It's the bad grass season time again, and as we have seen increasing every year, I devote a huge proportion of my time to helping horses that are adversely affected by eating high sugar toxic grasses. With our horse welfare organisation giving free advice, as well as hands-on help to the people that are struggling to care for these horses thankfully to very successful results…..
Unfortunately there is still so much confusion to the public, created by a host of misinformation, normally being touted by companies, who have jumped on the bandwagon to profit from selling products, often claiming to address this "Grass Affected" misery of so many worried and desperate horse owners.
And sadly this is how the message on how to manage Grass Affected horses has become peppered with untruths.
One of the biggest of these myths is that magnesium will help horses having these grass issues.
It will not! I've asked many times on how could magnesium possible help a horse who was slowing accumulating being poisoned by the very food he eats? This is an untruth created by people selling magnesium based products.
As I can confirm after working with top Mycologists in the field, over the last 15 years, in my capacity at studying Mycotoxins independantly to help our herd of rescue horses, that magnesium plays no part in helping any horse recover from Toxicosis. And will not address Mycotoxins or Aflatoxins. Yet I come into contact with so many poor horse lovers, who pour these expensive remedies into their horses every day believing this hype, as understandably they are looking for answers and are desperate to help their beloved horses to return to a calmer state.
Running a rescue centre and working with thousands of horses who have been given up on, often due to being Grass Affected, and being aware of so many of these supplement scams ...well it's an understatement to say that it makes me very angry indeed, as too many good horses have gone to slaughter due to these untruths, after using these incorrect approaches. Because addressing a Grass Affected horses is actually easy with the correct management and diet. Yes you heard that right-it is easy!
So it's this that continues to prompt us to write further articles about the truth about grass, as to educate and help owners/riders about what being “Grass Affected” really means for your horse and how to cope with it, as well as why we suffer so badly with it here in New Zealand?
Firstly let me explain that this is a fairly recent problem to our NZ shores, as although Mycotoxins themselves can be traced back several thousand years to ancient Egypt. Within New Zealand, it’s been a fairly new issue at just 20+ years old. As before that our great nation was predominantly a very large sheep farm with safe grass being our staple food source for most of our stock animals, including our horses throughout that time ……
But over the past couple of decades our farming practices have changed more towards Aotearoa being a huge dairy farm, making beef and milk our greatest exports, and due to this our farmers needs for hardier high sugar grasses have increased exponentially, all in order to increase meat and milk production for cows, and it’s this that has created most of the problems that we now suffer from regarding problematic grazing that affect our NZ horses, along with both their physical and medical issues in relation to this.
And now all those recent hardy ryegrasses have taken over most of the country because they are so hardy, as often when every other type of grass eventually dies out in our long, and often arid summers, it’s these artificially amplified ryegrasses that fill those older grasses places when that happens……hence why we are now up to epidemic levels of issues with horses, through 99% of them suffering with the effects of eating these unsuitable non horse grasses.
So what is the main problem with these new grasses as surely grass is just grass isn’t it?
To put it simply, not all grasses are created equal….and ryegrass, along with some other plants and grasses, can cause two separate issues that run side by side, which add up to being big problems for our equine friends….the first of which is due to high sugars, and the second being the effects of dangerous mycotoxins/alflatoxins that live in the grass/plants itself.
Perennial Ryegrass is one of the worst plants for horses and listed as a poison on the hundred most toxic plants list.
This is because it is very high in non-digestible sugars called fructans, which is like eating artificial fructose corn syrup for people, and is pure candy to horses, who are designed to nibble for most of their day on a wide variety of low sugar, high fibre foods such as tussock grasses etc…rather than pig out of these unsuitable sugary grasses.
So to put this into human terms …..like many of you, I enjoy the odd piece of candy myself, however I would become very ill indeed if I lived off candy for every meal of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which is what is happening to our horses….making them have issues with metabolism that are very similar to diabetes in humans, caused by too much sugar, and high insulin levels are causing laminitic type issues for a lot of them due to this lifestyle issue, which is like the equine equivalent to diabetes, along with many other medical conditions based around poor nutrition such as poor hoof quality, and hoof issues such as abscesses, and white line disease etc…as well as we see sugar high elevated behaviours from these horses, as their bodies and minds struggle to process all these sugars on a 24/7 basis …..then add to that the dangerous mycotoxins in these grasses to this already “grass high” horse and you now have a recipe for disaster in both negative behaviours and poor quality nutrition all causing illness and a very misunderstood horse.
To explain a bit more about mycotoxins…..many grassses and forbes, which are broad leafed plants, have evolved with a very clever defense system to deter animals from eating them, which allows them to reach maturity and breed, by going to seed.
