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Galaxy Update – 17th August 2021

With COVID locking down my entire state this month we are still without a follow up gastroscope so unfortunately I can’t give you a technical update on what is actually happening in Galaxy’s stomach.

What I can report on is her behaviour, which is probably the best indicator we have at the moment for what is happing inside.

I have been taking the opportunity just to spend little bits of time with Galaxy in the last week. I decided I would see how she reacted if I bought her out of her paddock to be brushed while haltered. I wasn’t going to push her and just brushed her neck and shoulders.

With lucerne hay to munch while I brushed she accepted the brush and I think even enjoyed it. No indication of her wanting to pin her ears back.

I also took her for a walk to find some tasty grass in our big pasture and while she grazed I brushed her all over, including her girth and belly. Again, no indication of wanting to pin her ears back (or kick) as she had grown accustomed to doing when she was badly ulcerated.

What the vet had to say…

I had Dr Doug, my vet out to check her stifle joints as she has odd movement in her back legs on occasion. Doug diagnosed her with ‘upward fixating patella’ and has suggested I use exercise to try and rectify this!

Doug and Stacey (our amazing vet nurse!) both commented on how much her behaviour had changed since she spent the night with them prior to her original scoping (back in May). And I have to say, she is turning into a pretty chilled out little girl. She no longer runs to the rails and whinnies when we take any of the other horses out of the paddock and she grazes a lot!

So outwardly she is doing well. Her coat still looks pretty foul but she should shed it soon and get her summer coat so will see how that looks before I worry too much about that.

Her diet remains almost the same. I have reduced her lucerne hay from 4 kg/day to 2 kg/day as she is in very good condition so I am having to balance calorie intake with managing ulcers!

I have also added a small amount (80 g/day) of copra meal and sugarbeet pulp to add a little more fibre variety to the diet. While her primary issue is in her stomach, I am also very conscious that the stomach is only one part of the entire digestive tract. I do think anything we can do to promote hindgut health will also support stomach health indirectly.

Moving forward

Next steps will be more groundwork with her and depending on how she accepts this we can move on to ridden work.

Stay tuned for our next update on Galaxy’s progress healing from gastric ulcers!

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Galaxy Update!

I’d love to be able to give you a really detailed update on progress with Galaxy.

Unfortunately though, with the scoping that was planned last week now postponed until ‘sometime in the future’ due to COVID restrictions, I can only give you an update on what I can ‘see’ from the outside.

Galaxy in all seems to be doing well

She is eating like a normal horse now, head in her feed bin and contentedly finishes her feeds.

For a few weeks now I haven’t seen her walk away from the feed bin and come back once (where when she first arrived she would do this repeatedly and often not finish her feed for hours).

She has also integrated well into my little herd. She and Spotty were a bit at odds with one another but this seems to have settled and they are happy to graze alongside one another now.

Galaxy LOVES Poet and is often standing so close she is touching him… makes me wonder if this will be a part of her healing process, this close company of a small herd of horses.

She grazes well now too. When she first arrived she would often just stand and stare off into the distance. Now she grazes more often than my horses (which I have to say is quite the achievement!).

She is a quirky little thing. And she definitely has a more anxious temperament than the other 3.

If there is something slightly unusual happening she will be the one paying the most attention (this may be because she is still newish, time will tell). And when we take one or more of her mates out to be ridden she is at the fence calling for them.

This ‘anxiety’ for want of a better term possibly has something to do with her being prone to ulceration. Will be interesting to see if it settles more over time. For the most part though she is a happy pony, and you honestly wouldn’t know she has (or at least had) severe ulceration.

I did brush her for the first time last week!

She was eating her lucerne hay, relaxed, no halter (which Felicity Davies pointed out may have removed her usual triggers for a negative reaction to being brushed… i.e. that she wasn’t anxious about being girthed up and ridden). She accepted the brush quite happily all over her near/left side. This hopefully is a good sign!

Her same diet continues

Grain free balancer, buffering gut supplement with amino acid support, full fat soybean, vitamin C and lots of lucerne as well as free access to grazing (which currently is a mix of 90% dead old native grass and 10% lush green cool season grasses).

