by Robo Hendrickson

Improve Your Horse's Digestive Engine

Improve Your Horse's Digestive Engine




Optimizing The Microbiome In The Performance Horse

In this Interview with Dr. Rob Franklin, DVM, DACVIM, you will learn tips and advice that some of the best Internal Medicine specialists in equine medicine use to improve the speed, energy and overall health performance in equine athletes.

Robo: Good morning. This is Robo. I’m here today with my friend and colleague, Dr. Rob Franklin. Dr. Rob is a veterinarian and a Board-Certified internal medicine specialist from Fredericksburg, Texas. That long string of letters you see behind his name, are credentials for all the long hours he spent through undergraduate, graduate and residency. 

In fact, it's thousands of hours of additional school after you get your veterinary degree to become board certified. Dr. Rob is a past board member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and a founding member of the Texas Equine Practitioners. To say he has a lot of experience and understanding of horse physiology is an understatement. I just wanted to give you some backstory of Rob. Good morning Rob. 

Dr. Rob: Hey, Robo. Good to talk to you. It’s a beautiful day down in the Texas Hill Country.

Robo: Awesome. I wanted to visit with you today and ask you some questions for horse owners interested in digestive health in the performance horse. Some of these are questions that we get from time to time I thought would be interesting to cover. Rob is also the co-founder of FullBucket animal health, Rob and Dr. Keith Latson founded FullBucket in 2011. I’m sure Rob will go into some detail on how that all got started, but I thought we'd kick off today by just getting into some of the problems and things that people are going to find in their horses, some of the solutions you've come up with. Start off with, can you give me a little backstory on your work history? What led you creating some of the solutions you have for the GI programs?  

Dr. Rob: Sure, Robo. Well, I did graduate from Texas A&M University from the vet school there as well as Dr. Latson. Our friendship started in undergraduate school. We were roommates through vet school. After I finished in College Station, I moved to Southern California, practiced there for an internship and then went to the University of Florida for three years to do that specialty training that you were talking about, the residency training. It was four years after veterinary school that I spent honing my skills in a very specially oriented discipline internal medicine, which deals with infectious disease, heart problems, any of the gastrointestinal problems that horses have, neurologic problems. In any of the horse, the complicated things that don't require surgery and that don't involve reproduction, we are the last stop for people to seek answers and treatment with their horses. 

After we finished that, we moved down to Australia and practiced in a referral setting. I ran an intensive care unit and was medical director at Golden Valley equine hospital for a couple of years. Then we moved back to Florida and I set up another Intensive Care Unit at equine Medical Center of Ocala. So I was busy in the heart of thoroughbred country in Ocala and also worked with a lot of English work horses and Paso Finos. After three years in Ocala, we moved home to Texas in Weatherford, where I set up the third Intensive Care Unit, that I’ve set up in my career, and that was at Weatherford equine Medical Center. Again, at a slightly different discipline being the hub of the cutting horse industry, but had a wonderful experience working with the veterinarians there. We were there for five years and subsequently, I’ve started my own consulting business. So it's been a good run. 

Throughout that process, we've been, well, I’ve really changed a lot of my own paradigm of managing disease and managing horses. Veterinarians were first taught about disease and about how disease happens and how we can mitigate the effects of disease, largely by using medicine and surgery to do that. One thing that I found to be very important is actually nutrition, both personally and also in the way that I care for my patients. I realized that if we’re not very conscientious about what these animals are actually putting into their system and making sure that it's optimized and that their systems are optimized, that the medicine and the surgery that we provide is really a band aid. Sometimes, can create problems, if you don't balance that nutritional plan with the medicine.

Nutrition is a big part of recovery and optimizing health in all animals. Horses are no different. Certainly, our elite athletes are very, very sensitive to nutritional and gastrointestinal disturbances. When Dr. Latson and I first got together about coming up with some nutritional supplementation, we were dealing with elite athletes and we were putting these athletes through some surgical procedures to remove chips and to fix fractures in athletes. When we did that, we were having to give them antibiotics, just as a matter of course, we give them short duration antibiotics to try to prevent any infection from the surgery.  

With the combination of antibiotics and anesthesia, where you've basically got a 1200 lbs. Horse laying on the back for 30 minutes and then recovering for another 30 minutes, whenever you immobilize the horse you actually also immobilize their gut. So the gut normally blends and turns and has a normal propulsive activity, that assists in the fermentation. Whenever you put them under anesthesia, you stop all that. So, if you think about anytime you fermented anything – like a home brewer or home wine maker, but chances are, we all understand the fermentation process, but it requires constant stirring. So if you let that just sit in that fermentation process, gets thrown off. 

