I'm imagining a future where the equestrian community puts half the money we spend on supplements into credible equine nutrition research. What would horse ownership look like? Would we have a cure for tying up? Could we prevent laminitis? Can we remove the stress and constant guessing from feeding horses?
What struck me the hardest during Dr. Amy Biddle's OCEN talk on April 14, 2021 was her brave acknowledgement of insufficiency and the truth around that claim. Dr. Biddle is one of my equine research heroes, because she opened up her talk by stating that her ground breaking research had exposed more questions than it had answered. In a world where EVERYONE wants simple, pill sized answers, the over confident and over zealous filter to the top like cream in fresh milk. The honest souls like Dr. Biddle who toil behind the scenes, understand the big picture and the minute details, who do not sell product, are scarce. How can we boost these people doing the REAL work? How do we make financial donations to equine nutrition research cool?
"Research grants for our work at the Biddle Laboratory at the University of Delaware are incredibly difficult to come by", states Dr. Biddle. Since 2015, the undergraduate run laboratory has been relying on crowdsourced funding- not grants like most research of this caliber. I know this reality from personal experience when I was working on the prevention of laminitis using low carb teff hay. I spent years submitting applications to Western SARES for public funding, but to no avail. It seems as though the mere mention of the equine species sends your application to the bottom of the stack. So, it's going to be up to owners, managers, trainers, and enthusiasts to supply the funding necessary for progress.
I donated to the Equine Microbiome Research project this morning. Can you?
LINK TO DONATE to the Equine Microbiome Project at University of Delaware.
I can "hear" the frustration like static emanating from the Zoom call. Why don't you have the answers to that disease? Why don't we know WHY that supplement works? Why are bodies of research conflicted on the answers? Researchers like Dr. Biddle, know the physical and monetary cost of this this research. They understand the weakness of statistical significance when n= low and respect it on an alter, but the crowd does not have access to the endless spreadsheets, statistical software, and conference papers that point to more questions. They only have marketing claims dropping answers into inboxes and social media feeds like flies on fresh droppings.
Cannulation of horses- the only way to "see" in to the black hole that is the hind gut- is a developing research strategy, but it is so difficult to do, there are only a handful of horses in the United States that have it.
It is abundantly clear that supplement marketing claims have outpaced the rate of equine nutrition research progress. I'd like us to figure out how to flip that phenomenon. There must be thousands of equine digestive aid products on the market by now with new ones arriving everyday- prebiotics, probiotics, natural, synthetic, oils and powders and management tools. The product companies seem very confident in their answers, so why aren't researchers so confident? Well, I think you know the answer to that. To my knowledge, there are only 2, maybe 3, tiny herds of cecally cannulated horses in the US. Since cannulation is the ONLY way that we can literally "SEE" into the black hole that is the horse's gut, it takes some speculation and a whole lot of creativity to predict how a teaspoon of this or that will influence the 7 trillion microbes living in the horse's system.
Until we can put our money where our horse's mouth is and quicken the pace of equine nutrition research, we must sit more comfortably with uncertainty. We must ask more questions than we propagate weak answers. Be curious. Be patient. Be proactive and donate.
Rate My Horse Supplement is a review website that attempts to counter the endless marketing and plethora of opinion about equine nutrition products by interviewing the companies, weeding through peer reviewed research and punching the numbers for you. Check it out!