Podcast Episode 31: Horse Health Happiness #2: Nutrition (simplified!)

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Ready for the nutrition podcast?

Nutrition is second in our Horse Health Happiness list. I’ve made this short, sweet, and simplified.

(I will talk more about vitamins & supplements in a later podcast)

Take a listen here to this weeks podcast.

Don’t forget to comment or ask questions. 🙂


Renee Tucker, DVM

Links Mentioned:

Top 5 Nutrition Mistakes

Jaime Jackson Paddock Paradise

Dynamite feed

Summary by AI:

Dr. Renee Tucker discusses the second horse health happiness, which is nutrition. She emphasizes the importance of providing horses with a diverse diet to support a healthy gut ecosystem. Tucker suggests feeding a variety of hay types, except for rye and clover, to promote optimal gut health. She explains that horses in the wild constantly move and graze on different types of vegetation, highlighting the significance of mimicking this behavior in domesticated horses. Tucker advises against feeding grains and recommends alternatives such as non-high heat processed pellets or rolled oats. Additionally, she suggests exploring track systems for turnout to encourage natural grazing behavior. By prioritizing a varied diet and considering the horse’s gut health, owners can ensure their horse’s well-being and resilience to stressors.


Renee (00:01)
Hello, friends. Dr. Renee Tucker here. Today I’d like to talk about our second horse, health, Happiness. That topic is nutrition.

Renee (00:10)
As a recap, in order to have joy with our horses and be the CEO or the employer of anybody who helps us with that horse, we are going to learn these five simple horse health, happinesses, th. And those are body alignment, the teeth, the feet, the nutrition and accessories. Today we’re on nutrition. As I mentioned in our intro podcast, we’re not going to dive into all of the micronutrients and all of the calories and measuring of stuff that you do in a real full blown nutrition course. Those are all fine.

Renee (00:52)
I like to keep things simple because simple people can handle it. Simple brings people joy. And let’s just do that because if we’re joyful, then we can bring that joy to our horses. All right? So what we do when we’re talking about, hey, what should horses eat?

Renee (01:11)
Okay. I know, I know. They eat grass and hay. All right? We want to look at the wild horses.

Renee (01:17)
And the best chunk of wild horses we do have is the ones that are in the United States that are wild. They’re the BLM Bureau of Land Management horses that just run around in a bunch of states. Now, there’s been a lot of studies on these guys. They are not sitting around in a lush green pasture, twenty four, seven and eating to their heart’s content. Instead.

Renee (01:46)
They do eat kind of constantly, but they stay on the move. So they’re eating a little bit here, a little bit there. They’re snacking. It’s just a snack. Couple munches over on this weed, wander over and lick some bark and stuff like this.

Renee (02:06)
Now, I know you may be thinking, I can’t do that. My heart’s not wild. What I’d love for you to do for this episode is just set aside all the thoughts that are going to crop up about how you can’t do it and how your management is different and how you’re not in charge of your barn. It could be just set that aside just for a minute and try to input what it should be, all right? And then later let’s think about what one little itty bitty thing that we could do to start changing it, all right?

Renee (02:43)
Just set aside how it’s going to be too hard, because it’s not too hard. It’s pretty cool, actually. So listen here what you want horses to do is eat all the time with hay, a lot of variety of hay, every variety you can get, except for rye and clover, okay? If there’s weeds in the hay, that is not a bad thing overall, okay? Yes, I know there are some weeds that have stickers in them and that’s bad.

Renee (03:18)
But to me, if I see a hay and it has a little bit of weed here and there, I’m actually happy because that means it is not over chemical fertilized or over chemical pesticided. So a little bit of weed is a good sign, right? So we want as many varieties of hay as possible to be fed at the same time. I’m not talking about, well, let’s feed orchard grass for three months until that runs out, and then change to timothy until that runs. No, feed as many varieties at the same time as you can get, except for rye and clover.

Renee (03:59)
I realize different parts of the world, different parts of the countries, you only got what you got. I know. Okay. But we’re going to do our best here to get variety. Why would we do that?

Renee (04:10)
Just for fun? Just for variety and taste sensation? No, because what we’re actually doing here’s, a way to think about it that I like. We’re not really feeding the horse per se, as much as this variety is feeding the bacteria that live in the gut. Okay, here’s an example that might be helpful.

Renee (04:38)
I once told a lady how horses really should just eat hay. Just hay. Twenty four, seven and no grain, because she was dumping the grain to her horse. And the horse was still skinny, like you could see the ribs skinny. And I mean, she said, like I forget what she said.