My point being is that these horses were getting fed lots of good food, so their systems were being strained to operate at the maximum level, then they were getting antibiotics, which we know kills off not just the bad, but also the good microbes. That combined with the anesthesia can really cause stress on the gut. We often see diarrhea and sometimes that diarrhea can become life threatening in relation to all three of those factors. That's the last thing any of us want to happen. When we have a horse that needs a chip taken out of its knee, we want to go in there, take the chip out, put the horse in a recovery plan and get the horse back in the work as soon as possible with little pain and quicker recovery.  

Whenever you get the horse with that sort of plan in mind, and then all of a sudden, three days later, you find the horse fighting for his life because he’s developed diarrhea, that's bad, it's bad for the horse, it’s bad for the owner, it's bad for the trainer, it's bad for the veterinarian. So got the lesson, I began looking at strategies, what do they do in people to prevent this, because this happens in people too. That had pushed us into the probiotic arena, which we're both fairly familiar with, and we're using to treat actual diarrhea, but not to go in there and try to stop it from happening, especially in these elective cases. 

We found a certain strain of probiotic that had more science behind it than anything. A lot of nutrition supplements have very weak science and certainly, they don't go through the research trials that we really need a scientist to say that something works or doesn't work. But this one actually did, it had all those criteria that made it something very, very useful. So we started getting into human preparation and we started opening up all these capsules. It was pretty funny. My nurses absolutely despised me when I would write that on the patient’s orders. So we were opening up these little capsules and dumping it into a syringe and then drenching the horses with it. We found it to be extremely effective as far as minimizing the antibiotic associated diarrhea and anesthesia related diarrhea, to change your feed and all those sort of things that can create a GI disturbance. 

While we found that it worked, just like anytime we find something that works in veterinary medicine, we call our colleagues, we talk about things, we share it continuing education meetings. So that's what we did, and we were telling people about this. It is the profession in general, people were becoming more sensitive to the benefit of probiotics, but they're still trying to wade through where's the science, where's the body of knowledge in terms of what works, how much do you need to give, what are the indications, are there any complications, we're all waiting through that. 

Keith and I really got further down the line. So we were sharing and then people wanted to know how they could get it, and we were sharing the human preparation. Then, what we found is the owner compliance was terrible with that. Meaning, if I sent someone home with a bunch of capsules and said, open up 20 capsules a day and give it to your horse, then they’d laugh at me and most of the time the horse did recover. So that pushed us into the arena of making it ourselves and going through the process of having the right formulation developed for the horse, so we came up with that and we started using that in our own practices and then started sharing that with our friends and before long, it had a grass fire effect and it spread all over the country. 

Robo: Okay, awesome. I’m going to back up back to the beginning of where you were talking about, fermentation in the gut, just for people. All horse owners have been around horses for a while, have heard the term ‘’Hind gut’’, but could you explain the differences in the actual physiology between the horse and say, our gut or a cow's gut? When you talk about fermentation, how that's related to the horses specifically? 

Dr. Rob: Yes, that's a good question. As veterinarians, we spend years studying anatomy and physiology and the differences between the different animal species - especially the microbiome in the horse. It really breaks down that there's three basic types of intestinal tracts. There's variance in all of them, but the first would be the ruminant, that would be the cud chewer like, deer, cattle, the animals that whenever they get the roughage, they put it into a very large compartment. There's actually four compartments in their stomach, a lot of people refer to them as having four stomachs, but actually what we refer to them is having four compartments. All their fermentation takes place in the front part of their digestive tract. 

So, they take in the grass, it blends around in this big compartment called the Rumen, they broke it up, they chew their cud, goes back in there, that chewing the cud is just a process to break down the grass, hay and fiber broken down into small pieces, so that microbes or little bacteria and fungi and protozoa can get into that and break it down and they can get nutrients out of it. That process goes in and it goes on downstream. Then they have some enzymatic process as well, where they have enzymes that the animal makes, that break down the food more than they're able to absorb it, and then it passes on further down. 

Another type of fermentation is the hind gut fermentation. This is mostly horses and rabbits would be a hind gut fermenter. So the animals still rely on fermentation to digest their food, but they don't chew their cud. All this happens way downstream at the very back part of the intestinal tract. So cattle are fore gut fermenters, horses are hind gut fermenters.

Robo: I’ve heard those terms a lot, but that's the first time that I’ve understood that part. 

