There are hundreds of products on the modern feed market and even more ideas about why they represent the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of horse nutrition. As a result, a lot of us owners soon get quite confused about what is best for our horses.

Over the years I have studied the principles of dressage, show jumping, barefoot trimming, saddle fitting, teeth management and much more.  What I have realised during this journey is that for every dimension of horse management, there are some very simple principles that need to be respected.  When you do this you start to see why you don’t need so many of the products on offer and how easy it could be not to take down as many poles in the show jumping!

Starting at the beginning means that we need to appreciate the way the horse’s digestive system evolved in nature and how it is fine-tuned to sustain him in his natural environment.   The horse is adapted to consuming long fibrous grasses, sedges, and forbes growing in semi desert environments. Jaime Jackson’s book, Paddock Paradise tells us about one of these environments. In the Great Basin National Park in California and in other places like it across the world, the horse is able to thrive because he is naturally adapted to his environment.

In nature, horses do not suffer from the issues that we regularly see in the domestic horse.  Many studies have been published on the Great Basin biome, providing a huge amount of detailed information about the flora and soil conditions.  By reading these papers it is easy to grasp how different a desert-adapted plant species is, to plants growing in wetter and more temperate climates.

In summary, the soil types and rainfall in the places that the horse is designed for are completely different to those we find here in the UK.  Our soils are predominantly organic. Due to the country’s wet warm weather, our pastures are lush and green for most of the year.  As a result, our environment produces forage that has less fibre and a different profile of sugars, nitrates, potassium and other important minerals than plants adapted to a semi-desert environment.   This is the fundamental reason why our forage cannot support the horse in the same way that forage growing in his natural environment does, and why we have to manage our horses’ diet so carefully.

The closest form of long-fibre with a reasonably appropriate nutritional profile that is available to us to replace the feedstuff that the horse would find in nature, is mature non-production grasses grown on land that has not been highly fertilised.  This form of forage can be fed baled or as standing hay.  When we have good forage in place, the things the horse needs in the bucket are small and simple:

 

  1. Salt: to meet essential sodium chloride needs
  2. Vitamins and Minerals: to meet the shortfall we know is related to our forage
  3. Linseed: to provide Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids that are lost in haymaking
  4. Chaff : for chewing, plain fibrous chaffs with a similar nutritional quality to good hays
  5. Copra, Oils or Oats: carbohydrates for hard working or underweight horses – only when needed.

When you are next faced with conflicting infomation, consider: What role does this product play in terms of meeting my horse’s fundimental nutritional needs?   Do I already provide a source for this nutrition – in other words, is it really needed?  How does this feedstuff fit with my horse’s digestive system, given how he is adapted in nature?   

Answering these questions will help you do identify why and what you need to provide in the bucket.  This  helps to avoid duplication, overfeeding or unbalancing the basics by adding uncessary or unhelpful extras.