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Ep. 047: How Properly Balancing Your Horse’s Diet Can SAVE You Money in the Long Run!

Co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr discuss the importance of balancing a horse's diet including: • Can horse's meet their nutritional requirements on a forage-only diet? • What are the initial discovery questions Dr. Cubitt asks horse owners to determine how to start balancing a diet? • What can happen to a horse on a high forage/low concentrate diet vs a low forage/high concentrate diet?

Episode Notes

On this episode, co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr discuss the importance of balancing a horse's diet including:


• Can horse's meet their nutritional requirements on a forage-only diet?

• What are the initial discovery questions Dr. Cubitt asks horse owners to determine how to start balancing a diet?

• What can happen to a horse on a high forage/low concentrate diet vs a low forage/high concentrate diet?


She also shares some example diets for different types of horses. Did we talk about yours?


Have any topics you want to hear more about? Let us know at




  • *Views and opinions expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Standlee Premium Products, LLC.*

Katy Starr (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:02):

And I'm Dr. Cubitt. We're going Beyond the Barn. Come join us on this journey as we bust equine and livestock nutrition myths and interview some of the most intriguing experts in the country.


Katy Starr (00:15):

We'll go behind the scenes of how premium Western quality forage is grown and brought to your favorite farm and ranch retail store. We're so glad you're here. Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn. Dr. Cubitt, thanks for being back with us today.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:33):

I'm happy to be back.


Katy Starr (00:35):

Today we're going to be talking about kind of a deeper dive into balancing your horse's diet. We had a really great conversation with Sarah in a recent episode from Equi-Analytical where we kind of talked about how to take a proper hay sample, how to submit the samples, and briefly getting into how to put that to work, the results to work. And so today I'd really like us to just take a little bit of a deeper dive into that conversation.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:03):



Katy Starr (01:04):

And just for our listeners before we get started, any of the topics that we cover on the Beyond the Barn Podcast are more generalized and not specific to any individual horse or any specific situation. Be sure to always work with your veterinarian and nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your horse's feed program. Or you can reach out to us to talk directly with Dr. Cubitt or Dr. Duren on any specifics you'd like to know. So getting into this deeper dive about balancing our horse's diet, first of all, there's some of these things we've chatted about before, but I think it's really important to set up the conversation. What are the nutrients, Dr. Cubitt, that are required by all horses to meet just their basic nutritional needs?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:50):

Okay, so the ones that come to mind that we immediately think of are digestible energy, crude protein, calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, selenium, things like manganese, iodine, lysine, vitamin A, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium. These are all things that when I balance diets I take into account.


Katy Starr (02:17):

So Dr. Cubitt, a horse is a hindgut fermenter, what exactly does that mean for some of our listeners that are unfamiliar with that and what do their digestive systems need to work properly?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (02:30):

So if we take the first part of that, it's really quite simple. Most people are familiar with a cow and how they have that four chambered stomach and the beginning part of the digestive system, right? They have the mouth and then the esophagus goes down into that four chambered stomach and we call them foregut fermenters because all the fermentation occurs in the beginning of their digestive tract. Now we take the horse who is a hindgut fermenter. He has his mouth where he chews the food, swallows it down into a stomach, but there's no bugs in the stomach per say, that are fermenting the fiber. It goes from the stomach into the small intestine. Again, not a lot of bugs here that are fermenting fiber. And then we go into what we call the hindgut, which collectively is the cecum, large colon, and small colon and that's where all the bugs live.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (03:17):

We call that the microbiome. And there's all kind of bugs and yeast and fungi and all kinds of things that are fermenting that fiber. So the fermentation area of the horse is in the end of their digestive tract. So we call them hindgut fermenters. So that's pretty simple. What those bugs need as a variety of different fiber types provided to them all the time. If you think about a horse in the wild, they would've eaten a variety of different types of fiber. So when somebody says to me, oh, I only feed my horse timothy or alfalfa, really we want to see a more diverse grouping of fibers being fed to your horse. Because the goal with the microbiome, and this is a whole other topic that we've touched on occasionally, is diversity. We want there to be a lot of different types of microbes that live in the horse's hindgut. And so in order to do that, we have to feed them lots of different types of fiber. So that is the very abbreviated answer to what do the bugs need? They need a variety of different fibers.