Dr. Rob: Right. If you just look at [14:07], you can tell what they're doing. Horses, when their food first goes in, they actually go through that enzymatic process first, to digest a lot of their food through the enzymes. That happens in the stomach, that happens with the pancreas and in the juices that come out of the liver and then the small intestine. Then all the hay and everything, that's not digested enzymatically, so this is going to be corn, oats, any of the grains that we put in there. Then those things actually go through the fermentation process when they should have been broken down by the enzymes.

Sometimes, you don't want things back in the fermentation process because they form it too rapidly, they form it in a very negative way. The horse’s intestine in their cecum, which is the same as their appendix, but it's about three or four gallons bigger, appendix is like that big. These things hold massive amounts of fluid and the fermentation is a very delicate balance because they can't eructate or burp like a cattle and they can't just add more saliva to it. It is basically a sealed part of their intestinal tract in the back that the only way gas and stuff can get out is by passing gas or having flatulence, which we all know we've had horses, horses gas colic off and that's because all that gas has been produced which a cow normally just burps up very easily, well, all that gas has to get out to the back end in a horse. If there's any obstruction or problem with that gas get now, then they very quickly bloat and they can have severe abdominal pain or colic. 

The third type of intestinal tract, now that we’re all thoroughly confused, we’ve get the fore and hind gut, but is a mono-gastric tract and that's going to be similar to what a dog has or what a pig has or what a human has. Those animals primarily work by enzymatic digestion in the stomach and the pancreas and liver and using the small intestine. We have a little bit of capacity to ferment our food, but not a lot. Our colons, where fermentation takes place are proportionally 10th or less of the size of the horses.  So, we have a hard time we're just going to go eat grass, we wouldn't get by very well. 

If you're just going to go have straight salad every day, you wouldn't get by very well. There is nutrition in that stuff, but really have to be able to ferment a lot of it to be able to get the maximum nutrition out. We just don't have the capacity; we need to enzymatically digest a lot of our food. Now, that leads into a big problem whenever we're trying to get cattle or horses to produce more. So if you're in the cattle industry, you're either in meat or dairy industry and you're trying to get as much milk or meat out of those animals as possible, so you're putting food in there and trying to get that fermentation process to run as efficiently as possible and also trying to utilize their enzymatic processes as efficiently as possible. 

Now let's talk about the horse. Well, when we have an elite athlete that we're training and exercising every day, the horse is just at the top of this game. If you think you rubble when you and I exercise, we have to really change our diet, we have to be able to provide those amino acids, we have to provide the energy substrates for us to perform and we have to provide the vitamins for our body to utilize to recover as well. All that has to be optimized for you to get optimal results as an athlete. 

The first thing that we typically look at is energy and making sure that animals get enough energy. A horse can only firm it so much food, you can't just give them more alfalfa hay. We know that that's not going to work that...

Robo: I’m sorry – you can maximize the input effort.

Dr. Rob: You can reach a threshold that they can't do any more with the hay or you'll have deleterious effects with the hay. So if you took grass hay and you just said, I’m going to feed the horse as much grass hay as they can eat, they can't eat. I’m going to put them in the race training or I’m going to make them competitive barrel athlete or an endurance force, you can't get enough into the system to have the energy that the animal needs to operate. 

Let's take another substrate such as alfalfa. Well, if I just gave my horse free choice alfalfa, we all know that the alfalfa is too rich and they're going to colic. So if he just had 24 hours a day, horse ate alfalfa, the horse is going to colic and probably get diarrhea. Same thing with grain. So if I have an acceptable amount of hay, but I’ve reached a threshold on the hay because anymore, they may colic or there's not enough nutrients in the hay for them to get anymore, then I’ve got to go with a grain. 

The grain also has a threshold because when you utilize the grain, you're maximizing the enzymatic part of the fermentation process. The enzymes have to go in there and break that grain down and you have to break most of it down because otherwise, if you get a lot of corn and stuff headed back to the fermentation, it will create chaos on the fermentation that you will get the ph., the acid level will go way up and ph. will go way down and you'll kill all the good microbes in the back part of the intestinal tract. That's why horses breaking the feed barn and they get into the deer corn or they eat a whole bag of oats or something like that. That's why they get sick is because all that grain cannot be enzymatically digested, it gets back there, gets fermented and it creates total chaos. Horses founder diarrhea and they died from that whole process. Have you seen that before? 

Robo: Yes. 

Dr. Rob: It is frustrating. As a veterinarian, I hate that when people bring in that sick horse and it's all bloated and they say, yes, it got into the granary, got into the feed room, got into a bag of grain.  

