More About the Importance of Minerals

We did a series of posts on minerals - are we feeding too much? How much should we be feeding and why do we need to feed them etc - here are some of those posts....


In the picture a chilled out Persil is caught mid-roll during the moulting season!







Can you feed TOO much Magnesium?

Put it this way if your horse was on the perfect diet: roaming over hundreds of acres of a variety of grasses, bushes and trees then you wouldn’t have to add any extra magnesium because this diet doesn’t cause imbalances that have to be corrected.

However most of us have our horses confined behind fences on small acreages which means most of the year they are eating regrowth stressed grass all the time and consists of very little variety and often includes clovers. If this grass is a ‘monoculture’ like rye-grass and has been fertilised then it causes even more extreme imbalances.

It is important to understand that the magnesium deficiency is primarily the result of the high potassium and nitrogen in the grass. Potassium not only competes for absorption with magnesium but in the body’s efforts to excrete the excess potassium via the urine, precious magnesium is lost too. Excreting excess nitrogen robs the body of even more magnesium.

So sometimes a lot of magnesium is required just to replace what is lost and get the horse to ‘square one’.
Since magnesium isn’t stored in the body like calcium then if you were to feed too much then any excess is simply excreted and does not normally cause a problem.
For this very reason magnesium is best fed daily as it is constantly used up and needs to be replenished often. Feeding once a week means the horse is subjected to highs and lows. It is by far best fed with boron which reduces loss of magnesium via the urine by up to 40%.
Alleviate, Alleviate C, Graze Ezy and Premium/Supreme all contain boron for this reason.

Potassium in the Diet

Potassium is one of the vital electrolytes that keep life going – so it is not that it is ‘bad’ or that we need none in the diet – we all need appropriate amounts to stay alive and healthy.

Potassium is the second most abundant mineral on earth, and is readily available in the diet of herbivores like horses. The trouble is it is far too available in legumes such as clover and Lucerne and green, growing or stressed plants – plants can be stressed by many factors including over grazing, frosts, lack of adequate sunshine as in consecutive cloudy days. Hence the incidence of serious issues like laminitis and head flicking which tend to spike after these conditions have occurred.

So what I would like to clarify here, is that it is not that horses should have a zero potassium diet, but that they should not have a chronically high one. Even horses who are stabled 24/7, or kept in ‘dry lots’, get sufficient amounts of potassium from their hay.

It is the constant over supply of potassium due to the way we graze them – on not exactly ideal pasture – with the addition of more potassium from other sources like hard feeds, which stress the horses self-regulating mechanisms involving the adrenal glands and kidneys.


Keeping a Lid on Potassium!!

Let’s begin by saying that if you are 100% happy with your horse on his current diet then we are not suggesting that you have to change anything.

On the other hand, if your horse ticks any of the boxes on the Health Checklist or if you are not 100% happy with his health, movement or behaviour then taking on board this information could make a world of difference.

When you are ticking lots of boxes on the checklist the first thing you can do to improve the situation is address the balance of their diet by removing the things that can unbalance it. 
The fastest results come from: 
- Temporarily removing the horse from all green grass
- Taking out potassium-rich feeds like Lucerne, soy-bean meal, molasses, kelps ...
- Soaking the hay for 45 – 60 mins prior to feeding

Lucerne and soy are often recommended as feeds because they are good sources of protein, and because Lucerne has good levels of calcium. For some horses soy and lucerne work fine but NOT FOR ALL. They dont work well for those who already have a high potassium intake, which essentially comes from their pasture grass, especially the ‘cool season’ grasses. 
This is why so many people report that ''Lucerne and/or Soy 'sends my horse nuts!” We now realise that the high potassium in these feeds can often out-weigh any advantages they bring in terms of protein and calcium and using alternative potassium low or free sources are a better option.

