Sunday, November 09, 2008

AZ Regional Mix

This is the first supplement I formulated for my own horses and had made up by HorseTech, which specializes in flax-based supplements. It's based on NRC guidelines and principles I've learned from Dr. Kellon. It will provide minimum levels of many nutrients which should be supplemented with Southwest hay but will not "balance" your forage - you can only do that with a full hay/pasture analysis.

Arizona Regional Mix Information Sheet 

HorseTech Custom Product CP-082305 



AZ Regional Mix is a Custom Product supplement made up to my specs by HorseTech to complement “typical” Arizona and Southwest Bermuda hays – especially for those horses on a “hay only” feeding program. You can see HorseTech’s standard supplements on their website at to get an idea of the quality of their products. Information on ordering AZ Regional Mix from HorseTech is below. 


Typically, our Bermuda hay is high in Iron and Potassium, low in Copper and Magnesium. Manganese tends to run a bit on the high side and is rarely low. Horses benefit from good levels of antioxidants (provided by Omega-3’s from flax, vitamin E, selenium and grape seed extract – a bioflavonoid shown to have good antioxidant activity). 


AZ Regional Mix contains per 3 oz Serving: 


Flax base     2oz (approx) 

Copper        125mg  

Zinc             360mg  

Cobalt         2mg 

Selenium     2mg 

Biotin          10mg 

Vitamin E    2000IU 

Vitamin A   15,000 IU 

B-complex package  

Grape seed extract 1200mg  


The base is stabilized flax – similar to NutraFlax. - and provides the important Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA’s) that are quickly lost when hay is cut. 


The copper and zinc are ZinPro chelated minerals at basic levels to balance the iron in 18-22 lbs of “typical” Arizona/SW Bermuda hay. They also provide a small amount of additional amino acids. 


The B-complex package is similar to a 1 oz serving of HorseTech’s B-Plex. Most healthy horses can synthesize their own B-vitamins but this  can be affected by stress. 


The Selenium is on a yeast base at a basic “insurance level”.  If the total amount of supplement fed is increased (even doubled) the selenium will still be at a safe level. 


There is also some additional yeast provided in the B-complex package. 


Biotin, at 10mg, is five times the estimated minimum requirement. 


Vitamin E – this is a level required for good antioxidant activity. Hay loses vitamin E quickly after cutting and this needs to be supplemented. The vitamin E used is a synthetic. While absorption of synthetic vitamin E has been shown to be lower than from natural forms, the natural forms are not as stable unless handled and stored carefully. The amount of vitamin E provided here will ensure stable levels.  


Vitamin A – this is a low year round “insurance” level as many Southwest horses do not have access to pasture and hay may be stored for long periods. Preformed vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be toxic at excessive levels – if additional vitamin A is needed it should be in the form of beta carotene. (Note – mares in late pregnancy and lactation may require a higher level of vitamin A than provided.) 


Grape seed extract is a bioflavonoid that has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant. We chose to use this instead of vitamin C as vitamin C can enhance iron absorption – our hay is generally quite high in iron, which has been implicated in iron-overload related problems. 


There is no soy or other filler – the base is pure stabilized flax - and there is no added iron or manganese. 


Vitamin D was not included, as horses in exposed to sunlight have no problem producing their own; supplemented vitamin D (a fat soluble vitamin) can be toxic at excessive levels. (If using this mix in Northern latitudes, you may want to add vitamin D.) 


Iodine is provided by adding iodized salt (regular table salt) to the ration.  If a horse does not take in enough iodized salt (1-1/2 to 3 ounces/day) to provide sufficient iodine, an additional source should be added.


Major minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium) have not been included as the required levels are dependent on what is provided in the basic forage fed. Trying to guess the requirements without hay analysis can alter the calcium-phosphorus balance adversely. Magnesium in amounts greater than 5 grams or so should be added based on the content in the hay and the horse’s response to avoid altering gut pH. 


I do not make, sell or “resell” supplements as that only increases the cost.  

AZ Regional Mix can be ordered directly from HorseTech  

by phone 1-800-831-3309 

email (specify AZ Regional Mix CP-082305)  

directly from the website in the “Popular Custom Product” section at 

the bottom of the home page  


The direct link is 


AZ Regional Mix is available in 6.25lb (33 day), 12.5lb (66 day), and 25lb (133 day) sizes. Order only what you can use in a 3-4 month period, and plan to store in a cool area (room temperature) to preserve freshness. 


