Stewardship of the Equine Environment

Equestrians have an important role to play in environmental stewardship. A duty of care should be a central focus for all of us, care for the animals whose lives we are responsible for, and care of the land and resources that sustain us all. As the world becomes increasingly urbanized and technology becomes more ingrained in our lives, it’s easy to overlook the importance and value of the natural ecosystem, the services it provides, the roles we and our horses play in it, and the ways in which we impact it. 

I recently completed my 10th course in the Equine Studies Program, Stewardship of the Equine Environment. The course provided a great deal of insight into many aspects of stewardship, from the micro level to the macro, from paddock and pasture management to watershed protection. As a non-horse owning equestrian, I want to be as knowledgeable and prepared as I can be prior to adopting a horse of my own. Even though it is unlikely I will ever manage or own a property, knowing what to look for in a boarding facility will be equally important for the health of my horse and my peace of mind. As someone who strives to minimize their personal environmental impact, it only seems right to be aware of the ways in which horse ownership may alter my environmental footprint. 

There were so many fascinating topics raised throughout the course, with countless examples of how horses can be managed to minimize their environmental impact, as well as many examples of mismanagement and tales of environmental degradation. The latter may arise simply due to a lack of knowledge more so than a lack of care. Sometimes, it isn’t until we step back and look at the bigger picture that we realize how our actions, management methods, et cetera may be impacting the broader ecosystem. When (if) the connections are made, it is up to us as individuals to decide how to proceed. We can choose the path of least resistance and carry on with business as usual, often to our own detriment or the detriment of our horses, or endeavor to learn how things can be done differently to benefit not only ourselves, but the well being of our horses and the broader ecosystem. 

The equine industry has a great opportunity to be at the forefront of change and innovation. There are a number of leaders in the field already, and a number of actions that can be taken at the individual level, from composting manure and collecting rainwater for use around the farm, to retrofitting existing facilities for energy efficiency and greening equestrian events – the opportunities are endless! It has been very encouraging to learn about green design concepts incorporated into equestrian facilities right here in Ontario.

Ontario Equestrian could be a great steward of change in this area by developing a new component for their Provincial Facility Certification program, a program that, as it stands, makes no mention of environmental stewardship or, arguably even more important, equine welfare, beyond the requirement that paddocks be safely enclosed with access to fresh water. Rather, their Facility Accreditation Checklist consists of basic requirements for rider safety and supervision, including adequate lighting, safe arena fencing and footing, storage of feed and medication, manure storage and disposal, trail safety, and emergency preparedness. Furthermore, there is zero information about environmental stewardship on the Equestrian Canada website. 

A first step could be something as simple as Ontario Equestrian and/or Equestrian Canada featuring a couple of articles or blog posts showcasing green design initiatives of various equestrian facilities. Information sessions and workshops could also be organized at riding facilities and events to educate the broader equestrian community and foster dialogue, support for and adoption of green design concepts and environmental stewardship.

What I would like to see is a program similar to the EquuRES program that was launched in Normandy, France in 2014. The first environmental program dedicated to the horse industry, EquuRES was developed by the Lower Normandy Horse Council as a way to foster sustainable development and environmental stewardship while promoting equine welfare. Initiated with the intention of creating a national and international certification process to foster sustainability throughout the equine industry, 57 facilities/businesses across France have been awarded the EquuRES label over the last 5 years. Imagine a program that encourages steps to shift practices at the farm and business level, to educate, inspire change, and achieve sustainability within the equine industry. Is this not what we should all be striving for?

In an ideal world, a course like Stewardship of the Equine Environment would be mandatory for anyone operating an equestrian facility or managing equestrian events. Imagine operating or boarding at a facility that manages pastures and paddocks in a manner that fosters both equine welfare and conserves natural resources, leaving as much land as possible in a natural state to support local wildlife and ecosystem services; or a facility that is designed as efficiently as possible, incorporating green design concepts to reduce operating costs and conserve energy, maximizing solar exposure to provide natural lighting and generate electricity; or a facility that harvests rainwater to reduce water consumption, and both composts manure and converts it into energy to eliminate the need for disposal. All of these things are possible! 

Minimizing waste and environmental impacts, fostering ecosystem health and resilience, prioritizing conservation and equine welfare – that’s my definition of stewardship of the equine environment.

