Chemical exposure linked to equine metabolic syndrome in horses

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EMS researchers focused on the welsh and morgan breeds. EMS is characterized by three main features: obesity or regional adiposity (accumulation of fat in certain areas, particularly the neck), insulin resistance (IR) a “pre-diabetic” like state, and laminitis.
EMS researchers focused on the welsh and morgan breeds. EMS is characterized by three main features: obesity or regional adiposity (accumulation of fat in certain areas, particularly the neck), insulin resistance (IR) a “pre-diabetic” like state, and laminitis. © University of Minnesota

New research in the US has revealed that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in a horse’s environment may play a role in the development of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals usually are man-made substances, found in products such as pesticides, plastics and personal care products. They are heavily prevalent in the environment and can mimic a body’s hormones, blocking real ones from doing their jobs. Because of this, they are known to produce harmful effects in humans and wildlife. Horses likely come into contact with EDCs through their food.

Equine metabolic syndrome, which has no cure, is characterized by endocrine abnormalities in horses and ponies. Affected horses and ponies have a tendency to develop pockets of fat and/or become obese, and they have altered insulin dynamics. EMS also is one of the most common causes of laminitis, a painful and debilitating inflammation of tissue in a horse’s hooves, leading to reduced performance, and in severe cases necessitating euthanasia.

The team concluded that accumulation of EDCs may explain some environmental variance seen in horses with EMS, but the precise role and dose response to EDCs in horses with EMS is not clear.

The research by Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers at the University of Minnesota, could explain some of the variability in EMS severity that can’t be explained by other commonly measured factors, such as diet, exercise and season.

Dr Molly McCue
Dr Molly McCue

Dr Molly McCue, Professor and interim Associate Dean of Research in the College of Veterinary Medicine, described the findings published in the March issue Chemosphere as a “pivotal piece of a very complicated jigsaw puzzle”.

“There are a lot of horse owners out there who are very diligent about providing their horses fantastic care, but the horse is still diagnosed.

“It’s important to be aware that these chemicals contribute to the problem, so we can look for ways to reduce horses’ exposure to them,” McCue said.

The team of researchers from Minnesota, The Netherlands, and New Zealand, studied more than 300 horses, from 32 farms, in the United States and Canada. They focused on Welsh ponies and Morgan horses, as these breeds are more likely to develop EMS than others. The team collected data on the horses’ lifestyles, including diet, exercise and past illnesses, as well as their farm location.

Researchers also examined plasma from the horses and looked for EDCs that have effects on receptors in the horse (estrogen [EEQ] and aryl hydrocarbon [TEQ] receptors). Simultaneously, they determined whether an individual horse had blood test results consistent with an EMS profile (including insulin and glucose at rest and following a sugar challenge). The team then analyzed the results to look for correlations between plasma EDC concentration and these variables.

Generalized obesity and regional adiposity in a Morgan horse mare with Equine Metabolic Syndrome
Generalized obesity and regional adiposity in a Morgan horse mare with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). © Equine Endocrinology Group/ University of Minnesota

“The more we know about a disease, especially a devastating and incurable disease like EMS, the more we can find innovative ways to prevent it,” said Dr Kelly Diehl, Morris Animal Foundation Interim Vice-President of Scientific Programs. “While EDCs are difficult to avoid at the moment, the information from this study will greatly improve veterinarians’ ability to predict the disease and provide opportunities to prevent it.”

This is the first study to examine associations between EDCs and disease in domestic animals. McCue said it remains to be seen how significant the association is, but hopes future studies will further scientific understanding and help advance veterinary care for horses.

Associations between endocrine disrupting chemicals and equine metabolic syndrome phenotypesS.A. Durward-Akhurst, N.E. Schultz, E.M. Norton, A.K. Rendahl, H. Besselink, P.A. Behnisch, A. Brouwer, R.J. Geor, J.R. Mickelson, M.E. McCue. Chemosphere, Vol 18, Mar 2019, p 652-661.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2018.11.136

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43 thoughts on “Chemical exposure linked to equine metabolic syndrome in horses

  • February 14, 2019 at 5:41 pm
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    I am wondering more and more about feeds with Soybean Meal? Very suspicious about this escallating the issue in IR horses? Have taken my pony off a feed that promotes itself as good for Lamanitic horses etc as it is low NSC, but my pony has gotten worse with body score since using it…………………

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    • February 15, 2019 at 4:07 pm
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      try Triple crown “naturals” pellet or you can use McCaulleys M10, balancer .. both are soy free..

