Working With An Equine Nutritionist

A nutritionist can tell you if you're over- or underfeeding or supplementing and address concerns related to weight management or metabolic and other problems.

Photo: iStock

As a horse owner or manager, how much time do you spend thinking about and planning your horse’s diet? Results from a 2016 survey of horse owners with diverse backgrounds showed that personal knowledge, print materials, horse-related websites, and veterinarians were common sources of horse health information. A 2015 survey of equine owners and managers of elite show jumpers revealed that the bulk of nutritional information came from the internet, veterinarians, farriers, and feed companies.

Veterinarians are typically the No. 1 resource for equine health information, which is very appropriate. However, most vets have not taken courses in equine nutrition, and nearly 25% of surveyed vets offered no nutritional counseling to their clients. It’s not that vets aren’t interested in nutrition; rather, related continuing education is often unavailable. And it’s difficult to be an expert in everything.

Enter the nutritionist, who might work independently, for universities, feed companies, or, yes, even in partnership with veterinarians. Clair Thunes, PhD, of Summit Equine Nutrition, in Sacramento, California, says, “I love to work with vets and feel that it is an important part of providing coordinated care. Working together and combining our expertise results in the best outcome for the horse.”

Nutritionists evaluate a horse’s entire diet. We’ll tell you if you are over- or undersupplementing, feeding too much or too little, and address concerns related to weight management or metabolic or other problems. Importantly, we’ll explain why we make the recommendations we do.

When I conduct a client consultation, I gather information about everything a horse eats (from forage and feed to supplements and medications), along with his exercise level, turnout, training, and any underlying concerns. I weigh and body-condition-score the horse and weigh feed and hay. If I am consulting remotely, I ask for this information plus photos. More often than not, I can help owners improve and streamline their feeding program.

Why are equine nutritionists important?

One diet rarely fits all. Nutritionists look at each horse and tailor a diet to meet his individual needs, which is very important when a problem must be addressed.

Carey Williams, PhD, equine extension specialist at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, says nutritionists, “stay current on the recent research that could affect the way you feed your horse. They also know the specifics when it comes to vitamin and mineral balance and other things that a salesperson or veterinarian might not be aware of.”

How do you find an equine nutritionist?

Beyond a good Google search for equine nutritionists, your local cooperative Extension office can direct you to an equine extension specialist within the state university system; these individuals must undergo nutrition training for their degree/certification. You can call and ask to speak to feed company nutritionists.

Select a nutritionist with solid credentials, such as a master’s or doctorate degree in nutrition, animal science, or a related area. Some nutritionists are veterinarians that are board-certified in veterinary nutrition, but most are PhDs.

“Look in quality publications (such as TheHorse.com, extension.org, or AAEP.org) for articles written by individuals with a graduate degree in equine nutrition,” says Thunes. “Then search online to see if they provide consulting services … they may be able to provide referrals.”

Take-Home Message

A good nutritionist has the horse’s best interest at heart and understands that one diet does not fit all. While most nutritionists are not veterinarians, we do sometimes consult with attending veterinarians. Good-quality nutrition provides a foundation for a healthy horse that goes a long way.

About the Author

Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS

Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, is an equine nutritionist based on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied equine exercise physiology and nutrition. Liburt is a member of the Equine Science Society and is currently senior equine nutrition manager for Mars Horsecare US/Buckeye Nutrition.

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