EquuRES: Sustainable Development Goals for the Equine Industry

Imagine boarding at a facility and supporting equestrian businesses that prioritize the conservation of natural resources, support local supply chains, foster equine welfare, reduce energy consumption, use renewable energy, properly manage manure and other waste by incorporating waste reduction methods (including composting and recycling), and properly maintain buildings to reduce operating costs and conserve energy. Imagine a program that encourages steps to shift practices at the farm and business level, to educate, inspire change, and achieve sustainability within the equine industry.

In 2014, such a program was launched in Normandy, France. Said to be “the very first environmental program dedicated to the horse industry”, EquuRES was developed by the Lower Normandy Horse Council as a way to foster sustainable development and environmental stewardship, while promoting equine welfare.

Equestrian organizations that comply with the criteria set forth under EquuRES are awarded a label based on their level of compliance and can progress through 3 stages, Engagement, Progression, Excellence.

Initiated with the intention of creating a national and international certification process to foster sustainability throughout the equine industry, 57 facilities/businesses across France have been awarded the EquuRES label over the last 5 years.

Does anyone know of any similar programs in other countries? How does your facility/sector or the businesses you support promote these or similar objectives?


The Sustainable Horse, Equures, the horse industry’s commitment to sustainability

Conseil des Chevaux Normandie, The EquuRES Label

Happy Horses Need Happy Homes

I’m back in the saddle so to speak, 5 weeks into an Equine Guelph course after taking a term off. Relevant to this course, Management of the Equine Environment, as well as Behaviour and Welfare, a Q&A style article from The Horse popped up in my Facebook news feed, “Happy and Unhappy Horses at Home”. The person asking the question explains how differently her horse and the horses of friends have behaved when housed at various facilities and questions whether studies have been done on what horses prefer in a housing situation.

While the author, a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, isn’t aware of any such studies, she presents a range of factors that may contribute to a particular horse’s experience at any given facility, things that may be imperceptible to us, like electric currents or noise, subtle changes in diet, social dynamics (of horses and humans), management style, or undetected neglect/abuse, which may also stem from a past experience at a previous facility.

The article ends with an anecdote about horses that are surrendered to the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania, explaining how after a couple of weeks the horses are normally in a state of contentment. It is the last line that resonates most for me, and advocates for as natural a method of equine management as possible, which is admittedly a challenge for most, particularly those of us living in areas with snowy winters, as pasture is not available year-round.

No hay, no grain, no supplements, no feeding schedule, no stalls, no indoor arena, no electricity, and often no close human-animal interaction for days. Just good grass, water, natural shade, and shelter.

That is my ideal horse management scenario.

McDonnel, S. 2019. “Happy and Unhappy Horses at Home.” The Horse Jun 6, 2019. Retrieved from

Winter Care

Following up on the previous post, On Blanketing Horses, here is a selection of articles from The Horse on winter horse care.

  1. Formidable Frostbite – Fret not, horses are well-equipped to handle cold weather and rarely suffer from frostbite, even in the most frigid temperatures. This article provides an overview of all of the horses’ natural cold weather adaptions, from the muzzle all the way down to the hoof capsule.
  2. Equine Internal Combustion – Your horse is a furnace stoked with hay! Feeding your horse adequate forage relative to its body weight and the lower critical temperature for your region will help it generate the body heat necessary to stay warm.
  3. Set Up Your Senior Horse for Cold-Weather Comfort – The tips in this article are applicable to all horses, although senior horses may require extra care. Ensuring your horse has a healthy body condition score, is receiving adequate forage, and has no underlying/undetected dental issues will go a long way in making him or her more comfortable and better able to weather the winter.
  4. Winter Management for the Outdoor Horse – “The ideal environment for many horses is to live outside with herdmates 24/7.” Important things to consider include constant access to fresh, ice-free water, good quality hay, a shelter that horses can access freely, safe footing, and daily checks for injuries and changes in body condition.


Horses Eating Hay. Pixnio Free Images

A Guiding Statement for Equine Welfare

Another Equine Guelph course has come to an end. For the final activity, we were encouraged to develop a Guiding Life Statement for Equine Welfare and a few goals to guide us as responsible members of the industry, with welfare as a priority. I thought this would be an appropriate place to share the statement and goals I have created for myself. As always, it has been a pleasure to learn both with and from everyone who participated in this course, and I look forward to the next.

