Feeding your horse has become complicated, confusing and expensive. Just look at the ads in horse magazine's or walk the aisles of your feedstore and you will know what I am talking about. Never before have horse owners been bombarded with such a variety of feeds and supplements to choose from. I have attempted to provide readers with some level of understanding of the complexities of current day feeds and supplements.

With many years of experience and testing thousands of horses for nutritional deficiencies I can state categorically that the more we move from unprocessed horse feeds to processed feeds, the more health issues arise in the horse. You are what you eat applies to your horse as well. The processing method includes the dusts and the debris left over and to extend the shelf life of the product. Processed feeds are made for our convenience, not our horses'. Quick and easy – fast food for horses!

The horse feed and supplement industry is a multi million dollar business and like any business their bottom line is sales, promotion and turnover. Disclosure on the origin of pre packed ingredients is rarely listed, therefore quality and freshness is open to question. Not to mention genetically modified grains such as corn which are also not listed nor preservatives or other additives. The majority of animal grade soy products come from GM crops. "Ninety percent of the world's soy production is now genetically modified" (Acres USA) The current labelling laws do not require feed companies to list all the ingredients in their products. A number of companies to their credit, state their product is grown by Australian farmers using Australian quality control standards. However, this is not the case for many of the processed, pre packed feeds.

Attempting to understand ingredient labels is indeed confusing: wet feed, low GI, prebiotic, probiotic, concentrate, conditioner, super fibre, inulin osaccharides, neutraceuticals, glycosaminoglycan are just some of the many descriptions on feed bags. Percentages/nutrient levels of minerals/vitamins, crude protein, digestibility, crude fat, energy are shown to give us some idea of what we are actually buying. Many horse owners know the fundamentals of horse nutrition but converting the percentages to complement their pasture, water and chaffs is challenging. Most feed companies recommend you ring for further dietary advice and a small percentage of those state not to add mineral/vitamins without veterinary consultation.

There are and always will be differences of opinion and more information available on horse feeding as a result of experiments and research. However, data graphs and tables showing how particular feeds/supplements worked on a trial group of horses do not take into account that each and every horse has a different metabolic type. What works for your friend's horse will not work for your horse. Oats grown on soil in Sth. Aust. will have a different mineral composition to oats grown in Victoria. The feed is only as nutritious as the soil it is grown on. Soils lacking minerals produce feed lacking minerals. Feed analysis performed in a laboratory is useful but it does not take into account what your horse is able to absorb. For example if your horse has a high iron tissue level, he will not absorb copper and calcium although the feed you had analysed has high levels of these.

SWEET FEEDS
We all know that our horse's love sweet concentrated or processed feeds. Many such feeds have a high component of molasses and salt but too much molasses results in biting insects and biting insects carry nasty diseases. Too much salt, particularly if you do not take into consideration the salt content of water, pasture and added supplements may result in sodium toxicity. Aluminium is commonly used as an anti caking agent to stop such feeds from hardening. Aluminium is detrimental to horses as it prevents phosphorus from being absorbed.

PELLETED FEEDS
Now common place in the feed industry. As part of the pelleting process, binders and buffers are used. Unable to determine the quality, freshness of the ingredients. Pellets if damp are prone to rancidity and or moulds. Common pelleting aids include lignosulphonite, bentonite and montmorillonite. Lignosulphonite is part of the sulphite family which is responsible for allergic reactions such as hives and respiratory problems in affected horses. Bentonite and montmorillonite are clays.

PROCESSED GRAINS
Rolling of cereal grains such as rolled oats and barley improve digestibility but some mineral vitamin content is lost during the process. Micronized grains means they have been treated with infrared energy also resulting in mineral/vitamin loss.

EXTRUSION
This process is also used to make dry cat and dog food. Such feeds are pressure cooked then steam extruded, removing most available nutrients. Minerals are then added to replace what the processing removed. Unable to determine the quality, freshness or origin of ingredients. What preservatives and colourings are added.

PULPS
Sugar beet pulp is a by product of the sugar industry. One popular beet product is from the UK. Freshness is the big question here. Needs to be soaked and prone to rancidity if not all eaten at once. Some pulps contain sugars, some do not. The many additives/preservatives to beet products has been raised as an issue in the past.

VITAMIN AND MINERAL PRE MIXES
Mostly consist of chemically synthesised inorganic minerals that are poorly absorbed. The problem here is that there is often too much of the mineral/vitamin your horse does not need and not enough of the mineral/vitamin he is lacking. Relies on your guesswork as to what are your horse's mineral/vitamins requirements. Does not provide details on duration of supplement/s which may lead to excesses. An excess of some minerals/vitamins are toxic.

SUPPLEMENTS
As I stated above, I have tested thousands of horses and a very large percentage of those are over supplemented. By that I mean they have an excess of one mineral which results in a deficiency of another. Minerals have synergistic (aid absorption) and antagonistic (prevent absorption) properties. Horses have a large degree of tolerance for mineral imbalance for a period of time. However, eventually health issues start to arise particularly in the sport horse that requires optimum health for performance.

There is a supplement/product for anything from growing a glossy coat to creating new cell production. Unfortunately, this is just not possible. Hair tissue testing horses on a mineral supplement regime demonstrates that many supplements simply do not work. This is because the minerals are often synthetic and or inorganic, are unstable and do not absorb as they are susceptible to changes in pH in the gut.

As most of us know there is nothing more annoying when our horses refuse to eat what we have just spent a small fortune on. Horses, are very clever eaters, they rarely eat what they do not require. Finding leftovers that have been picked over in the bottom of the feed bin is annoying and frustrating. Commonly we look at our horses and think they need a little of something extra, so we guess. Guessing your horse's nutritional requirements is potentially dangerous to the horse and a waste of money to the owner.

HERBS/ HERBAL PREPARATIONS
The variety for herbs for horses is now huge. Many herbs contain medicinal qualities and are dangerous if fed constantly. There have been limited studies as to the effects of herbs on horses. Some herbs contain pharmacological ingredients and are banned in racehorses as they have tested positive for prohibited substances. Veterinary drugs are regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority but herbs and herbal preparations are not. Can interact with veterinary medicines. Lack of information on labelling. The active ingredient content in natural form varies from plant to plant. Have the risk of toxicity. Observing horses free ranging in large areas, one observes they avoid most herbs, particularly garlic. Horses do ingest herbs in very small quantities such as nettles, chickory, marshmallow and plantain and some dandelion (to name just a few). However, these are fresh unlike the products on the market which are dried. Drying increases potency. Herbs interact with essential minerals horses require.

It is essential to know what you are feeding your horse, whether he requires added minerals and if his diet is adequate for his work demands.

 

Bibliography: Acres USA, July 2011, p.48
References: Alternative Therapies in the Horse, David Ramey DVM Howell Book House, NY. 1999
Feeding and Care of the Horse(2nd ed) Lon D. Lewis. Lippincot Williams and Wilkins. PA USA 1982
Equine Nutrtion and Feeding (3rd ed) David Frape. Blackwell UK. 2008