Free Choice Salt for Horses

The following post is written by Chris and Roger Richardson of  The Holistic Horse.  People often ask me which type of salt I feed to my own horses, and though I once fed table salt, I now feed the loose unrefined Sea Salt from this company.  I thought some of you might be interested to learn more about feeding natural salt free choice. . . 




With the warmer weather and the summer season approaching, it’s crucial your horses keep hydrated to stay healthy and avoid impaction colic. Water is essential for all body metabolic activities, digestion of nutrients, regulation of body temperature, joint lubrication and the elimination of waste.

A horse’s body contains 65-75% water and salt requirements vary from horse to horse depending on the weather and their activity level. A racehorse requires more salt in its daily diet than a stalled trail horse that gets ridden 2-3 times a week.

Horses require larger amounts of water during hotter temperatures. A good way to ensure your horse is getting an adequate amount of water is to provide free access to salt 24/7. However, not all salts are created equal.


Did you know?

▪ Refined salt (table salt) is processed, has added chemicals and contains basically no nutritional value or minerals.

▪ Salt blocks were originally invented for the cattle industry. Cows have rough tongues and horse’s do not. Not only can salt blocks be very irritating to a horses tongue (think of how your tongue feels after eating too many sweet tart candies!) but they often cannot lick enough to get as much as they need.

▪ Efforts to lick adequate amounts of salt from a block can lead to frustration. Horses can bite off large chunks of salt and damage or break teeth or even potentially choke!


We recommend free choice feeding so your horse can determine how much his body needs. In the wild, horses don’t have humans doling out measured amounts of salt to them. When wild horses need salt and or minerals, they seek them out from sources in nature and the environment such as sedimentary rock salt, limestone and shale. Mother

Nature was very careful (and smart) to design these amazing creatures to know what and how much their bodies need. This is how they have survived in the wild for thousands of years without any help from us.




Our loose Pure Unrefined Sea Salt crystals are hand harvested and come from pristine ocean waters. They are dried by the sun and wind, locking in over 90 vital trace minerals. Sea Salt offers natural electrolytes and encourages your horse to drink plenty of water. Available in two sizes – 5 lbs. ($21.78) and 10 lbs. ($29.78).

Click here for more details.

Equine Hair Analysis by Karen Eddings: Hershey’s Results

Last year, as I was doing research for a post on TMJ, I came across an article written by a lady named Karen Eddings, aka the ‘Equine Nurse’.  I later looked through Karen’s website and asked if she would be interested in doing in interview for the blog.   (You can read her interview here.) Karen specializes in animal and human biofeedback and hair analysis, among other things.

I was curious about doing the equine hair analysis–as Karen does it differently than most labs or vets do.  Instead of analyzing the hair for specific mineral levels, Karen uses a biofeedback machine to assess the hair follicle.  The result is a computerized list of imbalances within the horse (unless, of course, the horse is perfectly healthy!).

So late last summer, I decided to give the hair analysis a try with Hershey.  As you long-time followers probably know, Hershey is the reason I became interested in acupressure, barefoot trimming, and natural horse health in the first place.  The issues he’s had for a number of years now have kept me questioning many things and have also inspired me to continue to learn as much as I can about horse health.

Last summer, I had two main concerns with him though.  One, he had recently lost some weight, and two, his hooves continued to be plagued by problems– despite being supplemented  with custom minerals balanced according to my hay/ pasture analyses and receiving a natural trim every 3-4 weeks.



Here are the vertical cracks Hershey’s had for many years now.


I thought by doing the hair analysis, I just might learn something that I hadn’t thought of yet  — although I couldn’t possibly imagine what that might be!

I followed the directions on Karen’s website and mailed in the hair sample from Hershey’s tail.  She e-mailed me about a week later with the results.  This was also followed by a phone consultation a few days later.

Even though I was expecting some sort of issues to show up from the hair analysis, I was not expecting the list that I received.  According to the analysis, Hershey had a number of imbalances, including in many minerals.  He also had several disorders according to the biofeedback machine–three of which were ligament disorder, hormone disorder, and malabsorption syndrome.

The ligament disorder immediately made sense to me because in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the hooves are viewed an extension of the ligaments.  So an imbalance within the ligaments could easily show up in the hooves.

The malabsorption syndrome was something that I’d heard of before (it’s common with older horses), but hadn’t considered as a possibility with Hershey.   However, I began to see how this could, indeed, be one of Hershey’s major issues.   Despite 24/7 access to pasture or hay, he’s always been a ‘hard keeper’.  At age 22 now, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the problem has gotten worse.  I also thought about his feet again and why the cracks and poor hoof wall quality had remained after everything I’d done.  If he wasn’t absorbing the custom supplements I was feeding, then of course his feet weren’t going to improve!

