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Ep. 056: How to Improve Your Horse’s Diet - Including 4 Example Horse Diets Balanced by Dr. Cubitt

Co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr discuss how to improve your horse’s diet with premium quality forage if your main supply is a local hay. Dr. Cubitt balances four example diets, as if she were working with a client’s trail riding, dressage, barrel racing, or senior horse. She also walks through an average quality local hay analysis, and what she can add to fully balance the diet to meet the needs of each particular horse and their performance goals.

Episode Notes

On this episode, co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr discuss how to improve your horse’s diet with premium quality forage if your main supply is a local hay. Dr. Cubitt balances four example diets, as if she were working with a client for the following horses, each at 1,000 pounds, feeding 2% of their bodyweight of local grass hay:


• A trail riding horse – easy keeper in maintenance to light exercise

• A dressage horse – moderate exercise

• A barrel racing horse – heavy exercise

• A senior horse – hard keeper in maintenance, with teeth issues


Dr. Cubitt walks through a local hay analysis, comparing a few hay types and qualities, what specific nutrients stand out to her when reviewing the results and what other forage or feed types she would add to develop a well-balanced diet for each horse example to ensure their nutrient requirements are being met.


Local hay can have different nutritional quality depending on the experience of the hay grower, but also if you live in the eastern or western United States or somewhere in between from environmental influences. There is also no one certain way to balance a horse diet. What works for some, may not work for others. This is why working with a knowledgeable and experienced equine nutritionist can be so valuable.


These examples don’t consider all the other variables that can occur with owning horses because every horse and situation is different. If you have specific questions about your equine, please reach out to us directly.


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


Additional Resources




  • *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.


Katy Starr (00:26):

Mark your calendars. Wednesday, April 19th, 2023, Dr. Cubitt and I will be hosting a horse nutrition Facebook Live q and a event. We'll be answering your questions about getting your pastures and horses ready for spring grazing. How could I minimize the risk of colic in my horse transitioning from hay to spring grass? What is the best time to let my metabolic horse graze? And so many more questions. And we will have some Standlee free product coupons to give away. So don't miss this event. See our show notes for more details. 

Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn and Dr. Cubitt, it's great to have you back with us today.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:14):

I'm glad to be back.


Katy Starr (01:15):

We're going to do a little bit of a different episode today where we are going to go over, I guess you could call it kind of case studies, but they're more real world type of examples with different types of horses, kind of in different activities and things like that. So we can actually show you, our listeners, how Dr. Cubitt actually goes through and balances a diet for these different types of horses if she was working with them as a client. And so I think this will be a really interesting episode that we get to chat about today, Dr. Cubitt.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:49):

Yes, absolutely.


Katy Starr (01:50):

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. You can always reach out to talk to us directly with Dr. Cubitt or Dr. Duren on specifics that you would like to know and to just kind of hit on this disclaimer just a little bit further, especially with this episode. Even with these scenarios that we're giving you, they might be similar to yours, but there are so many other variations that can come into play. You know, whether you have pasture availability or not. Are there plant and soil deficiencies beyond just your general region but even in your own pastures? But then you know what, if your horse has any kind of disease issues that they're battling, like ulcers or metabolic problems, your horse's hooves, there's just so many variabilities that you got to take it with a grain of salt today. But it's great for us to kind of talk through these examples. So Dr. Cubitt, I think for our first horse that we can kind of talk about today, let's talk about maybe like a 12 year old trail horse. So they're going to be kind of at an ideal weight. I think we talked about a thousand pounds, we could say that, you know, he's being taken out every weekend to trail ride. First of all, what are the horse’s requirements to be able to maintain his body weight?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (03:19):

Well, before we get into really the requirements, I think with all of these examples, the first thing in a perfect world that I want to start with is a hay test. Because the hay is a predominant part of the diet. And from there we add whatever the hay is not providing. So if we have an excellent hay that's providing lots of vitamins and minerals and nutrients, then we would have to feed way less grain to supplement what we're not getting out of it. So you know, the horse doing light exercise has pretty minimal requirements to be honest. We're going to assume this horse is a pretty easy keeper and he maintains his body weight pretty well. Maybe he's even a little bit overweight. So I'm just going to say that he's more at maintenance versus light exercise. When we think about exercise, I think about the amount of hours that he's actually doing exercise and his heart rate.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (04:15):

