Chloe Dix BSc (Hons), Performance Horse Specialist Equine SQP of the Year 2017of Dodson & Horrell shares advice on what to consider when deciding what to feed your horse.
Typically, when faced with the need for feeding advice, it is ultimately a predetermined need. A few examples being: a good doer that requires a certain energy level due to competition, a laminitic pony that requires a low sugar/starch diet, a sharp competition horse that lacks energy but nothing that will send them loopy… the list goes on. Here is some guidance on what to look out for when looking for suitable products to feed your horses requirements.
The Basics – Definitions of product types
For a good foundation to answering their needs is to be able to define the different product groups that are available in the feed industry and how they are implemented into a feeding programme.
A complementary feed is any whole grain (such as oats) or formulated feed (either a mix or a cube/pellet). Complementary feeds are fed when the nutrient requirements of a horse are not met by forage alone. They are typically available in cube or muesli forms and are made from cereals, fibres, beans and legumes.
Chaff is a chopped forage that can be hay, oat straw, alfalfa, sanfoin and grass. Chaff is often fed alongside a complementary feed to prevent a horse from eating their meal too quickly and to increase the chewing time of the horse. Increasing the chewing time of the horse will increase salivation. Saliva is alkaline in nature and helps off-set the continual acid production of the horse’s stomach, acting as a buffer that can help protect the gastric lining.
A complete is a feed that meets all the daily requirements of the horse, with no forage needed at all, be that in the form of hay, haylage or pasture. These are not to be confused with ‘all-in-one’ feeds which are complementary feed products that also include chaff. Complete feeds may be useful if the horse has very few teeth and therefore struggle to chew hay or in circumstances where there are hay or pasture shortages.
A balancer is a low-intake (and hence relatively low-calorie) product that contains a concentrated amount of essential protein, vitamins and minerals. Balancers are usually fed in one of three ways: fed alone as a concentrated source of protein, vitamins and minerals; alongside straights (i.e. oats) and beet-pulp to balance out any deficiencies, or to “top-dress” a concentrate feed to enhance the nutritional quality of the overall ration. When using as a “top-dress” however, it should be noted that it is advisable to feed the balancer at a lower feeding rate than recommended. Balancers are suitable for all horses however, if kept solely on a forage based diet, feeding a suitable balancer can insure that a horse receives the correct balance of protein, vitamins and minerals.
What to look for in products
In the UK, legally all feeds must provide a statutory statement which includes: analytical constituents, additives and composition of the feed stuff. Ingredients are listed in descending order of inclusion by weight. In plain English, this is meant that the first ingredient you see listed, is the main ingredient and every subsequent one after that is included at decreasing quantities.
Digestible energy is essentially the calorific value of a product and is usually provided in MJ/kg, this is particularly important if your horse requires a low calorie diet, if in light work or for weight management. Energy can be provided in three forms: starch, oils and fibre of which, starch levels are usually of most interest, as if fed in excess of workload, can cause undesirable ‘fizzy’ behaviour.
Some concentrate feeds may contain additional support supplements which will be highlighted by the manufacturer. Support for the hindgut is most common in the form of yeast, Fructo-Oligosaccharides (FOS) and Mannan-Oligosaccharides (MOS). FOS is a food source for the ‘good’ bacteria in the hind-gut, ensuring an optimum hind-gut bacterial profile. MOS also helps maintain a healthy balance of bacteria within the hindgut by acting as a pathogen binder.
For horses in increased work i.e. competition horses, additional antioxidant support and Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are considered influential for recovery and muscle function and have been shown to increase muscle glycogen levels in horses, enabling a quicker return to training.
It can help to seek expert nutritional advice when choosing the feed for your horse so please contact Dodson & Horrell’s friendly experienced equine nutritional team on the free Dodson & Horrell Nutritional Helpline 0845 345 2627 or visit www.dodsonandhorrell.com