A fellow barefooter, Shelhi Foster Horne, recently wrote a very insightful post in the Barefoot Horses SA Facebook group, to which we belong. It expresses so clearly what we believe about equine nutrition for barefoot hooves, that we asked her permission to post it here…
My Experiences with Paddock Paradise and horse nutrition by Shelhi Foster Horne
My journey into barefoot horse nutrition started about a year ago when I attended an AANHCP course given by Nick Hill and Albert Villasevil. I have had my horses barefoot for nearly 6 years and have picked up a little of what I do or don’t like happening to hooves over that time – both from conventional farriers and the odd barefoot farrier and 1 Strasser farrier. But I had never looked at any theory behind barefoot hooves, natural boarding, nutrition or thought too deeply about it. I have 8 horses and ponies from a 10 hh Miniature cross to a 16.1hh Thoroughbred. Most are pasture ornaments and do minimal work but the Thoroughbreds do work hard at times.
My horses were never comfortable walking on our gravel roads and stuck exclusively to the Kikuyu verges and paddocks. I knew Kikuyu wasn’t the best for the feet, had some calcium issue, but that was the extent of my misgivings about it. My horses were healthy, looked and performed fine when asked, and in general we had no problems. Things were not so bad – or so I thought. We had always struggled to keep one Thoroughbred SA by name) in decent condition as he tended to be on the thin side even with more feed than all the other 7 horses and other Thoroughbreds in work.
After doing the course I had loads of new info to process and I had try to figure out what to do with my horses. Clearly the hoof sensitivity was related to diet and lack of movement and Kikuyu was loaded with sugar. So I built my Paddock Paradise – it is about 4km long as we had to have access for cows, tractors, fire-breaks etc. on the farm so it was just easier to go around the beef area than through it. It has steep hills and a little Kikuyu where the track is narrower and where there is veld the track is wider, it crosses a stream twice and includes our stable yard. The horses at first broke through the fences regularly, either by being chased by my dominant mares (3 of them) or just by building up speed and not seeing the single strand electric fence until it was to late. This was soon solved by a few rolls of candy tape and we settled them in and left for a 2 week holiday.
When we got back SA looked like a walking skeleton – he was being fed a popular brand horse feed that he had eaten before but had lost so much weight, had diarrhoea, was itching like mad and had scratched out loads of his hair. So my next step was to cut out the sugar rich bagged feed and find oats. His diarrhoea and itching stopped the day I changed his feed to straight oats – no weaning period as the other feed was clearly not agreeing with him and he slowly started to put on a bit of weight. Liver tests were fine, so nothing to go on there for his weight loss. By now it was May and we started to feed all the other horses oats too and started to feed hay – not an easy task with a huge track and such dominant mares – so we compromised and put round bales at locations far from water.
The horses had settled beautifully into their track, they no longer panicked if one was left alone in the stables – they just walked out and found the herd. They had more muscular hindquarters instead of flabby and soft ones, their hooves got harder and they could now walk on gravel without a thought so we were happy. None were working besides an occasional hack with the kids. They were however thin and eating a lot of oats, Lucerne and beet to try to maintain weight plus add lib hay. What would we do when they needed to work as clearly they could not maintain their weight at present. I was busy trying to find out more on feeding requirements of horses and looking up the NRC figures for horses and reading as much as I could on barefoot trimming – which is where I found reference to Dr Eleanor Kellon in one of Pete Ramey’s notes.
So I started Dr Kellon’s NRC plus course – what an eye-opener! By August I had completed the first course and started my horses on a mineral balanced diet – at first it was extremely complicated trying to figure out ratios, ingredients, deficiencies, excesses etc., and not helped at all by the fact the horses stopped eating the hay the week I had finally balanced it. Which meant trying to find average mineral figures for Kikuyu and veld, which they were now grazing, to balance to as I could only test my grazing once the spring flush was over and new growth was actually long enough to pick! We let them into an oats pasture during the day to try to hold their weight and to let the grass on the track grow a little – I know it is against the theory of a Paddock Paradise to have grass on the track, but soil erosion in our area is a very real threat and so is degradation of the veld. So I compromised with that and try to keep the rich Kikuyu to a minimum and also have larger areas of veld so they don’t denude everything.
The horses definitely responded to their new diet and started to put on weight (helped by the spring grass, I am sure) but they also lost their coats extremely heavily and were part bald for a week or so. The new coats were amazing to see, they all had dapples. Our bay mare was in fact black and the horses glowed. They had never looked like this previously – their colours were darker and richer, their coats softer and silkier. The addition of Lysine also started the development of top lines which my horses had never had – and I was told it was all in my poor riding/schooling!! Not in a Lysine poor diet. I am happy to say they all developed top lines with no riding at all.
