The topic of feeding horses is often surrounded by tradition, mystique and much hype. Each group of horse owners (trail riders, race horses, western pleasure riders or any other) has their own personal gospel as to which feeds can be fed and how. Amazingly enough, each group is still feeding the same equine species, albeit for different sports, but animals which still have the same digestive tract, irrespective of the sport. Out of all this mystery comes very little in the way of facts because very little money has been spent on equine nutrition, primarily because horses are not food-producing animals. When it comes to equine nutrition from a holistic perspective, virtually nothing has been published and very little research has been performed.
Horses were designed by nature as foraging animals. This means they were made to graze on whatever scrub, grass and weeds are available for the greater part of twenty-four hours in a day. During this time, they move constantly, except for relatively short periods spent sleeping. If they became ill, a wide selection of weeds (herbs) were available to help solve their health problems. Today the commercialization of nutrition and cultivated pastures have changed equine nutrition habits from rough forage to processed feeds and rich grass. Predictably, domestication and increasing levels of confinement for the horse evolved as we humans became more “civilized,” and with increasing interest in new equine sports, comes demands on their bodies and minds that nature never intended.
Holistic practitioners have documented the effects of poor nutrition in small animals and humans, but almost no information is available about large animal holistic nutrition. Large animals have a slight dietary advantage over small animals in that they generally get to spend a portion of their day outside eating grass and their diet tends to be less processed. As open spaces give way to developments however, horses are more and more kept in total confinement, some of them never seeing the out-of-doors except for a few hours a week. They have therefore become dependent on humans for their entire intake of food, and a definite increase has been observed in the prevalence of chronic disease in the horse population that is at least partly linked to nutritional deficiencies .
Managing a change in nutrition for horses can be a major challenge to the holistic-minded person. Many horses are kept at boarding stables where owners have little or no control over what their horses are fed or given to drink, or the quality and availability of turnout. Further, caretakers and barn owners often are totally caught up in the current fad as to what is the best feed or supplement for their particular sport.
Organically grown feeds for horses are rare but increasingly available (http://www.countrysidenatural.com, http://www.a-b-c-plus.com) . Many of the roughages (hay) are grown with chemicals (fertilizers and herbicides), and the purchaser often has no knowledge of which farm a certain shipment comes from, and what chemicals have been used. Hays generally need to be grown locally due to the high cost of shipping, and each locality has only certain types of hay available, regardless of whether it is good for horses. Grains are often shipped throughout the country and feed manufacturers use the cheapest ingredients available. Again, the horse owner usually has no way of knowing the source of the feed. You are often left in a defensive position trying to help your horse withstand the onslaught of poor quality feed and toxins.
Physiology of equine digestion
Horses use acid digestion in the stomach and fermentation in the cecum in the digestive process. The acid stomach digests protein; the small intestine digests fat and carbohydrates. The fermentation vat, the cecum, is perhaps the most important part of the equine digestive tract. The cecum is designed to digest long stem fiber through fermentation. When the horse is fed mostly concentrates in the form of grain and very little long stem fiber (hay), the cecum’s function is not correctly addressed. When the cecum is only partially filled, the horse is predisposed to colic. When the cecum is partly empty, it leaves a gap in the intestinal tract, allowing for a potential twist or serious colic. Horses need to be fed frequently to keep the digestive tract full; the common practice of feeding twice a day and having the horse standing around with nothing to eat creates digestive tract problems as well as behavior problems.
The intestinal tract is full of bacteria and protozoa designed to digest food, manufacture vitamins and make minerals available. The normal pH of the intestinal tract changes from acidic in the stomach and upper small intestine towards neutral in the large intestine, with the mineral balance keeping the pH in the correct range. The bacteria inhabiting the intestinal tract have their normal places determined by pH because bacteria are pH specific in their requirements for growth. The large intestine has a different blood supply than the small intestine and is set up as a holding tank–a place for absorption of toxins from the blood, and a place for water reabsorption. Bacteria, such as E Coli and Salmonella, normally inhabit the large intestine. The immune system, mucous and fluids coat the large intestine and prevent these bacteria from being pathogenic or causing any problems in this location.
The small intestine is acidic and is inhabited by the acid-loving lactobacillus species as well as at least 500 other acid-loving bacteria types. The lactobacillus bacteria control their own reproduction by the excretion of lactic acid. If the environment becomes too acidic from an excess of bacteria replication is slowed until the pH returns to optimum. In the small intestine where the blood supply is much greater, no mucous is produced so this area can digest and absorb the food nutrients. The tissues here are adapted to the acidic environment.