Robo: It sounds a little bit like there needs to be a real balance in all of that. 

Dr. Rob: You're exactly right. That's the answer with these athletes is finding that balance. What we normally see is that producers or trainers take the animals and they put as much into them as they can, until they get on that tipping point that they start to see problems with them with diarrhea or with colic, and whenever they see too much of that, well, then they back off a little bit. That's one way to do it, that's not the optimal way to do it, but that's one way. I mean, like anything you try to hit it as hard as you can, then you see a problem, then you back off a little bit. But we prefer to take a more proactive approach, realize what the problems are and try to mitigate those before they even have a chance of happening. 

So what you want to do is create that balance by feeding them the good roughage that they need. They need the fiber, that's where they're going to ferment, and then you want to give them the good grain part that has all the energy that makes up for the lack of energy and the fiber product, but let them digest that in the best way possible in the front part of their intestinal tract with the enzymes, so you don't get a big load that goes up corn and grain that goes to the back part of the intestinal tract, havoc on the fermentation process. 

That's the general anatomy, physiology of the three types of digestive tracts and then what the limitations are. Now out in the wild Robo, it's bison or cattle or horses, they're going to do fine on just eating grass and really, their tracks are set up for that because their demands are high, they're not trying to make rib eyes and gallons of milk, they're trying to sustain themselves. Horses are running a mile and a half, like American Pharoah, they just need to outrun the slowest one in the herd and keep the wolves off their heels. That's about all they need to do. 

So it's only through us needing to optimize these horses to be the top athletes that we need to even consider feeding them any of the grain substances or other energy substances of fats and oils that provide them with the necessary nutrition to perform at the levels that we're asking them to do, which is great. I mean, their performance, let's face it, more in an emotional level, their performances is so cool the way that people have interacted with horses, so whether or not that was years ago working with the horses or now competing with them in pleasure, I mean we have had to feed our horses extra ever since we've domesticated them because they're not wild. So it's not unnatural in the history of mankind to have to supplement the horses, it is just unnatural from the way the horse was initially designed whenever man wasn’t evolved. 

Robo: Let’s say, I have some performance horses and I’ve got them in various stages of training and under different stresses. If I’m trying to dial it in and figure out what I’m looking for, as far as like signs that I may be feeding too much of one thing or another or maybe not enough. What are some common signs I'd be looking for to help dial in for me quicker? 

Dr. Rob: Some of them are very, very subtle and some of them are very, very obvious. The most obvious one is going to be a horse that has so much eco water that it develops pipe stream diarrhea, paint the walls with diarrhea or at times back colicky. Those are the most obvious signs. Now, probably if you look in athletic bones, probably one of the more common signs you would see would be that there is going to have nice green road apples, that their manure is soft and maybe looks like that of a cow. That to me as a veterinarian is a red flag that that horse’s GI tract is not working optimally and we're going to be seeing some more severe problems. We may be seeing a lack of performance that we can't put our finger on, but whenever I see that, that horse has that cow flop type of manure, I know there is an issue with that cow flop manure that tells me that the GI tract is not working. 

Other sort of things that the horsemen come up with are a bad hair coat, they come up with horse begins to go punky whenever they put grain in, it only finishes half the grain meal, has few bites walks away or just begins to get a little sour during training. Normally, those signs are that we've got a fermentation problem with the hind gut and that the horse is getting too much acid buildup in there, that may create some inflammation in there, may even create some ulcers in the back part of the intestinal tract or they could be having ulcers develop in the front part of their intestines track in their stomach as well. So, those are very common symptoms of a GI disturbance, but they can be subtle.

I just spoke with a really good horseman yesterday and he was describing some of those things, he's got some cutting horses that have – it's summertime here in Texas in June, we've had mammoth rains over the past six weeks, there's grass everywhere. Every horse should be dappled up and just looking at peak. When you've got healthy animals that are being fed the best feed in the world and they're not dappled up and their hair coats look rough and their own good warming programs and everything, it's very clear sign to me that we've got a GI disturbance that is causing that. Particularly, worse I’m talking about is already been scoped for ulcers, it doesn't have ulcers, doesn't have sand, doesn't have some of the other medical problems, it simply has an un-optimized GI tract. 

Robo: You mentioned ulcers, this balance that we're talking about, is that a big cause for ulcers as well?

