Blog Hop: Supplements

I’m late to the supplements blog hop party, but I’ve wanted to write about it for a little while because it’s something I’m agonizing over right now.

Tristan has been on various regimens in the past, and here’s what he’s getting right now.

1/2 quart of Blue Seal Carb Guard, AM & PM

Basically nothing, basically cardboard. He’s been on this since his Cushings diagnosis. It does the job of making him feel like he’s getting grain, serving as a vehicle for his meds, and giving him at least some very, very basic nutrition that he’s not getting out of hay or grass.

1 gram of pergolide, AM, ~$0.50 per day

Cushings meds. Non-negotiable. They keep him alive (or, at least, from progressing in a nasty degenerative condition). He’s held quite well on 1 gram, but we test regularly and keep a close eye on him. I expect that this will increase at some point in the (hopefully distant) future. I’ve toyed with the idea of Prascend, the name brand tablet version, but can’t talk myself into it since he does just fine on the compounded powder.

200mg of cetirizine, AM & PM, ~$3.00 per day

Summer allergy meds. Not cheap. But they prevent the hives, and they are seasonal – roughly 2.5 months out of the year. So this is more like an annual expense of $500 or so than an ongoing monthly cost.

6mL Pentosan, IM, every 4 weeks, ~$15 per dose

Tris does fantastically well on this, and I have zero intentions of changing it. It’s far cheaper than Adequan or joint injections, and I can feel the difference in our rides in the week after he gets a dose. I’m actually considering moving him to every 3 weeks.

In general nutrition terms, he’s also out on grass and eats about 4 flakes of hay a day.

Now, the part I’m thinking through hard.

Right now, he’s on SmartVite Perform Senior, 2 scoops or about 100mg a day, and 10,000 mg of MSM a day, also through SmartPak.

As anyone who has ever fed SmartPaks knows, they are convenient and terrific…and expensive. Tristan’s run me about $45 per month, and I am staring down the gullet of several thousand dollars in vet bills between his hijinks and then the dog’s.

If I saw a clear, obvious, discernable benefit from the supplements I would not be having this conversation. I’d find a way to make it work.

But I’m not entirely sure he’s eating them. I think he’s powderizing the supplements and picking out his grain. He’s definitely leaving a lot of mashed up formerly-pellet powder in his grain bucket. I need to do some definitive tests to be sure it’s the supplements and not the grain he’s leaving behind – and vice versa – but he’s done this before with other supplements.

If he’s truly not eating them, then I have two options: just cancel them and let him be on what he’s eating now, or find something else that he will eat.

He’s on the SmartVite because I wanted, essentially, a multivitamin. Time on grass is limited in Vermont, and he gets so little grain he’s certainly not getting the full benefit of whatever might be in that. I wanted to cover up any gaps he might have in his nutritional profile with the feed-through equivalent of a band-aid, which I admit is a bit lazy of me.

But do I really need to do that? Is there something I could be doing better? Is he really not even eating the supplements and I’m spending $$ on powder that gets dumped from his grain bucket? I’m a bit nervous about dropping the idea of a vitamin supplement out of his diet entirely.

Anyone have consoling thoughts for me? Suggestions of other vitamin supplements or ration balancers?

nutrition · supplements

The Supplement Dance

I’ve talked before about Tristan’s nutrition and diet, and the ways I’ve tweaked that.

For many years, I’ve been a faithful user of HorseTech supplements. I still love them. I still think they’re the best quality, best customer service, best availability/combination of ingredients you can get.


(Of course there’s a but – otherwise there would not be a blog post.)

Tristan is very slowly – incrementally – almost imperceptibly – becoming a pickier eater. I don’t know if it’s age, Cushings, or what. The fact remains that my little rescue horse, who used to hoover up everything in his immediate vicinity – edible or not – is just a touch fussy now.

though he still gets mad when he has to work instead of eat dinner

For some time now, he doesn’t eat his morning grain until he gets back from turnout. When you toss him his breakfast he spurns it in favor of hay. Granted: he does not get much (about 1.5 cups at a time) and it’s a really bland grain (Blue Seal’s Carb Guard). Still, two or three years ago, Tristan turning away from grain would have been a sign of the apocalypse. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, call the vet immediately.

HorseTech supplements are typically a powder, and Tristan started actively leaving the powder behind. I added flavoring. That worked for a little while. I switched his supplements – High Point Grass/Mixed Hay and ReitHoof – to pellets from powder when that became available. That worked for a little while. Then it didn’t. The barn manager thought that he was sniffing through the pellets carefully, picking out the grain, and in the process smooshing the pellets back into powder with his nose, guaranteeing he would not eat them.