Because AZ Regional Mix is a custom product made to my specifications and is not one of HorseTech’s “standard” products, any questions about the mix or how to use it should be directed to me at 


If a horse has requirements for higher levels of a specific nutrient, these can be added separately or the AZ Regional Mix can be used as a “base” – then adjusted to include additional nutrients (such as higher levels of copper/zinc, vitamin E, Se, Iodine, lysine, etc. or adding calcium or phosphorus, etc.). This will then no longer be the AZ Regional Mix but your own specific custom mix (with a unique CP-xxx number). 


Patti Woodbury Kuvik 

Desert Equine Balance 

Vail AZ 


© 2005-2008 Desert Equine Balance 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

High Quality Horse Forage - Not Straw

Many of us subscribe to newsletters from  
I just received the first edition of their Nutrition e-newsletter, which links to an article called Nutritional Value of Forages . This hit one of my hot-buttons - perpetuating the myth that what we need for our horses is poor quality hay

The article quotes Jerry Chatterton, PhD, Research Leader of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Forage and Range Research Laboratory in Logan, Utah:
“Sometimes a little straw filler might be okay,” he said with a smile. In other words, lower-quality forage will keep your horse busy longer, is less likely to make him overweight and/or laminitic, and he’ll eat more of it to get energy--keeping his stomach full and at lower risk of ulcers.

What our horses do need is the best quality horse hay and forage we can afford - not lower quality. Everyone, from growers to veterinarians to horse owners needs to review their definition of high quality forage for horses - which is different than the definition for high quality meat or milk production animal forage. This difference does not make it any lower quality - just different.

Low quality forage (including "straw", which can be extremely high in sugar) or insufficient quantities of forage can cause nutritionally-based problems. By the time you see the signs on the outside - dull coat, lackluster attitude, poor hoof quality - the changes have already occurred on the inside.

High quality horse forage

  • Should provide adequate but not excessive DE (digestible energy/calories expressed in Mcal per pound) and protein levels (by grams consumed, not “percent”) suitable for the horse’s age, reproductive status and level of work
    • The DE needs to be low enough that the horse can consume sufficient forage to ensure good gut function without taking in too many calories.
  • Should provide major minerals at least at the levels known to be required by horses (or have levels that are easily corrected)
  • Should smell good, be free of dust, mold or toxins and be palatable to the horse
    • Hays from species that are known nitrate accumulators or were grown in stressful conditions should be tested for safe nitrate levels
    • Horses may need time to adjust to the taste/smell of a new variety of forage
  • Should be tested for “safe” sugar/starch levels for horses who might be prone to IR (insulin resistance) or laminitis
    • Not all “fat” horses are IR; not all IR horses are fat
    • IR is not a “disease” – it is a metabolic evolution that allowed horses to develop and thrive in harsh conditions
Most of us are learning by now that the only way to accurately determine if a hay or forage is appropriate for our horse is to have it tested (see Analyzing Hay and Feeds) and using the results to determine if corrections are needed. While sugar and starch in forage, as emphasized in the article, are important for metabolically challenged horses, there is a lot more you need to know about the nutritional value of the forage you give your horse. What works for your pasture ornament may be inadequate in many ways for your performance horse, and what works for your performance horse when he is training/working might set him up for laminitis when he's idle. 

Forage testing (even if only done as "spot checks" for an idea of what you're feeding if you can't store large quantities of hay) is cheap insurance - at $30 to $50, a lot less than a vet bill. "Correcting" excesses and deficiencies by targeted mineral balancing can be done economically - often for a lot less than buying an "off the shelf" standard supplement which may or may not provide what's needed (and often adds a lot of "stuff" that's not needed).

So - when looking at forage for your horse, think in terms of the "best" quality you can afford. Take words like "rich" out of your vocabulary; they tell you nothing about your hay. Forget "old", "last year's", "poor quality" and "straw" when trying to find low sugar/starch hay.
Think in terms of how many Mcal your horse needs per day, how many grams of protein he needs, and calcium/phosphorus balance based on test results, not on whether it's "grass" or "alfalfa". Look and test for sugar plus starch equal to 10% or less for an IR or laminitic horse - low sugar/starch does not mean compromising on energy, protein or quality. Avoid excessively high iron levels in forage if you can - it may be an indication of poorly maintained fields or high surface contamination, and has been shown to be "pro-inflammatory". 

You can figure your horse's requirements in many places (see the  Analyzing Hay and Feeds article), find out what your forage supplies from the test results, then the rest is just addition and subtraction. (Well, maybe not "just" but not rocket science either. You might want to try on Dr. Kellon's basic nutrition class - NRC Plus - for starters.)
And use the straw for bedding your cows and goats.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Winter Water Needs for Our Horses

As cold weather approaches (and already here for those in the North), we need to continue to pay attention to our horses' water intake. Horses who are used to obtaining some of their fluid from grasses may not increase their water intake as pastures brown up or as their winter ration begins to include more cured hay. 