Dr. Rob:  Whether you're a person or you’re a horse, ulcers can develop for a number of reasons. One of the big things is a balance in nutrition or for you and I, may be a life balance, but in horses, it's a balance in stress and well-being as well. So you and I think about stress with working, with getting to family events and making sure that we're present with our children and stuff, but the horses are herd animals in the way that we manage them is not natural at all. So whenever you get an athlete, who is spending time in a barn in a stall away from others, not able to kick his heels up and run around in a pasture, that creates physiologic stress. 

Stress is not just a mental problem, it actually creates a cascade of hormone releases that actually have a physiologic effect, that is supposed to be in short doses, supposed to be enough for us to grit our teeth and to get through something that's difficult, but in chronic doses, those hormones are actually detrimental, they're detrimental to all parts of our bodies, whether that's your joints or your stomach, stress is hard on us. It's hard on horses too. One of the places that they do show that is in their stomach and even their hind gut, they can show intestinal stress. So that part of it is balance. 

The other part is the balance with the nutrition and us trying to put too much rocket fuel into the horses and their systems are not optimized to be able to cope with that. So we can do some things to try to get their systems to be able to cope with that because at the end of the day, they need that energy, they need those vitamins, they need those minerals, they need that fiber, they need all that stuff that we're trying to put in front of them. They can't get it out. I mean, a rocket needs rocket fuel, but if you've got a problem with the system where you're running the system too rich, then you're going to have a lot of unburned rocket fuel come out the back end. When you get a lot of unburned rocket fuel or grain and energy in a horse, it goes in the back part of the intestinal tract, and that's again where they get that disturbance with the whole fermentation process and they get colic, get diarrhea, they get a sour gut, they get hind gut ulcers, and you get poor performance, a horse just doesn’t feel good. 

Robo: To clarify, what you're really saying is that, if I have these horses under extreme training programs or maybe even not that extreme, and I’m trying to keep weight on them and give them energy, I can be pouring really good food in the front end. And if the system is not set up correctly, then I’m basically just making the problem worse. 

Dr. Rob: Number one, it wastes a lot of money. Number two, they've already have enough, they're just not able to get it out, they're not able to get that nutrition out. I always laugh because I never really understood Einstein's E=mc2. You and I talked about this one time. The thing is the energy that is in any given massive of food is so dense, there's so much energy in there. Einstein's theory was that in mc2, c is the speed of light, and then you square that, that's a big number getting squared, right? M is mass or the amount of substance. Well, if you think about energy (E) equals the mass times the speed of light squared, that's huge. We're talking about, say, a grain, well, there is so much energy in grain that the body has to try to get their energy out. Well, a lot of that doesn't come out, most of it, 99.99% doesn't come out according to Einstein theory, I mean, there's a lot in there. We could all sustain ourselves for a long time on one corn kernel, if we're able to optimally get all the energy out. We see a lot of stuff go into the store floor, undigested food, especially in these athletes, where they're being pushed so hard. 

So what I’m saying is that as a trainer, you like to team rope, and you rope horses, if you're taking that horse in, it's not gaining weight, you just try to put more food in there, assuming that you're providing a basic diet of good nutrition to begin with, that's not the answer. The answer is to try to get what you're putting in that horse twice a day already, and the grass and the hay this evening, throughout the day is getting all the energy out of that that you can. So don't go buy more feed and don't try to give them an extra scoop of grain. Try to get all the energy out from the stuff you're already getting them to begin with. 

Robo: That's a really interesting perspective. A lot of people aren't really getting it at all. Yes, I know that you are not a fan, we're talking about nutritional supplementation. I know that you are not a fan of just supplementing for supplements sake. I also know that you're not a fan of putting minute amounts of everything in to supplements. So can you summarize what a good philosophy is for supplementation as far as concentrations and ingredients? 

Dr. Rob: Yes. As veterinarians, we're a little bit sensitive to that because quite honestly, people get marketed to in a way that makes them feel compelled to get some of everything into their horse. 

Robo: As a side deal, I’ve been guilty myself with my own personal supplementation. Prior to our discussions, over the past few years, I would go pick up a can of some sort of supplement for my workouts and I'd try to get the one with the most ingredients on it. I just wanted to load it up. I got everything. It must be good if there's 1000 things in it. 

Dr. Rob: Right, exactly. That's tough because we're marketed that way for our horses and for ourselves. It's like, where's the truth? Even when you look at something like probiotics, where's the truth with probiotics? Let's face it, we don't know everything about anything, but what we do know is that if you just put a little bit of everything into your system, you're not going to have any effect. It's like trying to go to work and work at 1000 different jobs and expect to get a paycheck. You're not going to get a paycheck, your body's not going to get a paycheck from the nutrition if you just did a little bit of everything. 