When the digestive tract becomes unhealthy, the bacteria are not present in the correct proportions, and incomplete digestion occurs. With incomplete digestion and poor quality feeds the pH becomes altered, often to a more alkaline pH and pathogenic bacteria move up from the large intestine where the pH is alkaline, into the acidic small intestine. The tissues become easily irritated by the normal layer of toxin that surrounds each bacteria and a pathological state of watery diarrhea may occur as the body tries to clear out the irritation. By the same token, if the pH of the large intestine becomes more acidic, and the acid-loving bacteria move down, the large intestine becomes irritated and produces pathological signs, for example bloody diarrhea.
Part of the key to good nutrition is to keep the bacteria balanced and happy in their proper places in the digestive tract. Just replacing bacteria in the form of a probiotic may not be the answer, since, if the pH is incorrect for the incoming bacteria, they will not be able to repopulate the gut as effectively. Substrates for nourishing the bacteria come from a good natural diet. The gut environment is a miniature eco-system where each player has a place and a job, and if any little piece of this symphony is out of place or upset, the whole gut is affected.
Natural food has all the bacteria and enzymes needed to aid digestion; however the processing of food often kills these bacteria and enzymes. The healthy digestive tract, when functioning normally, can still digest good quality cooked or processed food since the healthy bacteria in the tract will continue to function even though new bacteria are not introduced in processed food. Live foods also have a “life force” or an energy that cannot be put into a package or processed into a ration. This is the part of nutrition that is difficult to measure, however animals eating whole food have a healthy glow that is difficult to achieve any other way.
Anything that occurs in the animal’s life to upset the natural balance of the intestinal tract flora will affect digestion and the direct utilization of food. Antibiotics upset the digestive flora balance and should really only be used in life-threatening situations. Antibiotics also shut down the immune system as they take over, reducing the fever (a natural defense of the body) and send the message that the immune system is no longer needed. Concurrent with, and after any antibiotic therapy, a probiotic supplement, or a general supplement with enzymes and food for the bacteria, should be given. This supplement contains quality yeast cultures as asource of enzymes fortified with available minerals.
Other factors that disturb the normal digestive flora are things that can cause stress to the body: frequent use of dewormers, illness, confinement, over-vaccination, being worked while in pain (a common happening in today’s horse world), and changes of diet (very common since most feed manufacturers use least-cost programs to formulate feed). The more that horses are confined and managed by humans, the more nutritional deficiencies and imbalances the veterinarian will find.
Water is the number one nutrient fed to any animal and is the most often overlooked component in any species’ nutritional program. By weight, horses drink two-to-three times as much water as food. If the water contains toxins, high levels of minerals or any other imbalanced agent, nutritional problems will result. As has been widely reported in the media, water quality throughout the nation is suspect.
Herbicides and pesticides are designed to throw the plant or insect out of balance. A quart or so will often treat many acres of land after it has been diluted; this means the finished product is essentially a very dilute homeopathic reagent (see Homeopathic First Aid for explanation of how remedies are made. The dilution process involves much mixing and the solution is then driven around in a tank through a bumpy field shaking it up even more. The run-off then gets into our waterways and is mixed more as it flows downstream. The waterways become large vats for these dilute homeopathic types of combinations of herbicides and pesticides, and yet nothing is known about the effects of all theses chemicals in combination.
Many horses live in urban areas, with urban water supplies. Some stables give horses water they will not allow people to drink. More and more people are drinking bottled water; however, it is not practical to do that for horses. But, the use of excellent nutrition and detoxifying agents provides a practical alternative. Clays absorb toxins in the gut and can help clean the blood as it passes by the large intestine. Nutritional supplements that containdetoxifiers are very beneficial,. Water filters of many sorts can be used, from simple charcoal filters attached to the hose up to complex systems attached to the main water intake for the farm. Consumer Reports magazine did an excellent review of different systems (1993).
Chloride is an important nutrient that has been identified as being in excess in almost all of the water supply, and most certainly in urban chlorinated sources. Chloride is used in many water systems and is present in excess in all water sources at this time. Chloride is a derivation of chlorine, the chemical used to sterilize or clean up water when there is excessive bacterial growth. Many of the most common chloride components have similar characteristics. The only problem is that bacteria are present in every cell, and are, in fact, the key part of the entire metabolic process. Excess chloride disrupts cellular metabolism as it interrupts the balance of the sodium and potassium in the cell, by tying up the sodium and not allowing for the correct transfer of potassium. A noticeable decrease in weight gain is seen in pigs put on chlorinated water for about six months, and in cattle detrimental effects are seen in about year. There is no information about the effects on horses.