And so again, you know, even within the classification of trail horse we know or light exercise or maintenance, we know that there's wide variability even there, but we're going to assume he's an easy keeper. And, but the first thing is we're going to use the same local grass hay. And again, this is just made up local grass hay across all of our examples. So this hay has a pretty low digestible energy and low protein content. They're primarily the first things I look at. So if we take a step back and we say we've got a hay report, the criteria that I look at on a forage report, it doesn't matter what the horse is doing, I look at the moisture content, the dry matter content, the crude protein, some fiber fractions, ADF, NDF, calcium and phosphorus, maybe look at potassium, magnesium, sugar and starch.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (05:11):

And finally the digestible energy. A lot of people say to me, well I don't need to do a hay test because I can't change the source of my hay. Well, that is the perfect example to do a hay test because we know, okay, if this is the hay that I have, this is what I can afford, this is what's available in my area still we need to build the diet from there. And so the first thing we look at is moisture content because horses are really susceptible to mold and we do not want the moisture content above 15% because then it'll increase the risk for mold and that hay. Dry matter content, obviously we like, most hays, will have a 90% or greater dry matter. Usually you'll have two columns on a forage report, dry matter or as fed or as received. When I am balancing diets, I use the as received. So that is the sample exactly as it is with moisture in it. Cause that's what your horse is going to eat. A lot of people, if they're hay brokers and they're comparing hays, they'll use the dry matter value, which is literally you put the sample in an oven and you dry all the moisture out of it. And then we have that kind of undiluted nutrient content. But that's also a little bit misleading to a horse owner because that's not what their horse eats. 


Katy Starr (06:24):

Right. And I'm glad you mentioned that because yeah, that's something very good to point out. Excellent.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (06:29):

Yeah, so crude protein is all over the place, right? It depends on the soil conditions, the growing conditions, the grass species, but the local grass hay that I've chosen to use in our example across the board, because I'm seeing a lot of our local hays, especially out here on the east where I am, being lower and lower and this one's kind of moderately low. And at 7% crude protein we can have, you know, more optimal levels in a grass hay would be anywhere between eight to 14% crude protein. Mixed hay, so a little legume in there will run between 12 and 16% crude protein. And most alfalfa hays are going to be above 16% crude protein. So this one is kind of on that low end. I definitely have been seeing more and more very low protein hays, especially in the northeast that run anywhere from four to 6% crude protein, which is very low.


Katy Starr:

Oh wow. Yeah.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (07:23):

And then the next thing I look at is fiber fractions. So the ADF, acid detergent fiber, which really is just an analytical term, but that is really a measure of digestibility. So if that dry matter value say gets above 40% that ADF value, it means that it's not going to be that well digested by the horse. But again, as Katy said, take that with a grain of salt. It all depends on what you're feeding. If you're feeding a lactating brood mare, she has no higher requirements than when she's lactating. We need to make sure that everything we feed her is very digestible. But if you're feeding a fat laminitic pony, then if the ADF is high and he doesn't want to eat it or it's not that digestible, that's probably not a bad thing. The second fiber fraction is NDF or neutral detergent fiber.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (08:14):

And this one is a measure of palatability. So ADF is a measure of digestibility and NDF is a measure of palatability. And again, if this number gets above say 60%, we really start to see palatability go down. So we've all had a first cut hay that maybe it was a really wet spring and it took a long time for them to get that first cutting off. It's pretty stemmy and we've heard, well my horse really doesn't like it. It's just not that palatable cause it's very high in that non-digestible fiber or NDF. But again, is that a problem for a horse that's already fat that needs to slow down his rate of intake? Maybe not, but no, no, it wouldn't be great for a horse that's a racehorse or a thin horse that we're trying to gain weight on. When I look at calcium phosphorus, I'm really just looking at the calcium to phosphorus ratio.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (09:05):

Ideally we would like the ratio to be two to one, one to one. I can work with, so one part calcium, one part phosphorus, I can work with that. But I, where it becomes very difficult is when we have higher phosphorus level than calcium, I really have to do a lot in the diet then to correct that inverted calcium phosphorus ratio. And if you don't, you'll see things like the horse will actually suck calcium out of its own bones and get spongy bones and issues if they're not getting enough calcium in their diet. And the biggest part of the horse's diet is the hay. I can work with up to say five to one calcium and phosphorus. So in an alfalfa hay for example, it's going to have a lot of calcium in it. We are seeing less and less phosphorus in a lot of our hay samples because farmers either for financial reasons aren't able to fertilize as much or there are some areas of the country where phosphorus isn’t allowed in fertilizer for environmental impact.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (10:00):

But again, doing a hay test, like I said, it's really just a window into what I'm feeding and it just shows me what I need to correct. So I take all of them as very valuable information. Potassium, I'm really only concerned with potassium when we're looking at horses such as quarter horses with HYPP that have an intolerance to potassium because it makes their muscles twitch. So things like alfalfa are always gonna be pretty high in potassium. Magnesium, again, all I'm really looking at when I'm looking at the mineral content is how do I correct this or how much do I have to add of a supplement or a grain in order to balance this diet? No forages are high in fat so I don't really look at that value. And then we're looking at sugars and starches. And we've got sugar, if you see sugar on the report, just straight up sugar, that is ethanol soluble carbohydrates (ESC).


