During my practice career I treated countless hundreds, perhaps thousands of horses for colic (acute gastric or intestinal pain). Most survived, but many died. A majority was due to human error. The caretakers made avoidable mistakes.

Similar errors also resulted in many cases of laminitis and unless promptly diagnosed and treated, many laminitis (“founder”) cases ended up permanently lame due to anatomical foot damage.

I saw wild mustangs in my lifetime, in their natural environments, but I never saw one foundered or one that died from either colic or laminitis.

I have asked many people that have had extensive experience with mustangs in their natural environment (rangeland), if they have ever seen a wild mustang founder or die of colic in their natural environment. The consistent answer was, “No!”

The changes that occur in nature are gradual. Forage erupting green, after a long dry spell, comes up gradually. Grasses erupt with seed gradually. New tasty plants appear gradually. When, in captivity, horses are exposed to sudden dietary changes because of human policy, horses may not be able to cope with the change. The microflora within their digestive tract, which pre-digest much of what horses eat, are specific for that kind of plant matter. Then, the horse may not be able to cope with the dietary change. The result, so common in horses and other herbivorous domestic grazing animals, may be an attack of an acute, painful, and potentially deadly malady such as colic or laminitis.

Because I experienced so many such cases as a veterinarian, I developed a fear of such cases as laminitis, bloat, colic in horses, over-eating certain plant species at certain times of the year, and – above all, making abrupt changes in the time that such animals are fed, plus changes in diet. Such changes involve plant species, season of the year, harvesting methods, preparation of the forage (dried? baled? pelleted? ground? mixed with other vegetation species? etc. etc.).

Because I owned livestock I was attached to during my lifetime, including many breeds of horses, mules, donkeys, cattle, goats, I became obsessive about creating unusual or too prompt dietary changes. For example:

  1. I feed three times daily if the animals are confined.
  2. Even if in pasture “full time” I remove them if the pasture is fresh (lush) for daily periods so they will not overeat.
  3. Above all, I make dietary changes gradually. For example, before turning them out into lush, green Spring pastures, I will feed them very small amounts of cut green forage twice daily, increasing the volume at each feeding, for at least 10 days before turning them out to pasture full time.
  4. Feeding grain, or supplements, if there is a change in the formula, I do it gradually.
  5. I am such an extremist when it comes to gradual diet changes, that even if the feed is the same (for example alfalfa hay), I do it gradually. Even if it is the same kind of hay, I do it gradually.

So I will take two or three days to introduce them to a new hay delivery, even if it is exactly the same hay.

Am I an extremist?



I have never, ever, EVER had one of my equines suffer from a case of colic!

I have never had one of my equines suffer laminitis.

Such prudent, cautions not only avoid attacks of colic or laminitis, but also many other nutritionally based problems.

This is, I believe, so important, that I will repeat the precautions:

ALL feed changes should be made gradually. Take a full week or more to make the changes. This includes:

  1. Forage. What kind? Is it dry or green? Was it produced in a similar area?
  2. The quantity should be slowly and gradually increased. Going from dried hay to green forage? I start with a small bucket of cut green feed. Then I increase it by a half bucket daily while decreasing the dry forage the horse has been eating.
  3. The same with grains, or meals, or pulverized feeds, or treats, or supplements, or beet pulp. or apples, or carrots, or pelleted forage or various grains. GRADUAL!