HAY is for HOOVES!

Did you know that restricting forage (hay) is the MOST stressful thing you can do to your horse?  And, as such, to his hooves? 


OK, so your horse is 'footy' and is developing or has developed a hard, cresty neck. Your horse is fat. He is exhibiting signs of **EMS at worst or Insulin Resistance (IR) at the least. 

We're usually told to restrict hay, soak it down, keep the horse off grass and feed a no sugar, low carb (which can't be true at all cause simple carbs turn to sugar in the body!) feed and then myriads of supplements are suggested of various kinds and types. 

Yo! ... that is the opposite of what the horse and its hooves actually needs! 

Food deprivation in humans has been well studied and shown to INCREASE fat. Studies in equine are less numerous but shows the same effects. 

When horses are deprived of food it can lead to pain throughout their bodies but, in particularly, in their gut. Pain causes cortisol to increase thereby causing more stress. Over long term,  the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is affected and the hormones are totally messed up in the body. Interestingly, researchers from Louisiana State University found that mares having enough hay during the day but deprived of hay overnight showed the greatest degree of IR. IR leads to Laminitic attacks causing more pain and the cycle continues going round and round and round. 

Restricting forage also results in loss of muscle mass. It is so common to propose forage restriction as an effective way to lose weight and the cresty necks and fat pockets. But it was shown that even though horses lost weight there were no changes in the body condition, the neck or even the girth circumference and fat pockets in the rum BUT ... instead, the longissimus dorsi muscle thickness was reduced.

We all know the importance of having a muscled topline. 

So you have a footy horse with a hard, cresty neck. What to do?  What to do? 

Feeding high quality hay is one of the best and easiest ways to ensure that your horse’s diet includes sufficient quantities of essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine, which are important for the growth of healthy hoof tissue.  --www.horsejournals.com


Lysine is important to hooves as it is most often the key to improving protein availability, especially in grass hay based diets. What are hooves made up of?  Keratinized PROTEIN. So Lysine plays a major role in the health state of the horse hoof. Natural sources for Lysine include High lysine foods include, nuts, seeds, eggs, beans, and lentils. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, squash seed, chia seed, cashew nuts, walnuts and almonds all are great additions to the equine diet to provide ample Lysine. 

Methionine is absolutely necessary for the production of cystine, the amino acid that is needed to produce many important proteins. Through a process called transamination, the horse's body converts dietary methionine into the cystine. Methionine is often cited as the second limiting amino acid in horse diets, after lysine. So when one sees cracking, crumbling, poor growing hoof walls, one can safely assume the body is lacking appropriate amounts of Methionine. Many types of nuts provide Methionine including Brazil nuts. Other examples of natural source for Methionine and soybeans. However, here in the US over 90% of the soybeans grown commercially are based from GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds. The long term effects of GMO plants has not been studied while short term studies do show considerable detrimental effects from sterilization to tumors. It is best to find an alternative source for adequate Methionine or feed organic soybeans. 

Contrary to what is often believed, Alfalfa-grass blends are a good choice for horses because Alfalfa is protein-rich and will balance with the lower protein grass hay. Alfalfa also helps to soothe the stressed gut. A diet that includes FREE CHOICE hay will drastically reduce the stress the body has to contend with and will offer the nutrients that are not only helpful to the horses gut but to growing healthy, strong hooves, as well. 

Last, but not least, for this blog post, is the importance of GRAZING for the horse ... yes, GRASS. Horses are "designed" to eat grasses. Lots and lots of varieties of grasses. Pastures that are eons old without any chemical enhancers or fertilizers or riddled with pesticides and herbicides. When we pull a horse off grass for the sake of reducing weight, cresty neck, for the sake of EMS or IR, we are just stressing the body which will exacerbate any metabolic situation. We are depriving the horse of essential nutrients to heal and restore the hooves natural health. 

Avoiding metabolic LAMINITIS should be a primary focus of all horse owners. Feeding a diet that will increase the nutrients in the diet will help to decrease the chances of metabolic syndromes and the resulting 'footiness' or, flat out Laminitis. Feeding free choice hay, REDUCING or completely ELIMINATING cereal-based grains and adding such fresh foods as greens, nuts, seeds that are rich in Methionine and Lysine will not only help the horse to adjust to the natural, normal weight for that individual horse but also allow the body to grow those nice, strong, rock-crushing hooves that we ALL "dream about". 


