Today's Grains

By Kate Hester

On the evening of May 5, 1973, following his spectacular win in the Kentucky Derby, the great Secretariat consumed a supper of six quarts of oats, one quart of sweet feed, two quarts of bran and some carrots. Such a meal would, for most horses, have serious consequences, including colic and possibly founder. Only a horse in heavy work can be so indulged, and Secretariat was not only a world-class athlete in hard training, but he was a large horse, and as enthusiastic about his feed as he was about exercise.

Thirty years later, the world has changed considerably, and horses in the running for today's Triple Crown would benefit from a different diet. Modern depletion of the soils has resulted in similarly weakened crops. Moreover, environmental toxins in the air and water are taking their toll on all living things on planet earth.

Why Feed Grains?

Horses love grains. Nothing gets horses smacking their lips, nickering, and banging their feed buckets as quickly and consistently as grains. From the horse's point of view, delicious grains are one of the biggest benefits of domestication. Grains supply varying amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. These are the building blocks of nutrition and all are required for a healthy, well-fed horse. Of these building blocks, carbohydrates are the ones for which grains are best known. Carbohydrates mean energy. When energy is a major requirement, grains may be considered as a delicious and effective source.

While the requirement for carbohydrates (starches and sugars) increases with the workload of the individual animal, the requirement for protein remains fairly constant regardless of workload. Proteins supply the amino acids that are necessary to build and repair the bones, muscles and other soft tissues of the body. Amino acids also regulate hormonal activity, neurological functions and blood pressure. It is true that horses in very hard work may require more protein to support increased muscle mass, but the additional requirements are surprisingly small.

Non-essential amino acids are those which the healthy body can manufacture. Essential amino acids are those which must be supplied by the diet, as the body cannot make them. Some scientists believe that the list of essential amino acids is growing, as the toxicity of today's environment is resulting in biochemically compromised systems in all living things. Exposure to herbicides - almost unavoidable in today's world - can cause interference with amino acid production in the body, wreaking havoc on many of the horse's vital processes. This growing list of essential amino acids translates to a demand for more and better protein sources in the diet.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to meet the modern horse's need for protein by feeding grains, without exceeding his carbohydrate requirements. It is likewise very difficult to meet his vitamin and mineral requirements by adding grains to a forage diet. Natural grains provide little in the way of vitamins and minerals. To some extent, this is due to modern agricultural methods and depletion of minerals and nutrients from the soil. However, the low vitamin and mineral content is simply the natural composition of grains. One exception is the mineral phosphorus, which might be inadequate in a forage-only diet. Grains generally are high in phosphorus but low in calcium. Phosphorus must be carefully balanced with calcium in the diet to provide the proper ratio critical for bone and muscle development and maintenance. When grain is a significant source of phosphorus, careful analysis is necessary to ensure the correct quantities of calcium are also provided. The third corner of the balancing triangle is magnesium, which is becoming the most severely deficient mineral.

Because of soil deficiency, necessary vitamins and minerals also are not as readily available from the non-grain components of the equine diet. With lower quantities and quality of nutrients from grains and forage, supplementation is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. With the competition in the body from heavy metals and environmental chemicals, even more vitamins and minerals are needed. The quality of the chemical forms of vitamins and minerals also is more critical than in days past, because some of the inorganic forms can become dangerous when increased to the levels required. Care must be taken to provide bioavailable forms of vitamins and minerals in the higher dosages required in today's toxic environment.

The fiber provided by grains is minimal. For horses, the primary source of fiber is found in hay and forage. Fats likewise are not an important consideration in the feeding of grains.

The Case Against Grains

But are grains a necessary or desirable component of a well-rounded equine diet? For all but athletes and animals in heavy work, energy in the amounts provided by grains is probably not necessary and indeed, may do more harm than good. Carbohydrates that are not immediately utilized as energy are converted to fat for storage in the body. Of the common cereal grains, corn is the highest in carbohydrates, followed by barley, oats and wheat. With the buildup of environmental chemicals, all mammals are becoming more and more carbohydrate sensitive; that is, they are experiencing the negative effects of carbohydrates to an exaggerated degree. For most, this means unwanted weight gain.

Besides the real probability of providing too much energy for the average pleasure horse, grains present the danger of molds and mycotoxins. At the time when Secretariat was munching his many quarts of grains each day, mycotoxins were relatively unheard of. Recently, however, they have been recognized as a widespread problem, discovered about 30 years ago following the deaths of thousands of birds in England. Mycotoxins are the toxic secondary metabolites of molds. Common molds produce many different types of mycotoxins, depending on growing, harvesting and storage conditions. Mold growth in grain can occur any time from before it is harvested until it is consumed by the horse. Mold spores are everywhere and they lay dormant until the conditions are right to sporulate and grow. The type and amount of mycotoxin produced by a mold depend on environmental factors, such as temperature, relative humidity, drought, stress, and insect or mechanical damage to the grain. The seed coat of whole grain is a natural barrier to mold infestation, but if the grain kernel is broken during handling, transportation or milling, mold spores have easy access to nutrients inside the grain. Of all grains, oats are least vulnerable to molds and mycotoxins.

The same environmental illness that affects animals and lowers their resistance to dis-ease, also affects plants, including the forage that our horses eat and the grains that we feed them. Plants that are compromised by environmental chemicals will have a lower basal metabolism, which predisposes them to molds and fungi. It is the nature of many molds and bacteria to recycle nutrients by attacking dead or dying organisms. When the basal metabolism is low because of environmental illness, the body becomes more attractive to these opportunistic molds and bacteria. It becomes a vicious cycle that means less than optimal health for our horses.

