There are a few contenders, but these are probably the five most common mistakes I see when it comes to equine nutrition.
1. Not enough salt
Rarely do people feed their horses enough salt. Horses MUST have salt in their diets to control fluid and acid balance and for nerves and muscles to work properly. It is in fact one of the seven essential minerals horses require. A lack of salt (sodium chloride) can cause weight loss, exercise intolerance, weakness, dehydration and constipation among other things. Salt should be added to a working horse's diet. If your horse is not in work they should at the VERY LEAST have constant access to a salt lick. People like to think that horses know how much salt they need. Do you know how much calcium you need and drink exactly the right amount of milk to get it? How much salt you add depends on the level of work your horse is in and how much salt is in the rest of their diet.
2. Not enough roughage
Does your have access to ‘grazeable’ pasture 24/7?
Does your horse have access to hay 24/7?
If you answered ‘no’ to these questions then your horse is not getting enough roughage. No amount of hard feed will make up for lack of roughage. Roughage is ESSENTIAL to good gut health. Horses don’t have a gall bladder so they have nowhere to store bile. Bile is released constantly whether the horse is eating or not. Saliva however, is only produced when the horse is chewing.
Chewing = the production of alkaline saliva. Alkaline saliva = a buffer to the acidic bile their gut needs to digest the roughage they are designed to eat. Too much acid = ulcers, hindgut acidosis and a slippery slope to a whole host of gastrointestinal issues. Yes it’s tricky to provide this, but this is what you signed up for when you agreed to be a part of the best club in the whole wide world!
3. ‘Complete’ feeds
I’m not against complete feeds. However if you have a 500kg horse in moderate work being fed only 1kg of ‘complete feed’ per day, and the bag recommends you feed 4kg, then your horse is not getting all the protein, energy, fat and minerals and vitamins it needs and it is not ‘complete’. Complete feeds can only be ‘complete’ if fed at the recommended amount (and if they’re of a high enough quality). Many people cannot feed 4kgs of pelleted feed over two feeds a day (horses stomachs are not big enough to cope with it all at once), or if feeding twice a day is possible it might make the horse hot and/fat. Think about whether your 'complete' feed is actually that.
4. Not providing the correct amounts and balance of vitamins and minerals
This is the hardest to get right. Most horses have access to mediocre pasture, often containing high oxalate grasses and some weeds. Getting good quality native grass hay is also difficult, not to mention expensive. It is rare that a horse, even on reasonable quality pasture will be receiving all its necessary vitamins and minerals in the correct balance. If your horse is in moderate work then the chances of this decrease even more. Providing enough and the correct balance of essential vitamins and minerals is our responsibility as horse owners. In the wild horses can roam and forage, eating a bit of this and a bit of that. We keep them in a paddock with just a few varieties of grass and plants and put them through their athletic paces on a regular basis. I can guarantee horses in the wild didn’t put themselves over a showjumping course for fun. We need to provide vitamins and minerals through feed or supplement.
5. Not TRULY believing your horse is an individual
We all believe our horse is special right? That s/he is quirky, lovable, has a great and unique personality. Why then do we then think that because our friend's horse looks great on 2 scoops of chaff, 2 scoops of barley and some pony pellets that our horse will too? Do we think that if we eat exactly the same as our friend for six weeks we will both look the same? Your horse has unique nutritional needs just like us. Any time I do a nutritional assessment for your horse I take its and your needs into account to tailor it specifically. Could your horse be suffering from ulcers? Can you pre-soak your feed? Is it an easy or hard keeper? Is it dehydrated? Make an effort to get to know what they are. And if at first we don’t succeed, try, try, try again!