The two horses that they moved in with, Butch and Rocky, don't get any grain- they eat grass in the summer and hay in the winter and that's it. When I moved the Quarters in they adopted the same diet, from August to April they didn't eat anything other than forage.
After I wrapped up my hoof series I began some preliminary nutrition research at safergrass.org and started learning about mineral deficiencies. As soon as I knew what to look for I started seeing signs of it all over the Quarters. Coriander's mane and tail showed drastic sun bleaching and his coat just didn't look right. Plus his frogs JUST WEREN'T GROWING despite repeated oxine soaks and No Thrush treatments. Gwen was even worse: her hoof walls were losing integrity and going SPLAT, she wasn't shedding and her hair coat had developed hooks at the end. Not good. Not good at all.
What I didn't realize when I stopped feeding them grain is how mineral deficient upstate NY is. The grass and hay they were eating was markedly deficient in trace minerals like selenium, copper and zinc. Want to know what your area is like? You can check the average NGS geochemistry by county in the US here.
It was time to get some minerals into the Quarters, but what was the best way to do it? I'd been reading barefoot trimmers rhapsodize about the benefits of California Trace, and decided to give it a try. When it arrived I measured out a serving in my hands and fed it to the horses. "Oh, what's this?" They said. "Nom, nom, no... PHhhbbttt!" So much for the company's claim that horses love their product. I tried mixing in some anise seed powder to make it more palatable (they love licorice), but they weren't fooled. It appeared I needed to find something to mix the CA Trace with so they'd eat it.
I recalled that Gwen had done well on my Father-in-Law's "Cornell Mix," so I decided to get some of that. When I went to buy some we ended up talking about pellets and I ended up leaving with a bag of Nutrena Empower Balance too. I don't really understand how it works, but that "Cornell Mix" makes coats shine like mirrors and helps keep weight on hard keepers. The Nutrena feed is specifically designed to supplement grass diets and has pre/probiotics in it to support their digestive systems.
I've been feeding these three mixed together since the beginning of April and have noticed marked improvements in the Quarters. Coriander's frogs have FINALLY started growing and his coat looks better than ever (and feels like crushed velvet). Gwen finally shed out and her coat is looking good as well, even better, her hooves have improved immensely. You can actually see the line where her hoof wall has grown in better and tighter since I added the minerals to her diet (Amazingly she's been rock crushingly sound the entire time, I don't know how she does it.).
|Gwen's left hind|
|Gwen's left fore|
Here's a picture of Coriander looking awesome in his ungroomed shiny-ness.
Obviously I still have a TON to learn about nutrition, right now I feel like I'm throwing everything at them but the kitchen sink hoping that they're getting what they need. To remedy that, I'll be taking Dr. Kellon's nutrition course over the winter and boning up on knowledge from Getty Equine Nutrition.
In short, the grain-free experiment failed completely. I feel awful that I did this to them and am keeping my fingers crossed that I didn't do them any lasting harm. My poor horses, they had no idea I'd turn them into guinea pigs...