In the last few weeks, we have arrived at an impasse. I knew I wanted Tristan on an overall vitamin/mineral package, but I just wasn’t excited by anything the barn already offered or I could purchase locally at Tractor Supply.

Last week during yet another SmartPak 50% off sale, I made a choice. I started Tristan on SmartPak supplements. First, I added SmartVite Senior Perform as his basic vitamin/mineral supplement.

I also spent quite a bit of time thinking about muscle supplements. In the past, I’ve added some alfalfa for extra protein to support muscle growth, but I never saw a huge difference. I looked at a few different muscle supplements, and then I looked more closely at how they matched up with SmartPituitary Senior Pellets.

One of the key symptoms of Cushings is muscle wasting, and it’s one of Tristan’s biggest indicators, so any Cushings-oriented supplement would have plenty of muscle support. It fit my bill, was a bit less pricey than the other supplements I looked at, and I’ll be curious to see if it helps support him in any other way. He is a very, very low-symptom Cushings horse, responding well to the pergolide with few (if any) spikes in his bloodwork, even seasonally, so I felt like a little bit of support would help but not that I would be crushed if it didn’t help him.

We’re about a week in, and he’s eating both of them just fine. It’s obviously way too early to see any clear results, but we’ll see!


THANK YOU to the blogosphere!

A big, huge thank you to everyone who commented and weighed in on the question of graining + riding. Consensus seems to be that it really won’t hurt either way, but most of us wait anyway. I’m glad I’m not too much of an outlier.

A commenter also pointed to the existence of another blog post giving some of the great scientific background to the conversation, from Team Flying Solo, which I have to apologize out; it actually sparked my thinking on the topic and led to my post, but I failed to acknowledge its existence.

So here, go and read and get some more background: Rocket Fuel & Other Stories


Should you wait to ride after grain?

Here’s a problem I’ve been struggling with on and off for quite a while now.

The barn feeds hay at 4pm, then grains at 5pm. If everything is going right for me, I get to the barn right around 5pm. Some days right before they get grain; some days after.

It’s the days after that concern me. If I get there and he’s in the midst of his grain – he gets just under 2lb per feeding now – my rule of thumb is to wait a solid hour. And then I still worry. A lot. Definitely way more than I should.

Typically, if I’m riding earlier in the afternoon, the rule is to hold grain until he has completely cooled out. I’m not just talking returning to a resting heart rate – I’m talking dry & cool.

I have no problem with him eating forage while sweaty/hot, or pulling him off a pile of hay to ride. (The only exception is if he’s genuinely so hot I want him to keep walking to cool, and I try not to work him that hard anyway. See above re: worry.)

Does anyone else have this timing problem? I believe science has officially said that I can grain my horse whenever I want in relation to riding, but I can’t get ride of the nagging worry. Too much Pony Club, maybe.

What do you do?

nutrition · trailering

Feeding Beet Pulp

Tristan has not been drinking as much as I would like lately, and with plans to take him on the road on Sunday, I wanted some extra tricks up my sleeve. I’ll incorporate electrolytes into his feeding plan over the next few days, but wanted something to give him on Sunday while we’re away.

Enter beet pulp. Beet pulp is basically the shreds of what’s left over after all the sugar has been processed out of beets. Sounds delicious, right? It’s actually nutritious (for horses, anyway) and most importantly low in starch. Dr. Kellon, a leading expert on Cushings nutrition, suggests it as great safe calories. While it can actually be fed dry (another old wives’ tale bites the dust), it also absorbs a TON of water – which makes it ideal for my purposes.

I bought 35lb of beet pulp for about $13 at my local feed store (literally right off Main Street of the state capital, oh Vermont, never change), making it also pretty inexpensive. Whoo! I queried the collective wisdom of COTH to see if I could feed it intermittently, and the answer was a strong affirmative. (Let me hasten to add that COTH is not my one-stop-shop for veterinary answers, but for straightforward practical questions, they are great. When the answers all come back “yup, no problem, go ahead” I feel on safe ground.)

To be extra cautious, I am giving him a few handfuls per day in the days leading up to the ride to get his gut used to the beet pulp again. (He has eaten it in the past at other barns with no problem.)

So tonight, after puppy class, I went out to give him his first bit of beet pulp. I mixed two heaping handfuls of dry shredded beet pulp with about 2Q of water.

