Ten easy steps to good equine nutrition
People always ask me what the key to good horse nutrition is.
It's actually surprisingly easy. And the simpler we keep it, the better it is for our horses. Unfortunately this doesn't necessarily mean it's easy for us. What is easy for us is to feed them a bucket of grain or pre-mixed feed as opposed to a big pile of slow-chewed roughage. If you agist like me, it seems as if waiting around for them to eat hay will take forever, but if like me, you don't mind a bit (okay, a lot!) of 'faffing', then you can feed them hay literally the whole time you're not riding.
So what do you need to do to ensure your horse is at its best, nutritionally?
Water - this is the most important nutrient for your horse. It's important to make sure that your horse's water source is clean, accessible and constantly available.
Roughage - lots of it. This is what the horse was made to eat. This is the key to good gut health and horses that don't have constant access to some kind of roughage will suffer. Roughage doesn't always have to be of a really high quality, calories wise, it just needs to be clean and free of mould and weeds.
Know your pasture - I know you're staring off into the distance at your beloved when you're in the paddock, but do your horse a favour and look down once a week. What does your pasture contain? Is it weeds, legumes, high oxalate grasses? How green is the grass? Is there any flatweed (catsear)? How long is it? Does the poo have visible worms or bot-fly larvae in it?
Be realistic about your horse’s level of work - chances are it’s less than you think. Check out my article about work level for more info!
Always use the KISS principle - if you’re putting more than six things in the bucket, including salt and a supplement, have a good think about why.
Make any changes to your horse’s diet slowly. The equine gut bacteria get used to turning what you're feeding them into energy, protein and fat. Changing the diet means the gut flora have to change. This can only happen slowly - not doing it slowly risks gut issues such as colic.
Be realistic about your horse’s condition - great that you have a good doer! Enjoy it! But why are you feeding your fat horse grain? At the time of writing this, my thoroughbred in is light work and he hasn't caught a whiff of anything other than hay, chaff and a handful of lupins for MONTHS. As you can see from the picture he's not suffering :)
Concentrates/’complete’ feeds - If you’re not feeding the recommended dose (and I don’t necessarily recommend you do) then is it really a complete feed? Feed companies recommend amounts based on horses' essential mineral and vitamin requirements, if you don't feed enough then your horse probably isn't getting what he needs nutritionally. Feeding him the recommended amount may make him hot and fizzy. And do you REALLY know what’s in it? I see a lot of bags with ingredients such as 'horse pellets' or 'extruded cereal grains' or 'oils', but what kind? What's in the pellets? How much molasses does it contain? How much salt? Are the oils balanced in omega 3 and 6's? And if it's poor quality then it could be doing more harm than good.
Are you changing your horse’s diet depending on pasture and work ,or do you feed the same thing all year round? - When the grass is green it's unlikely you need to feed the same as you did in the height of summer or winter when the grass is barely existent. Do you feed according to your horse's body condition?
Treat your horse as an individual. Just because something worked well for your friend's horse, doesn’t mean it will for yours. Just because your friend has to feed her six year old OTTB a kilogram of corn 14 times a week doesn't mean you do too.