection against companies that simply have no clue what they are doing, are simply out to make a quick buck or execute nefarious or safety ignorant business practices. 

Today there are many companies that operate under the umbrella of the NASC seal, and the necessary self-regulation of the industry that was spearheaded by a few visionaries has without question benefited horses and the human contingent that love and care for their health and well-being.

So great. Well done. You’ve read the supplement label and see the seal stamped on the tub or packet and feel happy you’ve made a good choice. Well, that’s a good start for sure. 

 

Dosage and Timeline

The second important part of reading the label is following the manufacturer’s recommended instructions for dosage and timeline for use. We all know that if our doctor prescribes us a course of antibiotics it is important we finish the course (given we have no allergic response to it) to avoid the targeted bacteria becoming resistant to the drugs being administered or the health issue returning. So as responsible horse caregivers, we will likely complete any prescribed course of treatment. But then we often take things into our own hands don’t we? Wrongly believing we know better than our vets and the medication or supplement manufacturers. The more is better thought process. 

Not following instructions or recommendations can have terrible consequences, and learning to follow the professional guidance we are provided rather than take things upon ourselves is a good lesson to learn vicariously rather than to experience first-hand.

It may seem obvious to some, but giving a horse more of something than the manufacturer recommends because you figure more is better, is likely a recipe for long term health disaster. Amazingly many horse trainers and caring equine owners give horses in their custody a myriad of supplements without much clue as to any contraindications, long term use benefits or quality of ingredients. When you add the frequent use of products for the wrong purpose and the likelihood of long-term damage to the horse’s health as a result to this equation, it is logical to assume that the poor horse is going to suffer unnecessarily. 

Consider veterinary prescribed medications that are designed to treat a malady like equine gastric ulcer syndrome {EGUS} for example, will do nothing to support the horse’s long term gut health if you combine brands or dish up cocktails of them with long term use because that is not what they are manufactured to do. They are a treatment.  It’s not just a waste of money, it puts your horse’s long-term health at risk. It is far better to adopt a postbiotic support product and fix the problem that caused the ulcers in the first place once they are resolved, rather than consistently treat the symptoms of the disease or worse treat the horse for something he no longer exhibits further undermining the health of his digestive system.

 

Here’s what Nick Hartog has to share on the EGUS issue:

“The performance horse industry is facing an existential threat with the horrendous statistics on horses showing ulcer symptoms and the widespread abuse of ulcer medications being used outside of normal treatment parameters. There is little awareness that the long-term use of these drugs actually causes a reverse effect, rebound acid hypersecretion. RAUS causes excessive acid production as a response to the acid suppression that the ulcer meds promote. This triggers an endless cycle of more ulcers. In early trials with Grand Postbiotic we have been able to wean multiple horses off of meds without ulcer symptoms returning.”  

 

Following the herd is not always the best idea. Sometimes it is better to take a hard look at where we are going and what track we are following. Doing something because it seems better than doing nothing doesn’t really make sense does it? 

The reality is there is always a better and best solution to any problem. You may not necessarily always manage to find the best solution even though it may exist. But one thing is for sure, you won’t find the better one either unless you look for it and action it. 

Making the best decision with the information you have at the time, really comes down to what information do you have? When you have confidence in what is actually in your horse supplement and follow the guidance the manufacturer provides as to its use, you’re a good way toward making that best decision.

 

About the Author

Nikki Alvin-Smith is a seasoned freelance writer who loves to share her lifelong experience with everything horse, rural lifestyle, and travel. Her works have been printed in more than two hundred fifty equestrian magazines worldwide and her published articles number in the thousands.

A Brit who has called New York home for more than 40 years, Nikki brings a unique perspective to her writing. Her experience as an international level Grand Prix dressage competitor, coach, and worldwide clinician, with a youth spent showjumping and foxhunting, provides lots of educational truths and fun moments to share with the reader. Additionally, she has been a horse breeder and importer of Hanoverian, Dutch and Iberian horses for more than 25 years. Together with her husband Paul Alvin-Smith, who is also a Grand Prix rider, operates Willowview Hill Farm, an organic hay farm and private dressage yard in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York.