**EMS - The term Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is used to signify the condition in horses in which all three of the following exist: Insulin resistance (IR), Laminitis – may be severe, acute or low-grade and chronic, and regional fat deposition in the form of a “cresty” neck or enlarged fat pads.



Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:  www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf

LIVE, ONLINE COURSE with Gwenyth Santagate begins Sept. 13, 2017. For more information and to register (limited reserved spots) go here:  integrative horse courses







Ahhhhh! Such confusion. Yes, alfafa. No alfalfa. What causes Laminitis. Oh, wait, no it doesn’t.
Eggs are bad for you. No, they are not! Yikes!
Not enough info vs too much info. Just want to do what is good for the recovering laminitis horse!

Larissa Lundgren November 21, 2017

For references and cites to GMO’s etc. please see this week’s Facebook post … this same article. https://www.facebook.com/scootbootdownunder/

Lots of comments and answers there. :)

Gwenyth Santagate August 13, 2017

“Cortisol was significantly reduced when using slow feed nets.”

Thanks for your comment, Emily …. do you feel that perhaps the cortisol reduction was/is the result of the fact that using slow feed nets, while reducing caloric intake, also lowered the stress that occurs in having no forage in front of the horse? That is, if the nets were always kept with hay in them. The stress comes from NOT having forage to graze? Thus, restricting forage is also a psychological stress as well as a physical stress?

Even when using nets I encourage my clients to WEIGH the hay that is being given … don’t count ‘flakes’. The weight of the forage the horse is consuming is the important factor. Bales of hay differ in weight and while 4 “flakes” day (that is typical for many barns and stables allowance per horse) may be sufficient in WEIGHT from one bale may not at all be sufficient from another bale. I always encourage the weighing of the feed, as well … (not the raw ‘salads’ but any pelleted feed that is being given) instead of saying, “feed 2 qts” of this or that … etc. etc. 2% of the horse’s body weight to maintain a horse at rest; 2 1/2% of the horse’s body weight to gain weight for a horse at rest and perhaps 1 1/2% of the horse’s body weight to lose weight for a horse at rest. That percentage, IMHO, should be ALL forage but if “grain” is involved then at LEAST 80% of the percentage be good quality forage. The percentages change according to the work the horse is in. This is why it is important, to me, to see that each horse is treated as an individual according to its own needs and not just fed like ‘every other horse in the stable’. Calories also play a part but, more importantly, the fact that yes, there is sufficient forage in front of the horse at all times whether in slow feeder nets or on the ground or grazing.

Again, thank you for your comments. I appreciate the time you took to reply. :)

Gwenyth August 13, 2017

PhD in equine nutrition here, and actually the lead author on one of the papers you referenced. I have several issues with your post, and think that the information can be very misleading and potentially dangerous to owners trying to reduce weight on their horses. In our study, we did see a decrease in weight and no change in BCS, however, what you failed to mention was our study was only 6 weeks long. Likely not enough time to notice changes in BCS, which we specifically stated. Also, the purpose of our study was to look at impacts of feeding a restricted diet using slow feed hay nets versus ground feeding. Cortisol was significantly reduced when using slow feed nets. Decreasing intake, specifically caloric intake in overweight horses is a great idea, but needs to be done correctly. Which is why a nutritionist or veterinarian should always be consulted. And I agree that including alfalfa is also a good idea, topically lowering the NSC intake, which has been shown time and time again to decrease risk of laminitic and IR. There are countless studies that have evaluated that. What we need to be careful of is that horses get enough roughage to maintain a healthy GI tract, which can be done while restricting calories. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me. I would love to chat more.

Emily Glunk August 08, 2017

Can you point me to the research on this? It all makes common sense, but I would love to see studies about it as well.

Sharon August 06, 2017

Hi, Linda — yes, as I was reading Lyme Disease came to mind. I’m glad you have gotten that Dx’d. It’s a mimicker of many ‘diseases’ and conditions. I use homeopathy for Lyme Disease with good results. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about that.

Gwenyth Santagate August 05, 2017

Our 22 yr old Arabian initially developed a cresty neck and fat deposits on the rump. During January on dry pasture he developed laminitis and lameness in the hips. He was border-line for cushings and a prime candidate for EMS. We treated with a low dose of Pergalide.The laminitis resolved after 5 months, but not the hip issue.