Dr. Tania Cubitt (10:57):

Then we have water soluble carbohydrates (WSC), which is a combination of that sugar and fructan. And then we have starch as well. And depending on the plant species as to which one of those they will store more of, your legumes will store more starch. Your cool season grasses will store more of that water soluble carbohydrate. And then your warm season grasses just straight up sugar, they don't store any fructans. And then the last thing I look at is digestible energy. And this is a calculated value based on several of the other parameters like crude protein and fiber fraction. And again, crude protein. If I have the choice of hay, oh not crude protein, digestible energy. I want a higher digestible energy for those horses that are underweight doing a lot of exercise or maybe are in a physiological stage that they need a lot of energy like lactation.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (11:52):

But again, if it's a really low digestible energy, I just know what I need to correct. So that's kind of a rundown of how I read a forage report and the things that stand out to me that I need to look at because I may need to correct these in the diet or it may give me a window as to why the horse isn't eating it or isn't getting much out of it. The local grass hay that we're going to use across all of our examples has 0.75 mega cals of digestible energy. So that's in the low range. When we're looking at a grass hay, most of them are going to be 0.8, maybe even 0.9. And when we're looking at our alfalfa, we're looking at high 0.9s, maybe up into even 1 mega cals per pound. So crude protein I mentioned ours that we're using is 7%.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (12:39):

The calcium to phosphorus ratio, we've got 0.3% calcium to 0.2% phosphorus. So we're closer to one to one, but slightly more calcium than phosphorus. So that's good. We don't have an inverted relationship. Copper and zinc where I normally would see them, you're always going to see a lot more zinc on a forage report than copper. So this is 20 parts zinc to five parts copper. Magnesium, we look at as a percentage. And these numbers really don't mean anything to anybody. This hay has a fairly low sugar and starch. So the WSCs are seven and the starch is one. So we add WSC plus starch and that gives you the NSC value or the non-structural carbohydrates. And so that number would be eight. So this local grass hay would be absolutely fine for any horse that has metabolic issues. Selenium is always very low in forage samples, this one is 0.08 parts per millions, that's pretty low. Most of our better-quality hays or legumes are going to be closer to 0.1. Lysine content is directly related to the protein content. So the lysine content on this hay is pretty low because the protein was pretty low and vitamin A and vitamin E are lost pretty quickly when you cut grass and bale it into hay. The sun really oxidizes the light, oxidizes those very quickly. So across the board we're looking at a low nutritional value, low protein, low energy hay. But this is very common of what I see in the industry. 


Katy Starr (14:14):

Okay, that's really great to walk through.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (14:16):

So just round out the first example we're using, again, I think we're using a trail horse that maybe has a tendency to be a very easy keeper only ridden on weekends.


Katy Starr (14:28):

Right So, what would you kind of see as his requirements that you would actually take when you're feeding? Because you talked about feeding 2% of his body weight in this local hay.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (14:38):

So again, in all of these examples so that it makes it a little easier for you to compare, we're going to use the same hay. Every horse is a thousand pounds and we're going to use 2% of his body weight as the minimum amount of fiber that we're going to feed each horse. So 20 pounds of hay. So what I did is I put in 20 pounds of this local grass hay into my ration balancing program and we'll go across, and to be honest, this horse is really not doing a lot of exercise and he's already an easy keeper. So we want to keep the calories and protein a little lower knowing that he's very efficient at utilizing those. So the local grass hay, even though it's pretty poor quality, actually provides at 20 pounds a day, provides this horse with all of his energy, protein, and calcium and phosphorus requirements.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (15:34):