Guiding Statement:

Endeavor to always do what is in the best interest of the horse & encourage others to do the same.


Understand and incorporate the Five Provisions of Animal Welfare, learning theory and the principles of equitation science into all levels of horse training and management.

Develop a deeper understanding of equine behaviour, perception and learning processes to apply species-appropriate methods to the management and training of horses, thereby improving other aspects of horse health and welfare.

Foster the development of comprehensive riding and horsemanship programs that incorporate knowledge of horse behaviour, herd dynamics, and common welfare issues.

Examining Xenophon’s ‘The Art of Horsemanship’ through the Lens of Modern Equine Welfare

A Greek philosopher and cavalry officer in the 4th century BC, Xenophon is highly regarded for his writings on horsemanship, which advocate for the humane handling of horses. He produced one of the earliest written accounts on horse conformation, care, riding, and training. In examining Xenophon’s teachings in The Art of Horsemanship (1893 translation), a number of shortcomings have become evident. Although much of what he writes is reasonable from an equine welfare perspective, his philosophy lacks the scientific knowledge and learning theory that has markedly improved modern equine welfare and exhibits a tendency to anthropomorphize the horse, which can be problematic. Regardless of the contradictions and anthropomorphization, however, Xenophon does place a great deal of emphasis on a positive horse-human relationship.

Caring for & handling the horse

Sandra Olsen (1996) writes, the “most important aspect of Xenophon’s writings was his emphasis on humane treatment” ( p.107), which is a fair interpretation, for Xenophon states many times and in many ways that the horse should be treated with kindness. He advocates for a watchful eye from the master to monitor for changes in behaviour and symptoms of ill health, exhibiting a high level of regard for the welfare and comfort of the horse, and recognizes the importance of a clean, dry stable and regular turnout (Xenophon, 1893).

In terms of meeting the social needs of the horse, Xenophon (1893) writes “the horse should be stroked in the places which he most likes to have handled; that is, where the hair is thickest and where he is least able to help himself if anything hurts him” (p.21). Although, there is no specific mention of the physiological benefits of mutual grooming and how “anatomically and ethologically appropriate” grooming by a human may partially fulfill this social need, it is fair to say that Xenophon was aware of how such actions may strengthen the horse-human bond (Boot & McGreevy, 2013).

However, as indicated by Boot & McGreevy (2013), there are clear contradictions in some of the practices put forth by Xenophon, such as his view that if managed properly during its breaking period, the colt will learn to associate hunger, thirst, and horse flies with solitude, and relief from hunger, thirst, and pests with humans. Xenophon goes on to say that such conditioning will result in the colt loving and longing for humans.

While this indicates an appreciation for the benefits to be gained from conditioning the horse to associate food and physical comfort with humans, it does not appear as though Xenophon had an appropriate understanding of the health implications that could arise from the restriction of food and water, and how such practices could compromise the health and welfare of the horse. He also falsely attributes horses with the ability to feel the emotions of love and longing for humans.

Training & riding

Further illustrating how Xenophon’s approach to horse training appears to be well aligned with modern methods, Olsen (1996) writes, Xenophon believed “that a rider could achieve far more from a horse by rewarding it periodically and by encouraging it to do what it naturally wanted it to do”( p.107). That is, one should work within the horse’s natural physical capacity of self-carriage because forcing the horse to do something, or inflicting pain upon it would not achieve the desired results in a graceful manner. Upon first reading the text, one may understandably view Xenophon’s methods as being ideal and summarize them as follows. “The horse should be broken gently, and accustomed to noise and to crowds. Food and exercise are not a matter of rigid formula, but must be adjusted to the needs of the individual. Look after your horse’s feet, and make the stable floor of well drained cobblestones. Train your staff to groom, bridle and lead. School your horse to turn fluently both ways, and in all training use patience and kindness” (J.K. Anderson in D.F. McMiken, 1990, p.77).

But when one looks closer and examines a couple of specific examples of Xenophon’s training methods through the lenses of equine welfare and learning theory, it is evident that there are some contradictions and errors in his ways, such as his aforementioned tendency toward anthropomorphization, the use of conflicting signals, and in some cases, forcefully hitting the horse.