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      • February 16, 2019 at 5:22 am
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        Triple Crown Naturals is anything but natural, when you open a bag smell it – it is an alternative because there is no soy yes – but I would not feed to my horses or my mini’s I am able to get Modesto Milling Organic Senior Feed

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        • February 25, 2019 at 7:16 pm
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          Yes, everything is organic in Modesto Mills. Oats and black oil sunflowers are now being routinely sprayed with desicants about 2 weeks prior to harvest. Glyphosphate (Roundup) is being used routinely on oats, wheat, peas, beans, sugar beets and other crops that are not GMO. They desicate the plant, bringing all the field to ripeness, causing larger seeds as the plants die, and killing the bind weed that causes problems for the harvesters. Black oil sunflower seeds are sprayed with pesticides through the growing season. Horse owners are realizing that beets are grown in soil that gets sprayed with pesticides and gylphosphates year after year. My brother is a crop duster and spends most of his time in South Dakota spraying Roundup on weeds before planting wheat and then the wheat prior to harvest. He also sprays pesticides during growing season and finally a different desicant on black oil sunflower plants. Know what you’re feeding your horse. Mine have had hay, hay pellets and supplements. But we have very rich grass which is a problem as well.

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        • September 4, 2020 at 6:16 am
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          Please, Which kind of Modesto feed is ok for EMS horses? I noticed grains were the first ingredients in the ones I looked at. I have been feeding the triple crown naturals balance cubes and light feed along with forage. She’s better but not great.

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      • February 19, 2019 at 1:46 pm
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        We have to pay attention to the soy free or grain free diet…As they all have, in fact, soybean hulls in it. Which is worse than soybean meals. My 2 mares ( one is 5) are hypothyroid and I suspect a 3d horse ( didn’t tested him yet) to be as well..Which would make 50% of my horses…which is a very high number…They all have been on diet balancer or triple light for a few years…I really suspect the soybean hulls to be the one that disturb the endocrine system of my horses…Also, soybean is an inflammatory grain…

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    • February 16, 2019 at 5:26 am
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      If the body score goes down then we add soaked hay pellets, mainly Timothy, some beet pulp, some rice bran meal and a small amount of alfalfa, the alfalfa can be by way of pellets so you can monitor the amount as well

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    • February 17, 2019 at 2:03 am
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      It’s been several years that I’m asking the same question. And all the no grain diets for laminitic horses have as a first ingredient soybean hulls…which I’m pretty sure, is the issue

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    • February 18, 2019 at 10:33 am
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      Good for you. One horse here and she gets 3 types Jax in winter, grass in summer, anything needed I’ve given her renew gold. Haven’t heard any bad yet I do ? Coconut., or alfalfa, I’ll add in any humane grade greens horses can eat !

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    • March 9, 2020 at 2:54 am
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      Soy is a known endocrine disruptor = metabolic issues.
      I’m constantly amazed at the horse nutrition industry who continue to use it and market it to unknowing horse people! Pays dividends to do your own studying and not believing everything a marketing campaign tells you. Soy is a cheap protein. Regardless of organic or not, it may be low sugar but it doesn’t change the fact it’s an endoctrine disruptor = metabolic issues. Studies also need to check for hypothyroidism, classic common metabolism issue with soy as it affects the thyroid,master gland of any body. Not only are more people showing hypothyroid, but so are our horses and cats. I’ve got all 3 here with it. No to soy & corn here. My welsh cross gains weight easily, bought her when she was 5 yrs old, now she’s 28 yrs young. Still testing negative for Cushing’s, no IR, and no founder/laminits ever.
      We’ll keep avoid SOY and corn at all costs.

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      • November 14, 2020 at 11:12 am
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        It’s easy to make connections of causes and results erroneously…especially with the state the food industry is in and the amount of ingredients that really do not deserve the label of ‘food’.