Dry, before adding water.
After adding water.
Then I set my timer for 15 minutes and proceeded to wander around. I didn’t want to start on any cleaning projects because I quite foolishly had not changed into jeans after work and didn’t want to completely destroy my work pants. I petted Tristan on the nose (he was BUSY with his HAY, MOM), and wandered around outside.
My pretty new car, posing in front of the dry lot paddocks, with foliage backdrop.
I checked on the water level in Tristan’s paddock: pretty good. (Not low enough to make me haul more out in my work pants…)

Then I turned around and the barn was pretty.
I brought the beet pulp out so it could enjoy the view. This is halfway through soaking.
Done! This is especially soupy beet pulp, but I was still amazed at how much water it soaked up.
A+ pony approved!
Tristan ate the beet pulp up beautifully, even slurping the extra water. Victory! (For now, says the pessimistic side of me.)
He’ll get a few more handfuls Friday & Saturday night, and then half a bucket of dry + full bucket of water on Sunday at lunch. Every little bit of extra water I can get into him helps.

Feeding & Nutrition Update

Since I’ve put a fair amount of thought into this recently, and since I am avoiding writing a 30 minute presentation on the War of 1812 I have to give at the end of the week, I thought I’d do an overview of what Tristan is eating right now, and why I’ve made those decisions.

When Tristan was diagnosed with Cushings, I spent a lot of time thinking very thoroughly about each aspect of his diet. There are some pieces of it I still have under review, but overall, I’m happy with where we are right now.

First things first: forage. Tristan gets 2 flakes of grass hay AM and PM. When it’s cooler at night, he gets an extra flake or two at night check. When I ride him in the evening, I often (but not always) toss him an extra flake to work on.

Throughout the summer, he was on about 5-6 hours of grass turnout per day. He was pulled off the grass by 1pm each day at the latest, and because he was already going out with the other Cushings horse in the barn (he and the other gelding were until recently joint gay uncle babysitters for the yearling filly), he was always turned out in the medium-to-poor grass pasture anyway.

Grass turnouts

Now that it’s starting to frost over at night, the barn manager is evaluating each day on an individual basis. If the weather has been ok, and the grass hasn’t been stressed, they still get to go out on it. If there’s been a frost or chill overnight, Tristan and Pari are put on a dry lot with 2-3 flakes of hay each. (In effect, it’s free choice hay while they’re turned out, since it’s usually fed in a hay net or multiple small piles, and they check on it through turnout.)

I went back and forth, but ultimately made the decision NOT to test the NSC levels of the hay he’s eating right now, for a bunch of reasons: his ACTH levels were very low, he was handling the pergolide beautifully, and I didn’t have a lot of options for an alternative supplier. If he really truly needed every speck of his diet controlled, I would test the hay and then go to either soaking it (really, really impractical and darn near impossible in Vermont in the winter) or buying my own low-NSC hay through a national distributor like Standlee. I strongly suspect this course is in our future, but for now I opted to change as few variables as possible and wait for his updated ACTH blood test before taking drastic measures. The barn has also tested batches of hay from this distributor in the past, and they’ve all come back low NSC, which gave me a measure of confidence that future batches would be as well. (Yes, I realize it can be different for each cutting, but this farmer has a history of consistency, which was enough for me for now.)

LOVE these guys.

Tristan is still on his customized supplement from HorseTech. The base is their High Point Grass/Mixed Hay supplement which is designed to basically fill in nutritional needs for a horse that’s eating exclusively grass and/or hay. I worked with HorseTech to add a few things to it: I doubled the Vitamin E content up to 1,500 IU a day after quite a bit of research, in order to help support his muscle growth. I also added in 20mg of biotin a day, and HorseTech suggested bumping up the lysine and methione as well, all to support hoof growth as he continues to struggle a bit after his surgery.

Finally, his grain. The barn feeds Blue Seal feed, which is not my favorite but is perfectly fine. Pre-diagnosis, he was eating 1/2 quart AM + PM of their senior feed, Sentinel LS. Post-diagnosis, he initial went on the Performance LS but after checking in with the vet we switched him to the Carb Guard. He has been on that before and I knew he’d eat it up, even though it is more bland. Until last week, he was at 1 quart AM + PM (at 1.3lbs per quart, so 2.6lbs per day). After getting some opinions and finally talking to my friend J., we’re bumping him up to 1.5 quarts AM + PM (so a total of 3.9lbs per day).