Visit nikkialvinsmithstudio.com or horseinakiltmedia.com to learn more.

This Old Horse – Keep Your Senior Active and Useful

by Nikki Alvin-Smith

 

Through my years of horse breeding and training and competing at advanced level competition, I’ve learned many methods to ensure that our vintage performance horses stay strong and healthy.

As most horse folks know, it always seems that just when you get your horse exactly to where he needs to be training wise, something errant happens that causes him to go off track and it can be hard to bring an older horse back to full strength.

Here are some tips to help you keep your ‘old horse active and useful into and through his vintage years, based on things I have learned.

The Start Matters

It’s normal practice for horses to be started at very young ages in the racehorse and Western world of equestrian practice and sadly the early start can do much damage to the horse and sincerely negatively affect its longevity and usefulness as a riding animal.  As a horse breeder for over 20 years I can attest to the notion that while you do want to get the young horse well-mannered and obedient from a young age with daily handling and short lessons on patience and good behavior, working them under saddle should not start too early.

Try to be patient with the work schedule and performance demands you make of your youngstock. Make sure the biomechanical development of the horse, such as closing of knee plates, spinal process growth and overall mental and physical elements are properly progressed before intensive training starts. Slow and steady gymnastic development truly does win the day.

A horse that is well-ridden all of its life, and carefully developed with good training, will usually last longer as an active riding partner than one that has been subjected to poor horsemanship either in the saddle or in its care. That being said the noble horse nature often shines in a particular horse, that seemingly will push through even the most devastating of injuries or human actions to come out the other side sane, sound and sensible. Horses are truly amazing wee beasties.

Age Is More Than A Number

It is critical that you don’t overlook the signs of aging as they appear in your horse. Age is more than a number indeed, and just because a horse is 10 years old or 20 years old, doesn’t mean that it will automatically follow a defined pattern of degradation. Genetic influences, workloads and exercise history, exposure to disease, illness or injury, stress and current fitness levels, and of course diet, all combine to contribute their part to the equation of age.

Be vigilant and look for classic signs of weight fluctuation, poor digestion, poor hoof, skin or dental conditions, joint soreness and metabolic changes.

Offer The Right Support

Changes in feed, supplements, forage and grazing will all likely be necessary as the horse ages up. The essential nutritional aspects of the equine diet will need to be addressed on an individual basis. Consider bloodwork checks, attentive farrier care, fecal worm counts, tack and equipment evaluations for fit and comfort, and a full veterinary check up on an annual basis to help stay ahead of any issues that may arise.

Today’s marketplace is chock full of varietal offerings to address the specific nutritional needs of the older horse. From joint supplements to digestive aids, there is a nose to tail solution for seemingly everything. Do your own research and don’t just rely on Google reviews or the local vet preference. Choose equine feed supplements that are properly formulated. Look for the NASC seal as a good starting point.

While an ‘all in one’ bucket solution may work for some horses, an older horse will likely have very specific issues that need to be addressed. Don’t fall into the trap of over-supplementing. Target the issue and address it with accuracy.

The horse’s immune system will falter as he ages, and boosting this with pre and postbiotic supplementation is generally recommended. Get involved with learning about the science-backed product lines and follow a logical protocol for your individual horse’s needs and be guided by science not by emotion in your decisions.

Walk Don’t Run

Older horses appreciate a good walk. It helps them to gradually loosen up stiff joints and muscles and cool down times after work are an important component in minimizing/removing lactic acid build up for any horse. As walking is so good for horses, if it is possible to offer regular hand grazing at shows/events and turnout when home, the horse will maintain much better mental and physical condition than one that is stabled for endless hours.