        Soy is not entirely an endocrine disruptor, it’s an ‘estrogenic food’ – it mimics estrogen in the body, thus taking up cell estrogen receptors, yet it doesnt act like natural estrogen, so doesnt do the important jobs estrogen does for all genders. Due to the body getting a signal that the estrogen cell receptors are ‘full’ from soy estrogen – The body stops making its own natural estrogen – and THAT causes weight loss, low adipose fat, smaller breasts in females, low libido, anxiety, etc etc. Japan and china have used soy for centuries – yet they ferment it. It completely changes the nature of the food being fermented and makes it more bio-available and gentler on the body.

        The west have taken soy beans and grind them up and add them to everything! Its a legume, has natural ‘anti-nutrients’ and it’s estrogenic. Vegan foods are loaded with soy – vegans are skinny! Fat vegans are rare!
        Soy hulls are used mainly for equine foods due to high fibre , sure beans are also used – they are likely sprayed with herbicides and pesticides in the fields and so the hulls will contain large residue of agro-chemicals.

        Agri-chemicals kill weeds and bugs via one major system – the HORMONE system of the weed or bug! Yes – they are purposely designed chemicals to target and seriously disrupt the hormone system.
        And the world argues over the causes of human, canine, feline, equine etc etc endocrine disease epidemic hitting the ENTIRE globe?!
        The answer is staring us in the face – agricultural chemical practices which target the hormone system to cause weeds to die and bugs to die….but they didnt think it would affect mammals?!

        Hormones are the major chemical messengers to keep the body alive. Science uses this knowledge to design chemicals to kill off the hormone signalling in weeds and bugs of food crops, without hormone signallling = death…they succeeded – and they didnt give 2 hoots about the effects of these chemicals to mammalians, because they had TRILLIONS of dollars to make with their new ‘invention’….and knew it would take a hell of a long time for the world to catch up and catch on with the TRUE widespread effects of such chemicals.

        So ORGANIC food is not treated with hormone disrupting agri-chemicals and are therefore safer to consume, due to not being sprayed with hormone-disrupting agri-chemicals.

        The thyroid isnt the master gland of the endocrine system – the pituitary and hypothalamus are – as they tell the throid/parathyroids/pancreas/adrenals and gonads what hormones to release and when. The thyroid is the dominant metabolism gland, which you probably meant. Hypothyroidism can easily be caused by iodine deficiency as iodine is needed for T3 production, which gives energy. There’s limited iodine in the modern diet. Yet i believe its a combo of iodine deficiency and agri-chemicals causing hypothyroidism. As decades ago hypothyroidism could be treated successfully with iodine….yet now we have agri-chemical hormone disruptors in the majority of foods, and iodine treatment alone isnt always successful.

        Go organic – demand organic food for ourselves and animal feeds. Ive suffered from these chemical death sprays just like all families have.

        The future is now. One day….today….we’ll realise and wonder how agri-chemicals were allowed to be used all over the planet, just like we now wonder how on earth they thought a lobotomy at one time would cure mental illness.

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  • February 15, 2019 at 5:50 am
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    Not all fat Morgans have this. I have had a few who were more than easy keepers. With proper vitamins and minerals they lost those fat pockets and cresty necks. It was a matter of balancing their systems. They were both born on my property and raised with other Morgans who didn’t exhibit those symptoms. Just my experience

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    • February 15, 2019 at 10:09 am
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      Do you have any tips how to balance my horse’s system? He has those fat pockets and I have started feeding crome, maitake mushrooms, hemp and cinnamon additionally to his mineral food. He lost a bit weight during winter, but not enough I think. Which parameters did you find out need to be balanced especially? Or is it different with every horse?