Where we start to see some deficits are in the zinc, copper, selenium, manganese, and iodine and vitamin A and vitamin E, which is pretty understandable. I mean most hays are going to be, even the best quality haze are going to be deficient in coppers, zinc, and selenium, right? So this makes a lot of sense what I'm seeing. So 20 pounds of this hay, most of our listeners would look at this horse eating 20 pounds of this hay and say, my horse is fine. Because when we look at a horse, the only nutrient that we can actually judge is calories. Is he fat or is he thin? And so that's where a lot of people maybe misread what's going on because they see that their horse is fat or maintaining his body weight. Well this 20 pounds of hay is all I need to feed him.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (16:22):

I don't need to feed him anything else. And he's not deficient enough in those other nutrients that you would see huge outward signs. But copper, zinc, and selenium being deficient, I guarantee this horse is not going to have a great coat and he probably isn't going to have the best quality hooves. That is just assuming genetically he should have good coat and good hooves. So you said at the beginning there's a disclaimer, what if this horse genetically just has really bad feet or he's got a terrible hair coat genetically? I mean there's so many variables that go into it, but we will assume for today's episode that there's nothing really going on. This horse genetically should be fine, should have good feet, should have good hair coat. This horse isn't going to have great feet and a great hair coat cause he's deficient in copper, zinc and selenium.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (17:07):

He probably also might have a few more sniffles than the other horses in the wintertime because selenium is a powerful antioxidant, boosts your immune system. Vitamin A and vitamin E being low, they're always low in hay. But if we don't address that in the diet, then you also might see some, again, this horse isn't exercising a lot so we're not taxing the musculoskeletal system, but maybe we're, you know, not seeing as much muscle development as we would like or he's just not recovering from those trail riding. So all I had to do though, to balance this diet and I, you know, there are what we call ration balancers is a type of feed. And across all of the larger known brands, they all have a type, aversion, their version of a ration balancer. That ration balancer is to be fed a minimum of one pound per thousand pounds of body weight for most of them.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:03):

It's very concentrated in vitamins and minerals as well as some protein. So it balances out hay or unfortified grains. So this horse with a generic balancer, and you'll notice that they have a slightly higher protein content than most of our 12 to 14% crude protein feeds, you're going to see anywhere from say 24 to 30% crude protein. Everything is going to be a lot more concentrated in this product cause you're only feeding a pound a day of it. And so I was able to just use one pound of a ration balancer to correct the copper, zinc, selenium, manganese, iodine, vitamin A and vitamin E. They don't add a lot of extra energy to the diet, which is exactly what I wanted because this horse was already getting enough energy out of the hay.


Katy Starr:

Right, with being an easy keeper, he didn’t need as much.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:52):

Being an easy keeper, only riding on the weekends. I'm going to make an assumption that this owner also probably doesn't want a hot horse. They want to enjoy their weekend leisurely riding on the trails. So that is our first example.


Katy Starr (19:09):

Excellent. So our next horse that I would love for us to discuss is maybe let's take like a 14 year old dressage horse. It's ridden a few times, you know, during the week in addition to some competitions on the weekend. Again, ideal weight of about a thousand pounds. Let's talk about that horse.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (19:29):

So this horse, I wanted to, you know, when we're doing dressage and we're doing more, I assumed he was maybe a little higher level dressage and he's doing some more involved movements and doing a little bit more cantor work, more collection work. So I put him at moderate exercise, right? And so at moderate exercise, that thousand pound horse, and when you're talking about anything over two and under 20, age really doesn't make a lot of difference, right? Because we're a mature horse but we're not into that senior category yet. So that 20 pounds of the local grass hay that I have already described really didn't cut it for any criteria. Not enough, a little less than 75% of the horse's energy was supplied in the diet. That protein, I think we sometimes think our horses need a lot more protein than they actually do.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (20:24):

So at 7% crude protein, when you're feeding enough of the hay, we weren't meeting a hundred percent of the horse's requirement, but we were about 95% of the horse's protein requirements. So not too far off the mark. Calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, selenium, manganese, iodine, lysine, vitamin A, vitamin E, all nowhere near hitting the mark. All of those, most of those were less than 50% supplied by that hay. So this horse, if it was just being fed this, you know, lower quality hay, the owner would be unhappy. They would say, my horse is losing weight or I'm having to feed a lot of concentrate to make up the difference. So I recreated that diet and I'll bring that up now. And so you gave me two options, either a timothy pellet or an alfalfa pellet to, and really there is 50,000 ways to feed this horse, right?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (21:25):

