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[RC] More Feeding Discussion- Bring Coffee, This is long - Bruce Weary

I just love discussions about feeding. So I'll ramble on a bit about some feeding principles that make sense to me and we can kick a few ideas around. I have been a feed fanatic for years now and read voraciously in the field. One thing I have discovered is that there is a prevailing theme that is "counterintuitive." In other words, things don't always work the way they seem or how common sense might suggest, and that "the way it's always been done" is sometimes a pretty flimsy reason to do something also. For example, some people go by the adage that you should feed the working horse all the hay he can eat and then only add concentrates when he can't maintain his weight and energy on hay alone. Sounds good, but some studies suggest that a working horse will tolerate his work and recover better if part of his feed is concentrates, even if he is already keeping good weight.
We also have to remember that a horse's weight (or ours, for that matter) is a composite of bone, muscle, organs, fat, fluids and other stuff. When we "eyeball' our horse in his corral and try to determine for ourselves if he is in "good flesh" or not, it's a highly subjective impression we give ourselves. We should be asking "What's his body fat content? How much lean muscle is he carrying? What's his ability to convert oxygen for aerobic exercise? What's his bone density? How well are his enzymes systems adapted to process carbs, fats and proteins? What is his ability to absorb and store glycogen?" These are difficult if not impossible to answer without expensive tests and a veterinary degree. When a western pleasure rider looks at his fat a** Quarter horse, he's happy if he sees a hind end that could cause a solar eclipse. He would think our horses are too thin. So every horse owner is "looking " for something different to tell him that his horse has the right "substance."
Horses use different feeds differently and those feeds are not very interchangable. Some are mislead to think that " a calorie is a calorie is a calorie." In other words, some think that it doesn't matter what form of feed you give a thin horse that makes him appear to have more substance, as long as you get the "weight" on him. And if all you want is for him to carry more "flesh" on him, you can use carbs, fat, or protein to do the job. The question should be "What type of 'flesh' are you putting on him?" The energy levels or calories you see assigned to feeds in charts and textbooks are estimates of how much caloric energy is produced when the feed is burned in a laboratory. Things work a bit differently inside the horse. Here, feeds are broken down with enzymes, acids, and body fluids. Then the energy released by the breaking of molecular bonds can be used in various body processes, and other bits and pieces can be used to build tissue, construct a hormone molecule, or whatever. Different feeds are absorbed in different places along the digestive tract, and some are useless or maybe harmful if they are processed in the wrong place along the gut. For example, a heavy feeding of grain may overwhelm the small intestine ( where carbs, protein and most nutrients are absorbed) and pass on to the hind gut where it can cause acidosis, colic, founder and death. This scares a lot of people off of grain altogether, which is an overreaction. I think this sentiment is largely what drives many people's search for a "safer" feed, like beet pulp. On the other hand, fiber largely passes though the small intestine and is most useful in the hind gut, where it is fermented and can produce VFA's for fuel.
There are some screwy rules about feeds that will shed some light if we can learn and abide by them: 1) Carbs can be used for aerobic work, anaerobic work, or stored as fat. They are converted to glucose, the primary fuel of locomotion, and the only fuel of the nervous system. Ongoing supplies are critical for life itself, and especially for ongoing exercise. Depleted levels of glucose lead to lethargy, coma and death. 2) Protein is used to build tissue, produce hormones, and is a very metabolically expensive source for energy, but can be used in a pinch. Excess supplies of protein can be excreted or stored as fat. 3) Fat can't be turned into protein or glycogen. It can be burned aerobically "on the flame of glycogen" or stored as excess, and may cause too much insulation or heart and blood vessel stress. 4) High fat intake can block a horse's ability to store crucial glycogen. 5) Carbs are actually a "cooler" feed, because they keep all the systems running better--better heart rate recoveries, better hydration, better sweating mechanism, and better appetites and desire to drink. The heart, the muscles (including the muscle lining of the GI tract) and the nervous system all run primarily on glucose. 6) There are some carbs, some fat, and some protein in almost every horse feed. The trick is to feed the right proportions of each to the exercising horse--and keep feeding them throughout the ride--so that the horse maintains his energy level, hydration, gut motility, hunger and thirst mechanisms, and avoids catabolically breaking down his tissues from prolonged exercise. That's enough for now. I have to go pee. Dr Q, who is doing the pee-pee dance.


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