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      • February 16, 2019 at 5:24 am
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        Magnesium and chromium are necessary to help bring some back to balance, maitake not so much – Saigon Cinnamon but the Chromium does a better job, no soy, a small amount of alfalfa also added to a basic grass hay diet

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      • February 16, 2019 at 5:35 am
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        I should have mentioned feeding kelp and also ginko in the spring and fall also has shown it has some benefits to these horses, I also do an herbal detox with dandelion leaf and milk thistle seed powder to help clear kidney and liver. 1 – 2 Tablespoons per day of each herb

        There are also two homeopathic remedies that we combine for sore feet, because they do not always present as true laminitis just sore feet but it is called laminitis all the same. Ginko and Secale are the two remedies

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        • February 18, 2019 at 5:54 am
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          Thank you so much for your answer. Feeding soy is not common in Germany. So my pony doesn’t get this anyway and grain has never been on our diet. He already gets different herbs to support his liver and kidneys (started again a week ago after a pause) and they are supposed to have a detox effect too. Dandilion and thistle are among them, as well as kelp but some others too of which I don’t know the English expressions. Ginkgo would be an idea. I had Jaogualan for some time which is supposed to have a quite similar effect.
          So I see, that I’m already doing much and just have to be more patient I guess. He’s much better than 5 months ago but I think could still improve more.

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          • February 18, 2019 at 11:53 am
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            I have many customers in Germany and Switzerland – not sure where they are able to purchase herbs – have many get the homeopathic remedies for their animals too over there to help with sore feet issues

        • February 19, 2019 at 8:22 am
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          Buying good quality herbs is no problem at all in Germany. And you can buy the homeopathic remedies very easily in online pharmacies here too.

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      • February 16, 2019 at 6:48 am
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        Evitex, equine challenge supplements, no grains only feed hay pellets, have your hay tested so you’re not feeding high sugar hay. No treats. Beat pulp is loaded with chemicals. If you want an organic complete hay pellet look at Wild fed.

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        • February 16, 2019 at 8:01 am
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          Evitex is hugely expensive make your own tinture or tea from organic Chaste tree berries, hay testing is good but more for what is lacking then just sugars, horses have had natural sugars from grass and pasture for centuries with no issues, Speedi Beet from England is non gmo, no chemicals, no mo and hay pellets are perfect for using as a carrier for supplements – I am also an herbalist and here is the link to Sunny’s Story I have done this over and over and over again a hundred times helping horses sunny is now 33 years young going strong, when his owner contacted me he was going down hill on presend and she thought she would loose him, his ACHT has remained at 24 for 3 years now with tests 2 x’s per year

          https://www.earthsongranch.com/resources/Cushing_1page-elite-equestrian.pdf

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          • February 18, 2019 at 5:59 am
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            The amount in sugar in hay and grass has changed a lot since most of the grass contains sorts that are especially grown for feeding cows. They need more energy for producing milk. This has become a huge problem here in Germany. Much of the hay contains up to 10 or even 15 % of sugar, while most horses shouldn’t have more than 5 – 10%.

      • February 18, 2019 at 11:55 am
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        the organic hay grown for the organic milk over here is 32% sugar and I am taking timothy, I bought a load of organic timothy from northern California, a rancher who raised beef cattle, my horses liked it too much so I sent the test in and could not believe it 32%! I phoned them and asked if they had ever had their hay tested, they had not, they came and got the hay – phew I dodged the bullet with that one! They are one of the most known for their beef no wonder!

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        • February 19, 2019 at 1:51 pm
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          Do you know if there is a sort of hay with less sugar? Thimothy hay versus orchard grass hay?

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          • February 20, 2019 at 4:02 am
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            bermuda, coastal or teff are lower

          • March 13, 2019 at 4:22 am
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            Timothy is lower than orchard grass generally. Some hay distributors will have tested low nsc hay at a higher price.

      • September 4, 2020 at 6:18 am
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        What kind of hemp? Organic? Where do you get that?

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  • February 15, 2019 at 11:39 am
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    It’s what I have been saying for years.Chemicals everywhere especially on crops .Farmers spray all the time.Horsefeeds ,humans food.Cancer is one in three people and there are so many sick horses.Something is going on and it’s got to be stopped!!

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  • February 15, 2019 at 11:39 am
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    I see this daily in my business – I do nutritional consulting for horses – not only are the Round Up Ready GMO hay but the GMO soy doing the damage – the bag feeds with all the soy or “vegetable protein” (aka soy) are raising the cortisol numbers – moving them to an organic feed and helping them to detox with herbs makes all the difference – one of my clients horses had an ACHT of 1,200 she was on a popular low starch low sugar feed took her off that and did a follow up ACHT two months later she was down to 34 – put her on the herbs and her numbers were normal in a months times. The IR / PPID / Metabolic horses are not just Morgan’s but across all breeds. Nutrition plays a key roll in getting their hormonal balance back and getting them back to health!

