Food Therapy for Horses: Q&A with Dr. Fenton, Part 4

This is the final post of the Q & A series with holistic veterinarian, Dr. Rhiannon Fenton. 

If you missed them, here are Parts One, Two, and Three

Rhiannon Fenton, DVM of Vital Equine Veterinary Services, is based in Calabasas, California. Dr. Fenton earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine from Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine. She is also certified in Animal Chiropractic, Veterinary Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Food Therapy, and Reiki Energy Healing.

Dr. Fenton specializes in custom-tailored specialty treatments for horses and other species and believes in unlocking the body’s own potential to heal itself through holistic modalities.



Q&A with Dr. Fenton, Part 4

Food Therapy for Horses

Q: Would you tell us about a specific case study in which food therapy was helpful?

I will share a case about my own horse, “Rocky”. He is a 22 year-old, Rocky Mountain Gaited Horse Gelding living in Southern California. The climate is mostly hot, dry, and arid with some rain in the winter. He is used as a trail/pleasure horse and mostly ridden in a bareback pad. He has minimal withers and a round conformation. No saddle has ever fit him perfectly and he gets back soreness from most of them, even the gaited-horse saddles.

He is kept in a large paddock with my one other horse who is younger than him and can be quite obnoxious. “Rocky” is very sweet and affectionate but he is definitely the boss of the other horse. He gets along well with other horses for the most part and is friendly towards humans. Sometimes he can be stand-offish and run away if another horse is mean to him.

His constitution is Fire/Earth. He is mostly laid back, can easily gain weight or lose weight quickly, very friendly, loyal and “mothering” (Earth.) He is sensitive, can get wound up quickly when feeling good or overly stimulated, hates any type of needles, snorts, reacts like a diva towards them and wants to run away (Fire.) He does better during the warm, summer months as far as his overall demeanor and well-being. Cold weather causes stiffness in his joints (Kidney related).

He has slight arthritis in his hocks. His left hind hock would flare up and edema would settle around his cannon bone and fetlock if I went on a ride for too long even if we just walked. He has some low back pain and had an injury to a tendon in his forelimb when he spooked at a deer about five years ago. He suffered from EPM when he was about 7 years old and recovered without any overt, long-lasting symptoms.

He was mostly being fed straight alfalfa and occasionally on a random joint supplement. His water was tap water and not filtered. For 8 years he had only worn shoes on the front hooves and barefoot in the hind. He was receiving routine vaccinations and chemical dewormers 2-3 times a year.

Prior to all of the knowledge I have obtained throughout the years, I thought he was a healthy horse. I would take him out for rides, never had any serious health issues with him and he was an easy keeper for the most part. I was just like many of the horse owners out there who think their horses are fine and healthy because there are no overt signs saying otherwise. Or there are those, including myself at one time, who think their horse is only slowing down because they are showing “signs of age.”

The more that I learned as a holistic veterinarian, the more I realized how wrong I was. He was uncomfortable because he had disharmony in his body. It wasn’t simply because he was aging that he was slowing down. He was in pain and his body was speaking very subtly, but not being heard.

Once I learned TCVM and how to do TCVM exams, I looked back on an old picture of him and realized how pale, muddy-colored and swollen his tongue was during one specific winter (this indicates lack of blood flow and Qi deficiency). He was also very slow moving during that winter, especially when the rain came. He had low energy and wasn’t as interested in being friendly like he normally was. It really broke my heart to see him that way but I also wasn’t going to just throw bute or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory at him when there wasn’t really anything “wrong.”

Continuing on with my new knowledge and ability to provide a TCVM exam, he was cold along his back and at his distal extremities. His pulses were weak, especially on the right side which told me he was Qi/Yang deficient. His history of arthritis told me it was Kidney related. The pale and swollen tongue, the cold signs, the weak pulses on the right, the cold weather making him worse, summer months being better, loved sun bathing and his history of arthritis all pointed towards Kidney Yang Deficiency. He had too much cold in his body and his Kidneys needed to be Tonified and energetically “warmed up.”