I have added 40 ml/day of sunflower oil and will build this up slowly over time. I wasn’t able to find corn oil, so I chose sunflower as it has an equally high omega 6 content… if that freaks anyone out and you are thinking wouldn’t you feed a less inflammatory oil high in omega 3, I agree it does sound and feel very counterintuitive to feed a high omega 6 oil. But it seems the omega 6 and the proinflammatory cytokines it gives rise to are important for the healing of ulcers… I plan to review the data around this in more detail as soon as I get the time!

Next moves…

My next move with her diet will be to incorporate very small amounts of additional fibres with copra meal and beet pulp going into her feed and Rhodes grass hay fed with lucerne hay in the afternoons. I want to support her hindgut microbiota as much as possible. We sometimes forget that the gastrointestinal tract is all joined together. So while her immediate issue is in the stomach, promoting the best possible hindgut health is also a priority.

So far I am happy with her outward progress, but I am dying to see what is actually in her stomach! This process is teaching me patience!!

Until next time, love from Galaxy!
Xx

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Why your horses won’t show you they are in pain: Lessons from Chewy and the chicken!

Heads up! Your horses WILL NOT show you they are in pain until the pain is so bad they can no longer hide it!

Why? Because they are prey animals!

And if you’ve ever watched a David Attenborough documentary you will know that the old, sick or injured are the ones that get EATEN!

So if you are a prey animal and you are old, sick or injured, you hide it for as long as you can… so you don’t get eaten.

Why is there a photo of a dog and a chook you ask?

I know that might seem a bit random but it is because the dog (predator) was showing me EXACTLY why the prey (in this case the chicken) try not to show they are unwell.

My dog Chewy normally pays no attention to my chickens.

But for three days she stalked this chicken who was ancient by chicken standards, I suspect senile and on her way out. Chewy literally sat by the fence or stalked her as the chicken moved up and down the fence, just watching and waiting for her chance (which she never got, just so you know!).

It really struck me that the old, sick or injured animals really are targeted. Chewy could easily catch any of the chickens, but she never bothers to stalk them… but this one she did! She just instinctively knew she was an easy catch and was waiting for her chance.

Instinctively horses know this! They know if they show signs of weakness they put themselves at risk.

Why am I telling you this?

Well…so that you understand that just because your horses ‘seem ok’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are. And as owners and riders we need to be SUPER vigilant for any small indications our horses may give us that something isn’t right.

Gastric ulcers are a classic example… and we often come across horses with severe ulceration but no ‘symptoms’ as such save for some subtle changes in behaviour or appetite, or even just a swishing of the tail when being ridden.

The moral of the story? Be vigilant, FEED WELL (because nutrition is your best form of prevention of many diseases and conditions) and be on the lookout for really subtle indications that something isn’t right because it might be all your horse ever shows you for fear of being eaten!

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Photo of Nerida standing with her horse at sunset

Be Part of the Change to Feeding Horses Better. Safer. Smarter. (The FeedXL Backstory)

FeedXL officially started out almost 2 decades ago as CD-ROM based software. But truth is, FeedXL has been somewhere in the works since I was a kid, growing up on a cattle farm in rural NSW, Australia.

As a child, the only place I ever wanted to be was with my horses. I still remember heading off to Uni and being so sad I wouldn’t see my favourite mare for weeks on end!

BUT, at Uni I also had the amazing opportunity to take on a PhD in equine nutrition. Once finished, I started consulting to feed companies and very quickly realised this problem… that horse owners had no way of ACTUALLY knowing if what they were feeding their horse was meeting that horse’s requirements.
So we built one! And it has slowly morphed into what we know as FeedXL.

Today, FeedXL has helped more than 26,000 horse owners to feed Better. Safer. Smarter.

Here is FeedXL’s story, filmed (during the worst drought in history) with Poet, Popcorn, PomPom and Chewy the dog at FeedXL headquarters in Tamworth, Australia.





 

FeedXL is truly a labour of love for me. And I feel so much gratitude to you, and all of our members for being a part of the change that really is all about feeding horses in a way that makes life better for them!

