Nutrition

There are two things to be said about nutrition in horses. The first is to feed horses the way they evolved to eat. The second is that no one remembers how they originally evolved to eat.

Ask yourself this. Who taught you how to feed? Then ask, who taught them? And who taught those people? Until you go back about 50 years, you won’t find out how horses ate when most of us didn’t have hay and none of us had a bag of sweet feed. 

With almost 50 years of working with horses (I started in 1973), I have seen nutrition move from simple feeding of a few things to feeding thousands of different feeds and supplements, all geared towards a specific point in the horse’s life. I have also watched horse owners believe that these companies are working hard for our horses. They are not.

Did you know we did not start building the interstate system of roads in the United States until 1960? Few farmers had tractors until the late 1950s; haymaking still used horses. To rephrase this, if you wanted hay 75 years ago, you hooked up your field horses and went out mowing. We often picked up the cut grass and stacked it by hand. There were few farmers with self-propelled baling machines. Only the wealthy had baled hay brought to their farm and stacked in the mow. There were no feed stores you could call for delivery of hay and bags of grain delivered and stacked neatly in your barn in 1973. Our oats got delivered by train in a box car. The day bags of grain got delivered to our farm’s door by a semi-truck was a day to remember!

Think about senior feeds. When is a horse considered a senior? If we walked in the woods all day, would we ever find senior feed for squirrels? If we stopped in a restaurant, would there be senior feed for us (not the senior menu but foods designed for senior humans)? No, because this is a marketing gimmick.

Think about low-starch food for horses. If I offered you three plates; one with a donut, one with half a donut and one with no donut, which would be the low starch donut? Correct! The plate with no donut! So if you want to reduce the amount of starch you feed your horse, just cut in half (or more) what you are providing. Inflammatory ingredients fill the low starch feeds, so the “scoop” you use will still be full, but it will have less starch—marketing at its finest.

In the last 20 years, I have seen an explosion of lameness (especially suspensory injuries) as well as obesity, insulin resistance and Cushing’s disease in the horses I visit. With sadness, I also see a lot of misunderstanding of the causes of these issues. The practitioner reacts to diseases with treatments and medications in a world of human and veterinary “Whack-A-Mole” medicine. The horse owner also reacts with supplements and elixirs in hopes of curing ailments. The farrier reacts with special shoes, and the other horse professionals proliferate with alternative therapies, all trying to fix the horse.

In reality, the horses are reacting to what you are feeding them. Look at these topics and invest your time here because if you want to keep your horse sound and disease free, you will need to provide them as they evolved over their life on Earth. They are not humans, dogs, cattle or any other animal on this planet as far as their digestive tract and food needs are concerned. There are only two other groups of animals similar to the horse in digestion: the tapir and the rhinoceros. Dig in here for more information on the nutrition of the horse.

Images, if any, for this topic are in a gallery at the bottom of this page.

This video is a 45-minute overview of nutrition in horses to get you started. And remember that with the membership, you have access to the Horsemanship Nutrition Course to dig in and get tested on what you have learned.

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