The idea of feeding our horses whole foods is becoming more common among horse care providers. But the specific, everyday application of truly effective whole food feeding is very different than simply offering your horse a few apples and carrots, especially when it comes to the positive impact of seasonal whole food feeding.
“Feeding whole foods should be purpose driven,” says Equine Naturopath Dr. Cassie Schuster. “We’re not just putting together nice sounding ingredients. We have a goal in mind. We want our horses to respond both physically and energetically.”
Spring can be a particularly challenging time for horses. The weather is changing. The light is changing. The days are growing a little longer, the nights a little shorter. Even the grass is transforming. “Energetically we’re moving from the quiet, withdrawn time of winter, which is Yin energy, into the outgoing, Yang energy of summer,” says Holistic Horse Healer and Trainer Shelly Moore of Oregon. “That is why spring is known as Yin-Yang, a time of transition.”
What’s a horse to do? Why, adapt of course.
Feeding the correct whole foods in a holistic manner can help tremendously to support our equines through Spring.
RETHINKING TRUE HEALTH
The main reason whole food feeding has taken so long to gain acceptance in the West is because “Western thinking is about treating a problem as opposed to preventing a problem,” says holistic veterinarian and equine nutritionist Madalyn Ward, DVM.
Effective whole food feeding starts with a shift in thinking and in belief systems, the first of which is how we view health. “We still don’t look at an animal’s health until that animal develops symptoms,” Dr. Ward points out. “It is so ingrained in people to think that their animal is healthy if there are no symptoms. We need to be approaching an animal’s health before symptoms ever happen. Our Western mind is not really framed to appreciate what true health can be.”
One example Ward gives that is particularly appropriate during the spring is how many people automatically look to Milk Thistle to help a horse cleanse their horses’ livers. Yes, spring is a time of cleansing, Ward states. But if your horse’s body is overloaded with toxins, it is important to reach not just for the herb – which is using the herb as a drug - but to reach for the answer as to why the toxic overload occurred in the first place.
“My point is that you have to not just look at the milk thistle to bring the body back into balance,” Ward states emphatically. “You have to look at the digestion process. And if you look at the digestion process you have to look at the foods you are feeding. Focus first on the whole foods and your likelihood of ever having a problem in the first place, decreases exponentially.”
Those who are not quite ready to embrace the full spectrum of whole food feeding may very well balk at the notion of including the realm of emotions in their food choices.
To truly understand the full impact of whole food feeding, one must be sure to include emotions of the horse and his human, says Australian Herbalist Catherine Bird, and author of A Healthy Horse the Natural Way.
“Horses experience most emotions,” Bird says, “but what complicates the expression of those emotions is the emotions their humans generate but do not fully deal with. The horses take these emotions on when they walk into what the humans have splattered around them.”
How, exactly, can this relation between whole food feeding and emotions manifest in the spring?
- In the spring, some people are feeling the need or pangs for a love life, Bird says. If that is the case, then Rosehips and Lemon Balm are the primary herbs to use for horse as well as human.
- If a person’s emotions are inflamed, this can be reflected in a bout of spring laminitis in the horse. In this case, yarrow and fennel are two herbs Bird often suggests.
- If a horse care provider is not adjusting to the longer days and her hormones are not in synchronicity with the day, then the horse may be hormonal as a result. A combination of chaste tree and chamomile may serve well in such situations, Bird says.
“I do prefer to have humans address their imbalances at the same time as focus on their horses, as that is when the herbs will have a better effect on the horse,” Bird says. “Those who are prepared to do this are more open to the new consciousness to which the planet is opening up.”
SPRING FEEDING AT FULL CIRCLE FARM
When a horse first steps into Full Circle Farm , Shelly Moore, a holistic trainer and healer from Oregon, puts that horse on a customized, whole food feeding program. In the spring, that usually means seasonal foods that supply micronutrients and that are readily bioavailable, and therefore easily digested.
Moore’s barn is equipped with an ample kitchen, a refrigerator, a hot plate to simmer teas and a coffee grinder for foods that are more easily digested when fed in small pieces. Chia, spirulina and barley grass offer strong sources of micronutrients. Ginseng is a mainstay for the horses who don’t seem to have enough energy.
Moore watches all the horses while they’re grazing, as seemingly unimportant habits can result in an important part of a whole food eating plan. For example, in the spring, wood chewers receive a handful of sunflowers including their shells. “Feeding sunflowers gives horses who crave fiber what they need,” she says. “These are the horses who would be eating the spring boughs on the fir trees if they could.”
“I don’t have time to pussyfoot around,” Moore says. “I need to know that the horses who come here are getting what they need nutritionally.” She always offers seasonal fruits. The spring menu includes papayas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, bananas, carrots, oranges and grapefruit.
The expense of feeding this way can be significant, Moore admits. “That’s why I buy in bulk and on sale.”
Five years ago, people didn’t express much interest in Moore’s whole food feeding programs. They wanted the cheapest vitamin/mineral supplements they could buy at the feed store, and that was it, Moore says.
Times are changing.
To alleviate gassiness that horses may experience with spring’s fluctuating weather, Dr. Cassie Shuster, an Equine Naturopath, suggests this whole foods recipe. The volatile oils in anise and fennel seeds help relax the stomach muscles and dispel gassiness. B Vitamins in sesame seeds help fortify the liver. Minerals in watercress can help replenish calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, nutrients that can be depleted during times of adaptation and stress.
1 tablespoon anise seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 cups finely chopped watercress
Toss together and feed alone or over moistened hay pellets as a mash.
MAKING IT WORK
Dr. Schuster has spent a lifetime devoted to the study of the synergy of whole foods (she is currently writing a book on the feeding of whole foods). Sharing this information has required her to overcome a lot of resistance that people hold about feeding whole foods to their horses.
“For so long it’s been about the convenience of the human,” Schuster says from her equine rest and rehabilitation ranch in Texas. But to truly understand the power of whole foods, people need to take the time to delve deeper. Otherwise they end up simply throwing different foods at a horse and hoping they will somehow see an improvement.
“Feeding whole foods is both a science and an art,” Schuster says.
Lori Teresa Yearwood is a Pulitzer Prize Nominated journalist who loves horses. Nearly a decade ago, Lori's own horses became ill. Her search for natural ways to heal them led to the birth of Skode's Horse Treats, Inc., the first low sugar/starch, whole food horse treat company in the world. www.SkodesHorseTreats.com