Monday 13 May 2013

Would you like to supersize your sweetfeed? How about a side of beetpulp with that hay...

Let's see, where to begin.

What was the first thing that was subpar about my horse.

I guess it would be - her body condition.  In the eyes of Dr. Lana, she was obviously much too thin. Which is, of course, why she felt the need to announce that she had the pelvis of a dairy cow.

Oh dear. This was not a good start. Little did Dr. Lana know that at the time, my entire life revolved around preaching the miraculous findings of something called "The Lifespan Study" to pet owners.  Nestle Purina had spent an insane amount of time and money proving that dogs fed 25% less food and maintained at a "lean body condition" lived longer than their pair matched littermates that were allowed to become chubby little labrador sausages, typical of what you might see in the neighbourhood dog park.

Summary - Lifespan Study

And so, as part of my glamorous career I went here, there, everywhere - to trade shows and vet tech colleges and pet store staff training events - showing people how to perform "the healthy hug", which was essentially a way of squeezing dogs to determine if they were at their "ideal body condition" and therefore likely to live "long, healthy lives".

Of course, over time the project was proven to be an abject failure.

The competition quickly twisted the results of Purina's findings into "Dogs live longer when they eat less Dog Chow", flushing any benefit of 14 years of careful data collection down the toilet. Yes, this was technically true based on the findings of the study, but totally irrelevant (since dogs live longer eating less of ANY food versus being allowed to become overweight).  However, the average pet owner doesn't get caught up in semantics, or the nuances of published research - they just want what is best for their dog.

Nice work, Purina - remember, no good deed goes unpunished.  Forget research. They would have been better off spending the gobs of money spent on this study on a lifetime supply of wild caught quail and fru-fru berries, because that is what really sells in the land of pet food.

"Surely this 18 year old at Pet Valu knows her shit, and yes, my chihuahua is very reminiscent of her timber wolf ancestors...sign me up for that $80 bag of elk and tapioca..." 

Anyway, forgetting all of that (and trust me, I really do try to forget)... the most intriguing finding of "The Lifespan Study" to me, as a horse owner, was the fact that dogs fed to a "lean body condition" had significantly reduced incidence of osteoarthritis at the age of 8 years old

Purina Lifespan Study - Osteoarthritis

"Food intake is an environmental factor that may have a profound effect on development of osteoarthritis in dogs"

Now I know dogs aren't horses, and we can't always extrapolate across species, but to me, it seemed like a no brainer to give this a whirl - how could it possibly hurt?  Anything that kept my horse sounder, longer, sounded like a good deal to me. Worst that could happen was nothing, I figured, and I made a commitment early on to keep Ms. V lean in hopes of staving off joint disease.

And so, instead of pumping her full of groceries until she had a jiggling, rippling, dimpled meatball of an ass as is expected with the average hunter or dressage horse, I had instructed the farmer at Lilliput to feed her to a "moderate" body condition score.  I showed him a chart with a little picture, explained how I wanted to be able to feel her ribs, and did not want to see spongy gobs of fat on either side of her tailhead - and voila. He did exactly what I asked.

Crazy, eh?

Actually, this is no easy feat when you are dealing with a horse in the process of growing a full hand between the ages of three and five, and thinking back, he did an exemplary job.

But Dr. Lana would have none of this.  Forget that study. She looks too thin. What would people think when they saw this bonerack in her stable?  This needed to be corrected, even if it meant she became a hobbling cripple somewhere down the road.

So which one of us was right?

Who knows. The research on the subject is really thin (pardon the pun), however the bottom line is that from a "literature review" point of view, when it comes to dressage horses as long as your horse isn't emaciated or exploding at the seams, anywhere from 4 - 7 on the Henneke body condition score chart is deemed to be "acceptable".

From a "catty dressage people whispering behind your back about what a lousy horse owner you are" point of view though, there is no doubt that thin takes the cake - a great number of horse owners are distressed by the notion that a horse has bones contained somewhere within its body - skeletons should apparently be hidden away in nice smooth layers of flab.

And so what if the flab erases half of a horse's athleticism - obesity has its benefits.  Freaking out and throwing your adult amateur rider to the ground is a lot of work when you have to haul a few extra hundred pounds around when you attempt to leap and buck. Why bother. For many riders, the sound of a plodding earthbound trot that causes the arena dirt to throb like a tuner car's subwoofer at a stoplight is the sound of safety.  As an added bonus, insulin resistance builds a nice cresty look so much faster than correct training alone.