As I realized all of this, I began changing his food. I could not feed him oat hay which is warmer. My other horse had a skin condition and the oat hay would make it worse. They share a paddock so there is no separating the food. An important factor to note here is that “Rocky” and the other horse were complete opposites; one had too much Cold and the other had too much Heat. Whenever I fed them their Food Therapy and Chinese Herbal Medicine, I had to monitor that they did not share each other’s meals as it would exacerbate the other’s condition. I had to be very dedicated and diligent.

“Rocky” and the other horse are currently on organic alfalfa/orchard hybrid hay. In addition, “Rocky” gets the following:

  • Organic, certified non-GMO rolled oats – Warming, Tonifies Blood and Qi.
  • Organic garlic (in the winter)—Resolves stagnation (pain), Warming, good for circulation.
  • E3live for horses (in the summer)—Cooling, good for Thyroid function, Liver, Detoxifies, and supports hoof growth.
  • Holistic Horse Pure Unrefined Sea Salt free feed—Cooling. Provides electrolytes, minerals and trace elements.
  • Holistic Horse Omni-Wormer 3 days a week all year round—Contains Diatomaceous Earth, Grape seed Oil, Probiotics, and Immune Boost with vitamins and minerals for immune support. (Cooling).
  • Raw almonds as treats—Tonifies Kidneys! (Good for arthritis)
  • Stir-fried walnuts as treats—Tonifies Kidney Yang (Great for Kidney Yang Deficiency arthritis!!)
  • Organic Celery occasionally—cooling, treats Liver Heat and nourishes tendons and ligaments.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil occasionally—Good for “Rocky’s” Yang Deficiency.
  • Pure Hyaluronic Acid oral daily—Keeps joints lubricated. Make sure there are no preservatives or other ingredients other than saline.

I put “Rocky” on Standard Process Equine Mobility support in the colder months. I have done several rounds of Chinese Herbal Medicine with him for EPM, Kidney Yang Deficiency arthritis, tendon/ligament repair, and body soreness. He wears a special blanket at night in the winter to help stimulate blood flow along his back and work with the acupuncture meridians. I use this instead of regular acupuncture since he hates the needles so much. The blanket also keeps his body heat insulated at night and maintains extra warmth for his Kidneys (bones/joints).

He now is barefoot on all four hooves and is trimmed by a holistic barefoot farrier, Tiva Delcour. She is trained and knowledgeable about the biological and functional anatomy of the hoof. I have learned valuable knowledge from her and both of my horses are in less pain due to her phenomenal work. Three farriers before her tried removing “Rocky’s” front shoes and he would go lame every time. I could not ride him at all. This never happened with Tiva. Now he feels so good on his feet and throughout his entire body that, as a result, he’s even bossier to my other horse. It’s like he has reversed in age between the two of us working on him!

He gets once weekly intramuscular injections of vitamin B-12 and his own blood injected at the correct acupuncture points corresponding to his TCVM exam that day. Adequan is given once monthly in an acupuncture point for tendon/ligament/joint pain depending on what he will allow me to do. He does not like needles and will kick if I do anything near his hindquarters! It took me a long time to be able to do the injections with him.

When I first began acupuncture with “Rocky”, I was lucky if I got two acupuncture needles in him. However, it was very clear that this helped him. His eyes would get soft, he would relax, breathe deep and slow and also drop his penis. I had to do a lot of listening and respecting him in the beginning with acupuncture. The dynamic of being his mom and the veterinarian meant I had to be extra patient and keep my expectations in check. I could not destroy his trust, push his boundaries and still have the wonderful and deep relationship that I have with him.

Combining everything I have mentioned thus far has completely revitalized him. He runs and bucks when turned loose in the arena. His hock hardly ever swells up with edema anymore and he is excited to run up hills on a trail ride. I tell Tiva all the time, “Thanks for helping create a monster!” He is so alive again. His eyes are bright, his coat shines, he happily engages with the environment in which he lives and he moves freely without pain. It truly is like the hands of time were reversed. He looks and feels youthful. There is nothing about him that says he is 22 years old.

Of course, it was a combination of doing many different things that created “Rocky’s” turn around. But that is exactly the point I wish to make here. He needed holistic medicine to really address and heal every angle by which he was being affected. He is a perfect example of how I approach my patients. All the factors of each individual patient must be considered. By integrating Eastern and Western Medicine, it gives space for open-mindedness and an all-encompassing treatment protocol. That is what provides the opportunity for a success story like Rocky’s.



