Horse Health

Alfalfa Is Not the Worst and Other Astonishing Revelations

A lesson in rethinking your equine assumptions

I always thought alfalfa was basically the worst thing you could feed your horse.

Maybe not arsenic bad. But I had it hammered into my head from day one that alfalfa was unnecessary unless you were feeding super-hard-keeping/super-hard-working racehorses or something. Or broodmares. Whatever. I was NOT feeding it to MY horses.

My first horse as a kid was a badly foundered Arabian gelding, so there was some logic to the advice I got at the time—for that horse. What doesn’t make sense is how long I clung to that belief, despite my penchant for consulting The Internet for every topic that crosses my mind, and for reading anything equine-related I can get my hands on.

It turns out, there are a lot of legit uses for alfalfa! Who knew, right?

I have a mare now that windsucks horribly when she’s stressed. She probably has ulcers. Do you know what has basically stopped her windsucking? Alfalfa. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the vet visits for gas colic (not to mention the GastroGard) we had the first year we had her.

I have another gelding that just wouldn’t muscle up the way I knew he should, despite me tweaking his diet and exercise plan. He also had itchy, dry, flaky skin. Guess what helped both issues? Freaking alfalfa.

I’m not going to get into all the nutritional details about this wonder legume, because it really isn’t the point here. (You may be wondering, “Is there a point?” And yes, I promise, there is.)

The point is that I had a long-standing horse care belief that was based on a single case study, and I was accepting it as gospel for YEARS. Decades, if I’m being honest.

Horsekeeping is full of old wives’ tales and other falsehoods. Some are harmless. Some are true some of the time. Some can be deadly. Some defy common sense.

Let’s review a few other questionable horse “facts” out there, shall we?

  • All horses should be barefoot. (False. Some do well, some do not.)
  • Tom thumbs are snaffle bits because they have a broken mouthpiece. (False. Bits with shanks are not snaffles.)
  • Horses need more grain than hay to really look fit and shiny. (Mostly false. Horses are made to eat forage, but there are always exceptions, like old horses with no teeth.)
  • Walk your laminitic horse to increase blood flow to his feet. (False. Keep him still and call your vet.)
  • Stalling horses is always bad for their health. (Mostly true. Free movement is usually healthier, except when they’re injured, or you’re having golf ball-sized hail, or you need to separate the herd to feed them…)
  • White hooves are weaker than dark hooves. (False. Some hooves are weaker, sure, but pigmentation doesn’t seem to make a difference.)
  • Crocs make good shoes for bathing horses. (False. Crocs never make good shoes.)

It’s not about what you know now, it’s about always wanting to learn more and being willing to challenge your own assumptions and beliefs about horses. Nobody knows it all—although all of us horse people sure do like the whole “fake it ‘till you make it” routine.

Next time you hear someone tell you a horse “fact,” run it through the common sense test. Or The Internet. I promise you’ll get plenty of dissenting viewpoints there!


About the Author

Nancy Rich-Gutierrez is an IT professional and manages her husband’s farrier company. When she’s not busy with her full-time job or running the office for her farrier, she’s chasing their two-year-old and riding her Arabian horses. Check out the HG Horseshoeing blog at hghorseshoeing.com.