Feed Your Passion, Feed Your Horse
It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned equestrian or you ride for pleasure, most of us have been fortunate to have had or still have a “heart horse.” That’s the horse that may have shaped your riding career or even your work career (like me). You feel a bond like no other with that horse and would do anything for them. They shape your views on horses and horse management. For me, that horse shaped my entire career and led me to a profession in equine nutrition. I constantly strive to help horse owners find better ways to feed and manage their horse’s health. This always takes me back to wild horses and what we have learned from the natural feeding behaviors.
In the wild, the horse adapted to eating prairie grasses in semi-arid regions and traveling significant distances each day, in order to obtain adequate nutrition. Thus, they are "trickle eaters," meaning they must have an almost constant supply of food to keep their digestive system working properly. The domestication of horses has resulted in higher energy and nutrient requirements to keep up with the increased physical demands placed on the animal. Equine diets gravitated from being solely fiber-based, to include larger and larger quantities of cereal grains. Accompanied by this increase in cereal grains was a change in feeding behavior. Now, horses are being housed in confined spaces and fed one or two large meals per day.
To provide a more natural feeding system, we first need to make sure horses are being given access to a high fiber-based diet. Forage contains all the essential nutrients required by horses: water, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. Next, we need to make sure horses are provided more frequent access to forage, whether it is pasture access or more constant access to hay when stabled or housed in paddocks with no grass. Horses require an absolute minimum of 1.0% of their body weight in dry forage per day. For a 1000lb horse, this equates to 10lbs per day. A safer guideline is to provide horses with a minimum of 2.0% of their body weight in dry forage per day (20lbs of dry forage per day for an 1000lb horse). Using slow feed hay nets or other slow feeders makes hay last longer, simulating “trickle feeding” and can also help prevent stall vices developed from boredom.
Whatever you do with your horse, make sure you always supply it with premium quality forage and plenty of it. It’s what nature intended them to eat and it will help keep your “heart horse” happy and healthy for as long as they can.
By Dr. Tania Cubitt
Standlee Nutritional Expert - Performance Horse Nutrition