Sometimes good equine nutrition seems more like an art form than a science.
With so many choices and just as many opinions, how does anyone understand what proper equine nutrition is?
Well, once you have an understanding of the daily essentials in your horse’s diet, healthy and balanced nutrition will start to make a lot more sense… with maybe just a little art thrown in!
Every day, every horse needs the same elements in their daily rations:
· PROTEIN for growth and tissue repair
· FATS and CARBOHYDRATES for energy
· FIBRE, which is vital for the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. No doubt you’ve heard of colic. The correct amount of fibre helps to prevent this number one killer of horses from occurring.
· VITAMINS and MINERALS
· WATER, which is oh so important and often overlooked
So how do you make sure your horses get enough and in the right amounts of all that stuff?
Water is pretty straightforward - free choice access to clean fresh water all the time.
Water is critically important. Horses can only live a few days without water.
By simply becoming dehydrated, a horse can seriously increase his chances of getting life-threatening colic and other problems.
Horses on average drink about 10-12 gallons (38-45L) of water every day.
If the weather is hot they might drink more. If they’re eating a lot of hay, as they tend to do in the winter to keep warm, they’ll drink more.
So just be sure your horse always has water.
In equine nutrition lingo that translates to HAY, PASTURE and GRAIN.
We have to remember that horses have a pretty small and delicate stomach and that means they can't eat too much at once.
Horses will spend up to 18 hours a day grazing. Their digestive system prefers to process small amounts of food over the course of a day.
The average size of a horses' stomach actually has a capacity of only about 4 gallons (15L) but it really works the best when it contains only half that amount.
A steady supply of forage makes their digestive system actually work best. As a general rule, horses should receive about 1.5 - 2.5% of their body weight per day in forage. So the average 1000lb horse would need about 10lbs-20lbs of hay per day.
In some cases where excellent forage is available it can supply almost all of the necessary components of good equine nutrition. Unfortunately in most cases horses don't have access to top quality pasture.
And because soil conditions change and growing conditions are not always the best, the availability of consistently excellent hay can be a challenge. So to be sure of proper equine nutrition almost all horses need their diets supplemented with some kind of concentrate.
A concentrate can be grains. It can also refer to manufactured feed that is known as a complete feed consisting of different grains mixed together with vitamins and minerals. These complete feeds are sometimes processed into pelleted form.
All concentrates have to be measured by weight not volume. A pound of oats does not have the same volume as a pound of corn or a pelleted feed.
The percentage of concentrate that should be fed to a horse should not be more than 1% of their body weight. And of course these feedings should be divided up into at least 2 smaller meals per day.
Knowing how much to feed your horse is not just about percentages and volumes and stuff. There is a bit of art to the next few points.
What you choose to feed and the actual amounts are affected by many factors, including weather, genetics and workload, just to mention a few. And these factors are changing throughout the year.
Consider the age of your horse. Is he still growing or a mature guy? What is your horse’s job? High performance or pasture art or somewhere in between?
Here's where the “art” comes in. As a horseman you have to be able to gauge your horses personality. Is he a kind of laid back take-it-in-stride kind of guy, an easy keeper? Or is he a wound up workaholic, a hard keeper?
This is really important because when you do select a type of concentrate to feed your horse, the manufacturers have recommendations on the labels. However these are just safe recommendations and depending on your particular type of horse that amount could be higher or lower.
Balance is the key. Proper equine nutrition is fundamental to good health.
A little further down we've written a short article on Flax which you may also find interesting.
The safest and sometimes the easiest thing to do is to speak with an equine nutritionist to determine the best diet for your horse.
In many cases local feed supply companies keep nutritionists on staff to consult with customers. These professionals can visit with you and your horse right at your farm.
Now that you have a common sense understanding of equine nutrition, together you and the nutritionist can determine the best diet for your horse.
We often get asked about flax for horses. A recent inquiry prompted us to write this short article. We hope you'll find it informative and useful.
"Flax seed is good for horses for all kinds of reasons. Because of its high Omega-3 content it can be beneficial in improving skin conditions, coat appearance, and it has anti-inflammatory properties.
As a supplement for older horses it's great because it helps with stiffness and can help the immune system and thyroid function. Mature horses with cushings or other metabolic conditions can really benefit from flax seed.
The flax seed does not have to be boiled or ground - you can feed it as whole seeds.
According to many nutritionists the most flax seed that you should feed a horse is 8oz per day.
So your question about feeding it to your mare is that you should be fine. With any new feed program you should always check with your vet too or consult with the nutritionist at the feed store you purchase the flax seed from.
And thanks to its low cost, flax is a great supplement for any horse."
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