We do know that there are some core things that you can put into the system – will call the system because the digestive tract is a very complex system. We know that we can optimize that by putting some select things in there.  But just like if you’re going to work and you wanted to focus on getting a result, you would make sure that you put enough effort into that system to get a measurable result. That is where quantity and quality begin to be big players in these supplements. It's not just the diversity of the amount of ingredients that are in there. You can have 75 ingredients in there and not have a measurable amount of any of them, so you're essentially wasting your money. A lot of our multivitamins are that way for ourselves as well, and there's a lot that go into horses that are designed exactly. In the industry, we call that label dressing. It's there on the label, people don't know if their horse needs one milligram or 1000 milligrams or 1000 grams of a specific item, they see the item, must be good, there's 75 other items in there, it's got to be good. It's hard to know enough about all that stuff to make an informed decision. 

Then we start talking about quality. A lot of the nutritional ingredients don't get absorbed the way they're combined with other ingredients; they don't get absorbed in the way that they're formulated. There are certain vitamin E’s that are formulated to be preservatives, they’re there to make sure that the product doesn't get rancid while it’s sitting on the shelf. It has absolutely zero nutritional benefit. Your body can absorb it, yet it's listed as a source of vitamin E. So if someone goes in looking for vitamin E, then they pick that up. That horse is going to absorb zero of that particular type of vitamin E. 

All those ingredients have quality, disclaimers and they have quantity disclaimers and it's hard for us to be able to say, on every level what the animal needs, but in some cases, we do know through National Research Council how much animals need, how much athletes need, we know some things need over supplementation. Certain B vitamins need over supplementation in athletes. We also know that whenever it comes time to talk about something like probiotics, it's a numbers game, you're playing in a body system that is operating on the order of trillions of microbes. Thousand billions is a trillion and we're talking about hundreds of trillions of microbes, it's a big number. 

If we're going to have any sort of impact in there, you've got to actually put effective numbers in there, they've got to also survive the being in the bottle or in the tub. They get to survive the heat, the moisture in the environment, they get to survive the digestive tract, the enzymes that are in the front part of the intestinal tract in the stomach, in the small intestine and they got to make it all the way back to the back into the hind gut, where all that fermentation takes place. So that's probiotics. 

That in itself is hard for consumers to know because they see it's a probiotic and then they see this thing's got five strains, it's got 50 strains, it’s got one strain, they don't know the right strain and then some of the strains the genus is the same, so the first part of the name would be the same and the second part of the name what we call the species name, those are different. Well, those can be as different as if you're a horseman, you know about strangles, well, strangles is caused by a bacteria called streptococcus equi, subspecies equi. That is a very contagious, variant disease. 

It has a cousin named streptococcus equi, subspecies zooepidemicus, that I can paint all over your horse’s nose and it wouldn't get sick for a minute. It’s so confusing to the horse owner to know what to go look for, if it's even confusing for the veterinarian. I mean, we study a lot of microbiology to be able to understand diseases and viruses and bacteria to be able to understand those nuances that I just explained. Well, we also have to know the nuances of the good bacteria and the good fungi better out there that can be able to help these animals. That's why we go to continuing education, that's why we read journals and stay and research throughout our entire career, so that we can understand that. It's hard to expect a horse owner to understand that whenever we as professionals have to stay on top of our game just to be able to get our heads around that. 

Robo: Kind of as a follow up to that – I know part of your answer, but do you happen to know of some areas where interested horse owners could maybe learn more or where should they pay attention and get their education from? 

Dr. Rob: Well, I’m always going to advocate for the veterinarian being the number one source of nutritional information.  

Robo: I know that. [laughs]

Dr. Rob: Yes, it’s like asking a dentist where to get information on toothbrush or toothpaste, right? We feel like out of everyone, we're going to have more working knowledge in those areas than any other source. I mean, honestly, the farriers probably didn't have any nutritional background, there are AG extension, people especially in Texas in the Midwest, there are people that are there to provide nutritional guidance as far as pastoral management and things like that. So I think that there another trusted resource as are the agricultural universities, but in terms of having direct access and people you can interact with on a daily basis. I mean, really, who else is there other than the veterinarian that has any training on these things? I will admit and I think people are very quick to criticize and say, physicians and veterinarians, they only get so many classes of nutrition. 