Horses appear to be more sensitive to mycotoxins than other animals. There are many mycotoxins, which are categorized according to the biological effects they produce. The hepatotoxins are toxic to the liver; nephrotoxins poison the kidneys, neurotoxins affect the central nervous system, genitoxins cause reproductive malfunction, dermatoxins result in skin problems, carcinogens and teratogens cause cancer, immunosuppressants decrease immune response, and hematologic agents affect the blood. There are numerous symptoms associated with exposure to and consumption of mycotoxins. One well-known example is the fescue poisoning associated with abortion, stillborn foals, retained placentas, and reduced milk production of mares who graze infested tall fescue.

Genetic modification is another Pandora's box for cereal grains that are available as feed for horses. This is a departure from early efforts at genetic engineering, which was simply selective breeding, using genes from within the same gene pool. Genetic modification involves the insertion of genes from totally distinct species into new organisms. Without delving into this vast subject, let it suffice to say that enormous quantities of U.S. produced grains which were rejected by European and other foreign markets have been diverted into the animal feed supplies in the U.S. Corn is one of the crops most altered by genetic modification.

If You Do Feed Grains

When additional energy is required, grains may be judiciously added to the menu. There are no clear guidelines to aid the consumer wishing to purchase organic feeds, particularly in the animal feed markets. Even so, the best choice for the horse is the grain that is grown by the most truly "organic" methods - this means grains grown in healthy, humus rich soils rather than chemically fertilized soils. The best soils will not only be chemical free, but will be properly balanced and rich in organic material. The crops as well should be chemical free, having no applications of herbicides or pesticides for the control of weeds and insects. The crops should be harvested at the proper time and properly stored while being brought quickly to market. It is nearly impossible for the consumer to be certain that these conditions have been met, yet it is of great benefit to the lucky horse whose owner makes an effort.

The grain of first choice would be oats. Oats are lower in carbohydrates and higher in fiber than other grains, thus presenting a lower risk of colic, founder or weight gain. In addition to being the nutritionist's first choice, oats seem to be the grain that horses find most delicious. Barley may also be added. The grain of last choice would be corn, as it is the highest in carbohydrate content and, having the highest moisture content and the thinnest husk, is the most susceptible to mycotoxins.

A Healthy, Delicious Substitute for Grains

For the majority of horses who do not require carbohydrates in addition to those provided by their grass and hay, protein requirements can be met by feeding a high protein combination of soy, flax and other ingredients instead of grains. (See Side Bar.) This high protein non-grain mix is fed in small amounts and is designed to meet the horse's unchanging protein needs while greatly reducing the carbohydrate intake. It does not rely on the common cereal grains, thus reducing the possibility of exposure to mycotoxins and genetically modified grains to some extent. When mixed with enough water to make a consistency of cookie dough or pancake batter, it is enthusiastically consumed by the great majority of horses.

This is the same amount of protein that was recommended 20 years ago when experts recommended 10 pounds of a 10 percent grain per DAY. That provides about 1 pound of protein. The Hi Pro mix is 30 percent, and feeding 3 pounds per day gives almost 1 pound of protein. Only the carbohydrates have been removed, which had made up seven of the original ten pounds, so it is not high in terms of total protein provided. It could accurately be called the lowest carbohydrate diet recipe available.

If the mighty Secretariat were with us today, thrilling the world with his Triple Crown records, his victory dinner would more appropriately include Hi Pro Recipe, organic oats and barley, a handful of carrots, and Vita Royal supplements such as Environmental Protection System (EPS) and Nutrient Buffer (to help protect his upper gastric system from the stresses of racing), all mixed with a good amount of pure water to the consistency of pancake batter. He would certainly enjoy this meal as much as the one he actually ate, and his body would have a better chance of combating the undesirable effects of the modern environment.

For more information:
Vita Royal Products, Inc.
4267 S. State Road
Davison, MI 48423
(810) 653-5478

About the author:
Kate Hester is a freelance equine journalist and lives with several horses, including Chelan, and many other assorted wonderful animals at Lazy Dog Farm. Visit and for more photos of her horses' progress.

linseed (flax) meal or pellets --- 300 lbs
soybean meal --- 150 lbs
bran (preferably wheat) --- 75 lbs
calcium carbonate (feed grade only) --- 15 lbs
magnesium oxide (feed grade only) --- 12 lbs
high iodine trace mineral salt (commonly used for foot rot in cattle, not just regular TM salt; several brands available by special order from a mill) --- 6 lbs
dry molasses --- 30 lbs (you can add moisture at the time of feeding) Wet molasses may be used, but is not advised because the storage time is reduced and it is likely to contain preservatives.

This mix may be blended you in smaller amounts if you cannot get a mill to make it for you. Order the ingredients separately.

This Hi Pro Recipe was developed by biochemist Linsey McLean and is specifically designed to be used as a base for the specialty supplements of the Vita Royal Products protocol. It is not recommended to be used alone or with any other brands of supplements that were not designed to be complementary for this base mix. It is NOT a fortified recipe, and feeding only this recipe without the Vita Royal supplements can result in harm to the horse. The foundered horse actively in pain and inflammation should be fed this Hi Pro Mix and supplemented with Vita Royal Untie and Vita Royal Nutrient Buffer. When the inflammation stabilizes, then the horse can be maintained on Vita Royal EPS (Environmental Protection System) alone, with the Hi Pro mix.

For the average 1000 lb horse, 2 to 3 lbs of this recipe daily will suffice. For a pony, use 2 lbs per day and for a larger horse, use 4 lbs per day. Remember, this is per DAY, not per feeding.

For more information on feeding this recipe, go to