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Basic Foundations of Feeding

In this day and age of exciting novelties and matchy-matchy gear, the words ‘basic’ and ‘foundation’ can be considered boring. But if you pay close attention to the basics of nutrition, your horse is likely to benefit in their health, performance and welfare. 

What are the foundations of feeding?

The foundations of feeding are the building blocks that lead to a balanced diet with the horse’s behavioural and digestive needs in mind & that balanced diet is one that supplies all the essential nutrients in the correct amounts every day, from Vitamin A to Zinc. Next, we need to ensure the horse’s behavioural and digestive needs are met. In nature, horses spend around three quarters of their time searching out fibrous food and eating, never spending more than a few hours without eating. If we keep those things in mind when we feed our domesticated horses, then they will be healthier, and have better welfare. Better health and welfare will lead to peak performance. 

A balanced diet

The essential nutrients the horse needs include protein, carbohydrates (includes fibre, sugar and starch) fats/oils, vitamins and minerals, and water (not strictly a nutrient but as important). Energy (calories) are obtained from carbs and fats/oils and is the easiest dietary factor to assess. If your horse ingests too many calories, they get fatter, and if they ingest too little, they get thinner, and you can see (and feel) the difference. To maintain bodyweight and fat covering, they need to ingest just the right amount. 

You assess the other essential nutrients – including protein, vitamins and minerals – from studying the diet (the ration). If your horse has enough good quality forage to maintain their condition, and you are adding a compound feed if not (nuts, mix or balancer) and they have access to grazing, they are likely to receive enough protein (there are always some exceptions!). All forage – even the best quality – is short of essential minerals for horses, and hay and haylage are also short of vitamins so you always need to add a source of vitamins and minerals. Feed either a fortified compound or a vitamin and mineral supplement e.g. ReadySupp Essential Vitamins and Minerals, or a combination of both (if you aren’t feeding the full recommended amount of the compound). 

Fortified compounds are mixtures of two or more feed ingredients that include vitamins and minerals e.g. mix, some chaffs, most nuts, and balancers. 

Meeting behavioural aspects of feeding

Many studies have shown that changing the natural time budget of any species can cause health problems and the horse is no exception. Feeding energy-dense meals that are eaten quickly and chewed less than the horse’s natural fibrous diet will give the horse hours of free time that ideally is taken up eating. Horses managed in this way are more likely to develop oral stereotypies including crib-biting, windsucking and wood chewing. 

Physical benefits of good nutrition foundations

The digestive tract functions best when given a ration that reflects what the horse would eat in nature; fibrous feeds eaten over long meal times with only a few hours fast in between. Feeding low fibre or starch-rich diets, feeding meals that are eaten very quickly and enforcing fasts of over 4 hours all increase the risk of digestive problems including colic and gastric ulcers. 

In summary

  • Get the foundations of feeding correct and your horse will benefit – diet balance, behavioural and digestive needs
  • Consider diet balance, including energy (from body condition), protein, fibre intake, sugar and starch intake, vitamins and minerals
  • Consider your horse’s time budget, ensuring no more than a 4 hour fast at any time
  • Consider if your horse’s digestive tract health is optimal
  • If your horse doesn’t need the full amount of a vitamin and mineral-fortified compound (hard) feed, you need to add a multi-vitamin and mineral product e.g. ReadySupp Essential Vitamins and Minerals to ensure a balanced diet.

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Our supplement expert Clare MacLeod is an independent Registered Equine Nutritionist with expertise in equine health and fitness.

If you have any questions on equine supplements and want to improve your horse’s health, performance, or attitude give our friendly team a call 0148872045 for advice. We won’t try and hard sell you anything – we promise.


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