Feeding the Equine Nutrition Discussion
How Dr. Jyme Nichols has made equine nutritional topics more digestible for general audiences.
Dr. Jyme Nichols is in her element when she’s out in the field talking to equine industry stakeholders. Before the pandemic, that meant being on the road to support a team of consultants, helping large farms navigate any issues and doing nutrition seminars. “I love to educate,” she said.
But when the pandemic ground travel to a halt, Dr. Nichols was forced to find another way to educate and connect. So, she decided to think outside the box to reach the public. She started with a 10-week webinar series with a colleague, the late Dr. Bill Vandergrift. Shortly after that, she decided a podcast might be a better long-term option.
That idea, the Feed Room Chemist, is now over 100 episodes and nearing 1 million downloads. The podcast combines a little fun with a lot of science to provide real-world feeding advice for horse owners. Anyone who enjoys horses and learning might enjoy the podcast, she said. “Veterinarians, horse owners, trainers, other equine nutrition professionals, college instructors, college students, the list goes on. It’s been fun to learn that my listeners come from all walks of life all over the world. I have listeners in over 125 countries.”
As director of nutrition for Bluebonnet Feeds, Dr. Nichols’ job involves formulating feeds and supplements. She also evaluates individual horses’ diets, and makes nutritional recommendations for meeting nutrient needs and filling the gaps of a forage-only diet.
She has used her industry experience and day-to-day interactions with horse owners, her own experiences with horses and questions sent in from listeners to come up with the podcast topics. She had nearly 120 episodes already available as of press time, with 50 to 60 episode topics waiting in line. The top 5 episodes are:
- Alfalfa: Friend or Foe? (Episode No. 1)
- Hay Cubes (Episode No. 90)
- Equine Microbiome (Episode No. 102)
- Protein % Doesn’t Matter (Episode No. 104)
- Cold Snap Feeding Tips (Episode No. 112)
Nutrition’s importance in overall health
Nutrition is a popular topic among equine owners because it’s the foundation of being, Dr. Nichols said. “True health starts on the inside, at the cellular level, and that’s exactly where most disease starts.” If you can give a horse a healthy foundation, meaning a proper daily diet, you can prevent so many disease processes and the need for drugs and medical intervention.
It starts with prevention. “Prevention is the best medicine in my opinion,” Dr. Nichols said. “Generally speaking, drugs mask symptoms. Whenever possible, I prefer to get to the root of what is going on and correct it so we don’t have horses on a lifetime of medications.”
Nutrition is an interconnected piece of many situations. Without proper nutrition, issues like laminitis, insulin resistance, leaky gut syndrome, hind gut dysbiosis, gastric ulcers, tying up, HYPP, Cushing’s, allergies, free fecal water syndrome, chronic diarrhea, and anxiety can arise – just to name a few.
One problem that’s becoming more of a concern is the overweight or obese horse. Obesity for a horse can lead to insulin resistance and a whole cascade of metabolic conditions that are tough to manage and often require intervention from drugs.
There is also the forage-only trend, she said, “which sounds great in theory, but pasture and hay alone cannot meet all the nutritional needs for a horse – particularly a horse that is being asked to perform or raise babies. I’m not saying you have to feed grain. I’m saying you have to make sure the vitamins and minerals are balanced and available based on a horse’s life stage, activity level, and desired performance. Forage is notorious for being low in critical trace minerals like copper.”
Fortunately, overall awareness of effective nutrition has improved over the years. Dr. Nichols said the internet has been a game changer in people’s ability to access quality information. If they have a question, they can find the answer to almost anything. The trick is knowing what sources are reliable and which are not.
“Good ole ‘Dr. Google’ has changed the landscape in how veterinarians and clients interact,” Dr. Nichols said. Clients come to the clinic more aware of conditions, treatment options, and of course the advice from other horse owners. A lot of professionals get frustrated by this, but Dr. Nichols thinks it’s an opportunity to have a good conversation about the possible options, because there is rarely a single answer for every horse.
“Horses are individuals, and their owners have varying goals/wants/needs from those horses,” she said. “Some owners want their horse to perform at the highest level possible, while others just want their horse to be their companion for as long as possible. Nutrition plans will be very different for those two situations, and the conversation is easier when the owner has a general understanding that certain needs or wants will require adjustments to the diet.”
Feed Room Chemist episodes are available for download in Apple’s Podcasts Library, Spotify, Google Podcast, or any podcasting app of your choice.
COVID-19 and common myths
The pandemic forever changed the equine nutrition industry, said Dr. Nichols. Supply and demand channels were disrupted, prices skyrocketed, and the way people expected to get their feed and supplements shifted.
More people expect their feed or supplements to show up on their doorstep, and they are willing to pay the price for that convenience.
“In my experience, horse owners will sacrifice their own luxuries before they sacrifice what they do with and for their horses,” she said. “Nutrition is a root foundation of a horse’s well-being and is really a non-negotiable for people who are serious about their horse. You must provide proper nutrition for your horse. You can go without buying the fancy halter or getting a new outfit.”
Dr. Nichols uses the podcast to explore unique cases, debunk popular myths, and break down advanced research data.
“People tend to follow trends on social media, so most myths stem from there,” she said. For instance, Dr. Nichols said she sees a lot of confusion from equine owners over carbs. “People will say things like ‘I want to feed my horse a carb-free diet.’ Well, that’s not possible,” she said. “That’s what forage is, and forage should be the foundation of the diet.”
There is also usually a lot of confusion around protein. How much a horse needs, why the “crude protein” guarantee on a tag is about the most useless way to evaluate quality of a feed, and that protein makes horses “hot” are some common misconceptions.
Image credit: istockphoto.com/Irina Orlova