I have to say, it can be a challenge for my owner to properly determine her own nutritional needs…between attempting to comply with the food pyramid, counting calories and looking for the right multivitamin, all that I know is that it’s safe to say that this morning’s donut was probably not her smartest option. When it comes to my nutritional needs, she tends try to be a bit less lax to ensure that my body can function at peak performance. Read this today’s tips to brush up on your equine nutrition knowledge.
1. As convenient as it may be to grab the coffee can to measure out your horse’s grain, be sure to use a scale for an accurate weight measurement. The volume of grain can vary greatly depending on the weather conditions and the amount of settling that has occurred. It is imperative that you weigh your grain to guarantee that your horse is getting the correct amount.
2. Tribute® Equine Nutrition cautions horse owners to remember that their horse must have a well-rounded diet. Water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins are all equally important, so be sure to pay attention to all aspects of your horse’s feed. Many horse owners will focus primarily on the grain and supplements that they are feeding and forget about the nutritional requirements that hay holds and the importance of having a quality water supply at all times.
3. According to Dr. Lydia Gray of SmartPak™, “Most people believe that horses aren’t supposed to eat fat because it’s not naturally present in their diet. However, many research studies have shown the benefits of fat in horses. It’s a concentrated source of calories that can be used: for weight gain, for energy in sustained performance, as a substitute for sugars and starches in the tying up or PSSM horse, to rebalance the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio that can be skewed with a grain-based diet in a stalled horse, etc. Most fats are 99% digestible, which is higher than any other category of nutrient the horse takes in, so they are a very economical source of many healthy benefits to the horse.”
4. Make sure that your horse is receiving enough forage in his diet. A horse should roughly consume one to two percent of its body weight in forage products each day. For a 1,000-pound horse, this would mean that it should eat 10 to 20 pounds of grass and/or hay products. This may be hard to determine for horses that are turned out on pasture, so be sure to keep a careful eye on your horse’s weight.
5. Be sure you know what kind of hay you are feeding, and use caution when changing over from one type of hay to another. Almost every horse owner realizes that a change in grain must be done gradually but forgets that this principle should apply to his or her horse’s forage source as well. For instance, a Bermuda grass hay may contain approximately 12% crude protein, while an alfalfa hay may contain approximately 17.5% crude protein; this is a considerable difference between the two hays.
6. While the “low carb” and “no carb” diets are becoming popular, Katie Young, Ph.D, a consulting equine nutritionist at Purina® Mills, LLC, cautions against cutting carbohydrates out of your horse’s diet completely. Horses use sugars and starches to produce glucose. Dr. Young tells us, “The glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream and is carried to various tissues where it is used as fuel, or it is stored as glycogen in the muscle or liver where it is used later as fuel, or it is stored as fat.” In some cases, such as an insulin-resistant horse or a horse that suffers from Cushing’s syndrome, cutting out sugars and starches can be beneficial, but most horses need these simple carbohydrates as a part of their diet.
7. When putting together your horse’s grain allotment, try to stick to feeding one type of grain. Feed manufacturers design each of their products to be fed at a certain rate to meet a horse’s caloric and other nutritional requirements. But, when you start mixing a quart of this and two quarts of that, plus a scoop of this and a handful of that, no one has any idea what the horse is truly getting.
8. Know the facts about senior feed and the amount of exercise your horse gets. Someone may have told you that senior feed has higher amounts of nutrients than a normal grain, but Dr. Gray tells us that, in fact, the truth is quite the opposite. “Senior feeds are like hay and grain in a bag. That is, they are a dilute source of calories, protein, vitamin and minerals because a source of forage (usually beet pulp or alfalfa) has been blended with these nutrients at a much lower rate than, say, a sweet feed. So while it might require only four to five pounds of sweet feed to supply all of the nutritional requirements of a 1,000-pound horse in light work, it might take 15-20 pounds of a senior feed to accomplish the same thing.”
9. Consider feeding a grain or a supplement fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in the human diet; while the equine research benefits have not been as numerous, omega-3 supplementation shows potential for healthy results. According to equine nutritionist, Dr. Tania Cubitt, the addition of omega-3 fatty acids in equine feeds has been shown to reduce inflammatory processes, while a Colorado State University study showed an increased sperm concentration and motility in breeding stallions supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids.
10. Remember, feeding guidelines are just that—guidelines. It’s imperative to feed your horse as an individual and not rely entirely on what a grain or supplement company says you should be feeding. Dr. Ron Rompala, staff veterinarian at Blue Seal®, gave general guidelines for assessing your horse’s nutrition, “Ribs should not be seen, but should be felt, with the underline of the horse tucking-up slightly as it approaches the hind legs. There should not be any fat deposits that are visible or sticking out at the base of the tail.”
Dr. Rompala also urges anyone with questions to call his or her veterinarian for clarification. Together, with your veterinarian’s insight, you can put together a feeding program that is the best for your horse.