We have had a few ups and downs and had to adjust mineral levels and tweak feeding here and there, but I have not ever had horses that look this good with so little input. I had to convince my dentist that I had not changed any of my horses and that the scrawny little mare from last yr was in fact now this big muscular one I had brought in for him to do!
The hoof quality took a beating with the lack of minerals on the oats diet and fine cracks developed on the outer walls, but the hooves were harder and tougher than ever before. By testing each feed ingredient and understanding how to balance the minerals into correct ratios, I can now maintain my horses year round on a balanced diet. It changes monthly with changes in their grazing habits and work, but it is manageable. Now – in all 8 of our horses – the micro cracks have nearly grown out the bottom and the new hoof growth is so much tighter and stronger. They love their track and are very protective of it as Nick and Albert saw when they came out – the 3 mares came to see who was invading their space and to see us off when we went to find them. I do take them off it during the day when the grass is getting short and graze them behind my sheep – but I now understand how to deal with the imbalances made by the Kikuyu and to correct any mineral issues before they are a problem and how to manage the sugar better. Our stable yard is so much more peaceful and there are not the huge fights and tearing around we used to have with sugar highs and hormone changes.
My horses happily walk out on the dirt roads, their hooves are improving daily despite the odd mistake in our trimming and not being worked as hard as they should. They do not walk the distances in my track they are supposed to but they are walking loads more than ever before and on very steep ground so there is an improvement to hooves and their muscle tone. Their attitudes to life and each other are so much better, and I would not consider changing them off their track or balanced diets again. The hooves are less contracted, tougher and have less thrush even with the wet conditions the horses are living in at the moment.
I have been ready to throw in the towel a few times during the year and wanted to buy a bag of feed and get weight on the horses and forget about feeding the horses to have healthy hooves but luckily did not. I am now on my 4th Dr Kellon course and cannot believe what a difference it has made to my horses. A few friends are now trying the new diet and already seeing changes within a few weeks.
I have learnt there is not much research into horse specific nutrition, a lot is based on human or ruminant research so is totally out of place for horses. Standard nutrition lets our horses down in so many ways, as marketing and misinformation abound in the fight to make a quick buck. Labels are inherently bad at actually telling you what is in a feed and labelling laws are shocking to say the least (they only have to state the bare minimum of information and only what is added to the feed and not what is actually in it.) I have spent hours trying to find mineral levels of common feed additives and spoken to manufacturers of the additives who know nothing about iron contamination or what could be in their product besides what the government needs them to test for, ie the heavy metals. I have resorted to testing most of my own supplements to check for iron levels and other minerals that may be in them, besides what they are actually labelled to contain. I have seen letters from feed importers slating concerned people and blatantly contradicting their own marketing propaganda, so my faith in these companies is at an all time low.
And my favourite in all this – Iron is as toxic as Zinc (NRC states safe upper level for 500kg horse at 5000ppm/day for both Zinc and Iron) but iron is pushed at every angle into our horses (Blud, Redcell etc. all pushed for our horses as healthy)! In fact iron is worse than zinc as horses cannot get rid of it and it builds up in their bodies – one sure sign is bleached coats and red tinges in black manes and tails. Look at your feed label – they will happily add up to 500ppm of iron to a feed (this is the level on the label) after using ingredients that have loads of it in already but they will stick to bare minimum levels of Zinc and Copper the 2 which are short in all equine feed ingredients and critical to balance the high iron, hoof health and prevent the anemia symptoms that iron is pushed for.
For the sake of our horses and their hooves, we need to start to ask questions and become informed about what we put into them so we can change it and get the best out of our horses.
Shelhi Foster Horne is a Specialised Kinesiologist, Equine & Animal Healing Touch Practitioner. She lives in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, where she and her husband farm sheep, breed parrots and raise dairy heifers. Shelhi has 8 horses, and is busy studying Dr Kellon’s Equine Nutrition courses online.
It’s a huge honour: it’s the first time that a barefoot horse will represent South Africa overseas, but there is no official sponsor for the team… But you can help, by buying tickets for Laura & Mauser’s World Champs Raffle!
The Grand Prize is a whopping 7 night holiday for 2 people with Wild Coast Horse Safaris, worth R35,000 (£3.500). You could also win signed copies of all of Deon Meyer‘s novels, a painting by Janet Dixon, the full set of Isobel Dixon‘s poetry, The Herbal Horse supplements and LOADS of other prizes, including a stud fee for one of the Perseverance Arabian stallions.