So, I kind of see her point. Fat = happy in the mind of many riders, and since she was trying to drum up business for this new joint venture, housing skinny little horses was not in line with "good advertising"

But, as with many things relating to Dr. Lana over time, I actually don't think her intentions were all self motivated in a businesswoman kind of way. I really and truly do believe that she thought Ms. V looked too skinny - we just had different views on what constituted the look of "an athletic horse". Her heart was in the right place. It was just an entirely different place than mine. I think part of the problem was that I had been raised with thoroughbreds and loved the look of a tucked up lean horse, whereas Dr. Lana was more of a field hunter kind of woman herself - her eye had been trained to crave a horse with a meatier appearance.


Dr. Lana
Really, it is no different than with people - we all have our preferences when it comes to body type.  Apparently there are people out there in the world who think Gwyneth Paltrow actually looks good in a bikini. If I were a man, or switching teams, I would want to feed her a sandwich or two with a side of cupcakes so I wouldn't crush her if I rolled over in bed. But hey, she is apparently the "sexiest woman alive" so what do I know. And why does it matter. As long as she doesn't do anything stupid like feed her children bizarre elimination diets, who cares.

Annnyways, Ms. V was now residing in Dr. Lana's barn, and it made perfect sense to to her that we proceed to make Ms. V look exactly the way she wanted her to look, with no consideration whatsoever of my opinion on the matter. Logical, no?

And so began the ongoing battle of the bulge. Or lack thereof.


  1. Oh, that is NOT a good start.

    I started out in eventer-land, where even the low level horses are a bit leaner. I don't like jutting ribs, but I want to be able to *feel* them at least, and see them in the right light.

    Dressage people seem to want chubby. Never mind if your horse is of a breed where chubby is dangerous (Morgans!), or if a vet has advised you to keep your horse a little leaner; trainers seem to think that they'll be accused of horse abuse if any horse in the barn has any sign of ribs.

    It's very annoying.

  2. Oh god, don't get me started on this fight. My mom sent a horse down to FL for me to train for her, and he arrived 200lbs overweight at least. I got the weight off, got him nice and muscled (and, you know, able to be handled on the ground and ridden) and then sent him back up five months later. It's a 24 hour ride on the shipping truck to get him back to her, and horses pretty much always lose 10-15% of their weight on those things through dehydration. I got a screeching phone call about how he was clearly dying (he's fine). Two weeks later I went to see him and he'd not only put the weight back on that he lost from the truck (which he did in the first 48 hours, thanks to rehydration, not to the 9 quarts of sweet feed and entire bale of alfalfa and two cups of rice bran oil she was giving him every day), but he'd gained back a significant amount of the weight he'd lost (see above feeding regimen). I wanted to cry. He's an enormous horse, and holding all that weight is just going to break down his poor joints sooner. My horse has ribs you can feel and, as the commenter above described, see in the right light. I think she looks perfect. Other folks at the barn think I am starving her to death. The good news is, my barn owner is both a vet and an outstanding dressage rider and she and I agree completely on body condition. She's raking in the medals on horses who look like they could go jump XC tomorrow. So, we've got at least one dressage person out there who gets it!

    1. Reading about your mom's feeding regimen is giving ME a stomach ache! Yikes. I'm surprised Mr. Horse didn't colic going straight from your sensible program to pack-on-the-pounds mode. Glad your barn owner agrees with you about sensible horse weight. I have also seen animals kept too THIN by misguided owners, and that's scary, too.

  3. I still walk around in astonishment at all the fat horses at dressage shows! Even though I grew up with quarter horses back when performance horses also did halter (but at the very start of the Impressive influence) I still don't like horses *fat.* It's aesthetically unappealing and horses don't move as well when that overweight. I love that Purina study and try to follow it, and think it makes a big difference for both horse and dog health!

  4. Oh, lord, have you hit a hot button with SO MANY horse and dog owners (not to mention human parents, but I won't go there). Perhaps there is some correlation between the media continually telling us that "thin is in" and glamourizing celebs like Ms. Paltrow, and the fact that 3/4 of the population likes to stuff their critters full of food and treats? Because they're "not supposed to" overeat themselves?

    At any rate, I am familiar with that Purina study. My dog is 10 now and I have been hyper-vigilant about her weight her entire life. I am the stingy one with her (carefully measured, high-quality yet not ridiculously overpriced) food and I never get to give her treats because Someone Else gives her so many. "See this line on the measuring cup, Dear? Food goes UP TO here. Not one iota over, because she "looks so hungry." :-) And guess what, despite having a knee repaired and a bit of back arthritis, she boings around like a puppy and the vet does not see arthritic changes in that knee...

    It literally makes me ill to see some of the dogs I've run into. My vet calls it the "footstool" look and she's exactly right: my friend's Cockapoo looked like a small ottoman. The worst ever was a Beagle that was so fat I don't think it could walk. It's (extremely obese) owner was pushing it in a shopping cart. I recently met two cats that were so huge THEY could barely walk; they must have run 25 lbs. apiece, no joke. WHY do people do this??? It's not cute, it's not funny, it's DEADLY!

