Nutrition is an extremely important aspect of equine health. We have many discussions with clients regarding this topic and decided we should write down our thoughts to share with everyone else. (If you are one of our clients reading this, you've probably heard it before! We did do a newsletter on it last year.) This can be a confusing subject, so we'll try to simplify things to make bit of sense out of all of the options that are available. So let's get started. Bon appetit!
HAY! What are you feeding your horse?
Hays are broken into two classes - legumes and grasses. (Hey, that rhymes!) Legume hay tends to be higher in protein content, energy, calcium and vitamin A. These are great choices for growing horses, lactating mares, or athletes. Basically any horse that needs a bit of an extra boost. Alfalfa and clover are good examples of legumes. It is important to remember that not all horses need the richness of legumes. Excess nutrients can cause problems in some horses (ie physitis in young, growing horses). However, feeding a lower quality grass hay with some legume mix can give the benefits of legumes without all of the extra energy.
Try to Concentrate!
More often than not, we are feeding processed grains. These are composed of ground sources of carbohydrates mixed with vitamins, minerals, fats and simple sugars. They are often designed and balanced for a particular type of horse.
Pellets are the most common processed feed. They run about 10-16% protein and supplement a good grass hay very well. Sweet feed is similar to pellets, but has a higher sugar/starch content and usually has more sugar (ie molasses) added for palatability.
Complete and Senior feeds are designed to be fed as a "complete diet" without necessary addition of roughage. Certain conditions, such as loss of teeth, make eating hay difficult for some horses. However, as long as you can safely feed roughage, we suggest you do! These feed types are higher in fiber than regular pellets or sweet feed and are generally a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals without excess carbohydrates.
All of these concentrates are designed with the entire diet in mind. That means that the feed companies have added many of the supplements that we consider necessary - such as selenium, calcium or other vitamins/ minerals. So what's the deal with supplements? Wellll.....
Supplementing the right way
different effect on your horse. Did you know that most of the supplements that your horse needs are often already in their feed? When feed companies design their rations, they take into account the soil deficiencies and general quality of hays in an area. They then add an appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals to the diet to offer a fully balanced feed.
you begin combining supplements (along with their feed), then you can easily get into a situation where certain nutrients reach a toxic level.
The best thing you can do is READ THE LABEL! (You can click on the image for a larger label to read.) Compare your horse's feed to the supplements that you are providing. If you start seeing the same ingredients more than once, you may be over-supplementing.
Many horses get all the nutrition they need from good quality hay and/or pasture, a general mineral & vitamin supplement, and a salt block. If you think your horse needs more, consult with your veterinarian to go over all of their dietary needs. (Your horse's needs, not your vet's!)
If you still haven't gotten enough of equine nutrition, Rutgers University has a great website dedicated to the subject. Click here to view their nutrition publications.