Renee (04:55)
I want to say four scoops. And at first I thought, well, that’s not too much, but let me see what your scoop is. Well, her scoop was a giant coffee can. So four giant coffee cans twice a day is far, far too much grain. All right?

Renee (05:10)
So ideally, horses should not have any grain because why? Grain needs a different bacteria for the horses to digest. Completely different, completely separate than the many types of bacteria that are needed for hay. Different varieties of hay feed different varieties of bacteria. And we want all the bacteria.

Renee (05:38)
The more different types of bacteria, the happier the horse’s gut ecosystem is. And a happy gut ecosystem means less colic, less diarrhea. Okay? Right. That’s what we want, peace and happiness.

Renee (05:57)
Meanwhile, back to my story. So she took the horses off all the grain and she didn’t want to, but she was brave and just fed as much hay as she could get. And to my surprise, in a month later, the horses looked like they had gained 100 pounds. And I thought, did she really do it? She goes, yes.

Renee (06:17)
She took them off all the grain and just let them eat hay. And they gained so much healthy weight. You know how sometimes if you give horses grain, they bulk up really quick? Well, a lot of that is actually due to water weight because throughout the whole gut ecosystem, they need more water for this grain to digest. It’s kind of bloaty.

Renee (06:43)
I know there’s a hay belly thing, okay? But that has to do with the bacteria not being correct. All right? If you feed all the same exact hay, you’re much more likely to get the hay belly effect. Hay belly is when the horse looks bloated and like, their belly gets bigger on the bottom part of the horse, the ventral side where the belly is.

Renee (07:07)
Okay, you probably know what hay belly is. I’m just trying to explain. Sometimes people aren’t familiar with terms, and certainly different terms are different in different parts of the world. So it’s not where they’re fat per se. You could have a ribby horse still look like he’s got a hay belly that’s most of the time from just feeding one type of hay.

Renee (07:29)
Okay, now, I’ve lived in Washington state and Oregon, and we have this beautiful five acre, ten acre fenced pastures that are green, gorgeous grass all year round. And the horses can’t be on it, or they’ll found her right, they can only be on for a little bit, or they can wear a grazing muzzle. And I also currently live in Los Angeles where it is hot and dry grass is hardly ever seen. So horses eat a lot of hay. My point is, I have lived in places where it’s super hot and dry and super wet and a lot of growing grass.

Renee (08:15)
And in both places, there’s management problems because I remember being in Oregon and Washington and would just if we could only get rid of this mud and have different stuff. And here in California, if I could only have more rain and get some more grass. There’s always problems. And let’s just go with challenges for management of hay and grass. What I’d like to suggest you do is take a look at this book called Jamie Jackson’s Paddock Paradise.

Renee (08:54)
This is how the horses in the wild eat and move. I always thought horses in the wild were like these horses that are out on 20 acres. They just kind of hang out, talk to each other, get some snacks and roll around in the dirt. I just thought they just ambled around aimlessly. But it turns out in the wild horses, each herd, each herd separately has its own little track that it follows.

Renee (09:27)
And they tend to be sort of like in this really big figure eight. They go out over here and eat some of this type of hay, and then they might go over to the water. And they keep going along this figure eight track. And then they do some brush and roll around in a sandy area, maybe take a nap. And they keep going along to these different type of dry grasses and this different type of leaves that they eat.

Renee (09:54)
And they just keep traveling most of the day, eating different bits here and there of all kinds of different things. So this track system and this little book is very easy to read, easy to follow. It’s short, it has lots of pictures. It’s on Amazon. I have a link.

Renee (10:13)
There no affiliation. It’s a great book, very interesting. There also are Paddock Paradise track groups on Facebook where people show in all types of terrain how they made a track system. Now remember, we’re setting aside the fact that you don’t own the barn, possibly, or what problems you might have. Just dream about it.

Renee (10:38)
Take a look at these, get some maybe ideas percolating in your mind. The idea is horses do need to eat often. I commend people who are feeding more than twice a day, but they need to eat all the time if they’re not sleeping or riding. And they need variety. There’s so many different ways to do this and make it happen in whatever way you can.

Renee (11:07)
Take a look at the book. Take a look at the track systems free on Facebook. People will explain it to you. Don’t even need to buy the book. All right, remember, we’re not feeding the horse, we’re feeding the bacteria.

Renee (11:21)
The bacteria need the variety. So you have a good ecosystem, ideally. Do not give any grain. I know some horses are worked very hard for whatever reason. I get it.

Renee (11:36)
If you do need grain, let me recommend two different things. One is grains. I’m sorry, pellets that are not high heat processed. High heat processing ruins the nutrition. It’s like microwaving stuff.