Risks of Lowered Water Intake
Impaction colic, related to a diet of drier forage coupled with lessened water consumption is not the only risk to horses who drink less in cooler weather. Dehydration may also expose horses to increased respiratory problems. While I could find no direct equine references, in humans, dehydration is associated with poor mucus mobilization and clearance, with a lessening of a critical airway defense mechanism. (

The maintenance water intake for an adult non-working horse is around 5 L per 100 kg/BW (NRC 2007, p132). This translates to about 1.3 gallons for each 220 lbs your horse weighs. You can figure your horse's minimum requirement by dividing his weight by 220, then multiplying by 1.3, or you can find the closest weight in the chart below.

Horse’s Weight

Minimum Daily Water Requirement

220 lbs

1.3 gallons

440 lbs

2.6 gallons

660 lbs

3.9 gallons

880 lbs

5.2 gallons

1000 lbs

5.9 gallons

1100 lbs

6.5 gallons

1320 lbs

7.8 gallons

1540 lbs

9.1 gallons

These requirements are increased by dry, windy or warm weather conditions, work or lactation. 

Work Related Fluid Losses
Most of us are aware that working horses lose water in sweat during work but don't always consider that substantial moisture is also lost from the respiratory tract. Unless you weigh your horse before and after work, it may be easy to underestimate the amount of total fluid loss in cool, dry conditions when sweat may evaporate quickly. It's important that you become familiar with signs that may indicate dehydration - elevated heart rate or poor heart rate recovery, elevated respiratory (breathing) rate, dry mucous membranes, skin tenting - and to know what's normal for your horse.

Lactating Mares
Mares with suckling foals are providing fluid for two and their water requirements are two to three times normal maintenance needs. These requirements are also increased by warm, dry or windy conditions.

Monitoring Water Intake
If you use automatic waterers or floats, it's impossible to measure water intake unless they are fitted with a meter. A horse may also become dehydrated if the auto waterer should freeze or malfunction.
If you notice your horses' water intake dropping off, it may be necessary to warm their water either by adding a heater (with a GFI electrical circuit for their protection) or by adding warm or hot water to their tanks or buckets.

The Role of Salt
Sodium and Chloride (NaCl or "salt") play critical roles  in the body's metabolism and are tightly regulated in the blood. Because blood levels are so tightly regulated, standard tests may not indicate a sodium deficiency at the cellular level. When ingested salt levels are low, the body will respond by pulling salt from interstitial fluid into the bloodstream, and by increasing the reabsorption of sodium by the kidneys. (For details on some of the mechanisms involved in sodium regulation, see

Feeding salt on a regular basis at the NRC recommended levels helps ensure an adequate thirst response. After the interstitial fluid has reached an equilibrium, excess sodium, in the absence of disease, will be excreted by the kidneys.

The minimum requirement for sodium in a 1,000 lb horse ranges from 9 grams at maintenance, 16 grams in moderate work, to 37 grams in very heavy work. This is roughly equivalent to a range of from 1 to 3+ ounces of salt per day.  Forages may supply as little as 1 to 2 grams of sodium per day. The best way to making up the sodium deficit is by adding salt directly to the feed. If using a salt block, the amount of sodium it provides should be calculated and the horse's consumption monitored to ensure adequate intake.

 These requirements remain steady except when accounting for sweat loss during work - which can cause large increases. Many "commercial" electrolyte formulas contain high levels of potassium but insufficient sodium and chloride - you should have an understanding of what you actually need before simply adding electrolytes (and never give electrolytes to an already dehydrated horse).

A well hydrated horse will more easily handle the extremes of winter weather and activity. Taking the time to monitor his water intake can set your mind at ease, knowing that you've minimized his risk for cold-weather related colic and respiratory problems.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why Weigh Feed?

I was browsing through some messages on the Equine Cushings and IR group when I came across this - 
Can someone also put the emergency diet in laymens terms (cups/flakes). I don't have a weight scale and not sure what things weigh. 

The Emergency Diet - for those unfamiliar with it - is a short term low sugar-low starch maintenance ration for horses experiencing laminitis or suspected of being insulin resistant. It was developed by Eleanor Kellon, VMD and is meant to be a temporary diet to safely help your horse through the critical acute period while you, the owner, catch your breath and start getting a correct diagnosis.

So why is it important to weigh your horse's hay, feed and supplements? 

The entire concept of determining equine nutritional needs, then meeting their requirements with forage is based on weight. Weight of the horse and weight of the forage and feed.

