DESPITE all her knowledge and experience in horse care, Debby Lush ran out of solutions when her future competition partner, Alfie, developed a persistent digestive problem. She tells her story: “I’ve had plenty of horses with weight issues — they’ve been too fat, all of them! So when my latest youngster developed a digestive issue that meant it was nearly impossible to keep weight on him, it was a huge shock.
“Alfie started off as a perfectly healthy youngster, grew up normally and was easy to back. Then, as youngsters so often will, at the age of four he caught an annoying virus that had him coughing for weeks, and that seems to have been the start of what was later to become a major health issue. When Alfie was five he was diagnosed as having an equine equivalent of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). The symptoms of IBS are similar to those of gastric ulcers — irritability in girthing up, weight loss, lack of energy and frequent bouts of scouring. And when I say ‘scouring’, oh boy, do I mean it!
“This is the best way I can describe it: he would lift his tail and a high-powered jet of what looked like liquid tea would shoot across his stable. It went all over the floor, the walls, his buckets — even me, if I didn’t move fast enough. His rugs were constantly soaked around the rear end, his stable was awash and it stank — I can’t even describe the smell, but it was pungent. He was drinking constantly (no surprise there), and his hind legs were brown from the liquid faeces running down them all the time. How miserable for poor Alfie! It also meant caring for him took up a lot more time and required more changes of bedding. We tried keeping him out 24/7, stabled 24/7, and a variety of combinations thereof. Nothing made any difference, and as time went on, the symptoms became more constant and less intermittent.
“On the upside, he was outgoing, had a shiny skin and coat, was willing to work with no apparent signs of stress, and no irritability around his belly aside from girthing up. Seen with a saddle on, he didn’t look very different from any other young horse — provided I was able to keep his hind end clean.
“As the management approach for IBS is the same as for gastric ulcers, my vet suggested we try feeding him with the diet most likely to help: high oil, low grain, low starch and sugar. That resulted in about a 50 per cent improvement, but was not a total fix. By now, he was so thin that during the summer he was always turned out in a fly rug, as I was concerned about being reported to the RSPCA as the owner of a neglect case. Yes, he was that thin.
“We tried pre-biotics and pro-biotics, and a variety of digestive soothers, natural and artificial. About the only thing we didn’t try was Gastrogard due to its high cost and we weren’t doing this as an insurance claim. Then came the great breakthrough. Our farrier (amazingly useful people, farriers) suggested we try this new diet he’d heard about, called Thrive Feed. Fortunately, Sampson Smith, the supplier, was local to us, and with one phone call he was very quickly at the yard along with four sacks of his product, and an, ‘If it doesn’t work, I’ll give you your money back,’ offer — which says a lot about his confidence in the feed.
“I was concerned about being reported to the RSPCA as the owner of a neglect case. Yes, he was that thin”
Thrive Feed is an American import, but the ethos behind it appealed to me: it is 100 per cent organic. In the equestrian world we have become accustomed to feeding endless supplements: this product for that problem, that one for another issue; a balancer, then a balancer to balance the balancer — and so it goes on. The concept behind the product is back to nature — remove all the artificial components from the horse’s diet and hopefully remove all the potential gut irritants as a result.
“I’ve been a professional horse keeper for more decades than I like to remember, so taking my tricky-to-feed horse off all his supplements required quite a leap of faith, but by this point we were pretty desperate.”
Would he eat it?
“Initially, Alfie was reluctant to eat his new food, which comes as small, round, lightweight forage-based nuggets. Sam, the supplier, was wonderful at hand-holding, and is incredibly passionate about his subject. He said to me: ‘It’s like taking a child off a McDonalds diet, and asking him to eat his greens’. After a few days of persistence, with nothing else offered except a tiny sprinkle of molasses to encourage him to start eating (instantly removed once he realised that it really was food), and Alfie began to tuck in.
“At first, you feed ad lib — re-filling the bucket as soon as it’s empty. Initially, this makes it seem extremely expensive, and there were some panicky moments, I can tell you. But within a week, the constant diarrhoea was interspersed with a few normal droppings.
“I can’t tell you how pathetically exciting it was to see normal droppings in the stable after so long wading through liquid sh**!”
“Within a month, he was noticeably rounder and, I’m glad to say, he started to slow down on the eating front. Within three months he looked like a normal horse and his gut problem was about 85 per cent better, although he’d still have the squitters when taken out in the lorry. After 18 months on his new diet, his gut is normal about 95 per cent of the time. I don’t think the bowel looseness will ever vanish completely but he doesn’t get too bad even after travelling, and he’s back to normal within 12 hours.”
“If I had to say whether there was any downside to his recovery, it was that pretty soon after starting the diet he began to feel really well, probably for the first time in his working life. After about three months he had a definite ‘teenage’ phase. All horses go through this stage, he just left it a bit later than many (six) but now he’s settled down and has plenty of energy for work, without any stupidity, and I can finally get on with producing him for the dressage career he’s destined for.” Right, Alfie’s condition in April 2016.
About the author
Debby Lush, a British Dressage List 1 judge and author, is also a respected trainer both in the South and in Scotland. She initially trained as a BHSAI and managed a competition yard for 20 years. Her best-known dressage partner is Holme Grove Merlin whom she trained to grand prix from a three-year-old. Still looking bonny at 22, Merlin continues to compete at grand prix, is in demand for training demonstrations and is starting a career as a schoolmaster.
Debby’s 16.2hh gelding Alfie (Ivor An Idea) is by Keystone Rhondeo out of a half-thoroughbred Irish mare (Sir Ivor three generations back) and half unknown. Now aged eight, he is competing at Novice and Elementary and working at Medium/Advanced Medium and is showing natural talent for extensions and lateral work.
© Out and About Dressage Ltd. Note: This feature is sponsored by Advanced Equine Nutrition Ltd
Thrive Feed local and national distributor
Sampson Smith, Advanced Equine Nutrition Ltd
Tel 07771 633737 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
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