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Interesting alfalfa observation with my horse.

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  • Interesting alfalfa observation with my horse.

    I am the first one to say that in general alfalfa or any other feed is very unlikely to make a horse "hot" in and of itself.

    But wow, I think my horse just proved himself the exception.

    He's a hot, tends-to-be-anxious type anyhow, but brave as a tiger and SUPER fun to ride. I don't mind hot, keen horses at all. But this guy's line between "forward and bold" and "freaking out completely" is thinner than some. There have been brief (thankfully) periods since I've had him when "freaking out" was commonplace: rearing, fussing, bucking, holding his breath when ridden. Vet checks have found nothing other than one isolated neck injury that responded really well to treatment.

    So I've always just thought maybe this horse had a hair trigger and is a worrier. And he almost certainly IS. But now we have a much stronger clue as to an environmental "culprit".

    Only once before have I ever given this guy alfalfa--when he had gotten a little ribby after I moved him and it was late fall and the grass was poor. Well, within a week he was in one of his WILD phases. That was when the neck injury was diagnosed, he had some time off, came back fine, normal behavior.

    Briefly since then he's had crazier days, but nothing consistent. Just normal "hot horse" behavior.

    Well, last Sunday we had bronc-fest 2013. This horse doesn't normally do much in terms of "bucking" except a few crow-hops, but he EXPLODED on me and it was all I could do to stay on. I wrote it off to being outside riding for the first time in months. Then all this week he's been kind of "up" and fussier than normal, swapping leads, bouncing up and down in the canter--his normal "hot horse" stuff + 20%.

    Then the new barn guy, who is new to horses but very thoughtful and my new favorite kid in town, pointed out to me yesterday that his stall had been REALLY wet the last few days and he was drinking 4-5 buckets a day, unlike him.

    Now this morning he was agitated, stretching out, and acting a little colicky. Got some banamine and was quickly quite comfortable again. Pooping, eating, no problems just now when I called.

    The clue that makes me wonder about this whole thing now, in retrospect? Our barn took a delivery of hay ONE WEEK ago, and sure enough--it's about 10% alfalfa. Normally we never buy it, but hay options are scarce this time of year up here in the north.

    No more of that for him!

    I doubt very much that the AMOUNT of alfalfa was enough to set him off--my orchard hay has more protein in it than most alfalfa does--but I do wonder if this is a manifestation of intolerance or allergy to the stuff.

    Can't wait to never give it to him again and have the relatively calm, normal "hot" horse back!
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  • #2
    I would be surprised that 10% alfalfa would make that much of a change. And the extra water intake / urination that is associated with alfalfa is due to the high protein content of alfalfa. If your hay is already high in protein....

    but maybe he has an intolerance like you mention.

    That said, mine also learns towards hot, but like yours, really isn’t much of a bucker, or a spooker – usually. But she has been a nutter this week, and just last night I decided, YEP – she has learned how to BUCK undersaddle.

    I attributed her behavior this week to spring crazies.
    APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


    • #3
      I've definitely had and worked with horses that go all apeshit on alfalfa, but there's also just something about this week! My gelding has completely lost his mind. Went from a buckled down, work minded gentleman to a......I dunno, freak from hell? I can't even say he's up or fresh. He's just straight up CRAZY.

      There must be some sort of weed or something that comes up spring and fall and causes the PU/PD thing. Some of ours will do just as you described in early fall and early spring - drink like crazy, pee frequently, even stretch and pee small amounts as if uncomfortable. It goes away as quickly and mysteriously as it begins.

      I hope your boy finds his marbles soon, no matter how he lost them! 'Doesn't sound like either one of you are having much fun right now.
      "Absent a correct diagnosis, medicine is poison, surgery is trauma and alternative therapy is witchcraft" A. Kent Allen


      • #4
        I had to switch to an 80% alfalfa mix this year....and no changes in my 6 horses, but they all look amazing coming out of a really crappy, long, cold, winter. My 33 year old TB usually loses at least 50 punds each winter but I can't tell if she's lost any this season. About 6 years ago I had the exact same experience, with all different horses but the TB - no change in behavior at all but they looked really good at the end of winter. Perhaps alfalfa=hot is anecdotal? Or I'm very lucky?


        • Original Poster

          A weed would be a great explanation except not even WEEDS are coming up yet here. It's 35 degrees and FILTHY outside.

          But JackieBlue, that's an interesting observation you made--have never noticed it before with this or any other horse. One of the many down-sides of boarding, and since my "at home" horses live outside it's hard to track how much they drink OR pee.

