Jethro’s Nokota® Ruminations vol 1:1


Jethro, after the “Beverly Hillbillies” character, was an early nickname Frank and Leo gave me because of how I sprang all over their pastures euphorically identifying (and tasting) plants, papering horses, fixing fence, etc with an ear to ear grin.  So I chose “Jethro” for this newsletter because I want it to be obvious that what I write is totally and exclusively my own and although influenced by many certainly not meant to be presented as the view of any other.  I am a board member and jr. VP for the Nokota® Horse Conservancy and my goal is to help the Nokota® effort, as I am utterly convinced that this unique imperiled population has a heck of a lot to offer future generations, and a lot of what I will discuss here has been prompted by Nokota® questions and conversations, so please feel free to ask and inquire further but just remember this is just seth, nothing more 😉  My education was too expensive, and I don’t agree with hoarding and commoditizing knowledge, so my intent is to share some insight in the hopes that it can not only be fun, but hopefully save some resources in this crazy world (horses really are cheap keepers if we work with nature).  I try to avoid consumerism as much as possible, so I won’t try to sell you anything more than all things Nokota®, which I feel are one of the best investments a person can make and crucial to my sense of well-being 😀

Keeping in mind that this is just me, there will be grammatically errors for which I apologize.  And it is always best to get a second opinion on everything, so please consider my musings as meant to stir further investigation and certainly not to put the final nail in any coffins, I am definitely fallible!  In the interest of covering many relevant topics I prefer to research and write more over proofread a third time.

 Currently in the Nokota® World…

We will get around to Sweden, where things are well, in more detail later, but presently the bigger news is:

  1.  Seven fully foundation Nokotas®, including the 2 year old mare right, were imported to Denmark a month ago and are doing great!  Their new partners are Gerd and Nadin of, who have an equine tour business on the beach of Denmark and thus lots of experience with horses, in addition to lots of horsey connections, even more so since they are natives

Nokota Yearling Flya young Nokota in a “Jet Stall”  (as they call the canisters) on her way to Europe

of Germany.  They contacted us last winter after seeing a documentary including Nokotas® on German public radio, visited in May when they grew even more smitten with the breed, and returned in September to stay with their horses during the last week and a half of their 30 day quarantine while preparing them for the long journey home, together, via a 747-400 combi to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  Just last night we had another email saying how happy they are with their new Nokotas®, that they are really coming to feel at home and growing so sociable and, as is characteristic, think before they act and thus are even more enjoyable to interact with J  They are thinking of these Nokotas® as their personal horses, but at the same time eager to do more promotion in a part of Europe that has seen little to nothing of Nokotas® but which has a great interest in western history and heritage, so we are sure that this will lead to even more impressed individuals who can help the breed further itself 😀

  1.  The economy sucks.  Probably not a big surprise, but it is a bit surprising that the energy barons making a killing in North Dakota right now have yet to show any interest in preserving this North Dakota heritage.  Land prices have literally, without exaggeration, increased from a range of $167 to $300 an acre when I first travelled to ND in 2000 to the point where you probably can’t find anything for under $600 an acre today and some land is selling for over $2000 per acre!  Naturally that has drove up hay and feed prices and made everything more difficult for the nucleus of the Nokota® herd there, and although the Nokota® Horse Conservancy (NHC) just had a good few weeks on the east coast with a young horse starting clinic and the Massachusetts Equine Affaire it is struggling amid decreased donations and increased costs.  The Conservancy’s herd numbers over 100 individuals and we have reduced prices greatly and even offered a few for free, so the silver lining is that it is a good time to get a Nokota® if you have been sitting on the fence,, but there are many Conservancy individuals of very rare and important bloodlines which can either only go to homes dedicated to at least occassional breeding (which surely does not need to interfere much with using, our “tractor” probably only got all the tougher with motherhood and seems amused to pull hay home for her boys to share), or which really should stay in the NHC.  But at the same time we have severely reduced matings due to the economy so that the combined 2012/2013 foal crop will probably only number 3 youngsters to the most dangerously rare bloodlines.