    *end rant*

    Sorry, this topic upsets me. Haven't even mentioned how fashionable it is to have chubby Hunters here. But I will look forward to the details in your ongoing battle with Dr. Lana. For the record, I think Ms. V. looks lovely in the photo above!

  5. Dave (Wyndym Farm)14 May 2013 at 09:03

    40 yrs studying nutrition- human at first, published small animal then finally equine certification.
    Lots of good points- but mostly just plain funny.
    Laughed through the whole blog- while I was agreeing .

  6. I cook my dogs food in a crock pot which lasts about a week..-1lb ground turkey, 1lb ground pork, 1lb ground beef, collards, kidney beans, chicken broth, tums, carrots, peas, sweet potato, garlic, sometimes eggs or fish. Crazy? probably but its scary when you research commercial dog food. I'm shopping for a horse and anticipate some differences in opinion when it comes to a horses diet..Im praying you eventually found the perfect barn.I'm still looking..haha

    1. In the past 10 years, I have worked for the two largest pet food manufacturers in North America, in their dry food plants, wet food plants, visited the research facilities, met fellow scientists, veterinarians, researchers... and toured most of the rendering plants supplying meat proteins to their plants...and call ME crazy, but I don't find the pet food industry to be scary at all.

      Perhaps I need to do more internet research?

      I do find pet owners who think the pet industry is scary to be scary. That is why I don't work in the industry any more.

    2. Oh Stephanie, you make my heart sing!

    3. Do you think she will cook for her horse too?

    4. Hey you industry shill, don't you have puppies and kittens to grind up or something? That kibble doesn't make itself, you know. Get busy.

    5. Curmudgeon, you're letting me vent vicariously! That was awesome!

  7. The whole thing is absurd! ABSURD! I ran into a horse at a dressage show recently that ws the most GORGEOUS animal Ive ever seen! She left hunters because she couldnt keep him fat enough! Apparently someone along the lines in his breeding thought it would be a good idea to have an athletic line in there somewhere and so it shows through in this very lovely but athletic looking horse. Sad thing is, they might feel he is too thin for the dressage world once she moves up. At third they should look like total drafty jiggle toads, right?

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  9. Oh, thank you so much for this. While it's not the same type of situation, I have a hard keeper who I found out is allergic to most types of hay, so I have had years of testing and working it out under the watchful eyes of an endless parade of judge-y ladies. We keep our dog on the lean side, and recieve comments (from non-vets) on how he's too skinny.

  10. I think all fat dressage horses are a reflection of all that fat dressage riders.

  11. I bought my 3.5 year old Andalusian X QH mare three months ago. She was being fed 6lbs of Omolene 200 daily and being ridden 3 times a week doing basic w/t/c. Needless to say horsey was a tad chunky when I got her. She didn't look horrible but you couldn't feel her ribs at all. She also had a bit of a dimply crest going on (the Andalusian blood certainly helps!)

    I switched her to Safe Choice and then gradually lowered her from 6lbs to 2lbs. In two months I got her to her ideal weight. Ribs aren't visible but easily felt while most of the crest has gone away. She's ridden 2-4 times a week with occasional longeing sessions. I'm sure I'll need to up her food at some point as her work and muscle mass increase but not for several months.

  12. The "Dr. Lana Horse" image about made me pee. Floating so gracefully through the air, like a blimp.

  13. Good God. I am laughing over this AND the scattails one!!

    We have a 12 yr old border collie mix who is a little chunky, she gets a very strict diet of her over priced kibble/wet dog food at night and only a handful in the morning, as our other dog a lab/sharpei mix tends to only eat at night with the dry/moist mix. The BC mix, will go eat her "sister's" food...

    Now my horse on the other hand.. should start to be that "warmblood" fat horse look... and she isn't, at 12-13 yrs old her breed seems to get a little rounder...
    Not her....I just started her on Omolene 200 at 2 lbs 1x daily, I will increase it to 4 lbs over the next few weeks and am adding in wheat germ oil and oats.
    Plus extra helpings of hay. She came out of winter doing really well, but the rain/cold/heat mix has her looking more race ready than a TB... and she is an ASBx...
    now to get the burrs and wind knots out.... LOL

  14. Scattails is killing me... Need more Curmudgeon!! ;)

  15. I've boarded at numerous barns over the decades, and normally the only choice of hay you get is grass hay (around here). But as soon as I buy a Friesian cross, suddenly EVERY barn I go to insists on feeding her alfalfa hay combined with the utmost highest protein feeds possible! I've never had to argue with a barn owner about getting grass hay before. It makes me wonder whether barn owners stay up at night planning ways to get under their boarders skins.

    I was at one barn that fed every other boarders horse grass hay, but wouldn't quit feeding my mare alfalfa. It's seriously that weird... I don't understand it.