There's so many different options. But I wanted to take the route of, we have hay pellets available to us because most of our listeners probably use the bagged Standlee hay pellets as a supplemental source of better quality fiber, right? So we know that this hay isn't that good, so I'm going to use alfalfa pellets or timothy pellets to boost the hay quality while still not having to feed a lot of commercial concentrate. So I actually was able to still keep this horse on a ration balancer just by boosting the hay quality. So what I ended up doing was still maintaining the 20 pounds of the local grass hay, but then I put in seven pounds of alfalfa pellets that could easily be split over two meals, three and a half pounds, morning and night, the 20 pounds of hay, local hay you're going to just have available to your horse all day.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (22:30):

Maybe you even want to split this up into three meals. And so he is getting, you know, slightly less than that three and a half pounds, but over three meals. There's so many options. It depends on your management structure at your farm or the boarding stable you're at. So by adding in seven pounds of the Standlee alfalfa pellets, we were able to get the crude protein and the energy right above where they need to be. And then just use a ration balancer to give us additional phosphorus, coppers, zinc, selenium iodine, vitamin A and vitamin E. Now again, like I said, there's so many ways to do this. Maybe I only want to add one pound of alfalfa pellets. Well that will mean that you cannot just feed a ration balance or you're going to have to buy a commercial concentrate that is higher in calories and protein and vitamins and minerals.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (23:20):

I want to just go back and talk about the criteria in these alfalfa pellets just so that people know the difference between that and the local hay we were dealing with. So the local hay, what we were at 0.7 mega cals per pound that these alfalfa pellets, and this is an average from 2023, we're looking at 0.98. So very close to one mega cal per pound. The crude protein on these alfalfa pellets are 17%, so significantly higher than our local grass hay. Now we're looking at 1.55% calcium to 0.2 parts of phosphorus. So pretty low phosphorus and high calcium. But again, we can correct that with the ration balancer, copper and zinc, the way they should be more zinc than copper. But again, still really low sugars and starches. The WSC is 6.5 and the starches 0.4. So an average, a combined total of 6.9% sugars and starches in these alfalfa pellets. So great for that metabolic horse.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (24:24):

Selenium 0.2, so a little higher, but all the others are still really low. The lysine content is 0.86. So again, it is tied to the crude protein value and we know that legumes are much higher in those essential amino acids. So that's where we're at with that Standlee alfalfa pellets when we're adding it to the diet. And then again, so we've got 20 pounds of grass hay, we'll get seven pounds of alfalfa pellets and one pound of ration balancer for made up horse doing moderate exercise. That diet was nicely balanced.


Katy Starr (24:58):

Excellent. Do we want to go to the next one then?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (25:01):



Katy Starr (25:02):

So our next horse is going to be probably about a nine year old barrel racing horse. Quite a bit of riding on this horse, competitions on the weekend, riding during the week. Again, ideal weight, about a thousand pounds like we talked about. How would you balance a diet for this horse?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (25:21):

So a horse that’s doing barrel racing, I put them in the heavy exercise category and how I break that down is maintenance is just, you know, out there very light exercise or easy keeper just maintaining in a field. Light exercise, we're doing anywhere from one to three hours of low intensity exercise a week. Moderate exercise is about three to five hours to again more like the dressage horse. And then heavy exercise is four to five hours a week where you've got about 30% canter. And we know that barrel racing horses do everything at great speed. So I put this horse in at heavy exercise and again, if we just look at the first example of the 20 pounds of our low-quality grass hay, he is about 50% of his energy requirements, just over 75% of his crude protein requirements, and deficient on all the others.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (26:16):

Calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, selenium, manganese, iodine, lysine, vitamin A and vitamin E. Now there are other nutrients that are important to a horse. These nutrients that I'm reading out that I have in my program are the ones that are the hardest to meet in the horses diet. So that's why we are focusing on making sure they are met in the diet. But things like omega threes for example, there's no set requirement for those. So I'm not talking about those. It doesn't mean they're not important in the horse's diet, but there's no set requirement for those yet. So the 20 pounds of our local grass hay, again, this horse is not going to maintain body weight, is not going to maintain stamina, is not going to be recovering and the person is going to have to feed quite a significant amount grain to meet this horse's requirements. So if we look at a diet that has been balanced so that they're getting everything they need, we had to, I again used the alfalfa pellets, and this time I had to use 10 pounds of alfalfa pellets.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (27:16):

So we got 20 pounds of our local grass hay, 10 pounds of alfalfa pellets. Again, this is just one example and a pound of ration bouncer. And this diet is balanced. They're getting everything they need. But what I'll say is this diet is very low in carbohydrates. So whilst on paper this diet is balanced, we're getting all of the energy and crude protein and calcium, phosphorous, copper, zinc, that the horse needs, I know that this owner is going to want this horse to have energy, to have the ability to recover and the ability to go fast. And use those fast twitch muscle fibers that are fueled by sugars and starches. So whilst on paper this diet is balanced, I don't think that this diet would actually be great for this horse because we know he is going to need more sugar and starch. So I'd probably be more inclined to feed a little less of the alfalfa pellets and if I wasn't buying a commercial grain, add in oats for some of that quick release energy or if I was using a commercial grain concentrate, not use the balancer type product and use something that's got a little higher calorie protein content and look at where those calories are coming from, from some of your cereal grains.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (28:33):

So this is a horse that does not need a low carbohydrate diet.


