Updated: Aug 6, 2021
Most horse owners have never consulted with an equine nutritionist? Learn about the qualifications to look for, what they do, how they do it, and why it could benefit you and your horse.
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Despite having a veterinarian, farrier, trainer, saddle fitter, chiropractor, massage therapist, and telepathic behavioralist regularly evaluating their horses, most owners do not have an equine nutritionist on their horses' team of professionals. It's funny when you think about it, because what you feed your horse is really the ONLY thing you do for them every single day. Arguably, what you feed your horse is the most important factor affecting his/her overall health. Plus, your hay, feed and supplement costs are likely the greatest annual expense to owning horses! Horse health and cost are great reasons to add an equine nutritionist to the team, but honestly the number one reason people call is because they are overwhelmed by the plethora of feeds, supplements, marketing tactics and opinions on the marketplace today.
Just as in human nutrition, the question of what we put in our horse's mouths is a deeply cultural, deeply personal decision dipped in either anxiety or indifference. Current norms lead horse owners to the people around them and the internet for answers. Multiple surveys asking owners where they get their nutrition information say #1) the feed store employee, #2) veterinarian, #3) trainer, #4) friends, and #5) the farrier. The Equine Nutritionist is not even in the top 10! However, the problem with asking friends and the internet, is that they do not understand your own personal priorities and concerns. The internet does not ask about your horses' forage quality and the friend does not ask about your feed budget constraints. A good nutritionists considers all aspects of your horse’s management and special health needs, as well as your own personal budget and priorities to pluck purposeful feeds and supplement from the marketplace.
As horse ownership gets more expensive and more nutrition products arrive on the market everyday, the value of an equine nutrition consult will increase. It has already become impossible for the average busy owner to track and compare the enormous list of feed and supplement ingredients- their efficacy, safety, cost, and meaningfulness to their individual situation. Also, as climate change continues to affect weather patterns, the forage industry will need to adapt and hay could become harder to find. This will force horse owners to make smarter decisions about their forage choices. No wonder horse owners are feeling so overwhelmed.
*Not only are each of the horses above very different in breed, activity level and life stage, but the owners caring for them are very different in their locations, budgets and management preferences!
Who is an Equine Nutritionist?
The title of "equine nutritionist" is not clearly defined, and this is quite unfortunate. Unlike a nurse, lawyer or veterinarian, there are no legal qualifications or third-party oversight to the profession. However, there are two paths to equine nutritionist generally recognized by the industry. First off, a nutritionist can come from academia by completing a masters or PhD in a related field. Most equine extension agents, equine nutrition researchers, and formula creators from reputable companies have a graduate degree. The second path to the profession is through becoming a licensed veterinarian and then pursuing additional education in equine nutrition research. Most equine nutritionists work for feed and supplement companies formulating products, providing technical support to the sales team, and keeping up to date with emerging research. Very few of them are independent consultants unaffiliated with a product company- OCEN is very rare in this case. All in all, becoming an equine nutritionist is about loads of education, research and experience. These are some things to look for when considering a consultation by an equine nutritionist.
When you see the title Equine Nutrition Specialist or Equine Nutrition Consultant this is something different. There are probably more specialists/consultants than nutritionists, because feed and supplement companies will commonly refer to their employees as specialist or consultants regardless of education. Someone coming straight from undergraduate studies to the field of equine feed or supplement sales will have one of these titles. Finally, there is an organization that has attempted to define professionals in the industry, and it's called The American Registry for Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS). This organization mandates that professionals work within the industry for at least five years before taking a rigorous test specific to a species. If a specialist or consultant has a MS PAS or BS PAS behind their name, it means that they have met the experience qualifications, passed the test, and keep up with continuing education.
What does an Equine Nutritionist DO, Exactly?
In its most distilled form, an equine nutritionist will evaluate a horse (or group of horses) needs and match that need to products. Now, when I say "products", it's important to realize that I mean any forage (i.e. hay bale, hay pellet, roughage, commodity, hay species, cutting, ect), feed (pelleted or textured, bagged or bulk, energy source), supplement (i.e.choose your bucket), management tool (i.e. slow feeders, grazing muzzles, weight tapes, scales, forage tests) and professional resources (i.e. local specialists, extension agents, company representatives, laboratories).
