Natural Horsekeeping: Is My Horse Healthy?

We know that what we eat affects our health — and the same goes for our horses, too. Jody Webb takes a look at how diet can affect performance and overall health in our horses.
A 28-year-old Arabian mare who needed to detox -- that's not dirt, those are toxins! Photo courtesy of Jody Webb.

A 28-year-old Arabian mare who needed to detox — that’s not dirt, those are toxins! Photo courtesy of Jody Webb.

As a person who travels around looking at people’s horses, I get an up-close and personal look at how what they eat affects their health. As a practitioner of the herbal arts, I tend to look at health and diet differently than most horse owners. Sometimes it really surprises me what I see out there: I’ve had all-organic vegan customers that watch every single thing they put in their mouth feed their horses just about the worst “complete” feeds on the market.

Are they bad horse owners? No! In fact, just the opposite. They go into a feed store, ask questions, ask their vets (who have very little nutritional training, by the way) and buy whatever pretty bag that is recommended to them. Their intent is good, but they never stop and think to read the feed labels themselves and do a little research. So while the owner is looking healthy and fit, their horses end up looking ratty and being unhealthy.

Is your horse healthy? Let’s go over some simple external signs of an unhealthy horse:

  • Dull coat: Just like in humans, hair is a telltale sign of health. A horse’s coat should be soft, shiny, and should shed out well. A dull, coarse and hard-to-shed-out coat is a sign of health issues.
  • Weak hooves: No healthy horse is born with weak hooves. Hooves, like fingernails, are a direct indicator of health and nutritional issues. Have you been told your horse just has soft feet and there is nothing you can do? I have disproved that notion many times over. Soft feet are a direct result of bad nutrition and or illness.
  • Dull eyes: Eyes should be bright and shiny no matter the age. Dull eyes indicate a lack of nutrients, ill healthy and most often high pain levels.
  • Joint issues: Do your horse’s joints pop and crackle like popcorn in the microwave? Two issues cause those sounds: inflammation and dryness in the joints. There may or may not be actual arthritic damage (bone decay or joint wear-and-tear) but the longer the joints are left popping and cracking, the sooner permanent damage will be done. Joint damage is a result of toxins in the diet and a lack of proper nutrition. Even heavy work-related joint damage can be mitigated with the right diet.
  • Pain issues: Many pain issues are the direct result of an unbalanced diet: lack of proper nutrients to feed the bones, joints and muscles; lack of proper herbal supplements to feed and protect the digestive tract; lack of proper nutrients to feed and protect muscles and nerves; toxic overload. One of the easiest ways of reducing pain levels is to simply follow a regular detox program.
  • Digestive issues: Chronic constipation (and colic episodes), chronic diarrhea, girthiness, or biting when the “armpit”/stomach is touched are all clear signs of digestive issues. The digestive tract doesn’t just need to be fed, but it needs to be fed properly and it needs protection. Toxins in feed, chemical paste dewormers and feed that is inflammatory (grains and chemical based supplements) all take their toll on the digestive tract. If the digestive tract isn’t kept healthy and running smoothly, you will not have a healthy horse. Ever wonder why colic cases are on the rise? Take a really close look at what “complete” feeds are putting into your horse. Complete feeds are the fast food of the horse world.
  • Too little or too much energy: Horses should have “good” energy. Lack of energy or hyperactivity are signs of an unbalanced horse. The issue may be caused by pain, unhealthy nerves, or nutritional deficiencies. A healthy energy level is the sign of a healthy horse.

How many of those points apply to your horse? Your horse may have issues that are adding to these problems (bad teeth, disease, saddle fit issues, etc.) that can sometimes make it a challenge to decide exactly what the problem is, but like peeling an onion, you will eventually resolve the problems with diligence. Remember that it may have taken years to get your horse into the condition it is in; it may take a while to get it back to a healthy state.

So where do you start? Begin with the obvious: do you need a new saddle? Do your horse’s teeth need to be checked and floated? Do you need a better farrier? Check off those issues and then address the diet: is your horse’s diet causing stomach upset? Does your horse need to detox? Is your horse getting enough of the right nutrients? Do you need to rethink and clean up their diet, making it more appropriate for their age, issues and work load?

For some people this may seem like a good time to have an “overload” moment. Its not always easy to fix what is broke. But think about it — all that time and money you put into having a horse — isn’t it worth it to have the healthiest horse possible? After all, they can’t do it for themselves; they completely depend on you to do if for them. Just like a dog, cat or child, they are what you make of them. So do your best for them. The answers aren’t as difficult as you may think.

Senti's naturally healthy shine! Photo courtesy of Jody Webb.

Senti’s naturally healthy shine! Photo courtesy of Jody Webb.

Jody Webb is the “Solepreneur” of AverageJo Equine, with a line of all natural supplements for horses and dogs. Her Wild Horse and Wild Dog line of products is the focus of years of research with the goal of taking your pets away from chemical laden feeds and supplements and taking them back to as close to nature as is possible in a tamed environment. With her three horses, two dogs, two cats, various rescue horses and their individual issues, there are plenty of willing volunteers with which to perfect each product. This desire came upon finding her then new horse Gideon was suffering from a metabolic disorder called EPSM. Though this disorder can never be cured and there will always be lifelong health issues for Gideon, he has gone from a cranky, underweight and severely in pain train wreck to a sassy and healthy looking beast! Jody is now taking her knowledge learned from owning such a difficult animal to moving on and helping other horse and dog owners have healthier, happier pets. Her writing comes out of the joys and pains of owning such a challenging animal. Learn more about all-natural horse products at Jody Webb’s blog,

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