The dangers of anthropomorphization & improper cues

Xenophon’s anthropomorphization of the actions and reactions of horses attributes them with more advanced mental abilities than they possess (Boot & McGreevy, 2013) like the ability to reason, the desire to please or to act in a mischievous or malevolent way. Such an approach to training is fraught with potentially negative implications, not only for the welfare of the horse but also for the safety of riders and handlers. As McGreevy writes “[i]f you believe that a horse complying with your commands is showing a willingness to please you, then you may also believe that when the same horse fails to comply he is actively seeking to displease, defy, undermine and even embarrass you. This belief system explains why so many riders feel justified in physically punishing a horse for failure to perform” (2012, p.286). When in reality, the horse’s failure to perform is more often than not the result of physical discomfort, a lack of proper training, an ill-timed or confusing signal, or an unbalanced rider. Furthermore, horses do not understand punishment, and such actions will merely result in negative associations that can create fear and shape unwanted behaviours (McGreevy, 2012).

Throughout most of his text, Xenophon (1893) advocates for gentle handling of the horse and cautions against punishment, “for when horses are at all hurt … they think that what they shied at is the cause of the hurt” (p.38). He also advises against the use of whips and spurs, which will scare the horse into a dangerous, disorderly, ungraceful state. “What the horse does under compulsion… is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer. There would be a great deal more ungracefulness than beauty in either a horse or a man that was so treated. No, he should show off all his finest and most brilliant performances willingly and at a mere sign” (p.62).

For a man who advocates for kindness, gentleness, and a great deal of caution with the use of a  bit, there is a glaring contradiction to his philosophies on punishment in his method for training a horse to leap over a ditch. In the case of a horse that has no experience with leaping, Xenophon’s advice is to “take him with the leading rein loose and leap across the ditch before him; then draw the rein tight to make him jump over. If he refuses, let somebody with a whip or stick lay it on pretty hard; he will then jump over not merely the proper distance but a great deal more than is required. He will never need a blow after that, but will jump the minute he sees anybody coming up behind him” (Xenophon, 1893, p.46).

While leading the horse with pressure from the reins is an acceptable use of negative reinforcement to condition a “go” response, punishing it with a whip or stick to achieve the desired leap is not appropriate. Not only will it condition a fear response to the whip and possibly to the mere approach of a person from behind because of the association with pain, but it may also “make the desired response dependent on a human approaching from behind as the discriminative stimulus” (Boot & McGreevy, 2013, p.368). Any person approaching a horse from behind is already putting themself in harm’s way and within striking distance of a well-aimed kick or buck should the horse be fearful or startled. Hitting the horse while back there is making the risk of injury all the more likely.

Another clear contradiction in Xenophon’s training arises when he instructs the rider who wants the horse to carry himself in a “proud and stately style” to “rouse him up” by simultaneously applying pressure to the reins and with the legs. The horse “will then throw out his chest and raise his legs rather high, and furiously though not flexibly; for horses do not use their legs very flexibly when they are being hurt”. Once this posture is achieved, Xenophon (1893) instructs the rider to slacken the reins and let the horse have the bit, which “makes him think that he is given his head, and in his joy thereat he will bound along with proud gait and prancing legs” appearing to onlookers to be a “free, willing, fit to ride, high-mettled, brilliant [horse] at once beautiful and fiery in appearance” (p.59-60).

As Goodwin et al. (2009) write, this hyper-reactive state is frequently induced in modern dressage and show horses to make them appear proud and fiery, yet what is actually achieved through the practice of applying conflicting signals through simultaneous rein pressure (stop) and leg pressure (go) is a state of confusion which can lead to dulled responses from the horse. Conflict behaviours and learned helplessness may also result from the improper release of pressure, the timing of which is critical in preventing problem behaviours in the ridden and led horse (McGreevy & McLean, 2010).

Avoiding & dissociating flight responses

Although he lacked knowledge of learning theory, Xenophon did exhibit some training that aligned with modern equitation science, even if still somewhat flawed. He advised that the horse should be habituated to crowds and desensitized to an array of sights and sounds through a gentle handling process that demonstrates there is nothing to be afraid of. Likewise, if the horse shies at an object, Xenophon suggests that touching the object oneself and gently leading the horse to it will teach the horse that, again, there is nothing to fear.  While he is correct in understanding that a fear of crowds and initially fearful objects can be overcome through familiarization (habituation), Xenophon is incorrect in believing that the act of the human touching the object reassures the horse. Rather, the horse habituates to the object through exposure (Boot & McGreevy, 2013).