The best way to manage the safety of the water source is to test for toxins, high levels of minerals and chloride. This can be done through standard water analysis.
A healthy digestive tract will manufacture water soluble vitamins–the Bs and vitamin C. Since many equine digestive tracts are not healthy, they may be unable to manufacture sufficient water-soluble vitamins. This leaves the horse deficient, and consequently more susceptible to illness. Stress also utilizes more of the water-soluble vitamins and certainly today most of our horses are under a great deal of stress. But the answer is not necessarily to start feeding a massive amount of these vitamins. If the digestive tract is functioning poorly, the vitamins may not be utilized well and will become expensive urine. See the section above on repairing the intestinal tract for ways to improve the beneficial bacterial health, which then will allow them to manufacture the needed vitamins.
Fat-soluble vitamins for horses are supplied mostly from food, except for vitamin D, which comes primarily from exposure to sunlight. Horses kept in stalls twenty-four hours a day and fed poor quality hay are not getting enough vitamin D. Since it is sufficiently cheap to manufacture almost all supplements have some D. Lack of vitamin D can show as a vitamin A deficiency, and too much vitamin D adversely affects calcium absorption and utilization. However, artificially-made fat-soluble vitamins are not much better for the animal than other artificially-prepared foods; it is better to utilize a natural source since it will be absorbed and used better in the body. Only a few of the equine supplements are from all natural sources. Look for “dl” or “d” next to the listing of fat-soluble vitamins–dl means the vitamin was artificially manufactured while d means the natural form (example d-tocopherol is the natural form of Vit E). Vitamin D3 is the most active form of vitamin D.
Vitamin E is commonly deficient in many horses, especially those with limited access to fresh green foods. This especially includes horses living in the northern climates where the growing season is very short and horses live on hay for much of the year. Show horses with limited turn out are also affected. Vitamin E deficiencies have been linked to many problems, including muscle disease, neurologic conditions and reproductive issues. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant. Blood tests are available through your veterinarian to establish whether your horse is deficient. Supplementation is highly recommended.
Most fat-soluble vitamins are preserved with chemical preservatives, which are not required to be declared on the ingredients list if the preservative was added to the raw material (vitamin A or E) at the factory of origin. A few companies have researched their ingredients and do not use chemically-preserved compounds. All products on our web site are free of chemical preservatives.
Vitamin supplements commonly have plenty of the cheapest-to-manufacture vitamins and minerals (vitamins A and D for example are cheap), and low levels of some of the other more expensive ones (Vitamin E, phosphorous). Balance is the key here, and greater amounts of these vitamins can be worse than smaller amounts. There are a few supplement lines that meet these criteria and those that we carry in the web store all do. However, more companies are starting to use natural source ingredients, so be on the lookout. Many of the good supplements combine vitamins, minerals and possibly herbs to achieve balance, rather than great quantity. Other companies base their products primarily on the “more is better” philosophy.
Mineral balance is perhaps even more critical than vitamin balance in a horse’s diet. There is a complex interaction between many minerals; even a slight excess of one mineral in a diet can mean another mineral may not be absorbed. Trace minerals are a catalyst to help break major minerals down into a form that can be utilized. In nature each “weed” has a trace mineral associated with it, so if a particular mineral is needed the horse will often eat the weed if it is non-toxic. Also, if the soil needs a particular mineral a certain weed will grow there to help provide that mineral. Soils that are or have been used to grow crops are depleted of trace minerals, so the grains grown on these soils and fed to horses are depleted. Additional mineral supplementation becomes extremely important.
Horses will naturally select from free-choice minerals as long as they are not too sick to sense their needs (perhaps through recognition of the energetic frequency of the minerals,Conventional nutrition research reports that no species can accurately select free-choice minerals. However, upon observation it becomes apparent that the seasonal variations in mineral and vitamin consumption are significant. For example, in the flood-stricken mid-west in the late 1990s, the horses ate large quantities of B vitamins during the summer, when they would normally get all the B vitamins they needed from pasture. When coats change in the spring and fall, horses eat extra sulphur, which is used in the manufacture of hair (sulfur-containing amino acids). In the spring when the grass is growing rapidly and is low in magnesium, the horses consume may consume extra free choice magnesium, but not at other times of the year.