Thanks for sharing the journey. I hope you enjoy seeing how it all started!

Xx
Nerida

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Nerida at horse show

Confessions of a Horse Nutritionist #2: I didn’t know ANY of this stuff before!

It’s funny how when you do the same work for more than 2 decades you can sometimes forget how little you USED to know.

Growing up, I rode horses every day… often twice a day.

It was almost always my beautiful mare CoaCoa. She worked hard. And yet she was never fed properly… in hindsight I can see how many issues that actually caused!

Life on the farm for our horses was good in many ways. They had big paddocks with plenty of pasture. They were kept with friends and were treated kindly.

But there are so many things I would love to be able to go back and change!

There was no internet of course so information was not as readily at hand… but we were ignorant of so many things that would have made life for our horses better.

Access to salt, hay fed at intervals during their long days of work, hay fed before riding, supplementing with a proper balance of vitamins and minerals, regular dental care, and enough higher energy feed to enable them to cope with the long hours of regular work we asked of them are all things I would have done, had I known better!

And ulcers! I cringe now thinking of CoaCoa’s habit of pulling back her lips and chewing at the bit, of her weight loss when in work and her sometimes (sometimes often) anxious behaviour… it all screams ulcers to me now but back then I didn’t even know gastric ulcers for horses were a thing.

I guess now this is a lot of what drives me to do what I do.

To help other horse owners to know and therefore do better for their horses.

I can’t go back and change what I didn’t do for CoaCoa. But I can help other horse owners like you to learn about what is best for your horses so that history doesn’t have to keep repeating itself and more horses don’t live the way my CoaCoa did in her early years!

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Starch & Ulcers: What’s The Deal?

You may have heard it recommended that horses with ulcers should be fed a ‘grain-free’, low starch diet. It is believed that any starch may make ulcers worse. Or stop them from healing when the horse is being medicated to resolve ulcers. But is there any scientific basis for what has now become a popular recommendation? Let’s take a look!

Starch is fermented to volatile fatty acids (VFAs)

Like the rest of the horse’s gut, the stomach is full of bacteria. When grains AND forage enter the stomach, they are partially fermented. During fermentation, the bacteria produce volatile fatty acids. These VFAs are the same as what is produced in the hindgut during fermentation there. So they are not harmful to the horse. In fact they are beneficial.

Thing is though, in the stomach, they get mixed with the hydrochloric acid from the stomach and become ‘nonionized’. In this state, they can enter the epithelial cells of the upper part of the stomach, causing them to become inflamed, and swell, and ultimately make the stomach wall lining more prone to ulceration. This is what they understand to happen in pigs.

So everything you feed a horse will be partially fermented in the stomach. We do know however, that when we feed a grain based, high starch ingredients, higher levels of VFAs are produced. But does it increase the risk of gastric ulcers? Not necessarily.

Lucerne + grain = less ulcers than grass hay

In a study where horses were fed either lucerne + grain OR grass hay only, there was significantly higher levels of VFA in the stomach contents of horses fed lucerne + grain. BUT, the horses on this diet had less severe and fewer gastric ulcers than the horses fed the grass hay only diet. Despite the higher level of VFAs, horses on the lucerne + grain diet had a higher pH (less acidic) for 5 hours after feeding when compared to the grass hay only diet 1.

The researchers in this study suggest the high protein, high calcium characteristics of both the lucerne hay and the ‘grain’ (unfortunately, they do not specify what the grain was except to say it contained over 7 g/kg of calcium and was almost 15% protein, so it must have been a fortified commercial feed) created a buffering effect in the stomach and were able to keep the pH higher.

So here, the starch did increase VFA levels, but the diet containing the grain was also effective at keeping gastric pH higher. Combined, there was a protective effect against ulcers.

In a second study2, researchers found that of horses fed lucerne plus a commercial pelleted feed, 8% developed ulcers. Compared to 75% who developed ulcers when they were fed the same pellet, but with grass hay. In this same study, horses that started with existing ulcers all improved their ulcers scores by more than 2 when fed lucerne + pellet. But on the grass hay, only 2 out of 12 horses showed healing to the same degree. So it does appear lucerne is protective. And that feeding grain/starch doesn’t automatically mean a horse will be prone to ulcers.