Katy Starr (04:21):

And of course we've talked about this time and time again, but obviously a horse's diet really should start with a base of quality forage and build upon that. Would that be right?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (04:32):

100%. And I want us on our podcast to stop using quality and use appropriate. We talked with Sarah, the gal from the testing lab about testing hay. And for me it's about appropriate forage because all of our horses are different and they all have different needs. So what is good quality for one may be terrible for another and vice versa. So we wanna feed the most appropriate forage to the specific horse. And so let's say we have a lactating broodmare, she needs a lot of protein and calories and calcium and that forage source. If we have a fat pony who is pretty sedentary and sits in a field all day, well we want low sugars because most likely he's got some metabolic issues. But we want low calories and probably low protein. So it really, the quality is determined by what is appropriate for that horse.


Katy Starr (05:29):

And obviously clean, right?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (05:32):

Oh yes, bad quality is always the same. Dirt, dust, mold, weeds, sticks that is always categorized as bad hay, bad quality hay is inappropriate, should never be fed to any type of horse above that, what's appropriate for individual classes of horses.


Katy Starr (05:48):

Right. And are there, I mean cause sometimes people talk about the different things that they're feeding in their horses. Well you know, my horse eats this, this and this. Well my horse only eats forage. But are there any horses that actually could do well on a forage only diet or would there still be some needs that wouldn't be met with that?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (06:08):

There are always going to be some micro minerals that will not be met a hundred percent by a forage only diet. We know that copper, zinc, and selenium deficient in most soils and grasses. So if your horse ate a hundred percent grass, that's all they ate, you gave them nothing, they would be deficient in those three nutrients. If you think about, you say, well horses in the wild do just fine. They don't live a long time. If they've got any sickness, it's usually survival of the fittest. So when you look at our domesticated horses, then we've got horses that are living till 30 years of age that go through ups and downs in their health status. And it's these having balanced nutrients like copper, zinc, and selenium that are really important for immune function and gut health, that those being in abundance or adequate in the diet are what helped them through these peaks and troughs in their health status. So yes, a forage-based diet is excellent, but there are certain types of horses that it's not going to be enough. And we know that all horses will be deficient in certain minerals, if that's all they're being fed.


Katy Starr (07:20):

Well and you compared the horses that live in the wild, they also live a very different lifestyle than the ones that we give them in our modern horse ownership. So that probably impacts it quite a bit as well. And I think with the ration balancer, this is probably going to hit on most horses, but what types of horses might benefit from adding a ration balancer and/or concentrate to the diet?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (07:44):

So when we use the term ration balancer, we're typically talking about a highly concentrated vitamin and mineral pellet. And it's usually got some protein in it, low in sugars and starches really because you're not, you're only feeding about a pound a day. So it's pretty concentrated in those vitamins and minerals. And we know that, I can pretty much feed every class of horse on the planet with a ration balancer and varying levels of hay. So even the most energy nutrient demanding horse, which I say is a lactating broodmare, in early lactation or the intensely exercising racehorse given an appropriate hay, I can feed them a ration balancer and they're going to be fine. Now, not everybody has the luxury of access to hay like that. So most times we are going to have to say with these horses with high demands, use a concentrate that's got higher calories and protein in it to supplement what we're not getting out of that hay. But a ration balancer can be very, very universal.


Katy Starr (08:55):

And how do we know what the specific nutrient requirements are for horses even to begin starting to balance a diet? Like what is the basis that you use for requirements of horses?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (09:10):

So the scientific community as a whole uses this book called “The Nutrient Requirements of Horses.” It's in its sixth revised edition. It's put out by the National Research Council and there is a nutrient requirement book for poultry, for beef, for all other livestock species as well. And this gives us our, our foundation, our baseline. And from here different scientists or different nutritionists might, based on scientific literature, increase certain nutrient requirements. Maybe they want to feed a little bit more calcium to a horse because they're trying to overcome gastric ulcers or we want to a little bit more protein for a horse. We might tweak some of them, but this is the baseline that we all use.