Useful Life Changes

If you own an advanced level competition horse there will inevitably come a time when your partner can no longer perform at the same level. A change of life in a show horse can be a challenge for it to adjust to and sticking it out in a field is not the best solution, unless it is medically necessary to abandon riding it altogether.

My husband (who is also a Grand Prix rider) and I, have trained many of our homebred and imported horses from birth to Grand Prix. While for some horses bringing them from our private yard as a show horse to a lesson horse under our supervision, it is not always a suitable transition for every horse.

Consider your horse as an individual. For some equines going from being ridden and trained on a daily basis by a rider that has subtle aids and knows what they are about, a horse that can operate on the lightest of aids, to being bamboozled around a ring by a neophyte rider, would be a disastrous experience.

As coaches/clinicians we fully realize the benefits that a schoolmaster horse can provide to a student. Funny enough, sometimes the complete neophyte rider is a better option to sit on a piaffe on a trained horse, than one that believes they already ride at a certain level and become overzealous in their actions and aids.

Earnestly evaluate your particular horse and it’s retirement options. One Grand Prix horse we made, Tiberio Lafite aka Tigger, could simply not be settled working under my husband without going full force forward trying his very hardest to work at maximum capacity, regardless of whether my husband asked him to do less. For Tigger it was best to simply not work him in an arena except for a slow walk up for exercise during inclement weather. As for him an arena meant going full throttle. But walking out on the trail he would be quite content. Though he was never going to be a beginner ride or be happy being ridden by someone without the all-important independent seat, Tigger went on as a riding horse well into his 25th year and never had an unsound day in his life.

Every horse is different. Some horses will happily adjust to less work and a quieter life, while for others it will drive them quite mad. For all good reasons keeping your senior horse as active as possible for as long as possible is a sound idea. As long as his comfort level can be properly maintained.

Refresh and Renovate

It is smart to re-evaluate your senior horse’s needs regularly and to refresh your ideas and renovate the program for work and care of ‘this old horse’. Always pay attention to what your horse is telling you – don’t assume misbehavior or bad behavior stem from a miscreant intent, but rather that something is making your equine partner less comfortable than usual.

In the care and management of an older horse, ignorance is not bliss. Well – not for long anyway.

 

 

About the Author

Nikki Alvin-Smith is a seasoned freelance writer who loves to share her lifelong experience with everything horse, rural lifestyle, and travel. Her works have been printed in more than two hundred fifty equestrian magazines worldwide and her published articles number in the thousands.

A Brit who has called New York home for more than 40 years, Nikki brings a unique perspective to her writing. Her experience as an international level Grand Prix dressage competitor, coach, and worldwide clinician, with a youth spent showjumping and foxhunting, provides lots of educational truths and fun moments to share with the reader. Additionally, she has been a horse breeder and importer of Hanoverian, Dutch and Iberian horses for more than 25 years. Together with her husband Paul Alvin-Smith, who is also a Grand Prix rider, operates Willowview Hill Farm, an organic hay farm and private dressage yard in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York.

Visit nikkialvinsmithstudio.com or horseinakiltmedia.com to learn more.

 

Do You Follow The Equestrian Mantra “We Win Our Ribbons At Home; We Just Go To The Shows To Collect Them”?

by Nikki Alvin-Smith

 

A British event rider appearing as a contestant on the very funny British TV show, “Come Dine With Me,” (find it free on TUBI), quoted an equestrian mantra that resonated with me as a fellow competitive rider:

“We win our ribbons at home; we just go to shows to collect them.”

How true is that! While the gal was likely referring to the hard work we all put into training our horses for competition success at home and the need to ensure we are properly prepared before adding the stress of the showground environment, it also applies to how we manage our horses’ well-being and health in our stable yards.

Setting your horse up for success comes down to his fitness level and his understanding and ability to accomplish whatever task your favorite equestrian discipline throws at him.