While some may place Xenophon on a pedestal and believe the The Art of Horsemanship to be akin to a bible on managing and training horses, it should be interpreted and followed with a critical eye. While it serves as a fascinating historical document and undoubtedly offers some sound advice, it lacks the breadth of knowledge and understanding of horse behaviour, intelligence, learning theory, biomechanics, welfare, et cetera  that have been gained over the past decades, and Xenophon’s sometimes cruel training methods have no place in modern horse training.


One sound bit of wisdom that stood out to me is this:

“The one great precept and practice in using a horse is this, – never deal with him when you are in a fit of passion. A fit of passion is a thing that has no foresight in it, and we so often have to rue the day when we gave way to it” (Xenophon, 1893, p.37).

Wise words, for horses can detect and will respond to subtle behaviour changes in each other (McGreevy, 2012) and, it is believed, humans. Recent research from the University of Sussex (2016) indicates that horses are able to perceive the difference between angry and happy facial expressions in humans. When presented with photographs of “angry faces, horses looked more with their left eye, a behaviour associated with perceiving negative stimuli.” The horses also demonstrated increased heart rates and stress-related behaviours. The horse’s ability to recognize an angry face or perceive a subtle change in behaviour aside, for the safety of all involved, a calm, clear, fully-present state of mind is best for all involved when handling a 1,000+ pound animal that may startle at a bird flitting in a tree.

See “Xenophon Continued: Notes on conformation” for a comparison of Xenophon’s guidelines to those set out in Equine Research’s 2004 publication Horse Conformation: Structure, Soundness, and Performance.


Boot, M. & McGreevy, P.D. (2013). “The X files: Xenophon re-examined through the lens of equitation science.” Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 8, p.367-375.

Equine Research. (2004). Horse Conformation: Structure, Soundness, and Performance. Guilford CT: The Lyons Press.

Goodwin, D., McGreevy, P., Waran, N., & McLean, A. (2009). “How equitation science can elucidate and refine horsemanship techniques.” The Veterinary Journal, 181, p.5-11.

Hood, D.M. and C.K. Larson. 2013. Building the Equine Hoof. Eden Prairie, Minnesota: Zinpro Corporation.

McGreevy, P. (2012). Equine Behaviour: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists, 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Elsevier.

McGreevy, P. & McLean, A. (2010). Equitation Science. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. (chapter 8: Training & 14: Ethical Equitation)

McMiken, D.F. (1990). “Ancient origins of horsemanship.” Equine Veterinary Journal, 22(2), p.73-79.

Olsen, S.L. (1996). “In the Winner’s Circle: The History of Equestrian Sports.” In Olsen, S.L., Horses through Time. p.103 – 128. Lanham, MD: Roberts Rinehart.

University of Sussex. (2016). “Horses can read human emotions, Sussex research shows.” Retrieved from:

Xenophon. (1893). The Art of Horsemanship. Translated by M.H. Morgan. Boston: Little, Brown, And Company.

Feeding Strategies for the Modern Horse

In Food for Thought, I described the basic anatomy of the horse’s digestive system and the importance of grazing for digestive health. This is a bit of a longer post examining 3 different feeding scenarios and the pros and cons of each in relation to anatomical structure and function, and the evolutionary feeding strategy of the horse.

Horse management techniques vary widely depending on a number of factors, including geographical location, climate, weather patterns, discipline and age of the horse, and available space. The 3 scenarios discussed here are 1) a 12-year-old easy keeper living in the Lower Mainland of BC, 2) a senior horse from Southern Ontario, and 3) a horse from Vancouver Island, BC, whose feeding is consistent year round.

Scenario 1: Henry, 12-year-old Shire/Paint/Warmblood. Summer in Vancouver, BC

During the summer months, Henry lives in the pasture full time with two or three other horses. There are four large fields, allowing for rotation as necessary. Henry never receives grain, and hay is eliminated from his diet once he’s on pasture full time. He is fed a vitamin/mineral supplement mixed with a handful of beet pulp twice a day, at 7:30 am and 4 pm, year round. Carrots and apples are fed once or twice a day. There are automatic watering troughs attached to the fence at several points.