We've already talked about the number of different species that we study as veterinarians to understand those different digestive tracts and how nutrition interacts with those different digestive tracts, but our working knowledge is there, whether or not we have a particular interest and we dive more into that and we go to that with a detailed interest in reading journals and going to continue education. Some people do, some people don't. This is like asking your orthopedic surgeon to know all about what supplements should my grandfather who's got Alzheimer's take? That's beyond the scope. He can tell you exactly everything there is to know about a joint and probably what effects nutrition has on the joint, but we can't know everything about everything. So I would just put that as a disclaimer, but as far as a general trusted source, there's no one better. 

Robo: Okay, awesome. I know your involvement with full bucket and your reason for getting it going, is a really great story. It goes beyond just you guys putting product into a tube, so that your colleagues could have access to it. Why don't you give us a little bit of information about your philanthropy and the fuel that drives your bus?

Dr. Rob: Well, that is a fun part to talk about for sure. Keith and I are obviously very passionate about our profession as veterinarians. We feel like, really had a great opportunity to be veterinarians, a lot of people have a lot of respect for the industry, it's very charitable in itself and it's very rewarding just to be able to help people with their animals and to see the enjoyment that people get with their animals. As we got into Full Bucket and as we started to become entrepreneurs, that was the time that we started to try to rationalize that we didn't have to rationalize our veterinary practice very much. You bring me your horse and I make it better. There's a lot of value that's instilled in just that process. We feel somewhat the same; if you buy one of our products that we feel like we've got good value and hopefully your horse is going to feel better after being on our product. We also felt like we've got a business, we need to be good stewards of that business and the resources and the money that that business brings in and get in. So we started looking for ways to use the business as a platform to help other people and to also help fellow veterinarians help other people. That's where we started looking into volunteer work is veterinarians and you start going internationally into third world countries working on working animals. There's over 100 million working animals in the world that provide transportation and also cargo, there are cargo animals in lost parts where people don't have access to a pickup truck. They're working in mountainous regions that hauling coffee and firewood out of these places that those loads would be on a backpack, a very crude backpack or beyond their head and beyond their kids heads and the kids wouldn't be in school. 

So these donkeys and horses that operate as working animals, they are the lifeblood to these families. They're very valuable, they're very expensive for families that make on average $1 to $2 a day. These animals can cost $300 to $1,000.  It's been here a year and a half years of work to get to know these animals, they have no idea how to take care of them, they don't know how to prolong them. It'd be like giving them a tractor and not showing them how to change the oil, how to lubricate the fittings and the bearings, what's going to happen? That is exactly what happens when people donate tractors in those areas. You, you and I’ve been down there, we've seen those tractors on the side of the road, there's no education. They don't they get a tractor and they, they use it until it breaks and then it's broken and they either wait for a new one or go back to doing things without a tractor. 

So Keith and I found that there is a need for service. So going down and taking care of these animals, they're heavily parasitized, Robo, they need dental care, they need wound care, they're saddle sores, just pass out with some of those saddle sores that you see, orthopedic disease, broken down legs and tendons and ligaments and things are just terrible. So there's an immediate care that we provide by doing these volunteer trips. There's also a longer term care and that is where we work with the owners and probably more importantly, with local veterinarians to provide continuing education on how they can care for these animals and also instruct their own countrymen on how to keep these animals going for longer periods of time. From welfare aspect, we're hoping that these animals can work, but they can work pain free for years to come. It's not a short cycle that they don't have to unnecessarily get orthopedic disease or saddle sores or eye trauma because the people are not educated on how to care for them.  

We also found that the nutrition there is – again, we're talking about working animals, so we've already discussed that, that they need more than just forage to get by. You can't get enough energy, if I were to put you in work in the hills of Guatemalan security, coffee beans, and I was just going to feed you a piece of bread and water, you're going to quickly get down to a very little body condition. Imagine having the macronutrients the minerals and vitamins, amino acids that your body needs to recover from a hard day's work and also to grow because these animals get worked very young and they're still growing and with bad nutrition, they get terrible peak disease. 

So we began to look and say, Okay, well, we can help these people as veterinarians, we can also help them because we're a nutritional company. So we use Full Bucket as a platform to go down and operate on a volunteer basis as veterinarians, we also use it as a way to get better nutrition. We do for every serving full bucket that we provide in the US we provide a serving of a specially manufactured full bucket is internationalizing in the country of origin. This developed for those working animals, specifically, to address some of their shortcomings in their nutrition, as we provide those to those working animals on a one to one basis.