What about high fibre versus low fibre?

We tend to think that a high fibre diet is always going to be better than a low fibre diet for minimising gastric ulcers. And there are varied reports in the literature. Research from the UK3 reported that a low fibre, high concentrate (32% starch pellet) diet had a lower number and severity of lesions versus a high fibre, low concentrate diet. Odd right!

The fibre fed during this study was ryegrass haylage. A trend is starting to appear with grass forage and a higher risk of ulcers! What we don’t know is why? Researchers in Denmark reported that horses with straw as their only source of forage had a higher risk of ulcers4 which may give some clues. Perhaps there are nutrients required for maintaining gut wall integrity that grass hays and straw are unable to provide.

The important point here is to realise that just feeding lots of forage is not enough to protect a horse from ulcers. And to recognise that adding grain to diets is not a risk factor in itself. It comes down to which forages are fed and how much grain/starch is fed AND how feeding is managed.

How much starch is OK?

The studies reported above show that grain can be fed without causing ulceration. So starch is not a simple ‘Cause & Effect’ with gastric ulcers. Or in other words, when it is fed in a certain way, it can be fed without causing ulcers. And can even be fed in a way to allow ulcers to heal. But is there a limit to how much starch you can feed?

The answer is YES! In a large study, 201 Danish horses from 23 different non-racing stables were scoped for ulcers. 53% of horses were reported as having an ulcer score of more than 2, with most of these occurring in the upper part of their stomach4.

Two risk factors related to the amount of starch fed were reported in this study;

  1. Feeding more than 2 grams of starch per kg of bodyweight per day (equivalent to 2 – 3 kg of a complete feed/day for a 500 kg horse, depending on the feeds starch content) doubled the risk of ulcers; and
  2. Feeding more than 1 gram of starch per kg of bodyweight per meal (roughly equivalent to 1 – 1.5 kg of a commercial complete feed per meal for a 500 kg horse, depending on the starch content of the feed) increased risk by more than three times.

So some starch it seems is perfectly OK. But there is a limit to how much should be fed ‘per day’ and ‘per meal’.

Feeding grain based feeds carefully is a huge consideration in managing the risk of ulcers. If your horse needs more energy than can be provided by the amounts of grain based feeds specified above, you should look at feeding oils or high energy fibres to meet the rest of your horse’s calorie requirements.

Does starch cause ulcers?

Too much starch increases the risk of ulcers. But when fed in a well put together diet, research has shown that diets containing grains resulted in less ulcers than grass hay only diets. So starch, itself, doesn’t appear to cause ulcers.

My horse is prone to ulcers. What should I do?

Good question! Here are my top tips on feeding a horse prone to ulcers:

  1. Feed lucerne hay – lucerne has been shown to buffer the stomach well and is protective against ulcers. It even seems to help them heal.
  2. Feed lucerne as chaff or haylage with your grain based feeds – this seems to help negate the possible negative effect of starch when it is fermented in the stomach.
  3. Feed lucerne hay before you ride – working horses on a full stomach is CRITICAL for preventing ulcers. The fibre stops the acid splashing around and the saliva created while chewing the hay helps to buffer the acid in the stomach. Using lucerne has the extra positive benefit with the buffering effect from the lucerne itself.
  4. Feed lots of forage – the more forage in the diet the better. It makes a horse chew longer, create more saliva and keeps the stomach full of fibre to help stop acid from the lower part of the stomach splashing up onto the top part and creating ulcers.
  5. Don’t allow more than 5 hours between meals – the longer the intervals between meals, the higher the risk of ulcers5. So make sure your horse is eating at least every 5 hours. For horses particularly prone to ulcers, keeping time without food as short as possible (no more than 2 hours) is advisable.
  6. If you feed grain based feeds, keep the amounts small – don’t exceed 1 gram of starch per kg of bodyweight per meal. The amount of pellet/sweetfeed/cube/grain you can feed per meal depends on the starch content of the feed. The table below shows you maximum amounts that can be fed per meal of a feed, based on its starch content, for a 500 kg horse. If you are unsure of your feeds starch content, don’t exceed 1.5 kg of feed/meal (for a 500 kg horse).

