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Why are Mashes so useful in a horse’s management?

Mashes are a popular way of feeding horses that can offer many benefits. Modern, nutritionally balanced, mashes are now available on the market, which combine the best of traditional knowledge with modern technology.

Article supplied by nutritionists from the TopSpec.

Mashes are a popular way of feeding horses that can offer many benefits. Traditionally, mashes were made from bran and were fed irregularly, often just once a week. Any laxative effect apparently seen from the feeding of a bran mash was actually due to an upset of the microbial fermentation in the hindgut. In addition, bran contains very little calcium, so the use of it would unbalance the sensitive calcium to phosphorous ratio in the total ration.

Modern, nutritionally balanced, mashes are now available on the market, which combine the best of traditional knowledge with modern technology.

Modern mashes could be broadly divided into two groups; mashes that are based on conditioning ingredients e.g. linseed, and those which are based on high fibre ingredients and are designed for good-doers.

One of the main benefits of feeding a mash is that they aid hydration. Dehydration can be life threatening and is frequently performance limiting, with poor performance, lack of stamina, ‘tying-up’ and colic well-known consequences.

Research and anecdotal evidence have reported an increased risk of impaction colic when horses are first confined to a stable after a period at grass. Stabled horses were found to drink significantly more water than horses at grass but they did not drink enough to compensate for the change from a ‘wet’ diet based on grass (approximately 80% water) to a ‘dry’ diet based on hay (approximately 15% water). When horses are first stabled, using a hydrating mash will increase water intake which will help to reduce the risk of impaction colic.

During the summer months when temperatures are warmer, it is important to ensure sufficient salt and water intake, especially after sweating.

Some horses may refuse to drink when they are away from home, and in these cases dilute mashes can be used to encourage water intake. Soaking a mash in up to 10 parts water will encourage horses to drink and rehydrate. This strategy could also be used to increase hydration if horses are reluctant to drink cold water in very cold winter weather.

Mashes based on linseed and other conditioning ingredients, are useful for horses that need to gain condition but prefer or need a soft feed, for example, elderly horses. It is important to remember that it is the weight of dry feed that contributes the calories, not the weight of soaked feed. The digestible energy (DE) as fed will reduce in proportion to the amount of water added i.e. adding more water will increase the overall volume of product fed but will not increase the calories provided.

Linseed mashes are also useful for horses with a poor coat. Linseed contains high levels of Omega-3’s and mucopolysaccharides which will promote a fabulous shiny coat.

Feeding substantial amounts of mash which contained significant levels of straw would not be helpful for horses needing to gain weight.

Mashes can also provide benefits for good-doers but they need to be diluted, with water, more than conditioning mashes and they need to have a high-fibre formulation. Some good-doers may find a high-fibre mash more palatable than a low-sugar chop.

High-fibre mashes can provide a tasty, soft, hydrating meal without promoting significant weight gain.

High-fibre mashes, diluted with extra water allow owners to feed good-doers large feeds, without providing many calories. This can be useful to e.g. keep a bonny pony occupied whilst his underweight companion eats a nourishing, conditioning feed.

High-fibre mashes make excellent partial hay replacers for all horses especially those that cannot manage hay, haylage or even chop due to dental issues. A top specification high fibre mash will provide pre-ground fibre which will increase the supply of fibre to the hindgut microflora allowing them to have a healthier fermentation. This will reduce the severity and occurrence of loose droppings.

Horses and ponies requiring a low-starch/sugar diet e.g. a pony prone to laminitis, will also benefit from the use of High-fibre, low sugar/starch mashes in their diet in specific circumstances e.g. reduced appetite following the use of certain drugs.

If you are unsure whether a mash would be suitable for your horse or looking for advice it is best to speak to an experienced nutritionist who will be able to give you individual advice for your horse.

Article supplied by nutritionists from the TopSpec Multiple Award-Winning-Helpline – see www.topspec.com/nutritional-advice/

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