Free-choice minerals need to be fed with the salt provided separately. If both are fed together in the standard mineralized salt block, the salt will limit the mineral intake. The mineralized block is composed of about 94% salt. A salt block, whether mineralized or plain, is really designed for use by cows with their rough tongues and horses with smooth tongues often have a difficult time getting enough, especially when that is the only way they can obtain minerals. If the horses need minerals and not salt, they will not eat the mineralized block any more than a person would eat an over-salted dish of food. When horses are given plain minerals the quantity they eat is often astounding for a few weeks to months until they have balanced out their minerals. Then the amount consumed tapers off to a maintenance level. However, for successful free choice eating, artificial flavorings and molasses should not be used as they may affect the intake of the nutrient. Molasses-based blocks will be over eaten due to the desirable flavor.
One of the least understood minerals is calcium. Calcium is often given in excess to “help build strong bones”. Calcium is also present in high levels in alfalfa hay, a horseman’s favorite hay, and yet some people want to add more calcium to a diet high in alfalfa. Calcium is a key mineral, however much of the time when a “calcium” deficiency problem is detected, the real problem may be the level of available phosphorous. Phosphorous is an expensive mineral, so it is more likely to be deficient in a supplement. Calcium is cheap and can also be used as a processing agent in soybean meal to improve the “flowability.” The calcium used as a processing agent does not need to be included in the stated ration formula and if it were, the cost of the phosphorous to balance it could be enormous. When phosphorous is added to the diet, calcium becomes more available to the body.
Anybody can balance for deficiencies by adding something, but it takes a lot of technical skill and money to balance excesses; all the other ingredients must be added to bring the levels up to balance the one that is in excess. For example wheat bran is often fed in excess; it is too high in available phosphorus and is made from wheat, which can act as an appetite depressant if fed in large amounts. Steps can be taken to tie up excesses but few are successful. Clay can sometimes help by tying up everything in the gut; then the bacteria can slowly take what they need and the rest can pass out in the manure.
Very few companies provide a plain mineral supplement; usually salt will be in the top half of the ingredient list. Avoid unbalanced single minerals or combinations of just a few minerals unless they are offered as a part of an extensive free-choice system (and are palatable for that purpose) (LINK). Many products are formulated based on human requirements, which may not work with the nutritional needs of the horse. Race horses and many anemic horses are constantly given iron to “build their blood,” when most horses, even those with anemia, have plenty of iron in their bodies. Excess iron in the intestines can tie up calcium. Racehorses have more bone problems than any other group of horses, so the last thing they need is a calcium imbalance.
Minerals occur in nature in all forms (acetates, citrates, sulfates, etc.), and are best if fed in many different forms. Chelated minerals are popular in some circles, and can be one form of mineral provided but should not be the only form. Chelation is when the mineral is bound to another nutrient in a complex molecule. Some forms of minerals are poorly absorbed, particularly calcium carbonate, though with the correct supporting minerals and enzymes, some is absorbed.
As long ago as the early 1900’s, a study was done showing that silica and calcium fed together provided stronger and more flexible bones. This study was done on chickens and it has been primarily the chicken industry that had used the information. But bones are bones, and cattlemen are now using silica for their herds, though possibly as a filler, rather than for its true nutritional value. Horses desperately need stronger, more flexible bones, but the horse world has not caught on to the silica idea. Diatomaceous earth is an excellent source of silica (68%), as well as calcium and magnesium. And yes, horses will eat diatomaceous earth in a free-choice format (LINK).
Water frequently has excesses of a particular mineral or ingredient such as nitrates. that can affect vitamin A and selenium absorption. Without vitamin A the body cannot use vitamin D, E or the full B complex vitamins correctly. Toxic levels of nitrates cause ammonia build-up in the fermentation vat of the cecum which can lower hemoglobin in blood, creating anemia.
High iron in the water has an indirect effect on calcium and phosphorous. This occurs because phosphorous is the closest to iron in atomic weight; high iron impedes the utilization of phosphorous, which in turn affects the availability of calcium. However, it is not a calcium deficiency; it is a phosphorus and iron problem. Sometimes the mineral content of water is seen as a precipitate (white, green or other colored deposit); if this type of precipitation is occurring in the gut, valuable minerals are being lost directly into the manure.
