Have you ever stopped to think if the feed your horse eats is the best one to fulfill their needs? Just like people, horses undergo changes, and with these changes come a change in nutrition. What they needed back when they were only foals is not what they need when they are five years old. Their whole body, inside and out, transforms and the best type of feed must be adapted to your riding partner’s current digestive system.
What you eat is who you are, as the saying goes. If horses don’t eat well, they perform poorly and succumb to conditions early on. If your equine partner’s nutrition is top-notch, then of course they will perform at the top of their game! Wherever your equine is now in the nutritional needs’ spectrum, there will always be room for improvement when it comes to what you’re feeding them.
Quick recap: the basics of horse nutrition
As a horselover, you perhaps know the do's and don'ts of what horses eat. For example, feeding oats to horses is good while feeding them bread is bad. A great balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals, plus a steady and accessible supply of water, is essential to your horse’s health. They will get what they need from pasture grass, hay, grains, and protein, or perhaps a mixture of two or more of those mentioned.
Your riding partner’s veterinarian or nutritionist will be the best people to consult with when it comes to your horse’s nutrition. But the basics still stand, of course: No overfeeding, give them enough water, compute food by weight, and give them quality hay, grains, and mixes.
How nutritional needs change over time
Like a newborn who can only drink milk and then moves on to solid food, your fowl’s nutritional needs change over time. In fact, changing feeds in a gradual manner, especially as they advance in age, will be beneficial to your equine in the long haul.
For growing equines, their nutritional needs lean heavily on protein, to aid muscle and bone development. For mature equines, the first and easiest factor to change is a change in diet. By this time, your riding partner may be experiencing concerns with their teeth, gut, immune system, body, or are already lacking in vitamins and minerals.
Regular consultations and check-ups with your veterinarian and nutritionist wherein you raise issues about your horse’s health are important, especially if your equine partner is advanced in age or has developed any conditions.
Smart tips on improving your horse's nutrition
1. Adjust their feeds gradually and according to their activity, body changes, or conditions.
You would have noticed that feeds in the market can be customized according to your riding partner’s stage in life, whether they are working or idle horses, or if they are pregnant. Being aware of these changes must be reflected in the way you are feeding your equine.
Also, even if your horse’s activity level hasn’t changed, it’s common practice that you need to change 20% of your equine’s feeds every other day. The logic here is microbes in your riding partner’s hindgut need time to process what your horse ate. If the feed is immediately changed, it won’t give the microbes enough time to adjust, leaving your riding partner’s gut defenseless, leaving it prone to absorbing toxins.
2. Continuously feed your horse—it’s the way they are built!
With a small stomach and a large colon, an equine’s body was created to seemingly always be eating! As mentioned earlier, your riding partner’s gut or colon contains microbes, making it a place to ferment fiber. This is especially helpful for your four-legged pals during wintertime, where fermenting fiber in their gut will keep them warm from the inside.
3. Feed mature horses 0.3% to 0.4% of oats and other cereal grains per feeding—and no more!
Some riders give more concentrates, as oats, corn, and other grains are called than usual to their four-legged pals when they need a boost of energy. While this might seem logical especially when there will be a high amount of work ahead of the equine, having too much of the suggested serving of grains might lead to nutrition-related illnesses. If you would want that extra boost of energy, you can feed your riding partner more fat rather than grains.
4. Don’t balk if your equine’s nutritionist asks you to feed it “senior” feeds.
Nutritionists take many factors into consideration when it comes to your horse’s needs, and while there are common ailments and conditions that need to be addressed with mature or “senior” riding partners, it’s important to note that your four-legged pal’s physiology, activity, conditions and such play a major role in their nutrition plan. A feed formulated especially for seniors can help your younger riding partner’s gut problems, digestive conditions, and more.
5. Put forages in a trough or feeding bucket, not on the ground.
When food or feed is put on the ground, your equine might be unwittingly consuming parasites, dirt, or sand mixed into the forages you harvested. If the feeding bucket is put too high though, it might lead to teeth, back, and respiratory problems because of the possibility of taking in mold or dust.
6.A diet consisting of dried hay means your horse will need to drink more water.
Dried hay absorbs more water, and when it’s in your horse’s digestive system, it naturally absorbs the water inside your riding partner. Make sure to have a balanced mix of nutrients or encourage your equine pal to drink more water every few hours.
7. Adjust your horse’s water intake according to weather, activity, or changes in the body.
A lactating mare needs more water than one who isn’t lactating, while a horse in hotter climates or who undergo more activity than usual will need more water, too. Include more water breaks for your equine partner during extra active days.
8. The temperature of the water can determine how much water your four-legged pal drinks.
Tepid water is refreshing, while warm water is soothing—it’s the same for all animals, including humans and horses! If you want your equine partner to consume water more, check the temperature of their water. It’s best to keep the temp between 45F to 65F.
9. Adjust your equine’s mineral intake to your location.
Not all soil and grazing fields are the same everywhere in the world. Consult with your horse nutritionist regarding the mineral intake of your riding partner pertaining to their location, and if there’s a need for your horse to get supplements. Another reason why to get supplements is if your riding partner is mature already.
10. Treat and feed each horse as an individual.
Each equine is different, and their needs will always be different from other equine partners in the same stable. Not only that, but when you feed your four-legged pals all together, you will find that the more aggressive equines overeat, while the more submissive ones don’t get their fair share. This goes for older horses—if they are fed around younger, more aggressive equines, they will get the end of the short stick when it comes to feeding.
11. Let your riding partner’s ribs be your guide.
Experts say that a quick way to find out if your riding pal is eating enough or is at a healthy weight is if you can still feel their ribs, but not see them. If you see them, you’re underfeeding your riding partner. If you can’t feel their ribs, you have to check if you’re overdoing it with their everyday feedings.
Homemade Oat Treats For Your Horse
Oats are grains that have been eaten by equine partners ever since any horse lover can remember, perhaps due to their accessibility, nutritional value, and ability of your four-legged pal to digest it well. While grains are not consumed as much as forage, they are still essential to your riding pal’s diet and can make for a tasty treat. Here are a few homemade horse treats without molasses that you can try:
The Ultimate Horse Cookie Recipe from tanyadavenport.com
What you need:
- 1 carrot
- 1 apple
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 cups oats
- 1/2-3/4 cup flour (or make oat flour by throwing some oats into a blender/food processor)
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon water (optional)
How to make it:
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Grate the carrot and apple.
- Mix together all of the ingredients.
- Place large spoonfuls on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.
- Cool for a few hours in the refrigerator.
Apple Oat Cakes from SaddleBox
What you need:
- 1 1/2 cup oats
- 1 1/2 cup crushed fruit loops cereal
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
How to make it:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Use a mixer to combine all the ingredients.
- Shape the dough into little cakes, then press a fruit loop into the center.
- Bake for 14 minutes.
- Let cool for at least an hour before feeding.
What your horse eats determines not just their performance, but their quality of life. When an equine is healthy, it follows that they are happier and feel more loved and taken care of.