blame Lucerne for everything from tying up to navicular
disease? Photosensitivity reactions, calcium/phosphorus
imbalance, enteroliths and even resistance to resistance in
No - but a
horse fed on a staple of Lucerne can have many problems.
whilst much of what is written below is debatable; when
removed from a straight lucerne diet horses respond very well
and many of the symptoms discussed here disappear.
And you thought
Lucerne was the perfect feed for your horse. Your horse
thought so too. Well, think again! Lucerne might just be among
the worst things you can feed your horse, even though your
horse looks good, has a shiny coat, and loves every stem of
the green, sweet hay. Lucerne is cattle feed intended to
fatten animals for slaughter. When feeding lucerne to cattle
there is no concern with keeping the animal sound and able to
work for twenty years or more.
generally, is 18 to 20 % protein, but can vary from as low as
12% to as high as 40%, and often higher. Itís the high protein
which is the culprit. A horseís digestive system has to work
extra hard to convert protein to usable energy creating a high
body temperature. Thatís the first problem. Not too serious,
you say. Of course, not! But it is only the beginning.
Lucerne is also
very high in calcium and low in phosphorus. Young horses need
a calcium/phosphorous ratio of about l.5 to l. Older horses do
nicely on a 2 to l ratio, and can stand up to 5 to l calcium
to phosphorus. Lots of lucerne for breakfast and dinner can
push those ratios to disastrous proportions if there isnít
another feed in the diet to correct the imbalance.
Grain, which is
high in phosphorus, low in calcium, is natureís way of
balancing the ratio. But lots of horse owners donít want their
horses eating a lot of grain, it gives them too much energy,
so there is no diet balancing. Excessive calcium creates the
first big series of problems
calcium interferes with the function of the parathyroid gland.
When the parathyroid gland thinks there is too much calcium
available, it shuts down, which in turn disturbs other
functions and leads to "thumps", muscle cramps, and tying up,
all of which can have serious consequences. Excessive calcium
can also result in hypothyroid horses, which are plump and
shiny, but usually cranky, belligerent, resistant to bending
and flexing, very lazy and emotionally unstable.
being conditioned for performance or halter are often plagued
by unsoundness, as well as training problems, simply because
they are physically and emotionally troubled by thyroid or
metabolic imbalances nutritionally induced by lucerne. Lucerne
can cause numerous training problems seemingly without
solutions. Donít blame your horse or your training techniques
without first checking your feeding program.
calcium/phosphorus imbalance will cause knuckling over and
contracted tendons in young horses. Good, rich lucerne will
make young horses grow quickly and often end in epiphysitis, a
joint condition which can have long lasting ill effects.
High amounts of
protein (due to high lucerne feeding) when digested, result in
an acid condition within the horse. The horse needs to be
slightly alkaline. To buffer the acids in the blood, the
horseís body pulls the alkaline minerals from tissue and bone
so the heart can continue to function properly. The heart,
according to the horseís body, has a higher priority than
ligaments and bones. This results in the formation of osselets,
spavins and navicular condition.
are common in horses on a high lucerne diet. In an effort to
get rid of the excess protein in the diet, there is often
frequent urination and possible kidney damage. Kidney stones
are often caused by high calcium and high protein in the
Lucerne is the
only direct link to stones (enteroliths) found in horses. It
is very common for horses in California, Arizona, Nevada, New
Mexico and Utah, states in America which feed a lot of lucerne
to have stones. Horses which do not eat Lucerne have a very
low incidence of stones.
is a big problem in Australia, with many horses becoming
overly sensitive to exposure to the sun due to their high
intake of legumes. Many people incorrectly diagnose mud fever
or straight sunburn, but in most cases reducing the horseís
access to legume feeds which include both lucerne and clover,
sees a remarkable improvement in this condition. It is very
important to cut back on lucerne during times of high clover
intake to reduce over loading the system with feeds from the
studies have shown that horses eating mostly lucerne have a
higher incidence of disease than horses on grass hay. In study
groups, lucerne fed horses had more severe disease symptoms
than horses on grass. When taken off the lucerne, reducing the
high amounts of protein, the diseases ended without treatment.
If you are
feeding lucerne, in any form, reevaluate your feeding program
and consider adding different roughage. The best bulk that you
can provide for your horse is free access to grass hay. Just
as nature intended.
likes his lucerne, but he wonít like a calcium/phosphorus
imbalance, being hypothyroid, cramping or tying up, having
kidney stones or kidney disease, arthritis, osselets, spavins
or navicular. He may be unhappy about being taken off lucerne,
but he sure might be a happier, healthier horse who loves to
train, compete and enjoy extra years of pain-free exercise.
You may not
choose to change. Thatís up to you.