Katy Starr (09:58):

And when you start working with clients, you always have, and again, I know we've talked a little bit about this, but I think it's really important for this conversation, you always have these initial discovery questions that you like to ask horse owners to kind of begin that evaluation of what's going on with their horse. So you actually know the kind of diet to start building for them. So what are some of those questions that you like to ask horse owners?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (10:27):

100%. Well first thing I need to know what age your horse is. Is it a growing baby? Is it a geriatric horse? Is it somewhere in between? That's going to give me a general vague overview of nutritional requirements. And then I'm going to say what is their activity level? What are they doing? So if we're in the middle there, the horse that is active or maybe not active, but we're going to ask what does he actually do? What exercise does he do? And you might tell me, well they do dressage or jumping. And then we'll dig a little deeper into how much exercise, how much of this do we do? Do we jump every day? Do we canter because I really am going to base exercise level or activity level based on heart rate and how long time under tension, right? You know, there are some dressage horses that are at the lower levels that really don't have high requirements.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (11:17):

And then a Grand Prix dressage horse might have very high requirements. Body condition that is a measure of body fatness. So I'll also ask for an idea of the horse's weight and then I'll ask any special needs allergies, metabolic syndrome, HYPP, any of these genetic disorders that might sway the way we feed a horse. And then what are your goals? You might say, well my horse is really crazy and I want to calm him down. I don't want a feed that's going to make his behavior any different. My horse is fat, my horse is thin, my horse doesn't have enough stamina, too much stamina. So what are the goals that we're looking for in a feeding program? Just kind of like people, if you work with a nutritionist, they're going to ask, what are your goals? Cause we've got a set nutrient requirement for the horse, but what do you want to achieve over and above that?


Katy Starr (12:10):

Right. One of the things that you mentioned of the questions that you like to ask is about the special needs of the horse. And it seems like over the last handful of years, you know, a common concern for people are any of those metabolic issues, right? So like insulin resistance, laminitis, things like that. And so taking into account that, NSC percent is, it can be a little bit of a hot topic for a lot of horse owners that are dealing with any of those metabolic disorders. But what is the recommended NSC percent for these types of horses that you like to see for them to be consuming? And is it per item that you have in the diet or are you looking at the diet as a whole when you're looking at that NSC percent?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (12:57):

So most of our listeners will know what NSC is, but for those that don't know, that's non-structural carbohydrates. So if you break down a plant into kind of two carbohydrate fractions, we have the structural carbohydrates, which is your fiber, which may include non-digestible fibers as well. And that's what holds the plant up. And then we have our non-structural carbohydrates, which is the energy storage unit to the plant, our sugars and starches and other very quickly fermentable carbohydrates like fructan. So non-structural carbohydrates is a calculation, it's a calculation of sugar, simple plain old sugar plus starch plus fructan, which we see in a lot of our cool season grasses. It's an energy storage unit. It's very highly fermentable in the horse's hindgut. But the combination of all three of really its WSC and starch because ESC is a subset of WSC. I know it gets confusing.


Katy Starr (13:56):



Dr. Tania Cubitt (13:57):

But the calculation for NSC is WSC, water soluble carbohydrates, plus starch. When we are dealing with forages or fiber-based feeds, you must use WSC because it takes into account the fructans that are coming from these cool season forages. And if you don't take that into account and you're just looking at ESC or sugar plus starch, you could be under valuing the total carbohydrate or non-structural carbohydrate values in your feed and you could be really hurting your horse. The second part of that question was, is it on an individual basis or a total diet? It's a total diet for me. So the hay, if you're feeding a grain or a concentrate, any supplements, all of that combined, what is the total diet carbohydrate content, non-structural carbohydrate content? Because we may have an individual ingredient that is a slightly higher than our recommended.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (15:06):

So for a horse that's actively sick, has laminitis, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, the general rule of thumb, it's just a guide, is that that NSC value for the total diet should be 10% or less. And I said there might be individual ingredients that might have a 12 or 15% non-structural carbohydrate, but we're only feeding very small amounts of it. So the actual amount of sugar and starch provided in the diet from that ingredient is minimal. So be careful when you're just focusing on percentages because a percentages only has a value or a meaning when you assign it to an amount. So I mean I could say a hundred percent, but a hundred percent of one grain of rice is very minimal and means nothing in the grand scheme of a horse's diet. 2% of a whole horse is a lot though. So put it in perspective. But the general rule of thumb or guide is for these horses that need a low sugar starch diet, that the NSC value of the total diet combined should be 10% or less.