Katy Starr (28:37):

Okay. I'm curious, just thinking about this, if you have a horse, and maybe this just means they're not able to do that type of exercise as well due to that, but if you have a horse that has like a metabolic issue, but that's what predominantly they've done, how do you manage that when you're having to increase the sugars and starches? Or is it not significant enough that it makes a difference?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (28:59):

It makes it very challenging and it's a horse that ties up, for example, we know that certain categories of tying up, these horses can't eat high sugars and starches. But if then you kind of draw, walk this fine line, because if it's a Standardbred filly that ties up, but she also needs high carbohydrate diet to race fast. We have to use other management strategies. Like we feed a lot of small meals so that we don't have large influxes in sugars and starches, using things like vitamin E and selenium to overcome some of that muscle damage as well.


Katy Starr (29:35):

Oh interesting.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (29:36):

But it becomes challenging and again why on paper like there are some programs that people can go online themselves and use and I'm always very hesitant to recommend just horse owners do that because you can get yourself in a lot of trouble. I literally, and this is no joke, I've done this for clients, I have literally balanced a diet using dog kibble because I just put in the values, right?You don't put any of the ingredients, you just put in crude protein and fat and calories and calcium and phosphorous and you can balance a diet with dog kibble, but nobody's going to feed dog kibble to their horse.


Katy Starr (30:14):

There's so much involved in it, yeah, that's a really good point.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (30:18):

And again, I can balance a diet for a laminitic pony with a racehorse feed. The pony's going to die because it's going to have so much sugar and starch that fuels the racehorse, but it's going to make that pony's feet fall off. So there's always an element of understanding that comes when you're balancing diets. So I just, I caution our listeners to going on some of those programs that are available to the end user and trying to do it by yourself. Because a lot of people just get in a bit of hot water when they do that.


Katy Starr (30:52):

Yeah, that's a good point. So the next horse that I'd like to talk about is, let's say maybe like a 25 year old senior horse obviously deemed to be a senior horse, not because of its age, but you know she has teeth but the teeth aren't really great. Quidding on a lot of like maybe longer stem hay. So it's not really able to consume that hay well. How would you balance a diet for her?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (31:18):

So let's just say that we go into the situation and the owner is, the horse is not doing any exercise. So they hadn't been feeding any commercial grain or commercial concentrate. They were just doing hay. Let's say we're using that local grass hay that we've described and we're doing 20 pounds a day. At 20 pounds a day for this horse that has got not great teeth and maybe is finding it a little hard to maintain body weight, especially over the wintertime. This hay isn't meeting this horse's nutritional requirements to start with. So this older horse does have higher requirements than the first case that we talked about, which was the trail horse that we considered to be at maintenance. Cause he really wasn't doing a lot of exercise and he was an easy keeper. So this hay is at 20 pounds a day and that's assuming the horse was actually eating the 20 pounds.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (32:13):

Was only supplying about 80% of the energy requirements, less than 75% of the crude protein requirements because this horse also has some muscle wasting going on. So we have a higher protein requirement, it is meeting calcium and phosphorus, but nowhere near copper, zinc, selenium, manganese and the others. But we've talked to the owner and their pain points or their concerns are the horse isn't maintaining weight and he's quidding or balling up the hay in his mouth. So maybe he's only eating 75, he's actually digesting or consuming 75% of this hay. So, he's really only eating 15 pounds a day, this would look even worse. And they think, well he's older and that's why it's hard to maintain his body weight and they don't think anything of it. But there is a much better option. And because this horse isn't able to, it doesn't have great teeth.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (33:07):