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    • February 16, 2019 at 11:32 am
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      Hello Jessica,
      Love all your advice. I have already started the magnesium and chromium on my two horses that have fat deposits, one is a QH mare and the other is a pony. They are on grass hay, Renew gold for there grain to feed supplements, and minerals. I would love to visit with you further as to what you recommend. TIA! Christa

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    • November 14, 2020 at 12:04 pm
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      I agree wholeheartedly Jessica – its truly becoming epidemic proportions the endocrine diseases worldwide sharply increasing eversince the ubiquitous use of hormone disrupting agri-chemicals have been used , now, all over the world. There is not one species not affected by this mass poisoning of the planet.

      Im in europe and struggle to find organic hay in my country. Farmers here advertise their hay as organic if it hasnt been fertilised with acidic NPK, while still proudly announcing its been sprayed for weeds! The definition of organic food is evidently not clearly understood anymore – we’ve come THAT far from ‘natural/normal’ healthy food production knowledge.

      For more years than i care to recall, i’ve had a problem on my farm growing my human food crops. The leaves would twist, the growth was painfully slow with majority of plants, mutated shapes, diseases and bugs galore…..so painful to go through and work hard on finding solutions. My other plots before using horse manure grew fabulously – whats going on?!
      I dont use any chemicals, only my own horse manure from my own horses, which i rot down for years before using on my veg plots.
      I discover, from dow chemicals themselves, who paid a lot in compensation to american farmers btw – for ruining their food crops. The commonly used herbicide called aminopyralid designed by dow chemicals is used prolifically by hay farmers.
      It is sprayed on the grass to kill weeds…..it remains on the grass – sunlight and rain doesnt degrade it or wash it off. It is therefore on the harvested hay. The horse eat the hay, absorbs the chemical, and gets a dose and is constantly excreting the chemical in manure and pee.
      The chemical is then in the manure pile….ALIVE….even after YEARS of rotting down in a pile its still BIOLOGICALLY ACTIVE – so when the ancient rotten manure is used as a fertiliser for food crops, it starts killing the hormone transport system of the plants and slowly kills them!
      Dow chemicals paid a usa university to do a study to confirm contamination reports from farmers – yielding results that it IS still active after many years, and will kill food crops at a concentration of ONLY 1 part per BILLION!

      So i discover the cause of my continuous failed crops and tens of thousands of income loss, sweat and tears….and the true cost of losing your livelihood aswell as contaminating the land is unconceivable. I hit a low i never want to ever experience again.
      Wild edible mushrooms no longer grow in my fields, before there were baskets full. Wild rare plants like spotted orchids have been killed off.
      I spread my manure on newly re-seeded pasture and it took all year to grow 6 inches, and didnt go to seed that year – i was hoping to make my own ‘organic hay’! The contamination affects even young baby grass. Probably why its recommended to be sprayed on hay fields that have grown a lot and are established!
      Alongside this my horses are having mild laminitic episodes, hives, randomness of symptoms….one losing weight, the other gaining. Endocrine disruption from the forage sourced and sprayed with indestructible chemicals, absorbing into their systems. I was changing forage suppliers due to unhappiness of quality, too much mould etc….so hence why my horses symptoms were random on/off – evidently depending on which hay supplier used the modern herbicide hormone disrupting chemicals, and which ones didnt.
      Interestingly my mare suffers more with laminitis than the gelding – perhaps because female endocrine systems are more involved with estrus cycling – have you seen more mares suffering from laminitis than geldings? More human women have cycle disruptions and thyroid conditions than men.

      The cost of organic hay is worth whatever they want to charge than go through the consequences of man-made indestructible agricultural chemicals.

      Its great you are on top of this epidemic jessica – i wish you luck in educating your peers and others in your field about this unseen menace of the agricultural industry.
      Increased awareness is desperately needed.
      Feel free to reply – if youve written articles i will help publish them to help raise awareness….for the health of us all!