          I'm not at all ready to condemn alfalfa completely, because I've fed it to lots of other horses before with ZERO problems and it's marvelous stuff for putting on a little bloom, IMO. But this horse isn't getting any more if I can help it.
          Click here before you buy.


          • #6
            I grew up mostly feeding alfalfa and our horses were all fabulous.

            We now own three horses who are highly affected by it. First one is my mom's mare - she's a Friesian cross with the low energy, mellow kind of attitude which made her a great pick for Mom as a trail horse and fun mostly w/t ride. When we still boarded she kept getting worse and worse, making up things to spook at, taking off at shadows or less. Mom could ride through that all, but she didn't *want* to! One day I caught the barn workers feeding her. She was supposed to get 2 lbs of alfalfa a meal simply because she was fat, but I saw them feeding her a full, large flake. I immediately had them stop all alfalfa, and she immediately returned to the packer we had purchased and hasn't changed since.

            My rescue mare isn't rideable, but still it doesn't make her nutty. It just increases her energy some - she tends to keep herself at a good weight regardless of amount fed, and if fed more alfalfa runs more.

            My TB can have a small amount of alfalfa and be fine, but if he gets too much he turns into a spookmonster. He's normally high energy but mellow at the same time barring unusual circumstances, but he gets very high energy at times. He's with a trainer right now who thought he seemed a bit thin and started feeding him more alfalfa and two or three days later had a ride he wasn't sure he would return from when my horse went nuts out on the trail. Reduced the alfalfa, and he was fine. Then a couple weeks ago he had lost a little weight with a weather change and my trainer upped his alfalfa.... and I was the one who rode him when he was feeling nutty. We just kept the whole ride at a canter since that's his most controllable gait, and when I told my trainer about it, sure enough - he had upped alfalfa and immediately took it back down. I actually had a stretch where he was nutty at home and discovered my mom had been giving him too much alfalfa - we had extremely leafy alfalfa and it was denser than our previous shipment, and she was giving him more rather than less. In his case I definitely think it is related to the amount of protein and energy it provides rather than alfalfa itself being evil or anything. I wouldn't be surprised if the Friesian cross has some kind of intolerance, though, for the effect it has on her where it's almost like she's hallucinating.
            If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


            • #7
              It has always been my non-Tb's that are sensitive to alfalfa. My conn/tb will bounce off the walls on alfalfa. He is already a hot horse but it just puts him over the edge. I look back to his competition career when I didn't know as much about feed and feed him 6lbs of TC complete a day. Um, yeah he was nuts. No wonder. He is a horse that can't handle sugar. He eats 1lb of ration balancer and anything more affects his sanity

              The Tb's all seem to do just fine on my alfalfa hay but I figure their metabolism can handle it. It seems like once they fill out and become easier keepers than I can transition them to timothy withou them losing weight/condition.


              • #8
                I wouldn't think just 10% alfalfa would make that much difference--but then you never know. If he is being boarded who feeds and supplies the grain? It could be he is getting more than he needs. Could also be that he is just feeling really, really, really good after a long awful winter ( we are still having it here). My horses do better on alfalfa mix and they do in fact seem to have more energy than when on straight grass hay alone.


                • Original Poster

                  Originally posted by candyappy View Post
                  I wouldn't think just 10% alfalfa would make that much difference--but then you never know. If he is being boarded who feeds and supplies the grain? It could be he is getting more than he needs. Could also be that he is just feeling really, really, really good after a long awful winter ( we are still having it here). My horses do better on alfalfa mix and they do in fact seem to have more energy than when on straight grass hay alone.

                  My general sense is that a true *sensitivity* (you could even say allergy) means an animal can react to even small amounts. I don't think there's anything special or extreme, calorie-wise in alfalfa that could cause this type of thing, if it's even a real association. Like I said, my 2nd cutting orchard hay rivals or beats your average alfalfa in the nutrient category but doesn't faze this horse at all. Who knows?

                  It isn't "after" a long, awful winter here yet, unfortunately. We're still in it.

                  The hay is normally bought a year at a time, but this past year the barn couldn't get enough so this one time a "late winter" purchase had to be made and we got the best quality that was available. We didn't make the alfalfa connection (again, not sure there IS one, but I'm not anxious to try again and find out!) until after they'd all been eating it for a week. The other horses, including my big Irish mare, are doing just fine on it and it is apparently quite tasty.

                  I'm definitely not an alfalfa hater. But I think this horse might be!
                  Click here before you buy.


                  • #10
                    I used to blame alfalfa too. I suspect it's the spring sillies.