It is great. You can quickly see the benefits of the animals in terms of some of the more basic things like hoof growth and hair coat. But you can also see the body condition scores begin to improve over time as well. There’s also something that goes along with whenever you provide an owner with something that is going to enhance the well-being of their animal, they all of a sudden begin to take pride in their animal a little bit more. Maybe things don't look quite as hopeless as they looked before. We try to provide a little education, would be warning to get them to better nutrition and then all of a sudden, it's kind of like, if you had a junk car and I took your junk car and put it in the car wash, I gave it an oil change and I gave it some special fuel additive, you’re going to blow up a little bit, take a little pride in your junk car and you're going to maybe repair the tires and keep things lubricated and do some stuff, where you care a little bit more about it. Sometimes they just feel so hopeless.

The last thing I would say is that some of the coolest part of it is being able to interact with the local veterinarians. Wherever they go to school, they're so passionate about animals in these countries, but their opportunity to be educated at the level that we are certainly not there, their experience is not there, the work for them whenever they get done, there's only so many people that have, there's a lot of have not, so to be able to get paid and do horse work, it's pretty hard. Then there's no provision for continuing education. As a veterinarian in Texas, we're required to get 17 hours continuing education every year. That means we go to meetings to learn what's new, review research, talk with colleagues. I’ve been in practice for 16 years, that’s 250 hours of continuing education at a minimum. I typically attend several conferences a year to stay up. They get none, there's none required and there's none provided. 

With our volunteer group, we go down and we spend one day providing continuing education to these veterinarians and veterinary students and where we can just talk with them as a group and one on one layer, hands on courses together, share some of the stuff we know, and I think that that can be more awesome. That's kind of going back to teaching people to fish. We're all about that, we've met some great friends, we've had people that have been provided opportunities to come to Texas and come work and to come learn more in depth through externships and internships. Those people who have never had that opportunity, and I would have never had that opportunity to share that with them if it weren't for Full Bucket. So Full Bucket provides such a conduit for us to reach people. 

I thought I was done, but I’ll say one more thing. You know, because you've been there, you and I share a lot of the same friends. Full Bucket also provides something for our veterinarians in the US as well. I think that innately, all of us have the desire to give back. In our lives, we're constantly looking for, where are those opportunities? Are they with our community? Are they with our church? Are they at a local soup kitchen? Are they through rotary? Where are they? We're always looking. 

We want that sense of vocation that what we're doing is meaningful and that what we do, maybe we're using unique skills of our own that no one else has. We're using those skills that we bust our tails for lots of years to develop ourselves as veterinarians, and we're using those on people in a way that you as a non-veterinarian wouldn't be able to do. That's where I think that will back it, getting behind this type of work. You’ve seen in number of interviews that all of a sudden, there's been a door open for them to go and plug in. I think that's massive. To me, I take a lot of pride in that. I love to see people find their wings and they go down. I’ve had veterinarians who are ultra-successful, top of their game.

Also, also some very well-traveled veterinarians and veterinarians that take extravagant vacations. I’ve had been telling them that there's nothing better, they have not spent a better week in their life. These people that go to Hawaii all the time, they go and work on the best horses in the world. They go and they sweat in the hills of Guatemala and they eat dodgy food and sleep on the uncomfortable beds and they say that that's the best week of their year and they go back year after year because it feels so good to get back. As a company for Full Bucket, it feels good to get back. 

Robo: I know that from the horse owners as well that their participation with Full Bucket just through the support of the products and things like that is another tie back to at least giving back in some manner.

Dr. Rob: Exactly right. People have a choice these days that businesses like ours are showing up every day in all parts of the marketplace. People have a choice; they can choose to support companies that have benevolence. In ours is, we advertise a one for one, but there's really so many facets of what we do. The cool stuff we're going to do with AP this winter and with the Santa jackets, it goes beyond just the one for one, I think that is certainly our battle cry, we can't help ourselves, but try to find new ways to give. 

Consumers have that opportunity; they can choose to do business with people that share that spirit or they can choose to do business with people that don't. I wouldn't shame anyone for not, but I just think that it's certainly good to be that alternative in the marketplace that gives those people a chance because even as a consumer, you want your money to go good. Who doesn't round up for a good cause on Amazon or something like that? It's the right thing to do. We all feel better in our western shopping experience when we do something like that because we all have a lot to give. 

Robo: Yes, I agree. Rob, we’re going to wrap it up. I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule and visiting today. If anyone wants to learn more, they can go to to learn more about the products themselves and the philanthropy. There's some really cool videos and information on there and there's a lot of documentation in white papers that if you want to drive deeper into, knowing more about probiotics or supplements, you can learn there. Thanks again, Rob. We'll see you soon. 

Dr. Rob: My pleasure. Thank you. 

Product Mentions:

Athletic Formula

Medical Muscle

Probiotic Pellets

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