Katy Starr (16:13):

And I'm really glad that you talked about that because sometimes I think we get so kind of focused, hyper focused, I guess might be a good word for it on one particular area of the diet without realizing just how much of the diet a certain ingredient or whatever makes up. And so I think that really puts it into good perspective for us to realize, oh okay, so you know, if I have something that has a higher NSC percent but it, they're not consuming very much of it, it's not as big a deal as if like with forage for example, how large the diet is made up of hay, how that kind of plays into that. So yeah, I think that's fantastic. Can you give us a few different sample diets of different horses that you've worked with and just to give us an idea of what you go through when you're balancing specific horse rations, just given all of those discovery questions that you kind of talked with us about earlier.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (17:17):

Oh, I will, I will. But I was quickly doing the calculation into my head while you were talking just to give people perspective. So let's take 6%. Doesn't sound like much, right? If I told you the ingredient has 6% sugars and starches, you're going to say, oh yeah, I like that. I can feed that 6% of 20 pounds cause that's the hay we're feeding is 1.2 pounds. Okay, so if the hay has a NSC value of 6%, we're actually feeding 1.2 pounds of non-structural carbohydrates in that ingredient. But then we have another feed and another ingredient in our diet that you're only feeding one pound of it and it has a an NSC value of 15%. Most horse owners would say I can't feed that. I cannot feed that it is 15% non-structural carbohydrates. But, 15% of one pound is 0.15 pounds, right? So even though it's 15% sugars and starches, you're getting significantly less actual sugar and starch from that because of the amount you're feeding. So just do the calculations in your head. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.


Katy Starr (18:31):

No, excellent example! Thank you for breaking that down.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:33):

Great to see visuals. And so now we go over what we want to do again, we want to look at some diets.


Katy Starr (18:41):

Yeah, let's look at some sample diets that you've put together for some horses that you've worked with just to kind of give us just an idea of how you would balance specific horse diets.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:51):

Yeah and it really comes down to, the foundation of every diet is the hay, right? It's the fiber. And I say hay cause most horses don't have access to pasture or enough pasture to be their total, sole fiber source. So most if we go with the bell curve and most of the horses sit in the top of the bell and they eat a hundred percent hay as their fiber. Let's say we have a horse that is doing moderate exercise three to five hours of exercise per week. And if we have a really, I won't say poor quality, I'll say low nutritional value hay, but I have a horse that's an easy keeper, right? He genetically is an easy keeper and this is where we have to use common sense as well. So we've got an easy keeper and the hay that we're feeding is a meadow grass hay.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (19:51):

It's about 6 to 8% crude protein and 0.8 mega cals per pound in energy. And we're feeding about 15 pounds a day of that. And my horse is a thousand pounds. So we're at that very minimum 1.5% of the horse's body weight. This is not going to give him all of the calories that he needs. I would most likely have to feed this horse, given that he's an easy keeper, I would probably feed maybe five pounds of alfalfa pellets or alfalfa hay on top of that. Now we're feeding 2% of the horse's body weight cause we're at 20 pounds of fiber. And depending on the quality of those alfalfa pellets, we may be able to get away with a ration balancer with this horse. So a one pound a day concentrated vitamin mineral pellet and if that wasn't quite cutting it, maybe the horse was more of a medium keeper, not a super easy keeper, we might have to look for a product that is going be fed in that three to four pound feeding rate.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (20:57):