Renee (11:56)
I don’t know if you realize this, that microwaving food is quite bad for you. You’re like, oh my God, not the microwave. Seriously. There’s lots of reasons when you eat microwave food, the body actually in the blood work shows an immune response as if you’ve just eaten a toxin. And I thought to myself when I first heard this, oh, I’m not going to get rid of my microwave.

Renee (12:28)
I can handle some toxins. But then I heard about this study where you know how you can stick most plants? A little stem of a plant in water and it roots after a while. Well, if you microwave the water first, the plant will never ever root. Ever.

Renee (12:48)
And for some reason, that one got me. I thought oh, dang it. And so I got rid of my microwave like ten years ago. And let me tell you, that was hard. I struggled to figure out, well, how on earth do you cook without a microwave?

Renee (13:04)
I don’t think I learned to cook before microwaves existed. And so it was hard to figure that out. I was like, what? You want me to get a pot and wait for the food to heat up for 5 minutes? It’s terrible.

Renee (13:19)
All right, okay. But it is totally doable. And obviously you get used to it. So similar to the microwave, most all of the food pallets made for horses, including the expensive ones, are high heat processed, right? It’s very similar.

Renee (13:36)
It denatures the proteins and makes them useless as nutrition. And the body actually is trying to get rid of them as fast as possible, similar to a toxin. And so they put on a lot of water to flush it out. And what do we see when they add all that water weight gain? You think, oh, my pellets are working?

Renee (13:57)
No, they’re not. Or is it just getting water on board to get rid of the pellets? Okay, if you do need process, I do recommend Dynamite specialty food. Okay. They do not high heat process.

Renee (14:13)
Is all their food and all their supplements perfect? No, nothing is perfect, but they go out of their way. All of their stuff is organic. All of their stuff is not high heat processed. And they do the best they can.

Renee (14:28)
So I do recommend those guys. Alternatively, you can try oats. Plain old rolled oats. Now you’re going to think I’m more of a nutcase than normal, although that’s highly unlikely because I’m pretty crazy all the time. Still, oats have kind of a bad rap.

Renee (14:47)
This is because 10% of horses are kind of not like allergic, but they get a little loopy to I forget the name. It’s like some kind of alcapalizol something. There’s a chemical in oats. 10% of horses react quite actively and energetically to it. And they get a little crazy where we get the term.

Renee (15:15)
Sowing our wild oats from you just kind of go crazy. But that’s only 10% of horses. All right, so you can get rolled oats or crimped is fine. It doesn’t matter. Whole would still work, but there’s less surface area when they’re whole for the bacteria to get in there and digest them.

Renee (15:36)
So if you’re in a barn and all the other horses are getting their delicious sweet feed fed and you’re like, oh my gosh, I can’t have my horse be the only one not getting anything. Dude, I totally get that. Get him a couple of handfuls of rolled oats, two cups. That way he or she is getting something. And yes, maybe your horse is one of the 10% who feels a little bit woohoo on the oats.

Renee (16:01)
But guys, two handfuls, two cups, that’s not going to do anything. It’ll be fine. So if you just want them to have a little snack with everybody else, oats would work. That would be fine. So let’s see.

Renee (16:15)
What we want is a variety of all types of grass, hay, except for rye or clover, fed as much as possible if ideally offered all the time. Ideally with some type of track system, you can look that up. That’s paddock. Paradise by Jamie Jackson. Ideally, no grains.

Renee (16:43)
If you must use a non high heat processed like Dynamite does, or try rolled oats, there are certainly vitamins and supplements that’s going to be in our accessories podcast. And then, let’s see. I do have a link to little seven nutrition tips that are pretty simple. Kind of like don’t add corn oil because it’s again, high heat processed and it’s GMod and that causes ulcers. Just seven little trips there.

Renee (17:15)
It’s totally free. You can just download that if you would like as well. That’s kind of it though you can be in charge of your horse if you can just say, listen, barn owner, what is it going to cost me to get as many varieties of hay here as possible? What is it going to cost me to get you to feed multiple? Some places offer a mixed hay where it’s like one cutting of hay, but they’ve actually grown the hay mixed grasses together in the same field.

Renee (17:47)
That’s perfect. I don’t see that very often here in the west of the United States, but maybe it’s common where you live. And that is the best. Get a mix, get variety, make the bacteria happy. And then your horse can handle a lot more things going on, right?

Renee (18:05)
Sudden changes in temperature and weather and stress. If their gut’s happy, they can handle a lot of other things. So that’s why we need variety. And then the bacteria will take care of a happy ecosystem. All right, that is all.