(by the way, when Pete Ramey trimmed Hershey at my workshop in January, he even wondered if Hershey weren’t absorbing the minerals I was feeding. . .)

The hair analysis results also showed a ‘perverse energy overload’–in particular from power tools and cell phone radiation.  I found this interesting because my husband’s workshop is right next to the pasture.  There is also a cell phone tower not far from our house.  Of course, there’s not much I can do about these things though. . .

I did, however, want to focus on the things that I could possibly help with– the mineral imbalances and  malabsorption syndrome.  Karen suggested I first put Hershey on a zeolite/ silica supplement (Enviromin) for a gentle detox and then switch to free-choice mineral–specifically a brand called Big Sky–so that he could balance himself out.

I have to say that this was my biggest hang-up with all the results and advice she gave me.  After all, I’d spent years learning about and preaching hay/pasture analyses and customizing minerals according to specific deficiencies in the forage.  I was very leery about trying free choice minerals.

I did the detox supplement right away and reluctantly agreed to try the free-choice minerals. But after doing some research, I decided to go with a different (and fairly pricey) mineral because it had no added iron (ABC’s Rush Creek Mineral).  My horses loved this mineral and I might have had good results with it, but I simply could not afford to keep feeding it.  My four horses went through three 25 pound bags in about three weeks.

So after that, I went back to top-dressing minerals as I had previously done.  But I still wasn’t getting anywhere with Hershey. . .

So finally, about two months ago, I  said this to myself–you know, Casie–you’ve tried everything else under the sun and nothing has really worked.  Why not take Karen’s advice and try the Big Sky Minerals?  Could it really hurt?

So I decided to bite the bullet and order my first bag.

My horses have now been on Big Sky Minerals for about a month and a half and believe it or not, I am actually seeing some positive changes in Hershey’s feet for the first time!    The mild but chronic thrush we’d constantly been battling has seemingly disappeared.  (Lee Lee also suffered from mild thrush and it has cleared up as well.)



If you look closely, you can see the deep crevice in the back of Hershey’s frog here. This is a telltale sign of thrush.  Happens all the time, even with very dry hooves.


Here you can see that even with the extremely wet weather we've been having this spring, the crack is gone--no thrush!

Here you can see that even with the extremely wet weather we’ve been having this spring, the crack is gone–no thrush!


Hershey still has the vertical cracks in his feet, but I am daring to hope that the free choice minerals will help with those too.  Only time will tell, I guess.

Hershey is also finally putting some weight back on and I’m very happy about that.

I promised Karen I would do this review when she did the hair analysis for me.  I just wished I’d taken her advice sooner.  The biofeedback analysis was definitely worth it and I’m also becoming a big fan of free choice minerals and Big Sky.  As always though, I will keep you updated!

My favorite piece of advice from Karen was this though:  Keep it simple.  That’s what I’m now learning to do.  Who knows, maybe my horses don’t need a micro-manager after all. . . :-)


Hershey--week 1 on Big Sky Minerals

Hershey–week 1 on Big Sky Minerals


Hershey at about week 6 on Big Sky Minerals

Hershey at about week 6 on Big Sky Minerals





P.S.–if you’re interested in learning more about free choice minerals, I recommend reading this post.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about Karen and the hair analyses she does, please visit her website.





Healthy Horse Pastures

Is your horse pasture healthy?  I don’t mean is it beautiful and green–I mean is it healthy for your horse?!? You may or may not have ever thought about this question, but it’s something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on lately.

I’ll be honest, until recently, I could have cared less whether my pasture was healthy or not.  I saw grass as the enemy for the most part.  I fretted about how much grass my horses were eating and whether it was sunny or cloudy (which affects the sugar content).  I was especially worried come spring and fall–when horses are most at risk for grass-related laminitis (even though I’ve never had a horse develop this dreaded condition).

In order to restrict grazing, I’ve employed several methods over the years–from keeping my horses penned up for part of the day, building a ‘dry’ lot, using grazing muzzles, and even building a paddock paradise.  All in the name of limiting grass intake.

I’m not saying that the above grass-restriction methods are bad or that they aren’t necessary in some cases.  In fact, I’m sure they’ve saved many horses’ lives.  But I began to question why was I so concerned about grass when my horses had lived on it for years with no problems?  

