13 Jan New Year’s Nutri-lutions: Evaluate your overall feeding program
Many horse people, feed their horses based on out-dated, inaccurate, misinformed, and quite often, dangerous feeding advice….2 scoops of that 10% sweet feed your Grandpa used to feed is not considered a good feeding protocol, and we know better now! If your nutrition program consists of picking up a bag of feed from the feedstore, before you have evaluated the nutrient provision from your hay and pasture, then you could be throwing money away, potentially creating major imbalances in your horse’s diet, and even compromising his welfare….and no, you cannot just go get a supplement to balance it all out!
A good feeding program, for ALL horses, starts with a good quality, free choice forage, whether it be in the form of grass, hay, or a mixture of both (good quality does not mean nutrient dense, it means free from molds dust etc). Your choice(s) of forage should depend upon your horse and the work that is expected of him, and there should be plenty of variety on offer.
Access to free choice forage enables your horse to fulfill a primary behavioral need: eating (the other two are locomotion and social contact). Restriction of such can lead to stress, which may create digestive upset, and will greatly increase the potential for the development of stereotypical behaviors, such as cribbing. In addition, your horse, being one of nature’s most remarkable eating machines, will quite simply go into ‘survival mode’ and ‘make up for lost time’, when he gets access to food once again. This is one of the main reasons ‘starvation’ diets for overweight horses and ponies don’t work, and also why raiding the feed room a) happens in the first place, and b) can lead to such extreme over indulgence! Horses will regulate their intake IF they are given an appropriate environment and the opportunity to do so, but we have been terrified out of this thinking by ‘traditional’ approaches to feeding our horses.
So, before you head off to the feed store, start by having a look at your forage provisions. Only then can you hope to make up for the nutrients that may be lacking in your horse’s diet…failure to do so is uneconomical at best, and may lead to serious health and welfare compromise if not adjusted accordingly.