Horse health is often such a complex task to manage when you are busy striving to attain peak performance at a specific time. Add in the vagaries of the seemingly unending ability for horses to injure themselves at the 11th hour before a major event, plus the need for careful management of the combination of needs to show and the struggle to reach full potential at the right time becomes very real. Between completing show paperwork online, obtaining required vet clearances, loading trailers with tack and equipment, feed needs and packing, attire for show and trotting up for vet checks for rider, and the inevitable increased tension that life at the showgrounds presents, everything becomes a sincere challenge. And you haven’t even entered the ring yet.

The equine partner in this endeavor, will feel a certain level of his own angst or stress throughout these proceedings. And while he’s not texting and forwarding emails from A to B, or cleaning show stalls and lugging shavings about, he is likely nonetheless to be experiencing butterflies in his stomach. A heightened sense of nervousness, attention to his surroundings and the need to ‘take it all in’ can overwhelm even the most stalwart equine character.

The best way to mitigate the likely health bumps in the track that such tension can cause for your horse, is to ensure that he has a healthy microbiome. Your horse’s microbiome is found in his small and large intestines, but is also active in his lungs, skin and nasal passages. This throng of fungi, viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms has to be kept healthy in order to properly break down feed, medications, supplements and absorb them.

Plus, also very importantly, it aids the immune system providing invaluable support. When your horse is under stress he is necessarily more prone to infection and contagious disease. Exposure to viruses or bacteria can obviously compromise his health, so a strong immune system helps keep your horse healthy and safe.

The recent advent of the availability of Grand Postbiotic has unleashed a significant benefit in regard to adding another layer of protection to our hopefully healthy horses, by optimizing their digestive processes through several notable features. These bioactive compounds are shown to act as a barrier to harmful bacteria and their support of intestinal health also includes a performance critical aid, they increase blood oxygen levels and reduce recovery times from lactic acid accumulation. An edge that can help any horse perform better.

Grand Meadows owner, Nick Hartog, a veteran of the feed supplement industry and of course a leading manufacturer of same, explains postbiotics and the digestive system in his blogs and fireside chats. A great resource for those horse owners that seek a better understanding of just how critical a role the horse’s digestive system plays in optimizing its health.

It’s true to say that as equestrian competitors, we do win ribbons at home. The preparation for success encompasses all aspects of horse training and horse care. From soaking or steaming hay to remove microbes for lung health, to upgrading feeding regimes (which doesn’t necessarily mean adding more grain), to formulating the best exercise program and interval training our horses mental and physical health, the building of an equine athlete takes applied knowledge and a lot of love and attention.

Giving your horse a leg up to allow him to have the best chance of maintaining good health throughout the hectic competitive season comes down to you. And while collecting those ribbons at the showgrounds is great, the real icing on the cake when you halt for the photographer on your dancing noble beast, is knowing you’ve done the best for your beloved equine partner by feeding him what he needs to succeed.

Enjoy that mental victory lap, whether you win the class or not.

 

 

About the Author

Nikki Alvin-Smith is a seasoned freelance writer who loves to share her lifelong experience with everything horse, rural lifestyle, and travel. Her works have been printed in more than two hundred fifty equestrian magazines worldwide and her published articles number in the thousands.

A Brit who has called New York home for more than 40 years, Nikki brings a unique perspective to her writing.Her experience as an international level Grand Prix dressage competitor, coach, and worldwide clinician, with a youth spent showjumping and foxhunting, provides lots of educational truths and fun moments to share with the reader. Additionally, she has been a horse breeder and importer of Hanoverian, Dutch and Iberian horses for more than 25 years. Together with her husband Paul Alvin-Smith, who is also a Grand Prix rider, operates Willowview Hill Farm, an organic hay farm and private dressage yard in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York.

Visit nikkialvinsmithstudio.com or horseinakiltmedia.com to learn more.

How Can You Minimize the Risk of Equine Metabolic Issues Returning To Haunt Your Horse?

Minimize the Risk of Equine Metabolic Issues

By Nikki Alvin-Smith

If you own a horse that has suffered in the past with metabolic health issues and is seemingly recovered, then you are probably feeling a bit down about how to find a meaningful and affordable way to mitigate the chance of repeat incidents.

