Feeding horses the ‘right’ diet is a hotter topic now than it’s ever been. Mainly due to the ENORMOUS profit the big commercial feed companies are making on unsuspecting horse owners. Pushing their feeds as nutritionally suitable for different horses at different stages of their lives.
But are these commercial feeds necessary? What were horses fed when these feed companies weren’t around? And WHY is their a bigger epidemic of obesity, laminitis, colic, ulcers etc than there’s ever been?
Horses had fewer problems on such grand scales when commercial feeds didn’t exist. Horses were slimmer, fitter and healthier. Ask anyone who was around horses before bagged processed feeds arrived and they’ll tell you they don’t remember a quarter of the problems you hear plaguing horses today.
But feeding horses has changed…and many many owners are confused and stabbing in the dark. Often changing feeds frequently and of course spending a great deal of money doing so….and when there’s a problem with their horses’ feet or body, rarely do they think about what they are feeding as being the ultimate culprit!
We’ve put together a simple blue print of what the default horses’ diet should be in order to keep them, safe, sound, a good weight and in good health. If you want a rock crunching barefoot horse, then read on.
The diet is actually very simple, although many find it harder to implement, and it just takes some trial and error in terms of the logistics of how you manage it.
Keeping it simple and consistent is the key.
So here is the default absolute that you must be doing to start with:
1. 24/7 365 mixed species hay – yes we do mean all day everyday! Mixed species meadow hay is the optimum – dotted around the field, not just in one place, this encourages the horses to move more, giving them the choice to eat alone or together if they feel like it – always assuming you have horses living together…which is an absolute must for a herd species, even 2 is better than 1. Put the hay in little piles, in tyres or buckets or on the ground, you will find the optimum amount to put out and this will happen over a period of a few days to weeks, until you work out how much they are getting through, the key is that they have a little left by the time you are ready to feed again…but be careful, if it is hay that they have peed on or stuff they just don’t like, it might give you the impression there is a lot left but they aren’t eating it…so stay tuned in and all should be well.
Make absolutely sure that there is very little to no rye in your hay….this is crucial…this can make the difference between a footsore barefoot horse and a rock crunching one over time. Google what rye grass looks like if you’re not sure, and if there is too much in there, discuss with your hay man or talk to another supplier. It is worth getting savvy about the hay and then your suppliers can’t pull the wool !!
Don’t over feed alfalfa and don’t use it as your main forage. Don’t just use single species hay constantly, Timothy is a good option but shouldn’t be used on its own long term as horses get the main bulk of their important nutrients from their forage, so it needs to be mixed.
2. Fresh water in one place
3. Salt/mineral block – a Magnesium Oxide base with various minerals is great – they are usually white, big square blocks are the cheapest. Not ones in tubs and absolutely no molasses…which you can usually tell because it’s brown!
4. Bucket feed ONLY if you have an underweight, ‘in need’ senior horse or competition horse who spends MANY hours a day training/competing. If your horse is a good weight or overweight…don’t feed extra!
5. Very little grass…this is the biggest issue for most…which is why so many owners end up creating tracks to limit the grass without any owner stress of stripgrazing etc. If your paddock is fairly bare, that’s great but be careful because your horses are keeping it bare which means they are eating the grass! A good rule of thumb is if you see them on the hay 95% of the time then they aren’t getting too much grass.
If you can’t do the above as your base level feeding regime, then there is a risk to hoof/body health….and of course is the reason shoes are still so prevalent.
Remember – you aren’t feeding your horse…you are feeding the bacteria in their guts. They are the ones that break down the grass/hay and if you give them too much sugar by constant daily grass grazing instead of hay then that is when troubles begin.
Ulcers are the next biggest epidemic hitting our equines right NOW, and one of the most serious, as they largely go unnoticed – this is a worldwide problem. Feed as above and you will mitigate gut stress for the rest of your horses life!
A natural as possible diet is the KEY!
Happy Guts – Happy Horses
The BHM Team ❤️