Archive for Diet/Nutrition – Page 2

Curing the Cribbing Horse – Clue #5

The following summer my horse, Chaco, and I, took another trip to the same place in eastern Washington.  (See earlier post for the first part of this story).   This time I had learned a new way to trim his feet that did not cause him pain.  I was looking forward to two weeks of no cribbing.

A few days into our trip he started cribbing.   I hadn’t trimmed his feet, so I knew that wasn’t the cause, but two days earlier we had opened the gate to another field.  I asked the owner, what was growing in that field.  The answer was some clover.  I later learned that clover can be high in starch (so can grain), and that causes him to crib.

That same summer the local vet had a record number of founders in horses.  For whatever reason with the weather and the plants, horses were foundering and my horse was cribbing.

Clue #5 – Starch causes Chaco to crib.

Hair Coat Color and Nutrition

100_0642Have you ever seen a black horse with reddish colored hairs in its mane or tail?  Or how about a black horse with areas in its coat where instead of black, it is faded and brown?  What’s going on?

Typically, these coat color changes are associated with nutritional deficiencies.  A healthy coat on a black horse will be all black with no “faded” areas.

The picture on the right is an example of fading in a black coat.  Also notice the reddish hairs in the tail.  If I see this in a horse, I want to take a close look at the diet to make sure the horse is getting all the nutrients it needs.  (Sometimes the horse is being fed a nutritionally balanced diet, but another problem is going on and the body can’t absorb all the nutrients).

As long as a body is alive it wants to heal itself.  Proper nutrition supports the body in this endeavor.  When a horse lacks good nutrition the body will use whatever nutrients it does have where it is most needed for its survival.  The coat is the last place the body will spend nutrients.  A really healthy horse has enough nutrients to go around to maintain a spectacular coat as well.

Senior horses can thrive in their golden years, but it requires a good diet.  Taking a nutrition class or consulting an equine nutritionist is well worth the effort.  If you are short on time, Platinum Performance offers quality supplements.  They have an equine nutritionist on staff and advisors to answer your questions.    Your horse will thank you, and you will have more wonderful years to spend with your horse.

Curing the Cribbing Horse – Clue #1

What would become my work of rehabbing senior horses began by accident with a bay gelding in his twenties who cribbed constantly at the farm where I worked.  I first met him when he arrived there at 18 years old to do therapy work with at-risk youth.  He came as a cribber, and his name was Chaco.  The farm tried putting tobasco sauce on the railing on which he cribbed.  They tried putting a cribbing strap around his neck.  None of it slowed him down or stopped him from cribbing.  Over the eight years he worked as a therapy horse, his cribbing gradually increased until he was cribbing every moment of every day.

The year before his retirement I worked as the barn manager at the farm.  Everyone wanted to try and figure out a way to get him to stop cribbing.  I agreed, but another question was forming in my mind: “What drives him to crib?”  If we could answer that question, then we could resolve his need to crib.

Because he usually spent more time cribbing than eating, he had trouble maintaining his weight. Therefore, he was fed senior horse grain daily along with hay. As the barn manager, I fed the farm animals several times a week and began to notice that he started cribbing after eating for about 10 minutes.

So one day I did an experiment.  I led him out into the large fenced yard, put his grain bucket in the middle of it, and let him eat.  Sure enough, after about 10 minutes he left his grain bucket and walked 15 feet away to find a place to crib at a hitching rail.

Another person at the farm that morning saw what I saw.  We were both putting two and two together.

She asked, “Did he just leave his grain bucket to go crib?”

“Yes,” I replied.

This marked the beginning of a several year journey of unwinding the mystery of why he cribbed, but one thing was for sure:  within 10 minutes of eating grain he had a need to crib that was stronger than his need to eat.

Clue #1: Grain causes Chaco to crib.

If you have a horse that cribs, the most comprehensive article I’ve ever read on the subject is in The Horse Journal. While I don’t agree with the use of a cribbing strap there is excellent information on ways to manage cribbing.

Diarrhea in Senior Horses

The second senior horse I took in was a 27 year­-old palomino gelding named Thunder.  He had chronic diarrhea for years.  While with the previous owner, the vet could not find a cause.  They started him on a probiotic, which seemed to help.  They even tried worming him with Moxidectin, which is the most potent of all wormers.  (You do not want to get the dosage wrong, and it is not typically recommended for senior horses).  They thought that perhaps the cause of the diarrhea was a worm that only Moxidectin could kill.

The year or two before I took him, I heard that he was having problems with diarrhea.  I did some research and learned that if you have a senior horse with diarrhea the first thing to eliminate as a cause is the teeth.  An equine dentist, who has extensive training beyond vet school can give a complete evaluation of the mouth and teeth.  An equine dentist will catch things a general equine vet may not.

When I took Thunder into my care the first thing I did was take him to the dentist.  The dentist said his teeth were completely worn out and could no longer chew hay.  The molars in horses should be completely flat and when the top arcade of molars meets the bottom arcade it grinds hay.  Thunder’s teeth were “cupped out”, meaning there was no longer a flat surface, but rather a cupped surface.  When he went to grind hay he couldn’t.  The dentist said that if large pieces of inadequately chewed hay were to get all the way to the colon, they could irritate it and cause diarrhea.  It looked like that was what was happening with Thunder.

I immediately took Thunder off hay and fed him soaked hay pellets.  Within a week his manure normalized, and there was no sign of diarrhea.  I even weaned him off the probiotic, and the diarrhea hasn’t been back. It’s been 2 1⁄2 years.

I asked the dentist if the present condition of Thunder’s teeth was preventable.

“Yes,” he answered.

“When would have been the last chance to start seeing him before we would end up with worn out teeth?”

“Ten years ago.”

Why does this all matter?  It’s cheaper to feed high quality hay than it is to feed hay pellets.  It’s more convenient to feed hay than it is to soak hay pellets a few times a day.  While I don’t regret a single moment figuring out what Thunder needed and then providing it, if different decisions were made 10 years ago, and the information was in the hands of the horse owner, then Thunder could have been spared the years of chronic diarrhea and the resulting toll it took on his body.

If you have a horse, consider seeing an equine dentist as part of your horse’s care team.  Don’t wait until they are old and having serious issues.  Prevention is key.  The health and longevity of your horse depends on it.  And the best part of all, you will have more years to enjoy your horse.

The day I picked up Thunder.  Notice the dirty hocks.  It is from the chronic diarrhea.

The day I picked up Thunder. Notice his dirty hocks from the chronic diarrhea.



6 days post diet change. Normal manure.


20 days post diet change. Notice his clean hocks. No more diarrhea.