Once upon a time, I used to feed sugar cubes to my dressage horses. I liked giving them something sweet while I put their bridles on, I liked how easy and convenient the cubes were for rewarding a horse. I liked the white lipstick! It is common in many training barns in Europe to see newly-opened boxes of sugar cubes conveniently perched on the top of the kick wall of the indoor.
I no longer feed sugar cubes, but I know it is still a common practice particularly with dressage horses.
It was at a dressage show this summer, where I was chatting with my friend and client Susanne Hassler, and she told me she still fed sugar cubes. It was then that I realized I had to come up with a whole food alternative….
Several weeks later, I was sitting in a hotel bar with BioStar’s California representative, Gundi Younger, and Paul Christy, the manager of Stance Global US (Cool Stance). As many of you know, I am a strong supporter of Cool Stance for horses as part of a whole food diet. Paul casually mentioned that one of his customers had made Cool Stance treats with molasses. I thought to myself: Biostar can make whole food treats with Cool Stance and without molasses!
“Well,” Paul said, “I’ve played around with Cool Stance as a treat and you need molasses to keep it from falling apart when you bake them.”
I went back to my hotel room and thought about the consistency of Cool Stance, how it would react in dehydration, how to support the metabolic horse without the obvious molasses or honey. I don’t know when the ‘eureka’ moment arrived exactly, but suddenly I saw sugar cube sized treats that were made from whole food including Cool Stance. And the food that would hold the Cool Stance together was sprouted flax and soaked chia seeds. Both these seeds have a high mucilage content, which would enable them to hold the Cool Stance together.
One of the benefits of Cool Stance is that it has only 1% sugar. This however, is not a palatable advantage when formulating treats. You want horses to gobble up the treat, not spit it out, or make ugly faces, or pin their ears in disgust. I reasoned that I could make two versions: one for performance horses using bananas and pears as both nutritional support as well as sweeteners, and a metabolic horse version that used the herb Stevia.*
Stevia is a member of the sunflower family and grows predominately in South America, Central America and Mexico. Although the Japanese began growing Stevia in the 1970’s to reduce their sugar consumption, now Japan is the biggest consumer of Stevia in the world.
In its raw form, Stevia contains no sugar and no carbohydrates.
The challenge I discovered was figuring out the type of Stevia to use in these whole food treats. I had no idea that Stevia, this little plant, could be so altered in the market place. I would never have imagined that companies would use Maltodextrin (derived from GMO corn), Dextrose (another corn carbohydrate), erthythritol (alcohol sugar made from glucose and yeast) or Isomaltulose (created by dissolving food grade sucrose in water, treating it with a biocatalyst obtained from the yeast Protaminobacter rubrum; and before the biocatalyst is added, the yeast cells are killed with formaldehyde; the end product is then “purified”). All I wanted was Stevia, the leaf, no additives. I was thrilled when I found a source of raw Stevia leaf, certified organic, that was simply the ground up leaf in powder form.
The Head of Production at BioStar merely rolled her eyes when I presented the new formulas and placed a bag of raw leaf powdered Stevia on her desk. She eyed it suspiciously, but when she tasted a microscopic amount on a teaspoon, she smiled and said, “Tastes like licorice!” At least Stevia had passed a key human palatability test.
*Update (2015): The new formulation of Meta Bites and BioStar bites do NOT contain Stevia, due to palatability issues with some horses.
At BioStar we only dehydrate our bars, never cook them. This is because nutrients and enzymes are destroyed at temperatures exceeding 146 degrees. We use dehydration to pull moisture out of the bars while maintaining the organic nutrient integrity of the raw food. This is not like sticking cookies in an oven at 325 degrees and baking them for 12 minutes. Dehydration takes hours, as fans cool and evaporate the moisture from the bars. This can be an exercise in patience for a formulator eager to try out a new formula on horses.
When the first batch was done, I raced up to our test horse barn (of 20 horses). There are some very picky palates at that barn, who have on many occasions rejected my creations (however they will all eagerly gobble Mrs. Pastures Cookies). I held out my hand with the metabolic treats and went to each stall. Lo and behold, even the most discriminating equines in the barn gobbled them up. I went to 2 more barns and got the same result. Even the one red-headed mare who has pinned her ears at me more times than I can count, ate the treat and then searched my hand for more!
I am happy to say that these new whole food treats will be launched the end of September at Dressage at Devon, and will be available for sale online October 1. There will be 2 varieties: Meta Bites for the metabolic horses (contains Cool Stance®, organic oat bran, soaked pesticide-free chia seeds, almonds, sprouted organic sesame seeds, and cold-pressed coconut oil), and Biostar Bites for the performance horses (contains Cool Stance®, organic oat bran, organic barley grass, organic wheat grass, almonds, sprouted organic flax seeds, organic sunflower seeds, bananas, pears, and organic hemp seed oil).
Like all BioStar products, our treats are GMO Free, Molasses Free and Petro-Chemical Free. Each treat is the size of a sugar cube.
If you are going to Dressage at Devon, come see me at the Cool Stance booth where I will have samples of Meta Bites and BioStar Bites. And in case you were wondering….dogs like them too! I’ve even caught our production team nibbling on the remnants.
UPDATE (2015): These treats no longer contain Stevia, due to palatability issues for many horses. Both Meta Bites and BioStar bites are currently only available in BULK.