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Risk + Feeding Horses: 2 questions that never get asked on social media

If you feed horses, then you are constantly managing risk and we all have very different tolerances for that risk. This article gets the micro-nuances of feeding horses, and why well-meaning advice on social media isn't helpful.

Let's face it...if we own horses than we are by nature addictive gamblers. No matter how much money you spend on a pre-purchase exam, there is no guarantee for your horse's health on any given day of the week. When we buy a new horse, we gamble that the horse won't get kicked by a pasture mate upon arrival or colic in the first week. Even when the PPE is perfect, there's no guarantee that the horse won't have arthritis before the age of 15, develop allergic reactions in its new location, or HELL, that it will even enjoy the life that you have chosen for it! So, yes, as horse owners we are inherently risk managers!

This risk and tolerance for it becomes sharper when we manage disease. Most commonly in my line of work, owners are managing either laminitis, ulcers, colic, EPM, tying-up, or any combination of. In every private nutrition consultation that involves these diseases, it's critical to ask the following two questions; what is the horse's risk and what is the owner's tolerance for that risk? These are separate, distinct questions that must be answered honestly in order to arrive at the perfect diet plan. Without honest answers, the plan won't work and it won't last.

1. What is the horse's risk?

The horse's risk for a disease can be placed into one of three categories; low, moderate, or high. It doesn't need to be more complicated than that, because what we are trying to do is take many complex interacting factors and condense them into a simple statement that all parties can agree upon (i.e. owner, veterinarian, nutritionist). For example, a horses' risk for laminitis is determined by...

  1. history- has it had an episode before?

  2. breed- thoroughbreds founder less than morgans and minis (FACT)

  3. metabolic rate- some are naturally leaner than others regardless of breed

  4. blood work- levels of insulin, leptin, and ACTH can help us determine risk

  5. age- risk increases as a horse ages

  6. living situation- uncontrolled pasture access or dry lot

How the owner answers the above question determines the following...

  1. how much money they need to spend

  2. how many nutrition tools we employ

  3. how much labor is involved in managing the disease

...basically, how aggressively do we attack the problem?

2. What is the owner's tolerance for that risk?

The first question is important, but this second question is more revealing. It's more personal and nuanced than the first. I can tell you about every nutrition tool in the book to manage laminitis, but the majority of you won't install the entire list. You'll pick and choose the tools that fit your budget, lifestyle, priorities, time, and goals. Just because soaking hay is a useful tool for mitigating carbs in a diet, doesn't mean that all of you can or WANT to do that! Some of you have other priorities like family, jobs, money and other horses. AND THAT'S OK!!! "You will not receive any judgement from me," is a common thing that I am heard saying to clients, because I can hear the conflict coming through the cell tower. It's O.K. if your tolerance for that risk is high.

So, be honest, is your tolerance for that risk low, moderate or high? Perhaps you have four kids, another horse, and a tight budget. Your risk tolerance for another disease episode is high. On the other hand, perhaps you have one horse that you imported, one kid off to college, a bigger budget, and the world has taught you to be more careful. Well, you might have very low tolerance for risk.


So, let's say the answer to question #1 was low and the answer to question #2 was high. Well, we'll create a very different diet plan compared to a person that answered question #1 as high and question #2 as low! Savvy?

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