I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts that when I’m not thinking about horses and how to keep them healthy and fit, I spend a lot of time thinking about (and sometimes doing some things about) my own health and fitness. This summer I indulged the fitness enthusiast (and super nerd) in me by attending first ever The Radiance Retreat in the beautiful mountains of Ashville, NC. Hosted by fitness experts (and seriously kick-a$$ chicas) Jen Sinkler, Neghar Fonooni and Jill Coleman, this 3 day women’s only fitness and mindset retreat covered everything from perfecting your snatch (a tough but awesome Olympic Weightlifting technique) to eating to fuel your body and soul and learning to recognize and radiate your inner awesomeness. If fitness and being the best version of yourself is something you’re into, I highly recommend this event (which will be held again in Santa Monica in January, so sign up now cause spots are going fast!).
On of the nutritional techniques we briefly talked about was intermittent fasting (aka IF), something I’ve been dabbling in since May of this year. The idea behind intermittent fasting is that you have set windows of “feeding time” followed by prolonged periods of fasting. I won’t go into the details of how and why because I’m sure I wouldn’t do it justice but if you’re interested in learning more check out LeanGains or EatStopEat. It's certainly not for everyone, but for me it works because I am not a breakfast eater, I’m just not hungry in the mornings and eating a meal before 8am guarantees that I’ll be gnawing off my own arm off by 10:30am and will seriously blow my daily caloric intake by lunchtime. Also, I like to feel full after I eat, and not just “not hungry” or sated but really truly “food baby” full. And eating 3-5 small meals a day (and not consuming enough calories to rival Michael Phelps or a sumo wrestler) for me means never being really full. So I’ve been happy with my venture into IF, it’s helping me make smarter food choices (knowing I’m going to be fasting has helped me lay off the sugar spike/crash foods that I normally abuse), my body composition is improving without feeling like I’m “dieting” and I still get to feel full.

   But I always worry when there is a hot new trend in human medicine/fitness that equestrians will grab onto it and try applying it to our equine athletes. Remember those neon strips on every Olympic athlete last summer? I’m not even sure I believe that Kinesio Tape helps humans (the MDs aren't sure either) but now we’re strapping up our horses in neon strips? So while I’ve been pleased with IF and think you should give it a try if you’re looking for a new way to structure your meals, I don’t want anyone thinking I would be a proponent of intermittent fasting in horses. Horses and fasting are two words that should never be used in the same sentence (unless you’re prepping for a veterinary procedure like a gastroscopy, insulin testing or surgery). In the wild horses were designed to live on the open plains, constantly on the move, covering up to 25 miles a day in search of food and water supplies. Because they mainly live in grassland regions they have to constantly graze for up to 18 hours a day to meet their caloric needs. And because they are prey animals and designed to flee at first sign of a predator they can’t have a heavy meal weighing them down, they have small stomachs and a streamlined GI tract.

PictureGrade 3/3 Bleeding Gastric Ulcer in a Horse
    So what would happen if a horse was placed on an IF program? If we fed them one to two very large meals a day with nothing in between? (sadly the way many stabled horses are fed) Well the number one thing that would develop would be gastric ulcers. When a horse constantly grazes they are constantly producing saliva with each bite that coats the lining of the stomach, buffering the gastric acids and helping to prevent ulcers. When we feed very large meal, especially grain meals, horses produce even more stomach acids than when eating a small hay or grass meal and they produce much LESS saliva per bite of grain compared to per bite of hay. So we’re doing double damage by increasing the acid and decreasing the buffer. And what happens between meals, when they’re in a fasted state? Well they continue to have acidic fluid in their stomachs but because they are not chewing, there is no saliva production. Fasting is so effective and reliable at producing gastric ulcers that that’s how researchers induce ulcers in their experimental horses in order to study how they heal!

    So while I prefer an eating pattern that involves 8 hours of munching followed by 16 hours of fasting (most of which are spent sleeping), this is the exact opposite of what our horses should be doing. In this case what's good for the goose is NOT good for the gander!
   We should strive to feed our horses multiple small meals throughout the day while always having some kind of forage (grass or hay) in front of them all day long to help buffer their stomach acids and prevent painful gastric ulcers.


In the month of September 2013 Dr. Norton will be offering FREE ONE-on-ONE equine nutrition consultations!!!

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