By Nancy Smorch
How many of you are pet owners? I absolutely LOVE animals! I was never able to have pets while growing up (aside from a turtle and a hamster), so I think I overcompensated in my “grown-up” years! We currently have 2 dogs, 4 cats, and 6 horses. I say “currently” because that number changes - the girls and Mike, it seems, are constantly finding animals and rescuing them. Some are fortunate enough to be re-united with their owners, and others have been dropped off or neglected and we have happened upon them at just the right time.
It’s a crazy mix, but it works for us. I can’t imagine it being any other way.
Part of this lifestyle, for me, is extending all that I have learned for humans and translating it into useful knowledge for our animals. One such area that I really looked into last year, after going gluten free myself, was what was really in the foods we feed our animals.
I started to question the ingredients in our dogs’ food, our cats’ food, and of course what we were feeding our horses. After much research, I came upon my own conclusion that animals really weren’t designed to eat grain. I found I wasn’t alone on this theory when it comes to dogs and cats. But, with horses, I came across a lot of people that thought I was crazy, or worse yet, I was putting our horses’ health in danger.
Horse people can be funny that way. You ask 10 different horse people what you should feed your horse, and you will likely get 10 different answers. I even called universities which specialized in animals and I got different answers to my questions than what I would get when I would talk to our vets.
So, when I come to a crossroad where there’s a lot of confusion, I back up and look at the situation from a different angle - from a natural perspective - simply the way nature intended things to work. This is what I did in the case of our horses.
I recalled a conversation I had with our farrier in Florida the previous year about lactic acid build-up in horses. He was finding that a lot of the horses he was working on had and excess of lactic acid, and he believed that was causing inflammation and muscle issues. He thought perhaps digestion somehow played a role in this scenario.
At the time I didn’t think too much about it. It was an interesting discussion, and I always love learning, but I couldn’t apply the relevance to my current situation.
Flash forward a few months and I discover that I am gluten sensitive. I eliminated gluten from my diet, and I noticed my bloating go down. I discussed with my chiropractor how I need to give my intestines a chance to heal from the probable inflammation that was occurring due to the gluten.
Soon after, I watched “Food Inc.” for the first time and took copious notes. There is a part in the movie where they show how grain effects the gut of cows - how they are not designed to eat grain, yet that is what a majority of the cows we eat are fed. The level of e-coli in their gut goes way up on a grain fed diet, but in just 2 weeks of being off grain, the e-coli is nearly eliminated. Hmm....
I started to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and I theorized that horses are not designed to eat grain either. If you’re not familiar with what horses eat, most are typically fed a diet of grain (usually some combination of corn, oats, and molasses), hay and grass. When we first got our horses, we fed them grain, either because that’s what their previous owners fed them, or because that’s what we were told we should do. At first it was a processed sweet feed, as they call it (processed and with a lot of molasses). Then, I switched to a local feed place that mixed their own feed - not processed, whole corn, oats and lower in molasses.
But as time went on, and I continued to do my research, I realized, I really needed to take our horses off of grain. I had a hunch that it was causing some side effects in our horses. This was not a popular concept in the horse world, but I was used to going “against the grain” (pun intended). I had to listen to my instincts as well as my research.
Well, to make a long story short, it’s been over a year since our horses have been off of grain, and I’m happy to say they are all doing GREAT! As an example, rather than worming them twice a year with chemical wormers like most owners do, I choose to do what’s called a McMaster’s test, which tests their fecal matter for parasite eggs. We’ve always had a couple of horses which have had a higher parasite count. But for the first time ever, this past July, I had them all tested for parasites and all the results came back negative. Not a single one of them had parasites. Yay!
Also, you can really tell a lot about a horse’s health by looking at their coat, and our horses’ coats have been shiny, with deeper colors than before. One of my horses no longer paces at feeding time in anticipation of the sweet grain (addiction, maybe?). And, our vet bill has gone way down. In fact, one of our vets commented on how long it had been since they had been out. I hadn’t really realized it until he said something, but he was right. Overall, our horses are healthier.
All of this to say: pay attention to the quality of food you feed, not only yourself and your family, but also your 4 legged friends! Now, I’m not saying that just because humans have trouble with something that animals will too. It just happened to work out that way in this case. Each individual animal has unique systems, digestive tracts, and biochemistry, and they should be treated as such. Again, do your research, ask the tough questions, and demand what’s best for all of the beings in your life!