Scenario 2: Shannon lived to be 36, Arabian/Welsh. Winter in Southern Ontario

Shannon lived out the last 10 years of her life as a single horse with free-run of a two stall barn and 2 acres of pasture. In the winter months, she got turn-out in either a ½ acre field or a 1 ½ acre field, depending on weather and ground condition, from about 7 am until 8 or 9 pm, with access to the barn at all times. Because of her age, Shannon was fed ¾ of a cup of Trimax Senior every morning. Along with this, she was given vitamins, a carrot and two flakes of short-cut fine hay in a hay net. She received a third flake of hay around 4:30 and 1 full cup of Trimax and a fourth flake of hay in the evening, along with another carrot. Fresh water was available in both the barn and paddocks.

Scenario 3: Gilligan, Vancouver Island, BC

There is very little difference between summer and winter management practices at the boarding facility Gilligan lives at. Gilligan does not have the luxury of pasture living or turn-out due to limited space and spends most days in a 30’x50’ paddock with no access to natural forage. He receives Timothy hay four times a day (7 am, noon, 4 pm, 9 pm) and 1 cup of grain morning and night. Fresh water is provided at all times.

How do these scenarios compare and contrast with the evolutionary feeding strategy of the horse?

The horse’s digestive system has evolved over millions of years. Given the small size of the horse’s stomach, it is essential that it eat small amounts of food frequently, as it is not equipped to handle large amounts of food at once. Eating large meals can result in severe health consequences such as colic, gastric ulcers, and laminitis.

A horse would naturally graze for about 16 hours a day and can survive on grass and hay alone. However, modern management techniques largely prevent this from happening because many horses are housed in barns or paddocks with limited access to natural forage. Wide ranges of feeding strategies are used, and the guiding principles listed here should be followed.

  1. Ensure clean, fresh water is always available.
  2. Feed little amounts of food often and adjust according to the workload, temperament, and condition of the horse.
  3. Establish a routine and try to maintain the same feeding hours each day, allowing for seasonal variations to account for changes in daylight hours and time spent at pasture.
  4. Feed adequate roughage consisting of grass and good quality hay.
  5. A horse should have either grass or at least some succulent food such as carrots, turnips, beets or apples every day.

In all 3 scenarios presented, all of the horses have access to fresh, clean water and are fed little amounts of food often. Of the three, the horse in Scenario 1, Henry, has the most natural diet in the summer months, with constant access to pasture.

The other two horses, Shannon and Gilligan, receive hay at set intervals throughout the day to mimic natural grazing patterns, Shannon three times, Gilligan four. In combination with grain morning and night, both horses receive sufficient calories and nutrition through a series of frequent feedings spread throughout the day. However, Gilligan could benefit from the addition of a carrot or apple to his diet for extra nutrients and moisture.

Which is “best” from the horse’s perspective with regard to anatomical structure and function?

Of the three scenarios presented, Henry’s, Scenario 1, is the best with regard to anatomical structure and function. Being on pasture all day most closely mimics the evolutionary feeding strategy of the horse and is the best type of diet for a horse’s digestive tract. In the wild, horses will cover vast distances foraging for food, grazing for up to 16 hours throughout the day.

If the horse goes for too long without food, it is susceptible to gastric ulcers and colic. It is also thought that the natural grazing position of a horse aids in digestion. When grazing with its head lowered, the horse will take smaller mouthfuls of food and chew it more thoroughly than it would when eating grain from a feed bucket. When the food is chewed slowly and thoroughly, more saliva is produced, increasing the presence of digestive enzymes and moistening the food, thereby reducing the risk of choke or impaction colic.

Furthermore, by not having any grain in his diet, Henry has a reduced risk of colic and laminitis. Grain is not a natural part of a horse’s diet and it is hard on the digestive system. Grain that is dry or fed in large, infrequent portions can cause impaction colic, and too much starch can cause laminitis.

In an ideal situation, a horse is able to get all of the food it needs from forage. Of course, this is not always possible. There are many instances where horses require grain in their diet, as illustrated in the cases of Shannon and Gilligan. When grazing is unavailable or insufficient, hay would ideally be the staple of a horse’s diet. However, hay is sometimes too low in calories or nutrients for some horses, and grain or processed feed is necessary to ensure proper nutrition and maintain a healthy weight.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each management strategy?