So slightly more calories so that we can get a little bit more out of it. What you'll notice is as the feeding rate goes up, the required feeding rate for a product on the guaranteed analysis, the concentration of those minerals will go down. It doesn't mean the product has less mineral in it. It means that we as nutritionists have formulated that product for you to now feed over a three to four pound feeding rate versus a one pound feeding rate. If you look at a senior feed, which is designed to be fed at say 10 to 20 pounds a day, it'll look like the, the nutrient value is really low. But that's because you're feeding such a large quantity. So again, be very careful. Back in the old days when we all fed six pounds of grain and 20 pounds of hay, it was easy to compare between feeds and compare those numbers cause it was all the same.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (21:57):

But now that we have feeds that have such a varying intake rate, it's very difficult to compare those guaranteed analysis, right? Because you might think, well my horse needs, he's a growing young growing horse so he needs to have between 12 and 14% protein in his total diet per day. And if you look at some feeds that are, you know, you've got your ration balances that can be 25 to 30% crude protein in that one pound versus a feed that is fed at 6 pounds a day, it might be 8% crude protein. So you've gotta be careful about comparing, I should say. Let's say we have, so the opposite end of the spectrum would be then that exercising racehorse, for example does an intense exercise. Let's say he is 1100 pounds and he's doing, I had a standardbred that I did this example on 1100 pounds, intense exercise.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (22:53):

So exercise done at high speed and for longer distances and a low nutritional value hay. So again that six to eight pound percent crude protein and we were feeding 20 pounds of it. And we all know that, you know, with these racehorses, there's only so much gut that you have to fill. So if we've got this lower nutritional value hay and we're feeding 20 pounds of it, you're not going to be able to feed him much more hay before he just is totally full. And then if we look at our high calorie racehorse feeds, I had to balance his diet and give him enough energy using that lower nutritional value hay to feed him 15 pounds of a racehorse feed. So I kind of have a rule of thumb, I like to be 80/20 fiber to concentrate. I don't like to upset that younger growing horses we might go 70/30, but in this case we're nearly 50/50 of hay to grain, which, you know, we are going to cause certainly increase our risk for digestive upset.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (23:53):

But now if we take that same horse, he's still a standardbred horse, 1100 pounds doing that high intense exercise. But we take 15 pounds of say a decent quality orchard grass hay that's about anywhere from 10 to 12% crude protein and much higher calories. And we also then throw in five pounds of alfalfa pellets. So now we're at 12 to 14% even higher crude protein and calories. Now I could significantly decrease the amount of grain and now I'm back down to only 10 pounds of grain. I'm still feeding the overall same amount of food, hay to the horse. I'm still feeding him 2% of his body weight. But I was able to decrease the amount of grain which is overall healthier for the horse. And so you can see if I increase the amount of alfalfa, I was able to decrease the grain by even, even more. So it's easier to show that example when your energy and protein demands are very, very high, you can put in much higher nutritional value hay like alfalfa and you can significantly bring down the grain input, which will save you money in the long run too because we know that feeding grains in general can increase our risk for all the digestive upset.


Katy Starr (25:08):

Right. No, those were wonderful examples. Just kind of showing some two different looks at two different types of horses. So, and you're talking about, you know, when it comes down to it like owning horses can cost a lot of money. So I'd really love to kind of get into this where, and part of that involves, you know, working with your veterinarian, which most of the time can be very good, but there's sometimes that you end up working with your veterinarian and it's an unexpected thing that happens. It's an unexpected cost that shows up and it can get so expensive. And so there may be a chance where we might have even been able to prevent some of these ailments, some of these issues in the first place with better nutrition management. So can you talk to us a little bit about, and you just gave us kind of an example of this diet, but can you talk to us what can actually happen with a high forage, low concentrate diet versus a low forage, high concentrate diet?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (26:07):