I mean he is obviously not dying so he's been able to eat some of that long stem hay, but I would change it knowing that his teeth aren't going to get any better, right? They're just going to continually, progressively get worse. I took 10 pounds going still on that 2% of body weight or 20 pounds because you'll also find with older horses, I mean with the heavily exercising horse in the moderate exercising horse, I was able to really bump up the fiber intake to closer to 3% of their body weight. With an older horse, it's going to be difficult to do that. They just don't have that motivation to eat that much anymore. So I kept it at 2% of their body weight or 20 pounds, we've got 10 pounds of that grass hay now. And instead of going to the alfalfa pellets, which I did for the other scenarios and I really probably could have used the Timothy pellets in those other scenarios as well.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (34:02):

But I chose to use the alfalfa because let's say that was available. And again, if we look at what else is alfalfa bringing to the table, both of those other horses were showing, trailering, you know, all the things that come with being a performance horse, stress. So gastric ulcers is the first thing I think of. So alfalfa helps with that. So that made me lean on alfalfa over the timothy. So in this case though, I know this horse doesn't have stress and he probably doesn't have gastric ulcers. So I went with the Timothy pellets and we're going to feed 10 pounds of the Timothy pellets and a pound of the ration balancer. Now I just want to go back and talk to you about the Timothy pellet criteria. So the local grass hay had 0.7 mega cals per pound. The alfalfa was close to one mega cals per pound.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (34:49):

The Timothy pellets from Standlee have are really, really high quality. And so that is 0.9 mega cals per pound. So there's a lot of calories that come from this Timothy pellets. We're looking at 12.2percent protein. So alfalfa was 17 and our local grass hay was seven. So we're right in the middle now. Calcium and phosphorus, we're at 0.8 to 0.2. So evenly balanced there. Again, zinc and copper are in the right ratios and water soluble carbohydrates are eight and starch is 0.2. So non-structural carbohydrates are 8.2 combined, still ideal. So that's where we're sitting with those Timothy pellets. So in this scenario we're using a lot of Timothy pellets. So 50/50 long stem hay to pelleted hay. When you do that, you have to mimic grazing behavior. Doesn't matter whether the horse is five or 50, not that he's going to get to 50, but let's say 35.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (35:51):

You still have to mimic grazing behavior and the more pelleted forage or cubed forage or chopped forage that you put into the diet and the more long stem hay you take out, the more management is going to be on your part because you've got to be constantly giving it to the horse so that they're constantly kind of mimicking that grazing behavior. So in this scenario, 10 pounds of local grass hay, that was pretty poor quality. 10 pounds of the Timothy pellets. We have enough energy, enough protein, we've got significantly more calcium and phosphorus than we need, but that's totally fine, it's still in the right ratio and all the others are evenly balanced as well. So that is one way that you could feed this older horse that's slowly progressing. The other option is to use a senior feed. Now a senior feed is designed typically to be fed at really high rates so that the horses getting all their fiber out of that senior feed with, when I balanced diets for senior horses though, even if I use a senior feed that you could feed as a complete feed and the correct definition of a complete feed is that you do not have to feed hay or hay alternatives with it.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:03):

All of the fiber is built into the senior feed. But it does mean if we're looking at one and a half to 2% of that horse's body weight and fiber, we're feeding 15 to 20 pounds of senior a day. We could do that. I typically will feed a maximum say 10 pounds of senior feed and then I'll use a Timothy pellet or an alfalfa pellet to give me the rest of the fiber content. So I know most horse owners like to mix. It also gives a little bit more variety in the fiber type, which helps those bugs in the hindgut. But I was able to, I wanted to show how you could, with good quality hay or a hay pellet, using it as a supplemental source of better-quality forage source. You can balance diets with just a ration balancer. It is possible to do that.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:50):

And so this would be how, you know, I know that there's a trend at the moment for these forage only diets. You can't just feed forage, right? 


Katy Starr:

They're going to be missing some of the nutrients there. 


Tania Cubitt:

I tell you all the time, forage, forage, forage is the most important part of the diet, but it's not going to cut it when it comes to copper, zinc, selenium, and a lot of times energy and protein if you're just feeding the forage, right? We need to at least add a ration balancer in order to get the rest of that copper, zinc, selenium, manganese, and iodine. You and I talk about this all the time, feeding horses is actually very easy. Balancing diets for horses is very easy, but it's only one part of the puzzle because we also need to make sure when I go to a farm, I have to ask a lot of questions and I have to make sure that the feeding instructions that I leave the farm with are going to fit with their time budget and their financial budget.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:46):