The ideal source of minerals is the single-molecule minerals found tied to carbon in the long-stem fiber of the plants. The plant has done all the work and left the mineral in a form available to the body. These minerals can be found in truly naturally healthy pastures. A future article will cover natural ways to improve soil and pasture health. Until your pastures are capable of providing complete minerals, the best way to approach mineral nutrition is through a free-choice system, with the salt and mineral separated, using as large a selection as your management will allow, either just salt and minerals separately, or a larger selection. Also to complete. If your horse is boarded in a pasture, or you only visit a few days a week, it is very easy to offer the minerals just on the days you are there. Horses will eat minerals when they need them, and they do not have to have them available all the time.
According to the National Research Council (NRC) nutrition tables, horses require only 7.5 to 12 percent protein as an adult. The lowest percent of protein in commercial feed available is 10 percent, and it is common to see protein levels in the feed of 14 to 16 percent. Since horses are made to live primarily on roughage, there is no physiological reason to have protein levels so high. High performance horses usually eat more grain so if they need slightly more protein they will usually get it from the increase in volume. Certain horses have a greater requirement for protein and can benefit from the addition of protein to their diet; that must be decided on an individual basis. When feeding excess protein it needs to be treated as nitrates since protein is just one form of nitrogen, and nitrates can be toxic. Young animals digest protein well. Some can tolerate more protein and can use it to grow muscle but many breeds of easy-keeping horses do poorly on excess amounts of protein when young.
Excess protein, besides being expensive, is one of the more harmful practices in feeding horses. Too much protein throws the intestinal tract digestive process out of balance. Poor digestion and an altered pH are often the result. Remember, horses are grazing animals, and require little protein compared to dogs and people. In the cattle industry the ill effects of excess protein have been well studied, yet farmers still feed too much of it. Excess protein can contribute to ulcers and poor digestion. Horses are made with the cecum as a fermentation vat to digest fiber, not excess protein.
In the horse industry, people spend a lot of money trying to combat the ill effects of too much protein in horses. Some examples of these are: horses become tense; uptight and difficult to ride; have swollen hind legs; cannot keep enough weight on because they are burning up energy digesting the protein; have mastitis; have liver and kidney problems; soft feet and frogs; and have a poor hair coat. Plant protein byproducts such as soybean meal are often poorly digested because they are energy deficient. The oils nature put in the soybeans to aid in digestion and utilization are removed through a toxic solvent process. The lack of energy in the soybean meal can contribute to incomplete digestion.
Alfalfa hay is extremely high in protein, mostly because excessive amounts of nitrogen is used on the fields. When feeding alfalfa hay from nitrogen-fertilized fields it is impossible to get the protein content of the diet down to a healthy level for the horse. Some horses do very well with alfalfa, while others cannot tolerate it. And some horses are allergic to anything with alfalfa in it, even the small amounts present in supplements.
Horses eating good quality pasture or hay generally take in all the nutrient energy they need from the forage. Concentrates (grain) should only be fed to make up the extra energy required by the horse to perform a job or maintain weight, if that particular horse has a high metabolic rate. Many owners are obsessed with feeding grain, even to very fat horses, based on the belief that horses need grain to balance their diet. Balance can easily be achieved without grain, by using forages and a quality supplement. A small amount of grain is a great way to persuade a horse to come up to the barn regularly, however, and this is a very valid use for a SMALL amount of feed. A horse of a healthy weight should just have its ribs showing; most show horses are well over 100 pounds overweight. Future articles will address the issues dealing with feed for the very fat or very skinny horse.
Much information is available concerning overfeeding foals and the consequent developmental orthopedic diseases. There should be no need to start a foal’s life out by creating obesity, however it is done all the time. If foals are balanced nutritionally, especially with regard to minerals (http://shop.harmanyequine.com/shop/product_info.php?cPath=2&products_id=2) they may be able to tolerate being somewhat overfed but the risk of future problems remains.