"Never take nutrition advice from anyone who doesn't ask you about your horse's primary forage first!" -Natalie's Best Piece of Advice for Horse Owners
An equine nutritionist will start by collecting all of your horse's information including body condition score, activity level, management situation, regional considerations, and special needs. A big part of evaluating the need is to remove the guesswork many horse owners are guilty of! Removing the guesswork includes measuring your horse's weight, your feed scoops and hay flakes and taking forage analysis. These very simple steps are immensely powerful tools towards feeding with precision and purpose. Another important consideration to make is the quality and quantity of the forage, because, more than likely, your horse eats more hay than anything else...by far! When we know the strengths and weaknesses of your horse's primary forage, then the answer of what to feed becomes very simple. A nutritionist can either do the forage test for you or step you through the process.
TOOLS of the Trade:
- National Research Council's Nutrient Requirements of Horses (2007):
- calculator and pencil
- forage samples
- water analysis
- fecal egg count of parasite load
- personal networks
- database of product specifications
- weight tapes, equations, or apps that determine horse's body weight
- photo journaling
When should I hire an Equine Nutritionist?
Most horse owners reach out to an equine nutritionist after a veterinarian has diagnosed a problem. Many equine diseases have nutrition related components whether that's calories, carbohydrates, water consumption, vitamin and minerals. The most common diseases addressed by nutritionists today include tying up syndromes (i.e. PSSM, HYPP, RER), metabolic disorders (i.e. Equine Metabolic Syndrome, insulin resistance, or Cushings), and gastric ulcers.
Horse owners will consult with nutritionists when there is a major change in lifestyle. For example, several clients have reached out before moving across the country to a new region with very different forages, feed store brands, and management styles. Some are bringing their horses home after boarding for years. Others have decided to invest in a very young horse for the first time and want to ensure optimal growth.
The most important thing to know before reaching out to an equine nutritionist, is that the process takes time. If you've made the commitment to improve your horse's diet know that it's not done in one consultation. This is why OCEN's minimum nutrition consult is three months! This is the bare minimum time it takes to evaluate the need, make adjustments and track them over time. Just think...you probably have a lot of your current product sitting in the feed room that you need to use up before switching. If better hoof and coat are major nutrition goals, improvements won't be noticeable for months! You might purchase the most amazing product on the market, get it home, and your horse won't eat it! There are always adjustments and changes required in every journey to the perfect diet plan.
What Does Consultation Cost?
Cost to balance your horse's diet can range from FREE to thousands of dollars depending on business models and service plans. Nutritionists and other sales representatives working for nutrition product companies almost always offer their time for free. Obviously, this comes with the caveat that they will only make recommendations from their line of products, but those recommendations can be valuable if science based. The other advantage of product representatives is that you can do a one time call to answer simple questions or develop a long term relationship for assistance over time. The disadvantage to this model is that there could be products better suited to your needs.
On the other side of the cost spectrum is private consultation from an independent nutritionist. Expect to pay about $100- 300 per hour for their professional time. Some nutritionists specialize in individual horse owners and other specialize in aiding large feed and supplement companies. Long term contracts could cost thousands of dollars while short term contracts could cost $300-400. One advantage of the independent nutritionist model is that their goal is NOT for you to spend MORE on feeds and supplements. They often will save you money in the long run by offering simper solutions.
Three Reasons to Hire an Equine Nutritionist?
1) To prevent problems before they happen! Obesity leading to laminitis. Digestive upset leading to colic. Increased performance leading to nutrient deficiency. Carbohydrate load leading to metabolic disease. These problems can be prevented by addressing nutrition in a individualized, science based method.
2) Save money and time. Whether you have 1 horse or care for 100, money matters to equestrians. The fact that you can simplify your feed room and save hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year while improving nutrition usually shocks people, but this is more often than not the case with OCEN clients. It's a matter of more purposeful feeding leading to greater efficiency.
3) Build Confidence in Choices: But the most common, though often unspoken, reason for hiring a nutritionist is the extreme feeling of being overwhelmed by opinions and products without solid explanations for them! Get to the unbiased facts by scheduling a FREE 15 Minute Discovery Call with OCEN. CLICK HERE.