Flare ups of equine health concerns such as laminitis, cause emotional anguish, inconvenient changes in routine, expensive vet bills for treatment and may sideline your equine partner from the life you hoped he’d live with you.

Extreme weather changes cause extra health stress on the horse. Periods of extreme heat and humidity challenge even the healthiest of equines to stay fit and well.

Regions of the country such as the Northeast U.S.A., have recorded their own record-breaking weather metrics. In 2023, upstate New York has seen the wettest July in a 100 year+ history, causing pastures to stay a vibrant lush green all summer long mirroring the landscapes of the Emerald Isle, Ireland.

Not ideal turnout conditions for horses that suffer from bouts of laminitis or showcase metabolic disturbances.

There are many proven methods to assuage the likelihood of flare ups of metabolic disease in the horse, pony, donkey, or mule, depending of course on the exact and correct diagnosis and degree of debilitation suffered. But there are also many ‘not so proven’ suggestions that do the rounds online making it hard for the concerned horse owner to discern what actions to take to protect their beloved equine’s good health.

The usual recommended remedial actions for horse’s that suffer from Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Dysregulation or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, are extensive. Add in a horse that has suffered from laminitis induced by these diseases, and the list grows exponentially.

The goal is always to avoid laminitis, though laminitis is not always caused by one of these metabolic melt downs. Tick-borne diseases such as Anaplasmosis, and other bacterial or viral infections, and poisoning, can often induce fevers, thus can all be causative factors in laminitis. Once an equine has suffered from a laminitis episode, he will be more prone to suffer a repeat incidence of the problem.

The list of actions often advised from our esteemed veterinary colleagues to mitigate or control laminitis is as long as the horse trailer packing list for a 3-day show and is likely to include:

  • Control a horse’s nutritional intake with turn out in dry paddocks free of forage
  • Offer no turnout
  • Adopt strict diets including limited grain intake
  • Test all forage for non-structural carbohydrate levels (or NSC which is fructans, sugars and starches) so these may be restricted
  • Treat hay or forage by soaking or steaming it to limit its nutritional value and lessen NSC presence
  • Artful administration of ‘special’ supplements that often the horse does not wish to ingest
  • Specifically designed shoeing protocols
  • Application of protective soft hoof boots and deeply bedded stalls.

On the one hand these recommendations may make sense, but on another hand they can compromise the equine’s health in other ways.

And we all know it’s tough to manage obesity which predisposes the equine to metabolic issues in the first place, if they cannot freely exercise or be longed or ridden. 

But over and above all that, what can you do to set your equine up for success to help support an optimal health status, given the metabolic concern that is hopefully correctly diagnosed at the outset? Perhaps to even to have your horse return to a more normal existence in due course post recovery and rehabilitation from an acute episode?

The Answer Is Simpler Than You May Think

Consider the adoption of a two-pronged approach to help defray the upsets of metabolic disease and improve their management.

Equines that are prone to laminitis flare-ups often experience some level of inflammation in the laminae of their hooves during any major blip in their insulin levels. Obviously building a good hoof structure is a good starting point for soundness. Correct trimming/shoeing practices and the right nutritional support mean at least the horse is starting off on the right hoof.

Most horse owners are familiar with the ‘Holy Grail’ of ingredients that are recommended for use when feeding a hoof supplement, namely biotin, methionine, zinc, and copper. But to address the likelihood of slight inflammation in the hoof laminae that can occur during laminitis flareups, a formula that includes MSM is a good idea. Consider a supplement that contain 5000 mg of MSM in addition to the four recommended constituents mentioned above, to assuage the inflammation nemesis.

In addition, the use of the right postbiotic supplement can also aid the horse in maintaining their metabolic balance. How?

Metabolic disease issues in the horse starts with inflammation, and this is caused by a rise in cytokines.

What is a cytokine?