A 1,000 lb horse at maintenance (just hanging around the corral looking pretty) needs a minimum of 15 mega calories (Mcal, or 15,000 Calories) every day. A 250 pound mini needs only 3.8 Mcal, a working ranch horse might use up 24 or more Mcal a day when he's working.

A general rule of thumb is to provide a horse with 1.5 to 2% of it's body weight in forage (hay or hay plus pasture). That would be around 15 lbs of hay for the pasture ornament, 3-3/4 lbs for the mini, and at least 20 lbs a day for the ranch horse. 

Working with horses since before he could walk, the cowboy knows his horse is going to get skinny on 20 lbs of hay. While he might not be consciously doing the math, he knows his horse will need to be knee deep in grass hay and will probably benefit from something "extra" - more calories, higher protein, more carbs - so will also give him a bit of alfalfa and a measure of oats. Is he using a scale? No - but when your livelihood (and possibly your life) depend on the health of your partner, you've likely developed a keen eye and feel for how much is enough, too much or too little.

A lot of us don't have the life-long horseman/horsewoman's eye.

Let's take my weekend warrior who's a bit on the chubby side. I "know" an average bale of Bermuda hay in Arizona weighs around 100 lbs, +/- 5-10 lbs or so, and that if I split a bale over two days for three horses, they're getting around 16 lbs of hay a day.   That will work - as long as the hay is pretty "average", around 0.8 to 0.9 Mcal per lb. But, when I look at my "herd" of three, I see I'm actually feeding around 2550 lbs of horse (1000 lb mare, 900 lb gelding, 650 lb pony gelding) and they, collectively, only need around 38 Mcal/day.

And this last load of hay is really nice - almost 110 lbs per bale and the horses really like it.  My horses are fat and sassy - uh oh, did I say fat?  I weigh my "flakes" of hay - each one is closer to 9 lbs than the 5 or 6 lbs I have in my mind. So I cut back one flake per day (I've been putting out six). 

 I could probably have figured this out without a scale - but it made it easier. Like most horse owners, I tend to think along the lines of "Am I feeding them enough?" rather than "Am I giving them too much?" And, without a scale, I typically under-estimate the weight of the hay I am feeding (and this has been my experience with almost all the folks I have worked with).

Let's look at the mini. Our kind of average grass hay has around 8.5 Mcal/lb. The mini needs around 3.8 Mcal - if he's fairly active in a good size paddock. That works out to 4-1/2 lbs of hay a day - and nothing else (no concentrates, no grain, no treats). What if your "flake" weighs 5 lbs and you give him a whole flake every day? 

Over a week, that's an extra 3 Mcal, almost a whole day's ration. Over a year, that's an extra 155 Mcal - or enough to maintain your mini for over a month! You could have enjoyed your mini for 13 months for the same cost as 12 months, and he would be healthier!

One last example - as this is where we see a lot of folks get into trouble.

Your vet tells you to put your cresty necked 1100 lb horse on a diet. You, or your vet, interpret this as feeding less - a lot less - to lose weight. That's how people do it, right? So you cut back to two "flakes" of hay/day, plus a little senior feed to provide some vitamins and minerals.

What's wrong with this picture?

Your two 5-1/2 lb flakes provide 11 lbs of forage, or only 1% of your horse's body weight. This is not sufficient gut fill to avoid problems such as colic or maintaining immune function - your horse needs a minimum of 1.5% BW in forage to lose weight safely - or 16-1/2 lbs of forage (hay) a day. To see the disastrous results of using a "starvation" diet to get a horse to lose weight, read Perla's Story.

The hay needs to be low sugar-low starch - preferably less than 10%, with a DE of 0.9 or less (alfalfa, many small grain hays and some grass hays will exceed this - have your hay analyzed to find out the DE). 

Your horse does not need any "concentrate" feed at all (grain, "senior" feed, "complete" feed, etc.) as they likely contain too much sugar/starch and won't supply the necessary level of minerals and vitamins unless fed at the minimum levels shown on the product label (usually around 2 lbs/day or more for an "average" horse). 

Your horse does need minerals at least at the minimum levels recommended by the NRC or, even better, balanced to a hay analysis, plus some vitamins if not eating fresh forage/grass. As an interim measure, an iron-free supplement, such as the flax-based supplements from HorseTech, can provide basic support until you have hay analyzed and determine your horse's specific needs. A small amount of soaked beet pulp or hay pellets can be used as a "supplement carrier".

Basic requirements are available in tables at Equi-Analytical's website, or at the NRC's online program.  Neither the tables nor the online calculator tell you how to interpret or balance the results, and they both give you only minimum requirements - similar to the human "RDA", not the levels recommended for optimal health.