SH Porphan 0606-10 (1)Porphan, a previous sponsorship foal who is now grown & available for purchase from the NHC as a laid back, amiable gelding

  1. Meanwhile  we are offering new sponsorship options, and I will be a big part of writing those; they are awesome holiday gifts with the personal bio of “your” horse and knowledge that your money is helping living history to thrive and touch ever more lives, and for a certain level of sponsorship you can even choose to name a young Nokota®!  So if you would like to participate please do not hesitate to email me directly, the new page is not yet complete on the NHC website but coming soon and I have already started making bios 😀
  2. Western Horseman ran a shoddy (at best) article on Nokotas®.  It is hard to understand how a reporter who travelled the whole way to the scene can end up writing about speculation instead of what he actually saw, or how he can quote a “local” who has only had his riding business in Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a few years and thus knows little to nothing of real “parkies” like he is some sort of supposed expert.  The horses hanging around his part of the park have long been among the most influenced by the introductions, while the wildest groups hang to the opposite and most secluded east side.  And even worse to misrepresent instead of rely on Castle’s research, which was commissioned by the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association itself.  So I recommend reading the responses here:

Knowledge is not knowledge until it is shared

I have received many excellent and interesting Nokota® related questions over the years that have led me to deeper discovery, so it is my aspiration to share many of those while drawing upon my education in agricultural education so as to help us all do things better, and cheaper J  And as with other freely shared information, like the admirable Wikipedia, when you benefit and have the chance please give to the Nokota® Horse Conservancy: there are many different fun ways that make great gifts for others, too, and the simplest is membership at only $50 annually with the benefit of the NHC’s own newsletter with even more fun and helpful info:

Strong Smelling Urine:

The characteristic smell associated with urine originates in its nitrogen content, and that is in turn an indication of protein digestion because proteins contain nitrogen.  And animal can break down proteins to release life sustaining energy, but this is actually a less efficient, and from the body’s perspective desirable, energy source than fats or carbohydrates (within reason of course, as too much of anything is a problem).  When protein is metabolized for energy the nitrogen is broken away and excreted from the body as urea, which is familiar to farmers as fertilizer and originates from the same Latin base word as urine because it is a primary and important constituent.  In addition to being a less desirable energy source, proteins are also typically among the most expensive components of feed and nitrogen one of the greatest “pollutants” in excrement that is not properly recycled though the ecosystem, so from every perspective it is always best to supply just a little bit more than needed, which for a horse isn’t so tough or complicated.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, so when they enter the discussion it has only become even more specific but is still all about protein.  Horses can manufacture many of their own amino acids, but some are termed “essential” because they must come from the diet: they can not be generated in the body from others.  You can think of these essential amino acids kinda like the wheels in a set of legos: they ultimately limit how many vehicles you can build and thus control the amount of activity.  Non-essential amino acids are like the lego blocks, you can put two smaller ones together to make a bigger one and rearrange them rather freely to suit demand when building, but one thing you can’t make with them is more wheels and thus no matter how many blocks you have you still are stymied from building cars, and this is often the case with proteins when a horse’s diet may be 30% protein, for example, but could just as well only be 11% protein because an essential amino acid is only available to build 11% complete proteins as are found in muscle tissue.  That other 19% is simply high cost yet inefficient energy, at best, and extra urea rich pee.

Among a total of ten essential amino acids there are several of primary concern in the equine world: foremost Lysine, followed by probably Threonine, and Methionine. I capitalized them for a reason: a lot of the science of feeding efficiently comes down to them and this is also true of humans; hence traditional diets pairing legumes with grasses like those of many American Indians who routinely paired corn, beans, and squash together because these give a balanced and complete source of amino acids even without meat.

Long story short, it is pretty apparent that mother nature/God/evolution/all of the above did not plan for any type of grain to be a major portion of any equids diet.  “Grain” can be a vague term, but the entire grass family in general is deficient to very deficient in Lysine and Threonine, although if you extend the definition of grain beyond what is technically correct and the grasses to include such seeds as amaranth you can find some rather balanced protein sources but this is prohibitively expensive for most horses even if a culinary delicacy for humans, plus it is complicating things too much.

Legumes are a very diverse and successful family of plants with the clever adaptation of being able to form a mutually beneficial relationship with rhizobia bacteria, which in exchange for carbohydrates manufactured by the plant “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form that the plant can actually utilize.  This is why legumes naturally can thrive in brutal nutrient deprived places, like the sand of beaten beach or leached out desert.  This is also why legumes are characteristically high in protein, and more specifically to our discussion, Lysine & Threonine: they have a more reliable and ready supply of nitrogen from which to build these.

I have heard it said time and again that horses are primarily grass eaters, and it is true that they can survive better than many animals on just grass because even if their digestive system is less efficient than a cow’s it is also faster, so they can push much larger quantities of low quality forage through their system in the same amount of time and thus prosper in places like the arid US southwest or the steppes of Mongolia under conditions that would starve most cows.  Nonetheless, everywhere I have watched horses graze freely they have shown a strong preference for a much greater variety than just grasses and a strong draw to many legumes, in addition to other “weeds” and even if grass is the majority of their diets it certainly does not define them to the exclusion of these other very important nutrient sources.  I firmly believe that horses, and especially breeds so close to nature as the Nokotas®, very much know what they need and will seek out a balanced diet if given free range and allowed to make their own choices.  In North Dakota the Nokotas have a strong preference for the legumes including common clovers, sweet clovers, prairie clovers, medics, milk vetches, tipsin/breadroot, and of course the well known exotic, alfalfa.  So to me the common deficiency of Lysine and Threonine is due to human interference in relying too much on grasses.