So I think if we just step back and look at managing horses period and all of your input costs. So our input costs that, that you need to have, right? You need to have a farrier, whether they're putting shoes on or not, they are trimming your horse's feet. You need to have a dentist because they're, you know, you've got to keep your horse's teeth floated. You're going to have to have a veterinarian just for routine care. Now we're not even factoring in these extraneous circumstances like you've mentioned, but we need to have these three things that's just basic maintenance, right? And then, then you can add on top of that you're got to ride your horse and you're got to have all kinds of other expenses. But these are just basic expenses that you 100% need. But if you don't manage your horse correctly, let's say we have them on a really high grain diet, but, and when I say that I'm not a belittling a grain concentrate or concentrate, bagged concentrate at all because they are required, we just know that there are some things that we need to take into account if we're doing that.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (27:11):

Like we need to make sure the grains are processed. We should have pre and probiotics in there to help digest that feed properly. But let's say for example, the diet's not balanced, right? We're feeding a bunch of oats, we're feeding some hay and we don't have the correct balance of vitamins and minerals. One of the things you will notice in your horse is poor quality hooves. And if it was an American thoroughbred, he's already genetically got poor quality hooves, so you're fighting an uphill battle. So we have poor quality hooves, not having balanced vitamins and minerals, their immune system will suffer and in the wintertime they might be a little coughy and sniffly more than the other horses. So right there, not having a balanced diet, not dialing in the horse's diet, you've just cost yourself more with your farrier because he's got to come more often and maybe he's got to use fancy shoes that stick onto your horse's feet because he doesn't have strong hooves because you didn't feed him properly in the first place.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (28:03):

So you can see how it just, it's like a ripple effect. It trickles out, do it right the first time. Doing it right in horses means using good quality fibers, using the appropriate forage for your horse, don't feed, you know, really rich alfalfa to a laminitic pony that's already fat because he'll just get fatter and we'll make the problem worse. So what's appropriate for your horse? If you have horses that again, we're feeding a really stemmy, stocky, almost straw like hay and we've got thin horses that we're just struggling to get weight on and we're feeding all kinds of grain, we're trying every different supplement, we're constantly changing things cause it's never, never working. I guarantee you're going to have more colic in your barn because you're constantly changing your horse's diet. That's going to increase your vet bills over and above what your vet bills should just maintenance be.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (28:59):

We know that horses that eat very little forage in their diet, they don't wear their teeth properly. So that's going to increase your dental bills. So you can see if you step back and you stop looking at one small area, you see how it's all interconnected and it really all comes back to what you're feeding your horse and how well you're doing that and how you're managing, actually providing the food to the horse and what you're providing them to them. So you've got to balance the vitamins and minerals. You can use something like the NRC or work with your nutritionist. Some vets have focused on nutrition and are good to work with. Others will tell you, look, I don't have time in my day. You need to work with your feed store or your nutritionist. Feeding adequate amounts of the correct type of forage for your horse can really save you money.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (29:49):

If we step back and we, we think about our horses more from and we take our emotions out of it, look at how they feed other livestock where it's all dollars and cents, right? They don't feed anything extra that they don't need to and they certainly don't undercut anything but they know exactly what every single animal is eating. They never look at the cost per bale or the cost per bag. They look at the cost per head per day to feed the horse. And the only way we as horse owners can do that is to know exactly what we need to feed our horses. Get a hay test. Know exactly what your hay is providing your horse, know exactly how much you're feeding and know, okay, I'm getting this from the hay. Now we know, okay there's holes here in copper and zinc, my horse needs more protein so now I'm going add something to the hay that's going to compliment those things.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (30:36):

Not the other things that maybe we don't need extra protein, maybe your horse just needs a ration balancer or something. So adding a boatload of extra protein would be a complete waste to this horse. So we need to know exactly what we need and what we don't. Fill those voids and build from there. That's the way you will save money feeding a horse. And you can see I'm getting a little animated when I talk about this cause I have over the last couple of years talk to people a lot about, I hate to use the word feeding my horse cheaply. That's what people will ask me. And I immediately say, well there's no cheap way to feed a horse. Get a goldfish if you want a cheap hobby cause horses aren't it. But if we want to feed our horses less expensive and more efficiently, we need to do some things.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (31:20):

We need to test the hay, we need to know what we're getting. We need to compliment exactly what we need to compliment. Don't waste money on things your horse doesn't need. And then also taking advantage of the actual horse's digestive system. It's built to eat small meals often that's how it's the most efficient. So if you've got a thin horse and you're just feeding two giant meals a day and you're thinking, wow, why is my horse not gaining any weight? Well actually you're just making a lot of manure because there's physically only a certain amount that they can absorb at one time. And so if you took less food but you managed it better by feeding small amounts more frequently, I guarantee your horse would gain weight.