I’d also like mention that I do still really like the paddock paradise concept–I think it could be great in many situations.  It just wasn’t working for me.  For one, my grass is stubborn.  No matter how much I tilled it and tried to make it go away, it kept coming back. (I refuse to use chemical sprays.)  And I realized that my horses would be better off on pasture than eating the short, stressed grass that was on the track.

Another reason why the paddock paradise didn’t work for me is that one of my oldest horse eats very little hay.  Even though I did allow the herd into the center pasture for a few hours in the early mornings, hay was the main option on the track.  Both Hershey (who’s always been on the thinner side anyways) and Kady (my grandma horse) began to lose weight after several months of being on the track.

So I moved all four of my horses to another pasture for the winter and decided to rethink things for the coming spring.

I realized that I had not been listening to my gut instincts on caring for my horses.  My gut instincts were telling me a couple of things: 1.) Horses are meant to live on grass and 2.) My horses needed more say (and by say, I mean choices) as far their diet is concerned.

So I started doing some research in order to learn more about healthy pastures.

I found that there are different opinions on what is considered healthy (many opinions involve fertilizing and spraying), but Joe Camp’s definition of a healthy horse pasture made the most sense to me.  In one article, Joe says “the pasture the horse needs isn’t pretty.”   (By the way, Joe even has a short but informative book on the topic:  Horses Were Born to be on Grass, which I bought.)

So you may be thinking–no, no, no.  My horses can’t live on grass–full time anyways.  I’m not ignoring the fact that so many horses do have problems when living on pasture.  It can and does happen.  I believe there are several reasons for this, but unnatural living conditions, unhealthy pastures, and mineral imbalance are probably a major culprit in grass-related issues.

I also think springing change upon our horses is a recipe for trouble (for example, keeping them in a pen with only hay to eat and then suddenly turning them out on spring grass.)

To me, creating and maintaining healthy pasture makes more sense than depriving my horses of what they are meant to eat though.  So here are my ideas on what a healthy horse pasture should include.



If you look at many horse pastures these days, they’re beautiful.  Lush and green with little to no weeds and comprised of primarily one species of grass.  I know people people that take great pride in how their pastures look.  But beautiful grass does not equal healthy grass (for horses, anyways).

Variety is so important.  Horses roaming free will pick and choose which grasses and plants to eat in order to meet their dietary needs.  Horses in a pasture with one type of grass will eat that grass–because they have no other choice.

In addition, we often seed our pastures with modern grasses which are higher in simple sugars.  We may fertilize and spray for weeds as well.  All good and well if we’re going for aesthetics–but not so good if we’re going for a healthy horse.

Variety is Important!


A healthy pasture should consist of a variety of grasses, plants, shrubs, and trees–giving the horse many different options.  What we often consider to be weeds can actually be very beneficial for our horses (as I wrote about recently).  The lowly dandelion, for example, contains many minerals and vitamins and has medicinal value as well.  Just something to consider before you spray. . .



Living herbs can be a wonderful addition to any horse pasture and this is something that I decided to add to my pasture this year (as I recently wrote about).  Herbs can be great sources of minerals and vitamins and some also have great medicinal value.  In domestication, we’ve taken away so many of the horse’s choices, but I believe that horses are intelligent enough to self-medicate, as so many other species do.  By planting a variety of herbs in your pasture, you are giving them this opportunity.



One key factor in having a healthy pasture is having enough space to adequately support the number of horses you have.  Not only do horses need space to move about, but they also need sufficient grass/ plant life to keep them healthy.

When I was  a kid, we had a two-acre pasture with as many as four horses living on it at times.  I realize now that this was just not enough land–for four horses living on it full-time anyways.

So how much land is enough?  Well, the answer depends on a several things, including the type of soil and terrain you have. For many areas, 1-2 two acres per horse is enough, while in areas where grass is sparser, 5-10 acres per horse might be needed.  I found this cool article with a link to a page which can help you find the type of soil your pasture has and also a good estimate of how many horses your pasture can handle.


Avoid Overgrazing

Going back to the two-acre pasture we had when I was a kid–it was full of these weeds with little yellow flowers.  These weren’t the ‘good’ weeds either.  Why were they there?  Overgrazing.  Overgrazing will often result in poor quality soil which allows one or two species of weeds to take over.




Giving pasture grasses a chance to rest and recuperate is important– especially if you have a small acreage.  You can do this in several ways such as using portable electric fencing (to fence off certain areas), pasture rotation, or dry lotting (with hay, of course) for a period.    Recovery time for pastures takes anywhere from 10 to 60 days, depending on the season, weather, and soil.


