If there is such a thing as an expert in international equine cuisine, it might be Gulsah Kaya Karasu, DVM. She has traveled the world for the past 15 years, first training to become an equine veterinarian and nutritionist, then sharing what she’s learned with horse owners in a variety of settings.
In the process, she has witnessed firsthand the different norms for filling hay nets and feed buckets. She has also learned that despite cultural differences, many horsekeeping challenges transcend borders.
Born in Turkey, Karasu earned her veterinary degree in Istanbul before deciding to specialize in equine nutrition. “I want to help horse owners understand how nutrition plays a vital role in the health and well-being of their horses.”
Working toward that goal, she has since traveled tirelessly to help people make better nutritional choices for their horses in Austria, the United Kingdom, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland, the United States, Qatar, Japan and Turkey. “I have worked with horses, consulted with companies or conducted research in several countries,” says Karasu.
All of which gave her the opportunity to observe how cultural, political, climatic and geographic factors can influence the feeding and management of horses. “Across the Middle Eastern countries, for example, roughage can be scarce and poorer quality,” she observes, while in European countries “horses usually have longer paddock access and adequate forage supply.”
Nonetheless, says Karasu, it’s possible to feed horses well nearly anywhere in the world. “I’ve observed that it’s not necessarily easier to feed horses in one country than in another. Yes, in some countries there are no paddocks, but they are still able to provide a balanced ration [with dried forage and concentrates]. Paddock access does not automatically mean that horses are being fed a healthy diet.”
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Wherever she goes, Karasu has discovered that horse owners have something in common: “They all love to talk about their horses,” she says. But the topic of equine nutrition is subject to the same distortions that strain medical, political and historical discourse in the age of social media and the internet. “Many owners make poor decisions regarding equine nutrition based on folklore and misinformation,” she says. “There are many unreliable sources on the internet, giving wrong guidance to horse owners.”
To help counter misinformation, Karasu has begun writing for lay audiences, and since 2018 she has shared her expertise with EQUUS readers on a variety of equine nutrition topics, including which color oats are most appetizing to horses (Medical Front, EQUUS 497), misunderstandings about the behavior of obese horses (Medical Front, EQUUS 498) and the aromas horses find most soothing (Medical Front, EQUUS 495). From her interest in the bioactivity of certain plants came last year’s feature “A Horse Owners Guide to Herbs” (EQUUS 498). And this issue features her examination of probiotics for horses.
Many of Karasu’s article ideas come from her experiences teaching and conducting research at the Van Hall Larenstein University in the the Netherlands. “My veterinary background has helped me to think differently about horses,” she says. “Health and nutrition can’t be separated from each other. They are very much related to each other.”
Above all, she says she hopes to help people better understand equine nutrition in general, as well as how different each horse’s needs may be. “Although there is variation in the management and feeding practices around the world, the most important message that I would like to share with owners is that horses are individual animals. There is no correct single diet for all horses.” Check out future issues for more of Karasu’s insights on equine nutrition and feeding.