With the word Mycotoxin breaking down to mean-MYCO-as in relating to fungi and TOXIN-meaning poisonous. So most of our ryegrass has been selectively bred to amplify strains that include a naturally built in fungus, that is also sometimes called a mycotoxin, endophyte or grass toxin, ….all of which are referring to toxic fungi that live within the grass from the root, through the stem and into the seed head, and are in grass, hays, chaffs, balage, silage and haylage, as well as pelleted grain products such as processed feeds for horses, that have been made from these toxic grasses so it’s virtually impossible to have a NZ horse who is not affected by this.
This pairing between the grass and the fungus provides a beneficial partnership where both entities win, as the grass benefits from having this fungus on board as it protects it from being eaten by invertebrates such as bugs and weevils etc…who are sensible enough to stay away from toxic grasses, therefore the grass grows more and has more of a chance to reach its goal of maturity as to reproduce, and then the mycotoxins get nutrients off the grass so it’s a win win partnership for both grass and fungus alike.
When ingested these poisonous mycotoxins that have grown within the grass, can affect brain function and cause visual dysmorphia, as well as hallucinations, along with a change in body function such as elevated adrenaline levels, and stress hormonal changes as the body tries to cope with being effectively poisoned, along with mass inflammation, plus changes to organs and liver function etc…, with paraesthesia, which is a feeling of tingling sensations, and soreness amongst the body as the nerves are affected by the poisons contained within the mycotoxins making the horse experience feelings that are not really there, and being a prey animal this causes extreme fear and panic within most horses, which is uncontrollable and very dangerous, hence the highly elevated behaviours that go hand in hand with the grass affected horse.
Again put this all into human terms this would involve us having frightening hallucinations and severe paranoia, with perhaps a feeling of insects crawling on our body, hence the phantom flies the poor horse tries to flick off his body…which I have written about so we can see how terrified our poor equine friends could be when toxic.......then we can see stiffness in the muscles, especially at the hind end from misfiring brain signals, along with soreness to the skin causing routine tacking up to have major issues such as being girthed up or having the saddle placed on the horses extremely sore body to be very painful indeed, so we see bucking and other uncharacteristic behaviours like biting and flattened ears etc in response to these routine issues from otherwise normally well behaved horses, in addition to a host of other unpleasant allergy type symptoms as the myco toxins build up in your horse's body to dangerous levels.
And then to add insult to injury, we are seeing increased rates of equines who are being affected growing every year with this being the worst year so far, that is partly due to our ideal grass growing climate here in NZ, with this year’s very wet spring making matters much worse as fungi thrive off moisture.
So now you know the affects, what can we do to help our horses cope with these grass issues…?
FIRSTLY and more importantly –please do not tell your toxic horse off if he over reacts…..it won’t help and will only serve to scare his already fragile state of mind, as he is suffering with a very real medical condition that affects his mind, and is not being silly or naughty etc…, so we ask that you please have a little empathy for him or her. AND PLEASE DO NOT RIDE A TOXIC HORSE –EVER! That means regardless of whether you have a show or anything else planned that you might think is essential to ride for, it is still a big NO NO, as it’s simply just too dangerous. So we implore you not to ride your horse for your own safety when he is like this as he could even kill you, albeit it would be by accident.
SECONDLY -give your horse a daily toxin binder to prevent absorption of toxins….this really is an essential component of 99.9% of NZ horses staple diets these days, as a quality binder will help to reduce the absorption of these dangerous toxins in the horse's body, stopping the dangerous affects from building up. A warning here though- sadly we have seen and heard of many outfits selling so called toxin binders to unsuspecting horse owners who have little or no toxin binder qualities in them…so please check for glucomannan in the products you buy, as this yeast cell wall extract is the all-important toxin binder properties and without it you would be simply wasting your hard earned money. Another issue I saw this week was a product aimed at the aftereffects of horses being toxic which I was appalled to see was over $100 for a small bottle and had absolutely zero science to support its claims which to be honest were nonsense, so again please be careful to not fall for these scams. Here at Natural Horse NZ we have developed our own Equi Protect formula, which is one of the best Detoxifiers on the market that is both affordable and effective, with outstanding feedback for all who have used it-so check it out on this link ...
THIRDLY-restrict green grass to a minimum as to reduce sugars as that’s half of the battle won for equine health for our NZ horse or pony, and feed plain meadow hay instead (not Lucerne) in a slow feed haynet as to replicate natural grazing….but don’t lock the horse up to do this. We can achieve this by taping off a track system to allow the horse to enjoy the freedom of being outside with his buddies etc… without the nightmare of having too much green grass…see this link for more on this…
AND LASTLY: make sure you are feeding a well-balanced multi mineral/vitamin mix along with an anti-inflammatory diet, as can be found on this link as this will help your horse get all the beneficial nutrients he needs to help him reduce inflammations in his body that comes from sugary grass and other toxic products such as hay, chaffs, silage, baleage, haylage and grain based pelleted bagged feeds.See this link for more info to help with diet.. www.naturalhorsemanship.co.nz/RECOMMENDED-FEEDING-GUIDE.html
We sincerely hope this will help you understand the issues your horse is going through, as to help you have a happier horse :)