(post by Jason) As most of you know I have been doing some equine nutritional consulting the past few months. Most of the time when I am initially discussing a horse with a client the first question I get asked is whether or not their supplement program is correct for treating the situation or condition at hand.
In most cases I think telling my clients that I have no idea really gave them pause as to whether or not dealing with me was a smart idea. The experts that they’d previously consulted, including several well known nutrition professionals, had ALL been full of free advice and not so free products that would help cure the situation of the moment. Off the cuff advice is worth exactly what you pay for it in most cases. I can tell you that after twenty years of nutritional consulting on thousands of farms across two countries there has only been a hand full of cases where adding or deleting any single ingredient or series of ingredients without understanding the bigger picture has provided a magic bullet that cured the problem at hand. That’s why adding a supplement or ingredient, even on the advice of “experts” who don’t first take the time to understand the whole picture, is almost always a waste of time and money.
The big picture always begins with a hay sample or pasture sample or both. I’ve heard every excuse in the book for why owners aren’t interested in taking them. Mostly it’s that the forage changes quite often. I understand that forage changes over time…..it does here too which is why we send out multiple samples throughout the year. It’s not that expensive and if nothing else it helps give you an idea if you are actually getting value for your money when you buy hay or other forage. When I do a nutritional analysis I want to see the full picture of what the horse is eating *today*, not next week or next year. Forage, either pasture or hay or both, makes up the lion’s share of almost every horse’s diet. Most people have no idea what it’s bringing to the table or not, and without a test I don’t either. I absolutely do not have enough information to make an informed decision about supplements without having a current hay and/or pasture analysis at hand.
The second part of the big picture is all about understanding the environment that the horse lives in as well as the horse’s disposition and mindset. Gaining a feel for the owner’s disposition and mindset is a part of this as well. There is no substitute for seeing the horse and it’s stall, turnout, feed, etc with my own two eyes. When distance or budgetary constraints don’t permit an on farm visit I will ask clients a very long and thorough list of questions. In addition I ask them for recent pictures of the horse and the areas of the farm in which the horse lives.
When I feel like I have built a complete picture the next step is to analyze the horse’s current diet to see what comes of it. I have a ration balancing program on my computer that I use to help me do this but analyzing rations is at least as much an art as it is a science. I then write a report to share my findings with my client and ONLY AFTER THIS HAS BEEN DONE will I offer management solutions and feed changes which may be appropriate to treat or help fix the problem at hand.
I think it’s important to note that I am not affiliated in any way with any company that sells equine nutrition products. Product reps and equine nutrition professionals that work directly or indirectly for companies that sell products can absolutely offer up good information if they’re willing to take the time to do so. Just understand that since the company pays them most or all of their wages they are getting paid to offer solutions that involve one or more of their products. Most of my clients have point blank asked me to recommend products. I often recommend product categories instead of one specific product, and I also give them a list of ingredient sources to look for (and some to avoid) as they compare labels. This gives them some flexibility as far as finding a distributor and price point that works for them.
Always remember it is important to know what you are supplementing and why, otherwise you are simply having to guess.