Katy Starr (32:00):

Management. Isn't that crazy? Yeah.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (32:04):

So feeding a horse is a puzzle, right? And all the puzzle pieces have to go together. Oftentimes people selling you stuff will focus on one or two pieces, but you have to step back. You have to have the ability to step back from Facebook and the internet and put all of the puzzle pieces down and there's things that we don't think about, but it all is interconnected. There's more than one way to save money. 


Katy Starr (32:31):

Yes, definitely. And this has been a topic of concern and it honestly, it worries me a little bit sometimes when I read some of these issues that some horse owners have. But I know drought has been such a huge concern in a lot of areas for many livestock owners. And so what if pasture availability is low or even horse hay availability is hard to come by because I have seen them talking about, and honestly they should probably just maybe think what's best for the horse and maybe shouldn't even have the horse, which I hate to say it, but they will just be like, I can't find any pasture, I can't find any hay. What can I feed my horse just to get by?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (33:14):

It's interesting you say that. So pasture, if you live in an area where you typically have pasture and now it's a drought and you don't have pasture, well welcome to the rest of the world because 95% of horses just aren't managed on pasture anymore because they live in more populated areas and there just isn't the land to have pasture. I feel bad because you know, that's been something that you've been able to rely on. But if you follow the cattle blogs over the last couple of years that have also dealt with this drought where again, we tend to make emotional decisions in the equine industry, but if you look at dollars and cents decisions, I'm reading headlines like livestock producers, cutting head numbers. I mean I live in the east coast where we always seem to have grass for my cows, but we've had producers from the west come to the east to buy calves because they didn't have any pasture in the west. So they didn't breed their cows right? They made the correct decision that reproduction is a luxury. And so if you're in an environment where feed prices are through the roof and hay prices are through the roof or just not, not available, then things like breeding, maybe we have to take a year off or maybe we have to sell some of our stock. And I know this is a heated topic and I'm sure some people out there are listening saying, I can't sell my babies.


Katy Starr (34:42):

I know, but what is the alternative? Them like having an inadequate diet and being malnourished, like is that a good life? You know?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (34:53):

You know, that's not a good life either. So, but fortunately there are, and again it's all expensive. There's just nothing about horses that's inexpensive. But let's say you, you typically buy a local grass hay and that's the majority of your fiber. But this year it was really hard to come by or I don't have a barn to store it in or it's really low in nutritional value. We still need fiber just to keep the gut functioning and keep those bugs healthy. So they still need to eat at least one and a half percent of their body weight. Now we might be in a situation where we can't rely on as much nutrition coming from that hay. So we've got other options. We've got other, what I consider non hay fiber options. We've got bagged forage products, whether it be bagged beet pulp or hay pellets.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (35:45):

There are other fiber options. Now some of the benefits to these bagged products is financially when we buy hay to get the cheapest price, we, we buy lots of it, right? We buy it by the pound and we are buying lots of it or by the ton, but I don't have the money to do that or I don't have the storage space this when the hay is sitting there, it's like my money is just sitting there. I know I was able to buy it cheaper and it's good but I just didn't have the money. When you have these bagged hay products, I can whip down to the store every week and I might in the short term spend a little bit more money. It is better quality oftentimes because we have to put a guarantee analysis on it. We know exactly what we're getting, but my money isn't tied up.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (36:31):

It's tied up in one bag that I'm feeding right now. So that that's a way that we can kind of get around some of these increased costs. When I don't have a lot of money I can, I can just buy small amounts more frequently. In the long run, yeah, you might spend a little bit more, but maybe it's the only thing that you can do. So there are other options. If we step back again and think, okay, we've all got a budget and if we look at our budget like a pie and you cut your pie up, maybe we're not going to as many shows. We're not doing as much training. You know, those things are a luxury, right? Feeding your horse. It's healthcare. If you own a horse, they're not a luxury. They are a basic function in life. They need to eat food and they need good healthcare.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:15):

And so don't be afraid to put a little bit more money into your hay budget because if you step back, putting more money in your hay budget and buying a better quality hay if it's available to you, a hay that's got slightly higher nutritional value, in the long run could save you vet bills cause you're not going to have as much colic. We've got some alfalfa, so we're helping with gastric ulcers. I mean, you know, like I said, it's a ripple effect and it really can help you save, save you on some of those other areas that you don't always think about.


