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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Feeding Guidelines to Keep your Horse Healthy

Your horse is a grass eater.  They are designed to be grazing on grasses throughout the day. This is how their digestive system functions the best.
They forage for grasses and even weeds and other plants that they instinctively know will meet their nutritional needs.

Depending on the stabling conditions not all horses have access to grass 24/7.  In this case, hay nets or slow feeders are recommended so their digestive system can continue to work efficiently as was designed by nature.

As a general rule, healthy horses should be fed a diet that consists mainly of grass hays.  Timothy hay is an excellent well rounded hay that meets most of their nutritional needs.   If Timothy is not available in your area, there are other grasses that work just as well.

About 80% of the diet should be grass.   Alfalfa can make up the other 20%.  Although alfalfa is a legume hay and not a grass, it is the one exception that causes the least problems.  A diet that is more alfalfa than grass can cause mineral imbalances.

Horses should never be fed grains such as wheat, barley, corn, oats, processed grain mixes like senior feed etc.  This wrecks havoc on their digestive systems causing long term health issues. 

Never feed your horse anything with sweeteners of any kind.  See my post No Sweets

A typical health maintenance diet for horses without any health issues is as follows:

80% to 90% grass hay
10% to 20% alfalfa cubes or pellets (can be a mix of alfalfa timothy)

  • Seaweed (for minerals) such as Source Micronutrients or 
This is an excellent way to allow your horses to decide which minerals they need.   These small feeders can be mounted inside a stall and filled with different minerals to see which one the horses will choose.  I have found that horses who are stabled  and only have access to dried grasses will choose the A Mix or the BVC Mix which has the vitamins that the grasses lose during the drying process. 
  • Free Choice Salt 
  • ABC's Plus  also by Advanced Biological Concepts.  This is an excellent digestive aid that increases the absorption rate of the nutrients in the feed and supplements.  It acts as a preventive to avoid future digestive disorders.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids.  These can be found in flax, chia and other oils such as coconut.    A good form is HorseTech's NutraFlax .    This supplements the needed fatty acids that the dried grasses lack and helps keep the joints healthy.  
All of the supplements can be mixed with the pellets or cubes by adding enough water to make the supplements stick to the pellets.  More water is okay. 

These are basic guidelines as long as your horse is not having any health issues and is used as a maintenance type diet.

Anytime your horse is given a paste wormer or medication, digestive flora are depleted which causes diarrhea, gas, colic, and a host of other mild to serious problems.  After worming or administering medications, you will need to supplement with a probiotic to replenish the digestive flora.   A good one is BioMos and Yeasacc . This can also be used during times of stress such as trailering, showing, training etc or  if you see signs of digestive upset. 

Depending on the needs of your horse, the supplements may need to be adjusted but the core diet should always remain as primarily grass hay. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

No Sweets!

The common treats that are given to horses are carrots and apples.  Although, I have seen horses given chocolate, cookies, candy bars, lifesavers, hard candy, sugar cubes, soda and many other types of human sweet snacks.

Because the horse eats it, it is assumed that they like it and it can do no harm since the horse will not eat something that is not good for them.  This is  a myth.  They eat it because it is sweet, for the same reason, people eat sweet snacks.

Feeding your horse sugar laden treats is more of a psychological comfort for people rather than doing something good for the horse. 

Carrots and Apples, even though natural, have a high sugar content.  Much of the pasture grass that horses graze on, originally was planted to fatten up cattle, and has a high sugar content. 

All grains when digested are metabolized as sugar.  Feed manufacturers add molasses to grains, pellets, cubes and supplements.  This is a hidden form of sugar that should be avoided. 

Feeding a horse grains or high sugar content human foods causes the pancreas to secrete insulin.  Insulin is used by the cells to process sugar.  Over time, the cell becomes over saturated with glucose resulting in a condition know as insulin resistance or IR because the cell can no longer process the high levels of insulin.  If this continues the horse can develop Cushings.

Feeding a piece of candy or even several apples to your horse can trigger laminitis by causing hind gut acidosis which results in a metabolic shift in the micro-organisms of the digestive system.  Inflammation of the laminae in the hoof occurs and your horse has sore feet or acts off. 

Some horses may even have an allergic reaction to the sweet treats.  They may develop hives, a sore back, sore feet, mood swings or stocking up.

The next time you want to treat your horse, instead of a carrot or apple, reach for a hay cube.  The cubes can be a grass hay or alfalfa mix cube with no molasses hidden in it.  Your horse will be happy and satisfied. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015


There is a popular belief that beer is good for horses.  It is especially recommended for horses with anhydrosis (inability to sweat).  There a numerous other beliefs such as; it will put weight on them, it will make their coat shine, it helps digestion and so on.  

There is no good reason or logic to feed beer to your horse, no matter who swears by it. To help understand why lets start with the digestive system.

A horse's digestive system moves food through it slowly.  It has to travel 90 to 100 ft to finally complete the process and eliminate the undigested food.  There is only one way in and out, the horse cannot vomit and expel bad food or liquids. 

Therefore, food that is spoiled such as moldy hay, contaminated water, grains and other undesirables have to make their way through the digestive system.  During this time damage is caused, perhaps by the formation of ulcers, acidosis, bacteria overgrowth, gas, indigestion, colic and much more.

Because of the way the digestive system is designed, deviations away from the horse's natural design for eating can have serious adverse effects on your horse.  Feeding beer to horses is a deviation that should not even be considered an option. 

Number one reason;  Beer doesn't exist in nature for them to graze on.

Number two reason; it is carbonated.  Carbonation can cause stomach pain, digestive pain and colic in horses.  What you are feeding them is carbon dioxide gas which the body cannot always expel.  If it does not get rid of it, the gas gets trapped in the intestinal tract and can cause bloating which leads to colic. Excessive gas built up in the stomach and intestines causes pain also leading to colic. Carbonation increases stomach acid production and irritates the stomach lining.  Excess acid leads to ulcers.

Number three reason; it contains alcohol.  Dehydration is caused by alcohol consumption.  Ethanol can cause uric acid build up which can lead to laminitis or arthritis.  Ninety percent of it is metabolized by the liver leading to liver disease.
Beer contains high levels of purines which also can contribute to laminitis and arthritis as it is accumulative. 

Lastly, beer contains many unwanted additives.  I had to dig a little to find out what other ingredients may be added to beer.  Keep in mind each manufacturer may or may not have some or all of these ingredients in their beer.

You do not want to feed your horses any of the following ingredients which beer may contain:
  • MSG, a food additive that causes sweating, hives,rapid heart beat, nausea
  • Propylene Glycol,  a toxic solvent used in paint, antifreeze and food
  • Calcium Disodium EDTA, a chemical salt used to separate heavy metals from dyes and in foods to prevent air from spoiling them
  • Sulfites, causes asthma attacks and other allergies
  • Natural Flavors, which can come from anything
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Carmel Coloring, a known carcingenic made from ammonia
  • FDC blue, red and yellow, made from petroleum
  • Insect Based Dyes to color the beer
  • Animal Based Clarifiers, the most common ones are egg whites, milk, casein, gelatin and isinglass (prepared from the bladder of the sturgeon fish).
  •  BPA (Bisphenol), leaches into beer from the container, can cause infertility
  • Carrageenan, used as a thickener, can cause inflammation and bleeding ulcers, considered a carcinogenic

There are much better alternatives should your horse need some digestive conditioning.  To restore the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, BioMos and Yeasacc work very well.  Also read my post on Ulcers.