Holistic care, and some dietary guidelines for a horse who is prone to, or experiencing, founder / laminitis:
Feeding the founder-prone horse
If your horse is the type that is prone to foundering, observing some dietary guidelines, which are beneficial to any horse, but more imperative in those who are foundering, will save a lot of trouble down the track.
While obesity is common among foundering/ laminitic horses, restricting calories is not going to solve the underlying imbalances that have led your horse to founder. Carrying excess weight will, however, increase your horse’s level of discomfort. It may also be a good sign that your horse horse is either struggling to intake adequate or balanced mineral content in it’s diet, or struggling to use dietary calories effectively (a common symptom of several key vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and/or hormone imbalances). So, while managing weight is important, it is more about the balance of nutritional elements within your horse’s diet, than the quantity of feed your horse has.
With that in mind, here are some ideas you may be able to use, improve the nutritional value, and balance, of your horse’s diet:
Firstly, start with pasture, or pasture hay, which has not been superphosphated, and contains no more than about 30% legume (clover, lucerne etc). Legumes such as lucerne and soy are goitragenic, so will bind up iodine in excess, causing impaired thyroid function, which leads to weight gain (among other issues), which is not the friend of a founder-prone horse. Phosphates found in artificially fertilised feeds (superphosphate) bind up soil and dietary calcium and magnesium into unusable calcium-magnesium-phosphorus compounds, causing the exact kind of nutritional deficit you need to avoid in your founder-prone horse. Adding ad-lib iodine-rich kelp meal in a separate feeder can help horses to balance out their iodine levels, if you do feed significant amounts of legumes, but feeding less is better. Rhodes and barley hays are good, but variety is important – horses are supposed to ingest dozens of different species of grass, legume and herbage daily. Monocultures will always create imbalances and sub-optimal health. If your horse is a very good doer, drier pastures and hays will moderate energy, and sugar, intake, whilst keeping the gut healthy, with ample fibre.
Secondly, adding energy – grains, seeds, proteins, oils & premixes. Basically, the less that has been done to your horse’s feed, the better – with the one exception, of soaking or sprouting. Fresh grains and seeds have a tough, protective outer layer, and anti-nutrient compounds/toxins, which are designed to protect the seeds from being eaten, or digested, before they have a chance to further the survival of their species. Hulling and processing grains begins the oxidation process of that grain, or rancidity, particularly of oils. I still use some processed grains, for convenience – ie pollard or milrun – and also as they make a good carrier for my horse’s minerals and herbs. I just make sure to keep it to a minimum portion of my horses’ diets, which are otherwise very balanced and mineral-rich. However, when I want to add more energy, and proteins, I use fresh whole oats, barley, sunflower seeds and linseeds, and I soak them for 24 hours. Soaking any kind of grain or seed begins the process of germination, during which time the outer seedcoat softens, the toxic compounds break down into harmless substances, and the inner seed becomes much more digestible. After you have soaked grains or seeds for 24hrs, you can rinse them, then allow them to continue to sprout over a few more days. When doing so it is important to rinse them at least once every day, or they will mould. You can also add a little colloidal silver to the soak water to help prevent mold, particularly in hot weather. I find that I am rarely organised enough for the lengthy sprouting process, and my horses don’t work that hard, so mostly I only use small amounts of soaked grains and seeds.
I prefer to use soaked seeds for adding oil to my horses’ diets also. Rather than using already extracted oils, I will just add more oily seeds, eg. sunflower and linseeds, to my horse’s diet.
Needless to say, I stay away from premixed feeds. Most premixes contain too much added salt, calcium, sugars, preservatives and cooked grains. If you are using a good quality mineral supplement, and reasonable forage, you are going to be much better off treating your horse to some carrots, or a piece of licorice, than adding a premixed or processed feed to his or her diet.
Your horse’s need for magnesium will vary, depending on
- The magnesium content of it’s macrodiet (pasture, hay, chaff). Australian soil is inherently deficient in a number of important mineral elements, including magnesium. To add to this, modern farming practices which utilise superphosphate feritlizers further bind and deplete beneficial elements, such as magnesium, and create a phosphorus overload in soil and feed.
- Competing or magnesium depleting elements in your horse’s diet. Competing and magnesium depleting elements include phosphorus (as discussed above), potassium, calcium, sugars and grains. Feeding excessive calcium, which may be present in pre-mixed feeds, will significantly reduce gastrointestinal absorption of magnesium. Sugars, including those produced by the breakdown of grains, will rapidly use up magnesium in the blood, as magnesium is involved in sugar metabolism (including insulin production), and correcting pH imbalance caused by sugars. Other grains, and legumes such as soy, are rich in Phytic acid, which is a binder of beneficial minerals, including magnesium.
Medicine Tree daily mineral supplements (VitalMin, BioZen, PhytoMin) provide your horse with a good amount of magnesium, in a bioavailable form, and are balanced out so that excessive competitive elements are avoided. However, your horse is an individual, and may still require a higher amount of magnesium to thrive. BioMag is a bioavailable liquid magnesium supplement, naturally flavoured with licorice and mint, and is an ideal option to top up magnesium levels as necessary.
Magnesium is also absorbed through the skin. Magnesium sulphate (Epsom salt) or magnesium chloride (magnesium oil), or a combination of both, can be used. One application method is to soak leg wraps in a strong liquid solution of either, and apply daily for at least an hour. You can’t use too much in this way, your horse will only absorb as much as is needed, however you may like to start off with a shorter time period and weaker dilution, and assess your horse’s legs in case of skin sensitivity.
If your horse is foundering, or developing early symptoms (crestiness, other lumpy fat deposits, tender-footedness), boosting magnesium levels, whilst removing antagonistic dietary components, is often enough to correct the condition.
When you start to treat your horse for founder, adding some powdered cinnamon to his or her feed is a delicious way to boost peripheral circulation, which will help to deliver healing minerals and anti-inflammatory compounds to the affected tissues. Cinnamon also helps to balance blood sugars, and is useful for diabetics, so may have other beneficial effects for foundering horses. Your horse will likely enjoy having up to a heaped teaspoon of cinnamon (500kg horse) in his or feed daily. The only time cinnamon is not recommended is with horses who are prone to bleeding, particularly racing horses or eventers in full work.
If your horse is foundering, keeping inflammation down will help to relieve discomfort, while other factors are addressed. Quell is a plant-based inflammation support blend, made from herbs which are ‘good’ mineral rich, and traditional anti-inflammatories, including horsetail, nettle, ginger and meadowsweet.
Lastly, your horse may need additional electrolyte salts. Note that magnesium (as chloride) is one very important electrolyte salt, which you will have covered with the additional Magnesium in your horse’s feed. All of the Medicine Tree daily mineral blends (VitalMin, BioZen & PhytoMin) contain a base, ‘winter appropriate’ amount of electrolyte salts. In hot weather, or if your horse is working a fair bit, you may want to either provide some good quality, unrefined, pink or sea salt, in a separate feeder, or sprinkle in moderation in your horse’s feed. Rejuve and HydraSol are electrolyte salt blends designed for medium to heavy sweaters, with kidney and adrenal-supportive herbal blends, to help prevent fatigue.
The information provided in this article is general advice, which may not be suitable for your horse. It is also based on holistic horse care practices, which may differ from those of your veterinarian or other equine professionals. I am sharing my personal experiences, knowledge and opinions. Please choose to use this information at your own discretion, and with my blessings, for your horse’s health and wellness.