Free Equine Diet Advice Online Is Worth What You Pay for It
With many people staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, folks have more time than ever to hang out in online forums, Facebook groups, and other internet locations seeking advice on any range of horse-related questions. I admit I’m guilty as charged. I’ve listened to a number of educational webinars and Facebook live events that have challenged me to think about how I interact with my horse in different ways. I’ve also learned some new things I’m sure will be helpful now and in the future.

This, though, is a cautionary tale because now, as always, I see owners seeking nutrition-related advice online, and as I read the responses my heart sinks. The posts start off something like “I have a 15.1-hand Quarter Horse gelding that needs to gain weight, and I’m wondering what I should feed him?” Or, “My 16.2-hand Thoroughbred mare has become tense and jumpy when I ride outside the arena. Is there anything I could feed that would help her be more ridable?”

What typically follows is often 10s if not hundreds of responses: “Feed him senior … feed him some rice bran and beet pulp … feed him more hay … add some soybean meal … feed her oil … feed her beet pulp … feed her A-B-C herbal supplement for mares … feed her X-Y-Z calming supplement … stop feeding her grain,” and the posts go on.

Some of this advice might work. But here’s my problem: The original posts don’t include nearly enough information for responders to be able to provide any sort of informed recommendations. Therefore, much of the advice given is possibly way off-base.

In the case of the gelding, how old is he? What is he currently eating? Is he being worked? If so, how hard? Has a veterinarian check his teeth? Has he had a fecal egg test to determine internal parasite burden? Does he live alone or in a group? Is he in a stall, pasture, or dirt lot? How many times a day is he fed? What does he weigh? Is he losing weight all over, or is he only losing topline? Is he in any kind of pain? Has he always been underweight, or is the weight loss relatively sudden? What is his manure like? What type of forage does he eat? Has he had a wellness exam?

Similarly, for the mare, how much does she weigh? How old is she? How much and what type of work does she get? What’s she being fed and in what quantities? How long has she exhibited this behavior? Did anything in her life change around the time it started? Is she stabled or kept on pasture or drylot? What does her daily routine look like? Is she the same when accompanied by another horse? Is she the same under saddle and on the ground in the area where it happens?

Before I would make recommendations on what to feed either of these horses, I would want answers to many of the questions posed here as well as others. They would result in a fuller picture of what’s going on and, potentially, the most sensible course of action. So, while internet forums can result in a lot of information, some of which might be good, keep in mind that the people answering likely don’t have the complete picture of what is going on with your horse. When you go to your veterinarian or qualified equine nutritionist, they will know the questions to ask to gather the information needed to make an informed recommendation.

Their advice might not be free, but it shouldn’t leave you wading through endless opinions based on scarce data and mostly anecdote as to what you should feed your horse. Implementing such free advice can end up being costly overall if you feed the wrong feeds or if an underlying health condition needs attention. So be cautious when soliciting advice online, and know that in many cases what you’re getting are unqualified opinions.