To make things better for your horse it can often just be about removing unhelpful ingredients from their bucket, managing access to grass and increasing the hay. Sometimes, as in the case of laminitis and head-shaking, you need to sort out the bucket AND remove access to any green grass Plus soak the hay. Bear in mind there is still plenty of potassium in hay to meet your horse’s daily requirements.

As a general rule its good to feed as much hay as possible all year round. Its also essential to ensure your horse gets sufficient salt in his daily feeds to meet their basic needs. Horses lose approx. 20gms of salt daily in their manure and urine so unless you are feeding at least this amount (a level tablespoon) then he is going backwards. A good rule of thumb for adding salt is 10gms per 100kgs body-weight.

GrazeEzy and AlleviateC/SOS have been formulated for horses whose pasture intake cannot be ideally managed. Both products help the horse to maintain ‘electrical neutrality’ (the correct pH) so that his metabolism can function normally and not cause grass affected issues. These products can help you offset the downside of pasture grasses, providing as much hay as possible is also available.

Take home message:

High potassium in your horses diet causes problems. If your horse is ticking the boxes on the Health Checklist doing some simple things to reduce the potassium load in his diet will help him to regain a better balance and become calm and healthy. Feed salt.



What does the term ‘GRASS AFFECTED’ actually mean?

DEFINITION: There is one or more aspects of your horse’s pasture that is adversely affecting his health and behaviour.
These aspects include…
· Mineral imbalances (which trump everything)
· Sugar/fructan content
· Toxins
· Phyto-estrogens (affect hormones)
· Fluorescing (Photodynamic) pigments(cause mud-fever/sunburn)

There are three approaches to these problems.

1. Remove the horse from grass temporarily or even entirely
2. Feed products to counteract the problems or
3. A combination of 1 & 2

If your horse has severe problems, as in Laminitis, head flicking or dangerous behaviour, then option 1 is strongly advised at least until the horse has recovered or come back to normal.
Otherwise depending on your access to a dry lot or a grass free area, you can use options 2 & 3, in which case you would use:
· Premium NZ Horse Minerals or Supreme Vit & Min for Australian horses - these ensure that your horse stays in optimal health regardless of the quality of your pasture and hay. They are full of organic minerals, anti-oxidants, B vitamins, everything your horse needs for his every day health including selenium. They are formulated specifically for NZ and Australia respectively. These should be fed every day regardless and the dose rate doesn’t vary from day to day.

It goes without saying that salt should be added to the horses feed everyday.
See The Importance of Salt

Dietary Principles for Calm Healthy Horses...

Be mindful of potassium intake....

Over the years we have come to the conclusion that this is without a doubt, Number 1 priority when deciding how and what to feed your horse. It is why you need to understand how his pasture grass fits in to the total picture (see recent posts) and what is in your hard-feeds and supplements. Are they helping or hindering?

Yes, potassium levels are even more important than 'sugar' levels! 
Sure you also need to be mindful of sugar and starch content but we have conducted many forage tests that show how grass has caused all manner of issues including colics, laminitis and head-shaking when it is < 5% sugars, even < 2%.

This explains why many issues are 'seasonal', why many horses get worse with exercise and why they get worse when adrenaline kicks in. It explains why you can solve a lot more issues than you can if only taking sugars into account.
It is certainly why you should never fertilise your grass with potassium fertilisers (Potash or NPK). Even liming can work against you in this regard because the calcium swaps places with the potassium and makes it available for uptake by the grass.

ALL forage is high in potassium and low in sodium. More so when it grows on high potassium soils, less so when it grows on more acidic, low fertility soils.

As explained in recent posts 'cool season' grasses regularly have potassium levels of 2-4%. So for example a forage test that has a potassium level of 3% means a horse consuming 10kgs of that grass is ingesting 300gms of potassium. That same forage is only .02% sodium meaning the horse is getting a measly 2gms of sodium. He is ingesting 150 x as much potassium as sodium. When horses graze grass like this 24/7 it creates chronic stress on the horse's self-regulating mechanisms to bring that difference down.