Principally the cytokine is a chemical messenger protein in the immune system, that tells the body’s immune cells what to do and when. While there are several types of cytokines that regulate different cell functions, they are extremely important in the manner they message cells to boost inflammation when a threat is perceived such as a bacterial invader, or healing of damaged tissue is required. 

Cytokines can be pro-inflammatory types that trigger a boost in inflammation, or anti-inflammatory in nature that signal a reduction in inflammatory response. Bearing in mind that excessive immune responses will damage tissue, lowering the inflammatory cytokine activity that has gone awry is something that can help mitigate the health risks associated with the excessive inflammatory responses, such as we see in metabolic diseases.

Anything that can be done to lower the level of these over-zealous inflammation messaging cytokines benefits the overall health of the horse and reduces the inflammatory aspect of the metabolic upset.  Interestingly, there is good research to show that horses fed a proven and test postbiotic show a statistical drop in cytokines when tested.

Bear in mind that not all postbiotic products are created equal, so just throwing your money at anything on the market labelled postbiotic is not going to cut it.

I’ll be delving into the subject of product integrity and postbiotic benefits in more detail in future blogs, so stay tuned. Including lots of other information on effective postbiotic ingredients and also the checks and balances to consider that will optimize the holistic approach to caring for our equine partners, including ways to save much money.

But for now, be aware that the right supplement, one that has been proved to help lower the cytokine level that signals inflammation, is a good place to start.

Set Your Horse Up For Success

If you can get ahead of the inflammatory flare ups and extinguish some of the nefarious unbalanced behavior going on in the metabolic upset or imbalance, then you can set your horse up for success.

If you’ve ever had to stable a horse for months on end then you know how mind-blowingly hard it is to keep such a horse mentally stable and fit during the process. Remember those days and nights filled with following strict timelines to administer medications every few hours. The endless rituals of changing ice boots, and other equipment or topical applications to reduce symptoms of metabolic disease.

Once you’ve witnessed first-hand the toll these and other treatment modalities inflict upon both horse and caregiver physically, emotionally and on the human side, financially, then you know how important preventing or controlling metabolic disease flare-ups is and appreciate any rational methods you can employ to help prevent them.

Obviously, simple solutions such as administering proven horse supplements aren’t going to bring the risk of flare-ups of laminitis in the horse to zero. Neither are they likely to completely control health issues caused by metabolic diseases. But doing every bit you can to help minimize any negative impact from metabolic disease and laminitis, however the latter is induced, makes sense.

In my career as a horse breeder and Grand Prix international level competitor, I’ve had horses suffer from a variety of metabolic issues and sidelining a horse from living a ‘normal’ equine lifestyle and of reaching its full potential is heartbreaking.

Each individual equine presents a different challenge to ensure it receives the best supportive and preventative health care protocols. The research into solving these issues is always ongoing, but if we can positively influence and thus improve a single aspect of a horse’s chance to stay healthy or get healthy, then as horse owners, we are all going to try. It’s reassuring to have more ‘tools’ in the toolbox to help us keep our horses as happy and healthy as possible.

Nikki Alvin-Smith

About the author:

Nikki Alvin-Smith is a seasoned freelance writer who loves to share her lifelong experience with everything horse, rural lifestyle, and travel. Her works have been printed in more than two hundred fifty equestrian magazines worldwide and her published articles number in the thousands.

A Brit who has called New York home for more than 40 years, Nikki brings a unique perspective to her writing.Her experience as an international level Grand Prix dressage competitor, coach, and worldwide clinician, with a youth spent showjumping and foxhunting, provides lots of educational truths and fun moments to share with the reader. Additionally, she has been a horse breeder and importer of Hanoverian, Dutch and Iberian horses for more than 25 years. Together with her husband Paul Alvin-Smith, who is also a Grand Prix rider, operates Willowview Hill Farm, an organic hay farm and private dressage yard in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York.

Visit nikkialvinsmithstudio.com or horseinakiltmedia.com to learn more.