6months later he demonstrated symptoms of liver distress. He stood in his paddock sweating and repeatedly yawning. His tongue was a pale yellow.
After ultrasound and fluids the condition resolved.

After several more months he had another bout of unwillingness or inability to move which the vet assumed was laminitis again, however there was no front foot lameness. He was not straightening his front legs. Assuming tendon pain the thought FINALLY occurred to me. The vet tested and my horse was finally diagnosed with LYME DISEASE!

Lyme disease causes metabolic conditions, overproduction of cortisol and other hormonal imbalance, inflammation, organ disfunction, joint, ligament and muscle pain. Check for it …I wish I had done so earlier.

Linda Swenson August 04, 2017

I too am interested in the source for your claim that GMO’s cause tumours etc. It’s actually not even possible for that to happen. I do hope you aren’t unwittingly spreading fear and hate unnecessarily just because you haven’t researched your article properly. It is very poor practice to make a claim in an article without citation for your sources.

Sarah foster August 04, 2017

I am interested in the source for your statement: “The long term effects of GMO plants has not been studied while short term studies do show considerable detrimental effects from sterilization to tumors.”

Michelle August 04, 2017

First of all TAKE YOUR VETS ADVICE. You’ve paid good money, and time and your horses health us at stake

. Lami as you call is which puts a very tame name on it is a very dangerous disease for horses. Night grass is the most dangerous grass as the photosynthesis stages grass goes through changes from night to day.

I appreciate that due to your health concerns you’ve had problems with keeping up with your horses, in that you are not alone. We had our daughters pony founder on all four feet when my husbands mother had cancer and died. He was on a brome pasture. We went through much of what you are going through now. He was so bad the vet recommended he be destroyed.

We found a very compassionate farrier and her did some severe trimming , and with the trims and some desperate medication from some OLD vet books, two years later Phantom was sound. He NEVER went back on pasture with any grass. He ate only poor grass hay from then on and stayed glossy on it.

He had Cushings also, which we treated with herbal meds, we put him down at the vets finally at the age of 35, when he got thin and looked tired and dejected and winter was coming on. We’d had him since he was seven.

No grain, grass-Prairie hay, and weedy hay if you can get it. Just make absolutely sure it is not moldy or dirty. The weeds give them something to do. You’ll go though twice as much hay, but it’s less expensive, and the horses stay off the fences if you give them enough. You do have to monitor their weight closely and give better hay (no alfalfa) and. Clean up the weeds.

Phantoms buddy, Mildred the donkey is still with us, 32 years old, and teaching kids to ride.

Kelli Arrowsmith August 03, 2017

Hi there, a very enlightening article but I am, of course, very confused! I have two PPID horses, one haffy, diagnosed a month or so ago after he got laminitis, he went straight on the emergency diet, trim etc and was tested for Cushings which it turned out he had, put on prascend and now his bloods are normal tho vet says keep him on 1/2 pill per day. Other horse is 22 and has been diagnosed for three years, was under control but I am afraid, I got cancer and took my eye off the ball and she put on weight as I had to stop riding her. She is now typical cresty neck and fat pads. She was retested last week and is back up to 92 so upped her meds to now 1 1/2 pill per day. I have managed to get them both back outside for at least six hrs per day, lami horse on bare paddock, her on less bare but not lush. Was about to start letting boyo into slightly longer grass, little by little but vet said yesterday I should keep him permanently in bare lot and keep them in at night for rest of year til next spring! My mare has always been ridden, never had lami but obviously not happy with the PPID, I want to do what is right for her and had to keep around an acre uneaten this summer because of our problems. Was hoping to maybe use this later in year when most of goodness has gone, it has been growing uneaten since around march this year. Am I correct in thinking I could put them both on this later on? Will it still be too rich? Not long enough to cut for hay. No acces to sheep or cows. I have not tested mare for IR, just the cushings, vet always seemed to dismiss IR tho I wasn’t so sure. I concur that horses are always happier and healthier when they have access to grass. The hay they get is now soaked for an hour but I am looking into getting it tested for its nutrient etc values as I always previously steamed it. My question I guess is am I right then to keep them grazing and is the use of this other filed later in the year a good or really bad idea?? Any feedback would be so appreciated! Thank you Clare

Clare Jackson August 03, 2017

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