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The Politics of Feeding Horses

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

Perhaps because it’s an election year and people are already spun tightly around their social media feeds full of political divides, but I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries that, in essence, are asking me to “choose a side”. Within their questions is a judgement of what is right and wrong in equine nutrition- as if there is a blue team and a red team of horse owners that each embody a collection of feeding philosophies. Words like “dividing line”, “PRO or Anti”, are you “for or against” filled my Facebook post! I chewed over these statements as a I fed this morning in the pouring rain at 37 degrees in Missoula, MT. When did feeding horses become political?

When we can not fully comprehend, we look for the black and white and ignore nuance. When we are in the process of understanding, we look for ways to recognize, categorize and place ideas into the context of our own lives. This makes the learning more palatable, right? But it also creates barriers to learning. Just like hot topics in politics (i.e. health care, China, abortion, Black Lives Matter), certain equine nutrition concepts are too complex and/or too unknown to fully comprehend. I’m specifically thinking about carbohydrates and the massive lack of understanding there! So, we create categories of “this way is good” and “that way is bad”.

To make things a thousand times more ambiguous, consider the lack of funding for equine nutrition research. There are several equine nutrition and disease hypothesis floating around on the web that make it sound like science has it figured out. But actually when you sit down and listen to the leading researchers on the topic, you realize how LITTLE we actually do know! No where is this more true that equine myopathies and metabolic disease. Also, consider the lack of the regulation around supplement labels and advertisements. There are supplement companies out there that can and DO say whatever they want to the great detriment of the horse community. They amplify the half-truths and myths without regard for the facts or the nuance because it sells products. In this void of research and regulation, hard lines are drawn. Sides are taken.

Just like politics, our social media feed back system echoes our own biases and beliefs about horses. If barefoot trimming works for your horse, then it must be good for everybody. If alfalfa pellets worked to put weight on your Quarter Horse, then it must be appropriate in every situation. Here’s what I want to say…Equine nutrition is not this black and white. There are a LOT of “GREY AREAS” to feeding horses- not only because horses are massively complex animals with unique bodies but WE are massively complex owners with unique situations. Like in politics, we need more empathy. We need to work that brain muscle that allows us to put ourselves in other peoples’ boots. For example, if you are an owner in Ohio with 4 western pleasure horses at home on pasture, consider what it must be like to own one dressage horse at a boarding stable in Los Angeles or Miami. Your forage, feed and supplement choices will not be the same, because your priorities are not the same, but we all love our horses just as much.

Here’s the bottom line. If and when you’ve fed enough different horses across a variety of geographic regions, fed enough breeds and disciplines, been confined by enough management strategies, cost and time constraints, then you come to realize that there is no right or wrong way to feed a horse. There are certainly products and management strategies that OPTIMIZE our horse’s health, but they are only applicable in context. I strongly encourage horse owners reading this, to question any and all doctrines of equine nutrition that come across your social media feeds, barn aisles, and magazine advertisements. The only way to vaccinate yourself against this “PRO/ANTI” divide is to learn more.

Or schedule a FREE 15 Minute Discovery Call now with On Course Equine Nutritionist.

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