You can learn more by checking out the other articles and links on this blog. Joining the Equine Cushings and IR group will give you access to a wealth of science-based information that's been developed over the years, as well as support if your horse is currently laminitic (or suspected of having laminitis). Eleanor Kellon, VMD has begun offering a series of online equine nutrition courses, from the very basic through nutrition for the elite equine athlete, which you can complete at your own pace.

My own bit of cynicism -

I am always amazed at the folks who will pay large sums for the right tack, a new truck or trailer, correct riding clothes, but balk at $30 for a good scale, $26 for a hay analysis or taking the few hours to have someone help them to "learn the math".

Obviously, if you've read down this far, you aren't one of them. But, because you obviously care for your equine partner, you are vulnerable to any and all of the magic bullets offered to make us think we are doing the best for our horses. 

Your strongest weapon - and best resource - is knowledge. It's out there - I hope this helps you navigate the map but then its up to you to use it.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pete Ramey - Equine Nutrition Warrior

Barefoot Hoof Guru Pete Ramey has been taking Eleanor Kellon, VMD's basic nutrition course, NRC Plus.  Pete has enlivened the discussion on this online program - coining the title Equine Nutrition Warrior - and recently summarized his experience on his web site in an article called Feeding the Hoof.

“I got so much out of the "NRC Plus"course- I can’t wait for the others. Join me in the “Equine Cushings/Insulin Resistance” and “Nutrition as Therapy” classes this fall. We’ll get better for our horses together.”  Pete

Dr. Kellon presented the first NRC Plus basic ("basic" being a bit of an understatement) course this past spring and so far, close to 250 students - ranging from single horse owners to breeders and trainers to veterinarians and nutritionists - and yes, farriers and hoof trimmers - have enrolled in the basic and advanced courses. You can see all of the course listings at (some of the advanced courses do have prerequisites).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

KFG Update

Kathleen's quest -

more to come!

Friday, June 13, 2008

That's not what the label says...

Purina's foot dragging in their recent feed recall (or "retrieval", as they preferred to call it) has left us wondering about safety and quality control in our horse feeds. Some mistakes may make it out the door with even the best quality control but in horse feed, as in politics, it's the response that matters.

About a week ago (June 3rd) I bought a couple of bags of Eagle Milling brand beet pulp pellets. It was getting dark when I got home, but I went ahead and dumped them into the the heavy duty trash can I use to store them in. I couldn't see the pellets well in the dark and didn't take a real good look until I had finished up the remaining previous stock and started to feed the new ones Friday evening.

I noticed that about half the pellets were pink-brown, not the usual color - which is kind of a "frosted" deep green.  There was also quite a bit of corn mixed in, along with some tiny pellets and a lot of  "dust", which looked like it might be from the tiny pellets. This is not adding up to something I want to feed my insulin resistant horse - or, actually, any of my horses as I haven't a clue what's really in these pellets. Alfalfa? Grain? Minerals? There's something in there that's obviously NOT beet pulp.

I separated some of the "pink" pellets out and put them to soak, next to some of the more normal appearing green pellets. The green pellets looked "normal"  after soaking - a bit like chopped spinach. The "mystery pellets", on the left, resisted softening - a lot of the pellets were still firm and formed. They appeared to be made of a variety of material - possibly some beet pulp or other forage, lighter colored stuff that might be grain, and smaller particles that could be ground up minerals or ...

Using the phone number on the bag tag for Eagle Milling I called and left a message describing the problem.  (Apparently Eagle Milling, a "local" Arizona feed mill, is now a subsidiary of behemoth Cargill.)

Fast forward to Monday morning (after spending a sweaty hour in Sunday's 104+ heat repacking the pellets into their bags to return).  Stacy from Cargill called, wanting complete information about lot numbers, where and when purchased, etc., and she is making arrangements for a no-hassle exchange and appears to be genuinely interested in not having this happen again. It's complicated by the bags, even though purchased the same day, being from two different lots; we can't be certain which bag contained the mystery pellets. I received additional calls from the plant manager; they will send someone out to pick up the feed today.

So what should you do if you open a bag of feed and its not what you expected?
  • If you're feeding "straights", you are more likely to quickly spot if something is not "right".
  • If in doubt, don't feed the product. It won't hurt your horse to miss a few meals as long as you're feeding sufficient hay.
  • Contact the feed company directly if you suspect something is not right with a feed, don't just rely on the feed store to follow up.
  • Document, document, document. Take pictures of the feed, the bag, the bag tag. If the photo doesn't clearly show the label/tag information, write it down. Write a description of what you see and smell that makes you believe there is a problem.
  • Don't throw the feed or product out - it should be returned to the dealer, distributor or feed company. Retain a good size sample, along with your documentation, until any issues are resolved to your satisfaction. Try to keep the product/sample in the same condition it was in when you purchased it (i.e. - keep dry, protect from rodents, etc.)
If you suspect a feed or product has caused illness, in addition to notifying the feed company and your feed store, notify your regular veterinarian and your State veterinarian. Most State veterinarian offices are able to have feeds tested and can initiate action if necessary. You can also have feed analyzed for some of the common toxins on your own through one of the forage testing laboratories.