Figure 1: December 2012– Rocky’s tongue is pale and dull in color. He is achy, stiff, less sociable and more arthritic.





Figures 2& 3:  September 2014– Rocky’s tongue is a brighter, more vibrant pink after all the Holistic Veterinary care. Circulation has improved. He is more sociable, rarely gets edema in his left hind hock, plays, and engages with the environment more. Improvement in quality of life and successful pain management is evident.


Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding diet or food therapy for horses?

Food therapy is a subject I am obviously very passionate about and could speak on much further but it would end up being a book! There are many fine details and specific guidelines of its use which a skilled TCVM practitioner can appreciate and provide further education to his or her clients. However, there is one topic of importance I do feel worth mentioning; there are certain contraindications with food therapy. To list them all and each scenario would be exhaustive, so I will cover one I come across regularly.

Many horse owners like to use garlic in the summer because it helps with fly control. We must keep in mind that summer brings Heat to the external and internal environment of our animals. Horses that already have Heat in their bodies are more affected by hot weather or hot food energetics as it can exacerbate already existent Heat conditions within the body. One such internal Heat condition that can flare up during the summer is fly allergy dermatitis. Many horses experience the loss of hair, open sores and severe, itchy agitation from certain fly species such as Culicoides.

Giving garlic to a horse that has Excess Heat in its body or a Yin Deficiency during hot summer months will only make the skin condition worse. Why is that? Garlic is Yang and naturally warming. It will intensify the Heat condition in the body. If used excessively during the summer on a horse that already has too much Heat, it can cause diarrhea, lethargy, anemia and other forms of illness. Always use the guidance of a trained TCVM veterinarian and moderation is key!

Oat hay can also have the same affect on the skin. Oat hay is more warming than alfalfa or other grass hays. By using cooling foods, this will help soothe the skin. Small amounts of organic soybean oil as a top dressing to the horse’s organic grain or feed supplement once daily is a great choice for relentless skin conditions with itchiness. Organic kelp is another great option for skin problems.

Other common sense contraindications are not to use foods high in sugar content with horses suffering from laminitis, insulin resistance or other metabolically related diseases. Duration of use, portion sizes and providing a diverse variety of foods are also important considerations among individual horses. The goal is to bring the animal into harmony, create balance between Yin and Yang. Be neutral; not too Cold, not too Hot.

Last but not least, the most important nutritional element that owners often times forget about is water. This is the most vital component in your horse’s nutrition. Horses can go much longer without food than they can water. Make sure the water being provided to your horse is clean and fresh. Having the water tested for heavy metal contaminants can be an enlightening process and one in which your holistic veterinarian can provide advice. The quality of tap water varies from city to city. Some cities provide tap water analysis reports online.

Advanced Biological Concepts (ABC) sells water filters that can easily be installed at the end of garden hoses. Their product uses a charcoal filter and can clean out some of the harmful components that could be wreaking havoc on your horse’s internal organs. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a new water system. If you want to and have the financial means, go right ahead. But many horses are at the mercy of being in barn settings and doing such things is out of the question. The ABC filter offers a solution for those at a public barn setting and allows owners to fill up their horse’s water in a trough or container manually without affecting the entire water system already in place.

Once again, hair mineral analysis can also elucidate excess or deficiency of minerals associated with water quality. It serves as a preventative diagnostic test for currently unknown and possible unforeseen future issues. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Benjamin Franklin. This statement is very true and can go a long way.

Please contact your local holistic veterinarian trained in TCVM Food Therapy so he or she can properly guide you on what to feed your horse for health promotion, disease recovery and prevention. If you don’t know of one in your area, visit The Official Website of The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. You can find a holistic veterinarian listed by state and specialty.


Warmest Regards,

“Rocky” and Dr. Fenton



¹ The Chi Institute TCVM Food Therapy Course, 2014

² Xie, H., Preast, V. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine Fundamental Principles. Chi Institute 2007

³ Advanced Biological Concepts 2014



Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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2 Responses

  1. Christine says:

    Fabulous article and series. Thank you for sharing, Dr. Fenton. If it’s alright with you I’d appreciate being able to share your articles with my clients.
    Best wishes,

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