The last addition is something else designed to help him add a little bit of weight before winter comes. He’s not skinny, but he is just a teensy bit ribbier than I want, especially headed into winter. I’m not a believer in really bulking a horse up to the point of obesity before winter, but knowing how he dropped weight last winter I want him to have a little more fat over his ribs. Right now, you can see his ribs just slightly when you look at him obliquely, and you can feel them if you press in.

So in addition to the Carb Guard, he’s getting 1/4 quart of alfalfa pellets AM + PM. If I like the way he’s adding weight on that, and if it does the impossible and adds some energy even better! We can always keep adding that over the winter, and he can get some at lunch as a snack in the winter if he needs. I chose pellets over cubes or straight up hay because it’s easy to give with his grain, and the barn keeps it on hand already.

The biggest question area going forward is how to handle hay and grass going forward. For now, I haven’t made any real changes other than being careful about turnout when the sugar content of the grass is high. However, it’s perfectly possible that I will have to really re-examine his options going forward.

So, for now:
2 flakes hay AM + PM
1.5Q of Carb Guard AM + PM
1/4Q of alfalfa pellets AM + PM
1 scoop High Point Custom Blend AM + PM
grass turnout or free choice hay

nutrition · supplements

How Should I Feed My Horse Salt? Part 2

In Part 1, I looked at the different ways to feed a horse salt, and the pros and cons of each.

Here, in Part 2, I’ll go over what I’ve done for Tristan in the past, and what I plan on doing forward based on my research.

Not long after I brought Tristan, home, he started displaying one of the classic signs of mineral deficiency: coprophagia. It was winter, he wasn’t on grain, and he was out 24/7, so boredom was not really a factor. After a few days of reading and talking to people, I added a salt block to his field – a red trace mineral 50lb block. The coprophagia vanished overnight.

When he came inside to a stall part of the day about 9 months later, I scaled down to a 3lb block in holder. One of these:

It lasted about two weeks. Then he ripped it off the wall. I spent an hour sifting through the shavings to find the screw and put it back up. Lather, rinse, repeat. Soon enough, I decided that the convenience of a wall-mounted salt block was not worth the stress of worrying about him stepping on a screw. I tossed it in his grain bucket.
This worked most of the time, until he got to the end of the salt block. The little ones go faster, and break up into small chunks easier. It broke up so quickly that half his grain bucket was red salt, and he went off his grain because it probably tasted like nothing but salt.
After that, I turned to the Himalayan salt licks for reason of expediency: they came on those convenient tie ropes, and I could just tie one to the bars of his stall and not worry about a salt block holder.
But jeez, they were expensive, and he went through them about once a month – or sometimes much less time. They were usually the first thing to fall off the list if I had an unexpected vet visit or farrier bill. Eventually they became an occasional treat. He always loved them, but I was buying them at the rate and price of a good joint supplement!

Enter our move to Vermont. He started again with the coprophagia in his stall, and armed with my previous experiences, I went big: 50lb salt block, with a holder, in his stall. I picked red because of the added iron, and anything I can do to get more energy into him is a bonus in my mind.

Honestly, I just bought whatever was available at Tractor Supply, and there are some other options that might’ve been better as holders: some that hang over the side of the stall, for example. That would save me time fishing it out of the shavings in the back of his stall on a regular basis. But then, they wouldn’t hold the small chunks at the end as well, so it probably evens out.
Since I’ve started doing this, he’s gone through three blocks at a rate of about one every 6-8 months. I pay about $10 for them at Tractor Supply, depending on sale prices. Very affordable! But is he getting enough salt?
Let’s say it’s the inside number of 50 lbs in 6 months. That’s 180 days, so on average 1/4 lb a day, or 4 ounces. Per my math, that’s actually a little more than the approximate amount of salt for a 1,000 lb horse in regular work of 2.4 ounces. All things being equal, Tristan gets probably a little more salt than he should!
He does not, however, get enough to cause toxicity, and the amount he eats per day is highly variable. I’m going to assume he regulates himself.
So after all that, what am I going to do about his salt intake?
Absolutely nothing, actually. I set out to find out if the red, or added mineral, salt blocks were ok to feed him, and they are. I wanted to know if he was getting enough salt – and he definitely is!
Here’s the only thing I might change: I might invest in an electrolyte supplement to add on days when he sweats more heavily in the summer. I’m talking very occasionally – once every two weeks. He’s not much of a sweater, thanks to his desert heritage. 
So that was a lot of work and reading for no change, but I feel better overall about my decisions. They were admittedly made on guesswork and instinct, but they turned out to be ok. (Not always the case!) And I hope that going through it all on the blog helped someone out there make decisions too.