Well Fed

Insuring your horse gets a balanced diet rich in all the necessary vitamins, minerals and trace elements is difficult. After all, there is so much to choose from and there are so many factors to be taken into consideration.

Since he is going to be ridden a couple of times in the week, we need to make sure that at that moment he has enough energy so an energy/sport feed is obviously necessary. But to make sure that his coat is well conditioned, that he is alert and that he is not too temperamental, we should add a few extra supplements for good measure; and that which doesn’t exactly help, will do no harm either.

Naturally he will want to be fed at regular intervals; this means at least two meals a day, seven days a week – it would not be fair if he only got fed on the days he was ridden.

Just like the feral horse… Hmmm. Bad comparison. But then, our domestic horse is not a bit like the feral horse – he only has to deliver for short periods and anyway, he needs the supplements because his feed doesn’t contain everything he should be getting.

Sadly these are some of the reasons our horses get too fat, suffer from colic, are nervous, temperamental or uncontrolable and can even cause seriously life threatening conditions such as founder. Despite his sober diet, the feral horse is quite capable of fleeing rapidly, maintaining a steady trot for long periods of time, suffers none of the problems of founder and has no recourse to supplements.

Many of the problems we associate with our horses are attributable to the Three Fs and not least of which, feed. By giving hard food concentrates to our horse, he is getting a jolt of energy that he often cannot properly assimilate. Horses are designed – be they feral or domestic – to eat a sober diet almost non-stop throughout the day (and night). Their intestines are a specialized soup of bacteria specially bred to break down cellulose with great efficiency. Their muscles are most specifically designed for stamina and operate most efficiently in an anaerobic environment. By feeding “fast-food” which is often high in sugars, the muscle tone alters and the muscles then burn energy aerobically at a very high – if extremely efficient – rate for short periods. This gives our horse a very much more restricted stamina and increases the chances that our horse is nervous or overfull of energy just when we would like him to be restive.

Giving horses cereal and grain-based feed also has the effect of destroying many of the bacteria in the cæcum through increased acidity – this disrupts the metabolism and can also result in difficulties keeping the horse’s weight stable. Furthermore this sort of feed damages the fine hairs lining the intestinal walls.

Horses that suck air or chew on stable doors and partitions are bored and really just trying to dissipate pent up energy – a type of energy that they should not have.

Because of this, we give our horses all sorts of wonderful supplements. Only when we total up all the different ingredients, we notice quite often that various elements are well over the daily dose. “No problem,” you may think; what doesn’t get used will just be excreted. Not so! The amount of vitamins, minerals and trace elements is quite finely regulated. In a feral horse’s diet, these things are naturally balanced in the food; in the domestic horse, we add and juggle at will. To the extent that we probably cause more problems than we solve. The fine balance is upset and the overdosage of one element frequently negates the correct dosage of another. The action of one is inhibited by the overaction of another.

So what is better for our horses? Well, quite simply a sparse, varied mix of high quality herbage but with a low food-value (unlike most pastureland in Northern Europe); in the absence of enough herbage in the winter, it can be supplemented with about the cheapest thing we can feed our horses: hay! And horses need to have access to food without cessation.