 

Starch Content (%) Maximum Amount/Meal for a 500kg Horse (kg)
20 2.5
30 1.7
40 1.25
50 1

 

  1. Make sure horses ALWAYS have access to water – water deprivation has long been known to increase risk of ulcers. So allowing constant access to water is important to reduce the risk of ulcers.

Should I go grain-free?

While the studies above show us that feeding grains, in diets that also contain lucerne can result in ulcers resolving, if you are more comfortable going grain-free then it is certainly an option. Using high quality, grain-free products that are high in protein and fortified with calcium are likely going to work well for a horse prone to ulcers. As far as I can see there are no studies to confirm this… something for future research to work on!

It is just important to remember that this is not essential. Grain based feeds can be used, as long as they are used carefully.

References

  1. Nadeau JA, Andrews FM, Mathew AG, et al. Evaluation of diet as a cause of gastric ulcers in horses. Am J Vet Res 2000;61:784-790.
  2. Lybbert T, Gibbs, P., Cohen, N., Scott, B., Sigler, D. Feeding Alfalfa Hay to Exercising Horses Reduces the Severity of Gastric Squamous Mucosal Ulceration. AAEP Proceedings 2007;53.
  3. Boswinkel M, Ellis A, Sloet van Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan Mm. The influence of low versus high fibre haylage diets in combination with training or pasture rest on equine gastric ulceration syndrome (EGUS). Pferdeheilkunde 2007;23.
  4. Luthersson N, Nielsen KH, Harris P, et al. Risk factors associated with equine gastric ulceration syndrome (EGUS) in 201 horses in Denmark. Equine Vet J 2009;41:625-630.
  5. Luthersson N, Nielsen KH, Harris P, et al. Risk factors associated with equine gastric ulceration syndrome (EGUS) in 201 horses in Denmark. Equine Veterinary Journal 2009;41:625-630.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

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Hay and horse in the background

Why You Shouldn’t Feed Free Choice Hay to a Horse on Ulcer Treatment

Don’t give a horse on ulcer treatment free choice hay.

You’re probably thinking… What?!?! I know! I agree… this sounds CRAZY! And goes against everything you might think is going to help a horse with ulcers.

If you have had a horse you have treated, unsuccessfully, for ulcers, keep reading!

Because here is the thing… horses on ad libitum hay have poor absorption of omeprazole (the drug of choice in treating equine gastric ulcer syndrome; EGUS). And if they don’t absorb it, it simply will not do its job of suppressing acid production. And if it doesn’t suppress acid, ulcers won’t heal.

In a study by Sykes et al (2017) it was shown that 3 out of 6 horses on ad libitum hay diets had minimal if any acid suppression (i.e. medication was totally useless).

Sykes 2019 suggests instead that horses are medicated after an overnight fast. THEN, withhold feed for 60 to 90 minutes after administration. Then feed a large feed of forage, which will stimulate gastrin which then makes omeprazole more effective. After the horse has eaten the hay it can be fed any concentrate it may require in its diet.

So overnight fast, then dose, then wait an hour, then feed lots of hay or allow access to pasture.

To be honest this goes against instinct and messes with my head a bit. BUT the research into this seems conclusive so I am going to trust and go with it.

Once the horse has finished its course of omeprazole treatment you should immediately revert back to ad libitum access to hay and minimise and periods of time off feed.

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

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Gastric Ulcer Medications and Their Effect on Digestion

Q: Does gastric ulcer medication reduce nutrient digestion in horses?

Someone asked me this in a recent seminar and it reminded me that when I was studying during my PhD tenure we had looked at the effect of pre-incubating grains in equine stomach fluid on the digestion of starch from those grains.

And what we found was that starch from grains that were exposed to equine stomach fluid before being digested by small intestinal enzymes was between 17% (extruded rice) and 104% (cracked triticale) MORE digested than starch that wasn’t exposed to the stomach fluid. So the stomach fluid was having a definite positive influence on the digestion of starch.