Renee (18:19)
I will talk to you you guys next time. Thanks for listening.

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8 Comments on “Podcast Episode 31: Horse Health Happiness #2: Nutrition (simplified!)”

  1. You’re not mentioning Oaten hay I personally don’t like it because it’s high in sugar. Your thoughts? Thanks Renee.

    1. Hello Nicole,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes you are correct about oat hay.

      I decided against mentioning all the “don’t feed” items, in order to keep the podcast relatively simple. This way, I thought, people could just remember what to ask for, and that is grass hay (except Rye).

      Don’t feed grain hay (oat, wheat, etc). And keep alfalfa to a mimimum (not more than 10% of diet)

      Unless of course, a person is stuck in an area without hay choices. Then, you got to feed what you can get.

      Best regards,
      Renee Tucker, DVM

  2. Hi my horses wont eat hay pnce the grass starts growing even though they have access to it. Oats get a bad name here as they claim they are full of pesticides from being sprayed while growing. I live in nz. The horses do have problems with the grass sugars but locking them up is not an option. I would appreciate your input and enjoy the podcasts.

    1. Hi Diane,
      I understand the difficulties. May I recommend you read (or find videos) on Paddock Paradise by jaime Jackson? This explains how to use what you have, but keep the horses safe from too much grass. There are also many facebook groups that show examples on different types of properties.
      Best of luck,
      Renee Tucker, DVM

  3. What would you recommend for weight gain? For an older horse? Been wormed, Teeth floated, pickey eater. I call him my perpetual motion horse. Always moving. Right now on green grass, grass hay, free choice Dynamite minerals. He is also on hay, picky, bats it around to only get the leaves out of the hay nets. Fed Timothy pellets, 2 cups, 1 cup alfalfa pellets, 1 cup of Dynamite Hess, and 1 cup of rolled barley, 1 cup of BOSS. He’s thin or thinner than I would like going into winter. When his teeth were floated, (manually) was told he was missing a molar, but he will spit out some of his food. When I give him his pellets, I pour water over them so he dose not choke. He eats like a vacuum cleaner.. Always has since he was born. He is 26 now. Debating about putting him down. Winters are hard here in Montana. Will be home now to take care of him better.. Just looking for suggestions on his feed. I have not fed alfalfa hay but thinking I may go ahead with it?? I know the 20 % rule, but with his age, not sure it matters any more?? His spirit says he has more life to him.. I have a hard time seeing ribs and hip bones. Suggestions?

    1. Hi Wendy,

      Well you have a horse who is not in the scope of normal. lol :) But I love that he has so much energy at his age.

      Without knowing the protein levels of his hay, or how much he gets, I can’t answer exactly. So here are some general suggestions. I hope some help:

      1) Try to offer as many types of GRASS hay as possible. Each type every day, not individually in a rotation. No grain hay (rye, oats, wheat, etc.)
      2) If you need alfalfa, go for it. There are places where horses can only get alfalfa hay, and they do ok. So don’t feel terrible if that is what he needs to be fat and happy.
      3) Just an idea: pellets can be pseudo-toxic. In that, they can be difficult to digest, and depending on processing, they body doesn’t recognize much of them as food. Instead, the body has to work hard to process them absorb them. It actually can be a negative caloric loss.
      In place of that, can you get any chopped hay? So he doesn’t have to chew so much. He would have to “vacuum” so that he doesn’t get too much at once and choke. Or possibly a double hay net?

      Just a story: I had a client whose two horses were very skinny, despite how much grain and pellets she fed. She took them off all the grain and pellets. She did NOT increase their hay. And they gained weight. Just by not having to work to digest the grain and pellets, and also having correct probiotic balance in the gut (because of just hay). Grains/pellets mess up the probiotic balance.

      Lastly, if he can make it on just hay (including alfalfa) that will make his natural fermentation process most excellent. And fermentation is what generates the HEAT in the belly that will keep him warm in winter.

      Best to you and your guy,
      Renee Tucker, DVM

  4. Great podcast and THANK YOU for your time in doing these!

    Question – for oats – they are quite high in starch. A lot of horses have low grade laminitis from all the sugars they get in pasture and hay. Any concerns on this or ways to balance it?

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying these. :)

      Horses should only be getting mixed grass hay 24/7. Ideally no pasture. Only IF horses are struggling with weight on mixed grass hay only, do I recommend some additional nutrition. Oats is one example, and I’m talking about 1-2 Cups per day. Not giant scoops or pounds of oats.

      So with 1-2 Cups, no I don’t worry about the starch. I hope that helps.

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