      Reply
  • February 16, 2019 at 10:12 am
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    Been saying this for years and hence developed a pesticide and herbicide free feed: Crypto Aero Wholefood Horse Feed. I have seen TB yearlings with IR…. surely there is a genetic predisposition and we can’t ignore the steep increase of metabolically challenged horses across all breeds since the invention of processed feeds.

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  • February 16, 2019 at 10:21 am
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    I highly recommend Crypto Aero, I have had my IR horse on it for about 6 months and it’s made a huge difference, No soy or sugar at all!!

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    • February 19, 2019 at 7:52 am
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      Crypto is a good alternative no longer organic however, I do recommend this feed for those who cannot get Modesto Milling Organic Feed which is made in California – but a good alternative – the horses digest as a glycemic index not a sugar one, it has whole oats, kelp, rose hips and more – Crypto is available on Chewy’s.com Modesto on Amazon

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  • February 16, 2019 at 10:30 am
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    That’s exactly why I started feeding Crypto Aero to my metabolic QH a few years ago.
    He hasn’t suffered a laminitic bout in over two years and is back to competing.

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  • February 17, 2019 at 7:51 am
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    Jessica Lynn is so right. Nutritional consultants for horses are often decades ahead of so many others. What is causing the imbalance of hormones and health issues in horses is not the hay or the soy, it is the GMO that is usually designed to be packed full of Round Up, or other harmful pesticides and chemicals. It is vital that humans and horses only consume GMO FREE food to maintain perfect health. Organically grown is always the best option. It has been said that once they stopped fertilizing with manure, they began to destroy health. (Cheval only uses GMO free ingredients and organically grows its most important ingredients in nutrient rich fields in SD fed only by rain, spring water, and manure. The only Cheval could assure perfect horse health was to go through the expense of raising and sowing their own vital ingredients.) The other thing that utterly ruins equine (and human) hormonal balance and health are thin, cheap plastic containers like water drinking bottles. BPA releases into food and water from these types of plastic causing havoc with hormones. Cheap, thin plastics surrounding water and supplements not only cause high levels of Xenoestrogens (the bad estrogens that cause cancer, etc.), but all too often end up in our oceans causing huge problems to the precious ocean and life it houses. Eliminating GMO products and one time use plastics works wonders for health as well as for the planet.

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    • February 18, 2019 at 11:51 am
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      August you are so right on – I hate the plastic bottles everyone want to drink water out of these days, look what they are doing to our oceans as well – I refuse to buy water like that and have my own steel container I take with me!

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  • February 19, 2019 at 7:54 am
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    No coconut feed/ Cool Stance – ask yourselves the last time you saw a horse climb a coconut tree for a coconut, let alone see them crack them open with their teeth – coconut oil in small amounts seems to be ok but the meal not so much no matter what the manufacturer says…. just like Triple Crown Low Sugar Low starch that it might be but it is loaded with GMO soy causing all the body inflammation – a small amount of alfalfa is ok but I mean measured by the hand fulls or via hay pellets

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    • August 1, 2019 at 7:20 am
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      Cool Stance is only coconut. It cannot be compared with Triple Crown Low Starch. It is certified GMO free and recommended to be fed with a good mineral supplement. I recommend Medicine Bag Complete, as it is very natural.
      No, horses don’t climb coconut trees, but neither do they eat grains in nature as that would destroy their next year’s food supply.
      Horses who need extra calories are well fed with Cool Stance.

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  • February 20, 2019 at 4:51 am
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    What about workers? Are they looking into those?

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  • March 1, 2019 at 9:26 am
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    You are 100% correct! Modesto millings source the foodstuffs from an organic farm in Canada with third-party testing. I talked to them. I used to use TC but when they changed mills here on the west coast all bets are off!

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    • March 9, 2020 at 11:20 am
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      I have recommended Modesto Milling Organics for years and they also carry the organic kelp from the north Atlantic as well – some of the manufacturers are now saying “vegetable” protein on their labels instead of the soy that is in their feed in abundance!!!!

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  • March 9, 2020 at 11:18 am
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    I have been telling my clients for more than 10 years about soy, and I have been recommending Modesto Milling Organic feed now for 5+ years, all of my horses and mini’s are on it and I also have herbs, kelps and chaste tree berry tea that help to support the horses metabolism and endocrine system that has work effectively for the many over the past more than a decade…

    Reply

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