Manure Management




I also wrote about this recently.  I don’t know why it took me so long to realize the importance of manure management in the pasture, but I’m glad that I finally did.  This is especially important if you have multiple horses on a smaller acreage.  By cleaning manure daily (or every few days) from the pasture, you can help to reduce the spread of parasites, minimize flies, and promote a healthier environment (since manure often leaks into nearby streams and ponds, wreaking havoc on water quality as well as plant and animal life.)


So, there you have my ideas on what a healthy horse pasture should include.   If you have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment below.





Sources and Further Reading

Pasture Grass: The Healthy Choice

Pasture: Evaluation and Management of Existing Pasture

Overgrazing can Hurt Environment, Your Pocketbook

10 Herbs for your Horse

The following article is written by holistic veterinarian, Dr. Joyce Harman of Harmany Equine Clinic.  

Did you know that herbs can be powerful aids to assist during healing for humans and animals alike? If you’ve been eager to learn more about holistic medicine, but not sure where to start, here’s a quick look at the top ten herbs to cut your teeth on.

These herbs offer good historical data and current research and can be easy to incorporate into every day practice:


Photo courtesy Flickr/ahenobarbus


1. (Milk thistle) Silybum marianum 

This herb has an excellent place in modern veterinary medicine for its ability to help the liver cells function and regenerate. Many animals are exposed to frequent use of drugs, leaving the liver in less than perfect shape.


2. (Ginger root) Zingiber officinale

Ginger is in most kitchens and can be used to nausea from many causes, including motion sickness. It often helps with horses who do not eat while trailering, as this author believes these horses have motion sickness, as does occur in all other species. If the horse loads onto the trailer well (not upset by trailering itself), but does not eat while moving, may sweat or not, ginger will generally help settle the symptoms. Ginger can be given in cases of colic, especially when caused by cold weather or other exposure to cold.


3. (Dandelion) Taraxaum officinale

Laxative, diuretic, chronic colitis, immune stimulant, increases effects of insulin. Well-known for its liver and kidney tonification and clearing. Horses crave the plants in the spring and will dig deep into the dirt at times to eat the roots at any time during the year if they really want the plant. Is well-known as a blood cleanser.


4. (Tumeric) Curcuma longa

This herb is gaining in popularity and research. It has shown effects in inhibiting carcinogenesis, is a lypoxygenase inhibitor, protects the liver, and has antioxidant effects. It is used frequently to support liver and cancer patients and is extremely safe to use.


5. (Aloe, aloes), Aloe sp. Aloe can easily be grown as a house-plant, supplying a ready-made first aid treatment for any wound or surgical incision after removing the stitches. The plant leaf can be broken open and the gel from the inside applied directly to a wound. Internally high quality extracts sooth stomach and intestinal ulcers, irritation, and post-surgical trauma from ingested foreign objects. Quality extracts may be distilled or extracted in water similar to a juice. The distilled product is virtually tasteless, an excellent characteristic for cats and fussy eaters.


6. (Mullein) Verbascum thapsus

An excellent demulcent that soothes the mucous membranes. Bronchitis, coughs, helpful in the recovery stage of kennel cough. Leaves can be crushed and applied topically to wounds and scrapes. An oil infusion is particularly helpful in inflamed ears from ear mites or other irritations, but oil should not be put into hot, infected ears.


7. (Comfrey) Symphytum officinale

Externally for sprains and fractures. Internally for anti-inflammatory, helps heal hard tissue such as bone, and demulcent for the intestinal, respiratory tracts and for wounds. Horses will voluntarily seek out and eat comfrey growing in pastures with no ill effects, but it is considered toxic internally by the medical community.


8. (Flaxseed) Linum sp.

Constipation, dermatitis, gastritis. Was considered a laxative, and a tonic. All parts of the seed are used. Ground seed in warm water was considered an excellent cooling food for horses, almost laxative.

Flax is used frequently for many of its excellent qualities. The omega 3 and 6 fatty acids improve coat quality, immune function. Research in other species demonstrates its immune system support, anti-inflammatory action, and anti-cancer properties. Clinically, in this author’s practice it is useful in insulin and glucose regulation in Equine Metabolic Syndrome. Small animals are less able to process the fatty acids in flax, and often get more of the omega 3’s from fish oils. Clinically some improvement in skin and immune health is seen in cats and dogs.

One study performed on horses demonstrated the efficacy of flax (Linum usitatissimum) supplementation on the skin-test response of atopic horses. Six horses that displayed a positive skin test for Culicoides sp. participated in the 42-day, placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over trial. Results showed that supplementation with flaxseed for 42 days reduced the mean skin-test response. There was a significant decrease in the long-chain saturated fatty acids in the hair.