Katy Starr (37:51):

If I could put a word to today's topic, I would say perspective. I feel like throughout this whole conversation it's all been about perspective and sometimes, like I said, again, we can get hyper focused on certain areas, but if we take a step back, you know, take a look at the whole situation, we can realize there might be some other options to look at how we're managing our horses. Dr. Cubitt, this has been a really fantastic conversation. I know that I've picked up on a lot of things that I hadn't heard from you before and so I really appreciate those. But what are some key takeaways that you would like to leave our listeners with today about balancing horse's diet and the cost of owning horses?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:38):

Oh, I think what balancing a diet and you know, the cost of owning horses, it really is about knowing what your horse is and knowing exact, you know, their age, their activity level, body condition. If you don't feel like your body condition scoring your horse fairly, get somebody else to do it. Maybe you're veterinarian. Sometimes we overvalue or undervalue that body condition score because it is very subjective. The other thing that I didn't mention is when somebody comes to me and wants me to help them feed their horse, I ask, what are you currently feeding your horse that is giving you the outcome that you currently have? So what is the hay? How much, not how many flakes of hay or if you're in Australia, how many biscuits of hay, how many pounds of hay are you feeding a day? And I don't want you to say, ah, my horse has hay in front of me all the time.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (39:33):

Yeah, are they eating it? So let's get a good idea of exactly how many pounds they're eating. Are they getting grain or some kind of concentrate? What supplements? And again, I don't want to hear about scoops because everybody's scoop is different. I'm looking at a picture now and I've got five different scoop sizes and they're all completely different. So do yourself a favor, get a cheap scale and weigh at once just to get a bit of an idea of what you're actually doing. You need to know what your inputs are cause we don't really have a measured output for our horses, so we need to know exactly what our inputs are. And I think that will go a long way to helping, number one balance to your diet or whoever you're getting to help you balance your diet. But it'll also highlight any areas where you might be missing the mark or overshooting the mark.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (40:24):

Like we waste a lot of money in the equine industry just randomly feeding things that my trainer or the internet said I should feed cause it's going to, you know, make my horse better. It's so hard in the horse industry cause we don't really have a way of measuring that. Like in the dairy cattle industry well, the cows made more milk, so I'm going to keep doing it. The, the money I got from the extra milk was warranted by the added input cost. You know, our measure of success as the horse didn't die pretty much, or it smiled at me, so, we need to know exactly what is going in balance the diet, work out where we might be just wasting money or not spending enough on certain, certain ingredients. Because by having a well-balanced diet, that is going to ripple out into every other part of the horse's health, which you can spend money on a lot of money if we don't try and keep those under control. Now horses are going to colic randomly for no good reason. And you can't blame yourself every time. But if your horse didn't eat enough hay, because hay prices are expensive and I'm only feeding him two flakes a day, which worked out to be four pounds and he really needs to eat 15 pounds minimum. Well maybe that's, that's..


Katy Starr (41:39):

That's your fault. Just going to call that.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (41:42):

Just call it, right?


Katy Starr (41:43):

Yeah. Excellent. Thank you Dr. Cubitt. And to our listeners, thank you for tuning in today. If you have any topic ideas that you would like to hear more about, please reach out to us at If you listen on Apple, we would love to have you leave us a review. It allows our other potential listeners to hear what you enjoy about the podcast. So Dr. Cubitt, again, thanks for being on today and until next time.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (42:14):

Thank you.


Katy Starr (42:17):

Thanks for listening to The Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight and don't forget to turn off the water.


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