Unfortunately high potassium is deemed by many 'qualified' people not to be a problem because 'the kidneys just excrete any excess'. Whilst this is true it skips a significant fact:
Having high levels of potassium floating around in the blood and the fluid surrounding the cells is a serious metabolic problem. 
So serious that the IMMEDIATE response is to PRODUCE INSULIN in order to reduce this excess by transporting it into the cells . Maintaining low levels of potassium in the fluid surrounding the cells is crucial to normal functioning of all aspects of metabolism in particular, of nerve impulse transmission.

The horse's second line of defence is to excrete any excess potassium in the urine. It is the second line of defence because it takes longer to kick in.

The trouble with modern-day horse keeping is that far more potassium is going in than going out; think of trying to empty a swimming pool while there is a large hose still running in at the other end....

Understand that when there is any green grass in your horse's diet then he is already in potassium over-load. If he is not showing any signs of being 'grass-affected' (See Health Checklist) that tells you his metabolism is coping - for now.

Adding to this already high potassium load with even more potassium rich forages and feeds (Lucerne, clover, soy, most protein meal, kelp, many herbs and molasses) can place more unnecessary stress on the mechanisms which are working hard to meticulously regulate these levels. To keep your horse calm and healthy for as long as possible we strongly recommend you keep potassium intake as low as possible by avoiding these feeds.

Salt & the Adrenal Glands

I know we always come back to the importance of feeding SALT and because this is so controversial and still frowned upon in some circles, I feel it needs more explanation.
It has been established that it is not only a lack of magnesium but also a chronic lack of sodium (from salt) which causes (Grass Affected/tetany) problems.

All green pasture is way too high in potassium, compared to sodium. There should never be more than 5X (absolute maximum 8X) as much potassium as sodium. Yet in forage tests we have personally conducted, ratios were never that low, they are consistently up over 20X Potassium to sodium! As mentioned last night, regarding the horse who was repeatedly ‘colicking’ the ratio was 54X!
What such a scenario does, is put enormous stress on the Adrenal Glands and the kidneys, whose job it is to excrete excess potassium and conserve sodium.

When any gland is over-worked, it enlarges and this (enlargement of the adrenal gland) is what has been found in cattle who have died of Grass Tetany.

The following extract is from Andre Voisin from
Severe hypertrophy of the adrenal glands in cows that have died of grass tetany
The mineral imbalance of the ration, particularly too high a potassium : sodium ratio, will be seen to lead to hypertrophy of certain layers of the adrenal cortex. This "adaptation" syndrome may be succeeded by an "exhaustion" syndrome, that is, by degeneration of the adrenal cortex’

Now he is talking about cattle but the symptoms we are seeing in our horses are too similar to think it could be anything different.

So how can we reduce susceptibility in our own horses?

1. NEVER use the following fertilisers -
Potash (potassium), NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potassium), Super-phosphate, Urea (Dried Nitrogen), DAP (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Sulphur) & most other commercial fertilisers
*All of these fertilisers are to increase YIELD but there is absolutely NO correlation between yield and biological QUALITY of the grass. In other words; what is the use of producing prolific grass that is minerally imbalanced to the point of being grossly unsuitable for keeping livestock healthy?
This is why most farmers and various people involved in the agricultural industry think we are ‘nuts’ and don’t know what we are doing. We are more interested in biological quality than yield.
2. Have as long a paddock rotation as possible in order for the grass to be as mature (high in fibre and more minerally balanced) as possible.
3. Don’t rely on salt licks or other mineral licks to supply your horse with the salt & minerals he needs.
4. Give all your horses (even the ones you are not riding) a small feed every day containing Salt and quality minerals (IE Premium/Supreme). Some will need Alleviate/AlleviateC and GrazeEzy depending on the time of the year, growth stage of the grass, and how sensitive to the grass they are.