Scenario 1: Living at pasture full-time with the ability to freely graze allows Henry to satisfy his evolutionary need to have a constant stream of food in his digestive system. The addition of a vitamin/mineral supplement mixed into beet pulp ensures his nutritional requirements are met and provides an additional source of highly digestible, high energy fibre. Potential disadvantages of beet pulp in the diet include an increased risk of choke when fed dry and in large amounts; nutrient imbalances when feeding large amounts of plain beet pulp without adjusting the rest of the diet accordingly; and if it contains molasses, high levels of potassium for HYPP1 horses; and high nonstructural carbohydrate levels for horses needing a low-sugar/starch diet.

Scenario 2: Trimax is recommended for hard keepers and is formulated to maximize gut health. As she aged, Shannon had a difficult time keeping weight on and was susceptible to colic. Trimax helped maintain a healthy weight and minimized incidences of colic. The short-cut fine hay was the only hay she was able to digest in her more advanced senior years, and 4 flakes spread throughout the day enabled her to graze a healthy amount.  Apart from one or two bouts of impaction colic a year, Shannon’s management routine kept her content, healthy and quite spry until the end. Although a mid-day feeding would have been ideal, the owner’s work schedule did not permit this on most days, so the decision had been made to give two flakes of hay in the morning in place of a mid-day feeding.

Scenario 3: I fail to see any advantages in poor Gilligan’s situation of a diet based solely on hay and grain with no access to pasture. Furthermore, Gilligan is susceptible to sand colic because his hay is often eaten from the ground, which is a sandy soil.


A common disadvantage that each of these horses experiences is a diet void of selenium2. They all live in regions of Canada where selenium is scarcely found in the soils, therefore, the hay and grain they eat is selenium deficient. Selenium must be provided in a supplemental form and ideally, the horses should be tested once a year to make sure they haven’t developed a deficiency.


1Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) is a muscle disease which has been reported in certain lines of registered Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and Paints. Affected horses often display sporadic attacks of muscle tremors (shaking or trembling), weakness and/or collapse. Attacks can also be accompanied by loud breathing noises resulting from paralysis of the muscles of the upper airway. Occasionally, sudden death can occur following a severe paralytic attack, presumably from heart failure or respiratory muscle paralysis.

2Selenium is an important antioxidant element in the horse’s diet and a deficiency of it has been associated with nutritional myopathy known as white muscle disease. Most common in foals, acute or subacute white muscle disease can also affect adult horses, resulting in masseter (cheek muscle) myopathy. Horses affected by this have difficulty opening their mouths and therefore, difficulty eating.

Supplementation is especially recommended for horses that are kept solely on hay and/or pasture. A complete vitamin and mineral supplement is the best approach, as it will ensure your horse is getting sufficient amounts of all 17 vitamins and minerals that are key to preventing any mild deficiencies that may affect your horse’s immune system health and stamina.


Beckstett, A. (2015). “Beet Pulp FAQs.” The Horse, Oct. 12, 2015. Retrieved from

EcoEquine. (2014). “5 Things Wild Horses Can Teach Us About Horse Care.” Retrieved from

Georgescu, S.E. et al. (2007). “Diagnostication of Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis in Horses.” Lucrari Stiinifice: Zootehnie si Biotehnologii vol. 40:1 2007: 96-100

Landels, J. (2012). “What’s on the Menu?” Academie Duello Retrieved from

Landels, J. (2016). “The Grain of the Matter.” Academie Duello Accessed Retrieved from

Pard, K. (2016). “Understanding Selenium.” Horse Journals Accessed 29 Sept. 2016

Patton, K.M. (2008). “Hiding in Plain Sight: Selenium deficiency masks itself as different diseases.” The American Quarter Horse Journal May 2008: 60-62. Retrieved from

Purina Canada. (2016). “Equilibrium Trimax.” Retrieved from

Streeter, R.M. et al. (2012). “Selenium deficiency associations with gender, breed, serum vitamin E and creatine kinase, clinical signs and diagnoses in horses of different age groups: A retrospective examination 1996–2011.” Equine Veterinary Journal vol. 44, 2012: 31-35