Sources of food
Horse feeds are becoming more and more processed, to the point there are now extruded feeds that look just like dog food, and probably have as little “life force” in them as commercial dog foods. Feed companies use the “least cost” means to select ingredients, so quality and content can change from load to load. Dust and byproducts can make up a significant portion of the grain, but are seldom noticed because of the large quantities of molasses used to “sweeten” the grain. Sugar is just as bad for horses as it is for any other species, and horses become just as jittery and hyperactive as any other species, including children, when they eat too much of it. Molasses is also preserved with propylene glycol, an ingredient many animals are allergic to, but the propylene glycol is not put on any of the labels. One study by Dr. Ralston showed a significant rise in blood sugar following the eating of sweet feed, with a corresponding drop in blood pH. Though no conclusions were drawn as to what effect this drop in blood pH had, these were changes that could have and effect on the body
Pelleted feeds can be an alternative to sweet feeds, and do not cause the rise in blood sugar sweet feeds do. I It is , however, easy to disguise poor quality feed inside a pellet. Some horses cannot eat pellets because they bolt their food and can choke on the pellets. Others may be slightly dehydrated so the pellets easily form a blockage in the esophagus.
New prepared feeds are coming on the market made with little or no molasses and sugar. This is an excellent trend and I encourage you to seek out the low carbohydrate offerings by local feed companies. Some are more palatable than others; try to find one your horse likes.
For the best in nutrition, feed whole grains. The best feeds to use are oats, barley, corn and beet pulp with no added molasses. Availability can be a problem especially with barley, which is a wonderful horse food. In certain parts of the country corn can be contaminated with molds called aflatoxins that can make horses very sick, so be sure the feed company has had the corn tested as safe for horses.. A mixture that has worked well is 25% large cracked or rolled corn; 30% steamed, rolled barley (the only way it is available in bulk) and 45% oats (either large race horse oats, or crimped). Any combination of these grains can be used in a given area of the country. Contrary to the common horseman’s myth about corn, it has the lowest heat of digestion of any grain, due to the low fiber content. Corn is an excellent summertime horse feed, and an excellent feed for equine sports requiring endurance. Corn also is the highest in sugars so avoid it if you have a fat horse and want to stay away from sugar. Beet pulp (without molasses) is a useful food because it is low in easy to digest sugars and can be substituted for bran in the commonly used bran mash. Beet pulp is a good source of minerals, complex (safe) carbohydrates and fiber.
The addition of fats to the equine diet is being done regularly, and the horses seem to do well with them. However, many fats in horse feed are preserved with chemicals and all are extracted using solvent processes. Holistically minded owners with a few extra dollars to spend will do well by buying cold pressed oils from the health food store, or lightly processed rice bran oil or hemp oil and mixing it into the feed.
Pasture does not need to be lush and chemically fertilized to provide all the energy needed for horses. In areas of the country where pastures are lush there are many more horses that are too fat than horses too skinny. There are also many horses all over the country who never get turned out to play, stretch and roll in a pasture. Not only do they miss the movement that helps digestion, and the sunlight necessary for vitamin D manufacturing, they also miss the chiropractic benefits of stretching and swatting flies. Perhaps the biggest benefit of pasture time is the mental relaxation horses get from just being horses.
New information and research about grasses and carbohydrate content is available. Most people assume that short grass has little nutritive value, and cannot understand why their fat horses stay fat. For the latest in understanding grass management see the new CDs on pasture and grass.
Hay forms the bulk of the horse’s diet in the winter, and due to lack of pasture in many places, the bulk of some horses’ diet their entire life (as in California). The horse’s fermentation vat needs long-stem fiber, that means long, not chopped up. Hay cubes do not generally provide long-stem fiber; the pelleting process shortens the fiber. Digestion then takes place mostly in the small intestine leaving the cecum with much less bulk than it needs. Some parts of the country have only alfalfa hay available, which is normally very high in protein. Ideally alfalfa hay would have a protein content of 12% (which is considered poor quality, but actually very safe for a horse). The common protein content is 22% or higher which is too high for a horse whose requirement for protein is 7.5 to 12%.
A variety of hay is the best, combining some grasses with some legumes, remembering that balance is the key. A horse is meant to eat long stem roughage for about 20 hours a day, not in two small meals of rich hay. Try to find hay without herbicides, however that may be impossible in some areas.
Hay can also contain high levels of soluble carbohydrates which can contribute to obesity and laminitis. It is not possible to tell by looking at hay what the sugar content is. For information about testing your hay, see www.safergrass.org. If you purchase only small quantities of hay at a time, testing is not practical, but is definitely worth doing if you fill your barn for the year.
Nutrition is the foundation of all healing and health, whether you use natural medicine or not. This article introduces the reader to nutrition from a more holistic approach than is commonly addressed by the feed companies. Future articles will examine specific topics and conditions that need specialized nutrition programs.
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