To keep horses healthy they should be fed horse feeds that is as close as possible to the natural diet that they evolved to eat. This means that their diet should allow them to graze on different grasses and herbs, as well as non-toxic hedgerows and trees. This type of diet is high in fibre and has a slow rate of intake also known as trickle feeding. Replicating this type of diet will help to reduce the risk of illnesses such as colic and ulcers. However, forages don’t always contain a balance of essential nutrients the horse needs and when we ask the horse to work, their nutritional requirements increase. This is when we often have to supply supplementary horse feed. We’re going to take a more detailed look at what a horse feed needs to contain to provide the horse with a balanced diet.
Vitamins and Minerals In The Diet
Although your horse’s pasture will contain a lot of the essential vitamins and minerals required, it’s advisable to feed your horse a balancer or supplement to ensure that your horse is getting enough, especially if your horse is working. Macro-minerals are needed in the horse’s diet as they are vital in the development of the skeleton, acid-base balance, hoof and hair growth, activity of the nervous system and muscle contraction. These macro-minerals, include phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, chlorine, sulphur, sodium and calcium. The other category of minerals is known as micro-minerals and these are needed in small amounts, as opposed to the macro-minerals needed in large amounts of the diet. The micro-minerals include copper, iodine, manganese, zinc, selenium and iron. These micro-minerals tend to help with chemical reactions in the horse’s body, as well as maintaining connective and joint tissue, helping with oxygen transport to muscles and metabolising other nutrients.
Vitamins are equally as important in the diet as the minerals, and are categorised as either water-soluble or fat-soluble, depending on where they are stored in the body. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D and E, which are important for calcium absorption and regulation, vision and working as a primary antioxidant to protect cells and muscle function. Water-soluble vitamins are commonly referred to as B-vitamins such as thiamine, niacin, biotin, folic acid and riboflavin. These B-vitamins are involved in nearly every chemical reaction in the body making them crucial for energy generation, metabolism and growth. These are made by healthy bacteria in the horse’s digestive system but horses on low fibre diets may require additional B vitamins supplied in the diet.
How Can A Horse Obtain These Nutrients?
You can supply your horse with these essential nutrients by feeding them a balancer or supplements. Supplements tend to be in a powder form and so it is practical to add them to a chopped or soaked fibre horse feed. A mineralised salt lick is another way to provide some of these minerals but it isn’t possible to control how much the horse consumes.
Rules Of Feeding
There are a number of rules to remember when feeding horse feed, which have evolved to try and maintain the horse’s health and well-being:
Feed little and often – in their natural setting horses eat throughout the day and night for up to 16 to 18 hours in total. As a result, the horse secretes stomach acid continuously and a lack of food can result in increased acidity accumulating. The horse has a relatively small stomach and over-feeding means horse feed is just passed through the gut more quickly which compromises digestion and can cause diseases like colic.
Feed according to the horse’s condition, age, breed, temperament, work done and size – a horse in hard work has higher nutritional requirements than one at maintenance with no exercise. Some excitable horses will burn calories quicker than a horse that doesn’t spend the day worrying. When making a feeding plan all of these factors must be taken into consideration to ensure that your horse maintains a healthy weight and has enough energy for the work they are required to do.
Changes to feed must be made gradually – this should take place over 10 days to two weeks, as the microbial population in the hindgut need time to adapt to the change of diet. Sudden changes can result in diarrhoea, an increase in the risk of colic and excess gas production.
Fresh water must be available at all times – this means that you need to keep all buckets and troughs clean and you must check water sources at least once a day to ensure that they are clean and accessible.
Don’t ride when their stomach is full – you should give you horse at least an hour after feeding cereal based horse feeds before doing heavy work. However, note that having roughage in the stomach whilst being ridden is good as this can help to buffer the stomach acid and acts as a protective layer to help reduce the splashing of acid during exercise.
Hopefully, this short guide has given you some food for thought about feeding your horse’s bucket feed. If you would like to find out more or discuss your horse’s diet, speak to an equine nutritionist, who will advise you on what your horse should be fed.