When a product doesn't meet our expectations, our initial reaction is often to just discard it and resolve not to use that product or brand again, especially if no actual harm was done. Taking the time to throughly document the problem and notify the right people isn't always easy in our busy lives. 

But you will likely find, as I did, that conscientious manufacturers do care about quality control, appreciate that you took the time to notify them of a problem and will go out of their way to make resolving any issues simpler. 

Sure it's good business for a company to respond to customer concerns. But the rapid response and personal interest taken by the folks at Eagle Milling/Cargill reassures me that, had this been a serious or health related concern, there would be prompt action and resolution. 

Angel from Cargill came out to pick up my beet pulp and bring some new bags. The new bags still had quite a few of the "brown" pellets with what might be some grain mixed in, but not near as much corn as my original bags. So we decided I'll go with shreds, at least for the time being until they have a chance to test these pellets and double check the manufacturing. (These apparently are manufactured in California and bagged locally.)
He called the dealer to double check that they have shreds without molasses in stock so I can pick them up when I go into town tomorrow.
Turns out Angel also works with the local 4-H swine program, knows all my friends. Vail, Tucson and large parts of Arizona are still pleasantly "small town".

Friday, May 02, 2008

Keeping Good Horse Records

Ever start feeding something to your horse but now you're not sure if you should continue it or not? Is he moving better under saddle because of the new pad or the chiropractic session? Did his blood work results improve because of the new hay or did you change his supplement? Is he standing better or worse after the latest trim?

Keeping a written or photographic log of changes and events can help us track how our horse is doing. A log can be anything from a spiral or looseleaf notebook to a spreadsheet or sophisticated computer program - the important part is that we write things down. After a few months the why and what of a change begins to get fuzzy and we may lose track of what works and what doesn't. 

What kinds of things should we log?

Basic records should include routine care - vaccinations, hoof care, deworming, veterinary checks, any blood work done. You might keep these as a simple chart or spreadsheet.

Nutrition - any changes to the diet should be recorded, including the reason you made the change and what results you expect. Pictures can be extremely helpful in providing an objective evaluation of the results. Not all nutrition changes will have obvious "surface" results such as change in coat or hoof quality or weight gain/loss, and some results won't be obvious for three to six months or longer. Some (such as increased bone density or tendon strength) are almost impossible most of us to measure but will be seen as lack of injuries or improved soundness.

If you recorded your objective when you made the change (correct anemia, reduce allergic reaction, improve exercise tolerance) then, over time, you will be able to evaluate if you are seeing the expected results. If your objectives include  things such as "attitude", you'll need to devise some way of "measuring" it.

If you have your hay analyzed, keep the results - over a period of time this will give you your own "regional" forage profile. Keep feed tags any time you introduce a new feed.

Vaccinations - the date, type, brand and lot number of all vaccines should be recorded (taking the information directly from the label).  If your horse should have an adverse reaction, this information is necessary to file a report. Some metabolically challenged horses may react to the adjuvant/carrier in some vaccines (the reaction is seldom to the vaccine itself). Having a detailed record will help you and your vet decide if you need to change brands, pre-medicate or eliminate a particular vaccine if you horse has a reaction. 

Deworming - in addition to routine deworming, log any specific/targeted deworming, such as a Panacur power pak for encysted strongyles or a combo (Equimax) or double dose Strongid for tapes. If you do not do these routinely, note the specific reason (such as non-shedding coat or simply not "thriving") so you can evaluate if this was an effective intervention. Also log any "reaction" so you can consider pre-medicating the next time if indicated.

Hoof care - if you are working with a horse with hoof problems, keeping a fairly detailed log will help you keep track of what works and what doesn't. Even minor changes (angles, type of padding, etc.) can have a dramatic effect. How your horse responds to changes in footing - rain/snow, mud, hard pack can help your hoof care provider/farrier determine what might be needed for your horse in your particular circumstance. Good quality, correct photos (front, side, solar views of each hoof plus a full horse views), along with copies of any X-rays done can be extremely useful as stuff can often be noticed in a photo that is overlooked when looking at the actual horse.