I mean, if it's too expensive, they're not going to do it. If it's too expensive timewise, they're not going to do it. I calculated, so again, I'm going off tangent a bit, but I think this is really interesting. I actually did a little calculation because a lot of people don't think about this. If you've got a really complicated feeding program, for example, and you're adding all kinds of stuff, but you don't feed your horses. Let's say you pay somebody, pay one of your barn manager or barn help to come and they feed the horses and your program is really complicated and they're there an extra hour a day to do your complicated feeding program. This does not even take into account rising feed costs or the fact that you're feeding all those crazy extra things. It's just literally paying somebody for an hour a day. Most barn workers these days are not working for nothing.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (39:38):

It's 15 to 20 bucks an hour. So if I do 15 and you feed your horses for 365 days a year times 365 days, and maybe you give them a day or two off, but really $15. So one hour day at $15 for 365 days is nearly $5,500. That is a significant amount of money. Let's do $20 cause that's more realistic of what I'm seeing now. That's $7,300 a year that you spend paying somebody an extra hour a day to feed your horses cause it's a super complicated program. So when you're looking at reducing the cost of your feeding program, don't just look at the things that are right in front of your face, the price of the hay, the price of the concentrate, the price of the supplement, take a further step back and have a look at every input that goes into your program.


Katy Starr (40:34):

And how it's serving you .


Dr. Tania Cubitt (40:36):

Exactly. And so I think this is a real eye-opener. If I could say someone $7,300 a year because I simplify their feeding program. I don't even change a lot of what they're feeding, but I just simplify it so they're not adding a lot of stuff. They're not mixing a lot of stuff and it takes less time to feed the horses to actually just physically feed them. I can save you $7,300 a year. So it's a lot of money.


Katy Starr (41:00):

Yeah, no, it really is. And I mean, just going through this conversation today, remembering that some of the like hay analyses that we were talking about, you know, averages kind of, we were breaking it down and giving some examples with it. Other things to kind of take into consideration, you know, we talked about how there can be so many variables with any of these situations and any of the time that you add in the travel that goes with your competitions, or let's say that you're kind of a more avid trail rider and you actually go on like longer excursions and things like that, and maybe you're limited on space, right? With the trailering and things like that. Talk about like consistency, you know, for example, with like the Standlee hay products, if you can go to a store in one location that's carrying that same product and it has that availability for you, it's there. And then, you know, if you're limited on your space that you have in your tack, like where you store your hay and things like that, you may not have that ability to get larger quantities of hay at a time. And so the nice thing is, and that's something that I'm always really appreciative of the day and age that we live in, is there's just so many options to work with everybody's situations.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (42:17):

Yeah. And I would expand on that a little bit. So if that is your situation and you are using a local hay, but in your competition season you are traveling a lot and you just can't take enough of that hay to give your horses everything they need while you're away and you want to use, you want to bring in, you want to be able to buy alfalfa pellets or hay pellets when you get to your destination, so you don't have to, you know, travel with them. Make sure you're adapting your horses to those at home. At least for a two week period. Just like water, if you know your horse is super sensitive to changes in water, put some flavoring in it at home, get them used to the flavoring. So when you go to a show, he's used to the flavoring. Do the same thing. If you're going to be bringing in alfalfa pellets or you, you know that your horse doesn't have a great stamina and you want a high carbohydrate feed for when you're competing, don't just add it the night before and think it's going to be fine. You're going to have a sick horse that's colicking that you won't be able to show. So make sure you're transitioning a horse to that.


Katy Starr (43:14):

Right. I think that's a really great point to make. This was great, Dr. Cubitt.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (43:21):

And you were worried we wouldn't fill the time, you know, we can always fill the time.


Katy Starr (43:23):

No, I knew we would probably fill the time, but I just had no idea how it would line out . But yeah, I feel like today's conversation was really great and I hope our listeners, I hope you all listening, got some value out of this conversation today. Go ahead and email us at Let us know what you thought of this episode, if you found it to be helpful. Another thing that I wanted to mention is we want to be sharing our reviews that we get back from you all because it's great to hear feedback and it allows our other potential listeners to see what kind of value this show offers you. So Dr. Cubitt, I got this one from OTTBLove, and they say that “Great information, I love this podcast. Dr. Cubitt gives clear, concise information without any hidden agenda. Keep up the great work, Dr. Cubitt and Katy.”


Dr. Tania Cubitt (44:16):

I love to hear that. Yeah, you know, you and I think we're doing great, but it's really nice to just hear that from the outside.


Katy Starr (44:22):

Right? So again, if you guys have topic ideas, feel free to reach out to us. We love hearing from you. And until next time, time, thanks Dr. Cubitt for lending us your knowledge today. 


Tania Cubitt (44:35):

Not a problem. 


Katy Starr (44:38):

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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