But considering grasses more closely, as they grow and mature protein content is essentially ever further diluted among a larger amount of foliage, and later concentrated in the seed and even degrades in the rest of the plant.  Early in the grazing season some grasses, like the infamous quack grass (Agropyron repens a.k.a Triticum repens a.k.a Elymus repens can muster close to 20% protein and thus be well above ample for nearly any horse’s needs.  Conversely, the well known and at times excessively esteemed Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) can also reach and even top 20% protein, but also drop to only 3.3% when overripe, and straw, which is indeed a valuable warming fuel in frigid weather (another article to come) is often only 3-4% protein and of that only about 10% really is digestible and useful.

National Academy of Sciences. 1971. Atlas of nutritional data on United
       States and Canadian feeds. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.
       772 p.  [1731]
nutritional information for fresh, aerial parts of Kentucky bluegrass during various growth stages:

% Protein    % Ash   % Crude Fiber   % N-free Extract

growth stage      (N x 6.25)

immature             17.5        9.4        25.4             44.2

early bloom          16.6        7.1        27.4             44.9

mid-bloom             13.2        7.6        29.2             46.1

milk stage           11.6        7.3        30.3             47.2

dough stage           9.5        6.6        34.8             46.0

mature                9.5        6.2        32.2             49.0

over ripe             3.3        6.3        42.1             47.0

Hard exercise does indeed increase protein demands because it literally involves the shearing of some muscle tissues which need to be rebuilt, and naturally lactation and growth depend upon protein whereas advanced age leads to inefficiencies and thus increased needs.  But it is important to keep in mind that horses were designed to be extreme athletes and that we may have different definitions of “hard exercise”.  Excessive protein can actually hurt athletic performance because protein really isn’t the preferred fuel source and needs to be dealt with one way or another, and even just excreting the excess as a waste product requires work including increased urination and thus takes something away from other bodily processes, in addition to making pee extra stinky and soiling more bedding material  And even worse, these problems with excessive protein can still occur when a horse is deficient in protein because only one essential amino acid is limiting and others are in excess.  So in future articles we will go more into depth about the specific amino acids and how to most efficiently optimize their balances for the best performance and least waste… but in short diversity with some legumes is a simple answer, and often horses will show us if we observe.  In the meantime it feels like such a weighty discussion needs to likewise be broken down into digestible chunks 😉

Yet the idea is always that anyone can email me with individual queries, comments, recommendations, corrections, etc: I look forward to the opportunity to learn more together!  And towards sharing what can be of greater benefit.  So please do not hesitate to share and forward this wider, and if you have not received it directly but would like to simply email me at and I can add you to the email list J

Likewise, visitors are always welcome, whether in North Dakota where I can give you a personal tour in late May until the annual meeting but know that Frank & Leo always appreciate guests, too, or if you really have a wild hair and don’t mind a humble home and farm that are very much still works in progress here in northern Sweden.

I know our website is outdated and need to work on it, but it still has maps and other fun stuff 😉

Disclaimer:  There is always a strong chance that I don’t know what I am talking about, and these views are entirely my own and not in any way necessarily reflective of those of the Nokota® Horse Conservancy or any other individual.  Read widely, seek multiple opinions, and think freely 😀  I know that this will be read by many who are more wise, educated, and experienced in a multitude of ways than myself and look forward to their responses, even if they contradict me, so please do not hesitate!


Grå Törnskata, our fully foundation mare of only 144cm and maybe 400 kilos (880lbs) bringing home a haylage bale from a farm better than 3 kilometers distant April 2013 with our children in tow.  Helen Thorstensson is training in a soon to be 3 year old foundation mare, Dagsmeja, and Emma Zeigler took the photo.

Grå Törnskata, our fully foundation mare of only 144cm and maybe 400 kilos (880lbs) bringing home a haylage bale from a farm better than 3 kilometers distant April 2013 with our children in tow. Helen Thorstensson is training in a soon to be 3 year old foundation mare, Dagsmeja, and Emma Zeigler took the photo.

2 thoughts on “Jethro’s Nokota® Ruminations vol 1:1

  1. Pingback: Jethro’s Nokota® Ruminations 1:2 Happy Thanksgiving, Timothy, and Black Friday Bypass | Djuptodal Nokota®hästar

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