Blood work - obtain a copy of any blood work you have done on your horse. The original lab reports will show the values obtained for your horse plus the laboratory "normals".  Normals vary from lab to lab, and labs use different "units", so it's important to have copies that contain this information.
If your veterinarian uses a portable blood analyzer at your barn, such as an "I-Stat", you'll have to write down the results if the machine doesn't have a printer - and ask your vet for the "normal" values so you can write them down.
Even if you don't understand all the numbers and language on the report, having a baseline plus a record of changes will be helpful if you ever move or your vet retires. If you are tracking a condition such as Insulin Resistance, even a novice (with a little help) can track the rise and fall of glucose and insulin values. 

To learn how to understand your horse's lab work, the Pride Project guide (Susan Garlinghouse and Barney Fleming) is a great place to start, and Dr. Kellon's class on Understanding Blood Work will give you a working knowledge of the subject.

Exercise/conditioning log - if you are involved in something like endurance, you are likely keeping a conditioning log already. A horse in rehab should have his response to exercise tracked - including time, distance and frequency. This will provide a guideline for advancing work, or show you the point where the exercise may have exceeded his current capability.

In order to keep a good conditioning log, you need to know how to take your horse's vital signs - your vet can help you learn this. The AERC Endurance Riders Handbook contains good information on conditioning and doing your own "mini-vet exam" (see chapters six and twelve). 

Other changes - a "general" page is useful for keeping track of things that really don't fit into other categories,  such as tack changes, introduction of new barn mates, or other events that may or may not influence your horse's overall demeanor. 

Something may seem insignificant at the time but, in retrospect, could provide a clue to something going on now. A slow recovery to "his normal self" after coming home from a heavy show schedule or trail riding weekend could just be from the change in routine. Or it could be a flag of joint  or metabolic stress that won't show up again until he encounters a similar heavy workload in the future. Because you made a note, when he does come up "off" six months later, you'll know this isn't a "new" problem and this can help you form a plan to prevent it from developing into a chronic issue.

Or perhaps you've been feeding a protein or amino acid supplement for six months and have been taking weekly photos to track improvement. When you started, you expected to see improvement in your twenty-something horse's top line muscling but, despite being at an appropriate weight and a regular exercise routine, his hips and withers are still a bit too obvious. Because you have objective information (the photos), instead of continuing to spend money on a supplement that isn't providing the expected results, you have your horse tested for Cushing's disease as you know one of the signs is muscle wasting. With a positive result, you can more effectively spend your money on pergolide to control the symptoms, ensuring your horse many more years of health and soundness.

If you are trying to change something about your horse, anything you do for or to him should have a rationale that you can define and measure. Good record keeping helps you define and put your money and effort where the need is, rather than simply responding to poorly defined advertising claims. By objectively measuring results, you'll be rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing your time and money weren't wasted and, most likely, with a healthier, happier equine partner.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Prosthetic Parity

Off topic for an equine nutrition blog? Not really...

My friend Kathleen, who sent the email below to her friends, is a co-moderator on the Equine Cushing's group and is part of a group we call "The Balance Babes" - helping those who arrive at the EC List (often with a severely laminitic or foundered horse) sort through the options.

Kathleen is the kind of person we all learn from - not just about horses and nutrition, but about life. She initially lost her lower leg in childhood
; an injury in the Fall of 2007 led to above the knee amputation.  While not without some down times, her progress from goal to goal has been an illustration of grit, determination and spirit.

Not only has Kathleen given unselfishly to other horse owners, as "Dr. Gustafson" her research is making a difference in human pre-natal care.
It's only a small payback to ask you to take a minute to read her note and sign the Amputee Coalition of America petition at  Prosthetic Parity Petition 

Hello All - a quick note - I'm doing well. I've been riding a few times and walk short distances without assistance. The plan was to upgrade my hydraulic knee later this year to the C-leg, a microprocessor knee that essentially "thinks" for the user, making walking as close to "normal" (like you all!) as possible. It basically takes the thinking out of walking and requires less energy to walk. As it is now, I still have difficulty with uneven terrain, have to plan every step and can walk about a half a block then need to stop and rest before I can go on. I still have to drive across campus to get to my other lab when I used to walk there several times a day. I plan to do more therapy hoping that my stamina will increase.
Unfortunately, I found out last Friday that my insurance (Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas) will not cover the C-leg. This is not a huge surprise as insurance companies have been reluctant to pay for prosthetics. Often they limit coverage to "one leg for life" (bummer if you lose your leg as a child!) or cap the bill at $1,000 to $5,000 leaving the amputee to pay the rest. My existing leg cost $30,000 and the C-leg can cost twice that. However, what makes this especially bitter is that Medicare, Medicaid and other Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans (including BCBS of Kansas City) *will* cover the C-leg. I find it especially ironic that I work for the State of Kansas at the state's premier medical and research facility and watch others exit the prosthetics clinic with a C-leg that my state insurance plan will not cover.
As it happens, this is the "National Week of Action" to support a federal bill to ensure access to prosthetic care. I'm writing to ask you to go online and sign the petition:
You have my permission to forward this email on to others. Please ask your friends to sign the petition to support this much needed bill.
Thank you so much,
Kathleen Gustafson
Kansas City, MO

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Slick & Pretty or Pretty Slick?