9. (Chamomile) Matricaria chamomila, or recutita

Chamomile appears in many formulas for calming nervous horses and other animals, and it excels there, but its other uses are often forgotten. It is an excellent blood cleanser, a mild tonic as the historical use suggests, helps relax the gastrointestinal tract, and can be used in mild cases of colic in the equine. A simple formula that can be given to a client over the phone while waiting for the arrival of the veterinarian is to take 100 mls of cooled tea (use a good handful of herbs, or tea bags which people often have in the cupboard), add 10 drops of Rescue Remedy™ from the health food store and give this to the horse every half hour. An important mild tonic in any debilitated horse during later stages of fevers or influenza.


10. (Maitake mushrooms) Grifola frondosa

Exciting research with immune system and cancer treatment support has been done with this mushroom or its extracts. The beta D-glucans appear to stimulate immunity for a broad spectrum of conditions. Extracts of the D fraction can be obtained in glycerin, which is palatable to many species.


Before you begin a care regimen for yourself, or your companion animals, please consult a medical professional to avoid species-specific toxicity and herb-drug interactions.


To read more articles by Dr. Harman, please click here.  

Surviving EPM: Dyzzi’s Story

For April, I am featuring a seven-year-old APHA mare named Drummer Doll, aka Dyzzi, as my horse of the month.  After a bout with EPM (Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis) last year, Dyzzi is back to being happy and healthy today.




Kaitlyn Lorentz bought Dyzzi three years ago so she could go roping with her husband.  The young mare had some issues after being mistreated by trainers, but Kaitlyn patiently worked with her and the two soon developed a very special bond.

Then, in February of 2014, Dyzzi came down with a spontaneous onset of EPM.

“At 8 am, she was fine, but by 9 am she couldn’t even stand up,” said Kaitlyn.

Dyzzi also had minimal gut sounds.  Kaitlyn took Dyzzi in to her vet right away.  She was treated for colic, but the vets were still stumped as to what had caused her sudden ataxia.  They decided to test for EPM, and three days later, the test came back positive.


Seeing the other horses coming in and out was too much stimulation for Dyzzi and she would fall, so they put a blanket over her stall. When she heard Kaitlyn's voice, she stretched her neck as far as it would go to see her and nickered at her.

Seeing the other horses coming in and out of the clinic was too much stimulation for Dyzzi and she would fall, so they put a blanket over her stall. When she heard Kaitlyn’s voice, she stretched her neck as far as it would go and nickered at her.

Dyzzi stayed at the vet clinic for six days.  When she came home, she was still pretty wobbly.  Kaitlyn had started treatment with Marquis, along with the EPM kit from Effective Pet Wellness.  In addition, she gave Dyzzi Pau D’Arco, Vitamin E, and Silver Lining’s Brain and Nerve Support, as well as their herbal dewormer and LCR.  Dyzzi began to recover very quickly.

“Within five days, we were taking very short walks, and within two weeks we were on longer walks and going over obstacle courses to challenge her balance.  After three weeks, she was being turned out in a small pasture by herself,” said Kaitlyn.


The obstacle course Kaitlyn set up to help in Dyzzi's recovery.

The obstacle course Kaitlyn set up to help in Dyzzi’s recovery.


After seven weeks, Kaitlyn began riding Dyzzi again, first at a walk and a few days later at a trot.  Dyzzi was retested for EPM after 8 weeks and the results came back negative.  She was tested several more times in the proceeding weeks, and thankfully, each result came back negative.

“The longest thing to recover was her hearing–it took about 15 weeks for her to hear me calling for her,” said Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn reported that Dyzzy was back to 100%  after sixteen weeks.  Today, Kaitlyn and Dyzzi are back to their usual activities–going team roping, cutting, and even trail riding in the Colorado mountains.




Dyzzi is currently maintained on a grass/ alfalfa hay diet with soaked grass pellets and several different herbs– chaste tree berry, red raspberry, passion flower, and chamomile to keep her comfortable and quiet, as well as several digestive herbs including slippery elm, marshmallow, milk thistle, and licorice.

She lives with five other horses in a small lot, and is turned out into a larger pasture for a few hours daily.  Dyzzi is also ridden every day, so she gets plenty of exercise.

Kaitlyn is extremely grateful for Dyzzi’s recovery and the two have formed an even tighter bond since her illness.




“This horse has so much heart and try–it’s unbelievable. Everything she does, she tries to do it right. She works so hard.  Even when she couldn’t hardly stand up, she tried to do tricks like the Spanish walk. She is irreplaceable and as sweet as they come,” said Kaitlyn.


We definitely wish this duo continued health and happiness!