                    • #11
                      The sudden PU/PD would have me calling the Vet. How old is the horse? If teenage, that could be your first PPID (aka Cushings) symptom. If you are not already feeding magnesium, maybe try adding some to the diet to see if that helps. Alfalfa is high in calcium, which IIRC could cause a relative mineral imbalance of Mag, since mineral ratios are apparently just as important for horses as absolute values.
                      RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


                      • Original Poster

                        I did call the vet. He agreed with our assessment and plan: one dose of banamine, pull the hay, watch and see. Tonight he's bright and cheerful, eating the grass hay, pooping and peeing. Still drinking a lot of water but we're being vigilant. Didn't have time to ride him today nor did I think it appropriate but hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to see how he feels. The GOD AWFUL weather and limited turnout is not helping, but the camping out and excess urinating would not fall into my "spring foolishness" column, with this or any other horse.

                        He's an 8 year old pinto, unknown breeding. He gets a mineral/vitamin supplement with lots of magnesium and our soil is loaded with it. I acknowledge that magnesium is important but am completely unconvinced that it is the culprit in 9 out of 10 horse maladies as seems to be the fashionable thinking nowadays.
                        Click here before you buy.


                        • #13
                          Interesting, just a little hay can do all this to a horse?
                          Go figure.
                          Charlie Piccione
                          Natural Performance Hoof Care


                          • #14
                            Horse I'm currently riding was high as a kite when we put him on orch/super heavy alfalfa bales. He was also on Previcox at the time, but he was on previcox for about 6 weeks.... and this hay started getting mixed in about 2 weeks in and went totally to it about a week later. He literally felt like he was going to combust every ride... jumping I felt like speed racer and my arms were getting pulled so much! He's been getting 1 cup alfalfa pellets a day for ages and been fine on orch/light alfalfa Nov-Jan. Anyway pulled him off that to straight orchard and within a week I finally could get on without feeling like he was going to go buck crazy. Have no idea if it was the level of alfalfa he was getting or something else in those bales, but that was the only change in his diet/environment.
                            Custom Painted Brushes: spcustombrushes@gmail.com


                            • #15
                              I LOVE alfalfa and would feed it straight to my horse if I had the opportunity. I've fed it straight to plenty of others and the only side effect I've had is happy, glossy, plump horses who need relatively small amounts of grain.

                              THAT BEING SAID, I bet you are spot on and this is an allergy or sensitivity. No more alf for that spotted dude, for sure!!!


                              • Original Poster

                                Originally posted by Charlie Piccione View Post
                                Interesting, just a little hay can do all this to a horse?
                                Go figure.
                                Exposure to an allergen, regardless of the source, can trigger a reaction in a susceptible individual. Doesn't matter if it's hay, grain, a treat, a weed, a medication, or something they lick out of another horse's bucket.

                                Doing my detective work tonight, he's been on a handful of different grain products in the 1.5 years I've had him, and sure enough, the alfalfa-containing products correspond pretty well to his nuttier periods.

                                Ugh, what a pain. But calm Boscoe is SO much cooler than "I see dead people" Boscoe, and seeing him acting uncomfortable even for one day is enough to make the switch.
                                Click here before you buy.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by deltawave View Post
                                  Exposure to an allergen, regardless of the source, can trigger a reaction in a susceptible individual. Doesn't matter if it's hay, grain, a treat, a weed, a medication, or something they lick out of another horse's bucket.
                                  BUT it should be relatively straightforward to identify whether this is/is not an allergy state ...


                                  • Original Poster

                                    An elimination diet is simple and straightforward enough for me. I just don't have to give him alfalfa--there are plenty of products without it. I'm also not completely convinced that this is some singular "eureka" type of discovery that will suddenly make a hot, fizzy horse into a phlegmatic dead-head who never flicks an ear. Perish the thought! Unless the colicky, uncomfortable stuff persists or gets worse, I'm willing to label this whole thing as "presumed intolerance" and simply get rid of the offending ingredient and see what happens.
                                    Click here before you buy.


                                    • #19
                                      Well, so much for my "this is just a crazy week" theory. My boy has been SO nuts the last 2 days that I gave him the day off to carefully check tack and go over him with a fine toothed comb. Imagine my shock (and GUILT) when I discovered that my Bates saddle (Caprilli Close Contact) had lost a gullet screw! My poor boy has been getting gouged by his saddle and I thought he'd simply lost his mind! I'm off to report myself to Animal Control.
                                      I hope the elimination diet provides the desired result, but if not, be sure to poke around for other causes of his unusual behavior. I know you wouldn't be anything but utterly thorough.
                                      "Absent a correct diagnosis, medicine is poison, surgery is trauma and alternative therapy is witchcraft" A. Kent Allen


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Yours seems like an even easier "fix"!

                                        I'm anxious to see how he is this weekend and going forward.
                                        Click here before you buy.