There's a million ways to get your money in the horse world - most are not new but a slicked up version of something pretty basic.

"Ration analysis"  or "ration balancing" programs seem to fall in this category.

You can go to the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Horses Computer Model website and determine your horse's basic (minimum) requirements for free. No fancy graphs or bells and whistles - but the information is calculated for you in a clear, readable format. You enter your horses weight, class and activity level and the protein. When you click on "Other Nutrients", protein, DE and major mineral requirements are shown on the bottom of the page, with the trace mineral and vitamin requirements listed in the center of the page.
You can then enter "dietary supply" - either by selecting from the provided database (which is somewhat limited) or by entering information from a known hay/feed analysis. This will provide information for protein, DE and major minerals only.  

The downside is this does not provide any information concerning correct mineral ratios, how to correct for competing mineral excesses or deficiencies, or identify potentially troublesome excesses (such as high iron or high manganese). To do this, you need to enlist the help of an equine nutritionist, learn how to do the math yourself (it's not really that difficult) or learn how to use the spreadsheets available either in the Equine Cushings group files or you can request them from me at no charge.* 

Enter Slick & Pretty

FeedXL, a program that is initially only addressing feeding conditions in Oz, works much the same as the NRC computer model.  They are using an interesting subscription concept, rather than purchasing the program. This does have the advantage of allowing for ongoing updates to their forage and feed databases, along with keeping it more affordable for an average horse owner (for a "one day" one time calculation - monthly or yearly cost begins to approach program purchase costs).

They have done a nice job on this - the "results" are displayed in clear, easy to read numerical and graph formats, using correct nomenclature. 

If all we were concerned with was meeting or exceeding NRC requirements (and they're quite clear that the program's recommendations are higher than NRC), I would suggest that this online model is what we've been looking for. And this could be all many horses need.  But, in our experience with metabolically challenged horses, we've learned that balance is not simply meeting/exceeding requirements, but also involves paying attention to mineral ratios.

Green is Good?

The FeedXL tour example indicates iron at 506% of requirement "... is no cause for concern..." and has an iron to copper ratio of 12:1. This could be problematic for an insulin resistant horse or a horse with inflammatory issues, as excess iron is becoming well documented as a factor in IR and inflammation.  "Green" (i.e. no deficiency) is NOT good if an excess of a mineral is problematic.

It becomes fairly complicated to explain mineral ratio corrections - each correction affects other minerals which then also may need adjustment. In a computer model, this becomes a multi-step process, but not difficult for a sophisticated program to handle (my spreadsheets actually do it quite easily) but does require some interpretation to ensure recommendations remain within safe limits. 

I didn't see a provision for entering your own hay analysis results, and only Australian feeds are currently in the database.

So, as slick and pretty as this program is, I don't see any real advantage over what you can get from free from the NRC model, plus a little math.

*While I do charge for consultations and assistance, I have always made the spreadsheets available at no charge for individual use. I appreciate a "donation" if you find them useful, but it is not required.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Stupid Trees to Have Around Horses

The article Stupid Trees to Have Around Horses at the North Carolina School of Veterinary Medicine website concentrates on three - Oleander, Red Maple and Wild Cherry.

In the Southwest, Oleander is everywhere. Its evergreen foliage and beautiful flowers make it an attractive landscape plant, used extensively in new housing development. 

Unsuspecting newcomers to the area may have oleander planted in close proximity to their horses - or your new neighbors may have planted an oleander hedge right next to your horses' turnout fence line. If this is the case, you may have to resort to offering to pay for and help plant a safer replacement - this will be much less expensive in the long run than the potential veterinary bill (and keep you on better terms with your neighbors - they likely were simply unaware that these plants could harm your horses).

One of the most complete listings available is the Cornell University Poisonous Plants Informational Database which lists plants by both common name and scientific name. 

Another excellent resource is A Guide to Plant Poisoning of Animals in North America from IVIS (International Veterinary Information Service), which lists plants by systems affected (helpful if your horse is showing symptoms and you are trying to determine a possible cause).
Accessing IVIS requires free registration.

If you're as bad at identifying plants as I am, you can consult with your area cooperative extension agent to walk your land with you and identify potential problem plants.