What we can’t say from this research was how much of this increased starch digestion was due to the stomach acid and how much was due to the protein digesting enzymes the are present in stomach fluid that would be starting protein digestion and making access to the grain starch easier for the starch digesting enzymes in the small intestine.

The thing to remember though is that the protein digesting enzymes in a horse’s stomach fluid rely on the stomach acid to activate them. So regardless of whether the improved digestion was due to the acid itself or the protein digesting enzymes, if you stop acid production using ulcer medications you will lose both the acid and the enzymes.

So, if we use medications like ranitidine and omeprazole to reduce gastric acid secretion in horses we are very likely reducing the digestion of at least some nutrients further down the gastrointestinal tract.
What to do??? Well, if your horse has ulcers this is by far the most important consideration, you need to medicate to get rid of the ulcers as quickly and as effectively as you can.

BUT, once the ulcers are gone it is recommended you use good management practices to keep your horses chewing, their stomachs full and buffered with saliva and their minds calm instead of constantly using medication to prevent ulcers. That way you are allowing their gastrointestinal tract to function the way it was designed (albeit I would love the opportunity to redesign parts of their gut!) and allowing the digestion process to be as effective as possible.

More info on feeding to prevent ulcers in our article ‘Avoiding Gastric Ulcers’ here.

Happy to share the method for the in vitro assay used to conduct this work with anyone who would like the details!

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

We would love to welcome you to our FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group. Ask questions and have them answered by PhD and Masters qualified equine nutritionists and spend time with like-minded horse owners. It’s free!

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The Link Between Regular Forage Meals and Gut Health

Poet and I (Nerida) headed out a few weeks ago to do some real work mustering sheep (not that we did anything useful, we were just along for the ride!). There were 5 of us on horses, saddled up by 6:30 am and in incredibly steep, rocky, tough (but stunning!) terrain for 6 hours. At various points we dismounted and slid (feet sideways) down parts of the mountainside because it was too steep to ride. Sheep were tripping and rolling down the hill (amusing! but gives you an idea of how steep it was!!).

Anyway, here is me, very conscious of gastric ulcers, giving my horse lucerne/alfalfa as I saddled up, letting him pick what grass we could find while out riding if we were stopped for any time so he at least salivated a little bit and immediately giving him water and more lucerne/alfalfa on return to where we had saddled up… meanwhile stifling my panic at watching the other horses eating nothing and trying not to think too much about what was going on in their stomachs.

I asked one of the guys, an experienced horseman, if he worried about ulcers, and it soon became clear that there was no understanding of how a horse’s stomach worked and the negative impact of not feeding them for such long (long!) periods of time (his horse had a couple of hours trip home).

I also asked recently at a seminar who could confidently sketch a horse’s gut or explain how it works and no-one was able to. And I get this… I had no idea what a horse’s gut looked like or how it worked the entire time I rode in my pre-nutritionist life!

The thing is, a horses stomach never stops secreting gastric acid. So even when your horse is not eating it is filling the lower part of its stomach up with acidic gastric juices. While the stomach is full this isn’t an issue as the dense matt of fibre in the gut will stop the acid from splashing around and burning the unprotected lining of the upper section of the stomach.

Problems start though when horses are off feed for long periods like this and end up with a pool of acid and an empty stomach. Combine that with the movement of being ridden and you get acid splashing up and quite literally burning holes (causing ulcers) in the top part of the stomach.

So here is my plea! Please help us to educate people on how a horse’s stomach works and what they can do (really simple things) to keep their horse’s stomach and therefore their horse healthy and pain free. Share this article on Avoiding Gastric Ulcers with them and have them understand that a horse’s stomach should never be empty and that as much as is practical you should never work a horse on an empty stomach.

Thank you!! From us and from all of the horses who will be so much better off when their owners understand how they work just a tiny bit better.

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

We would love to welcome you to our FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group. Ask questions and have them answered by PhD and Masters qualified equine nutritionists and spend time with like-minded horse owners. It’s free!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

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