By Heather Zorn, P.A.S.
How exactly do you feed your horse like a horse? It’s actually simpler than you may think. Understanding the horse’s digestive system is the key to unlocking the mystery of your horse’s diet.
Horses are fermenters, meaning that they rely on a population of good bacteria to extract nutrients and break down their food efficiently. Digestion begins first at the mouth, where a horse’s jaw allows forward, backward, and lateral movement, allowing for fine grinding of food. Horse saliva does not contain significant amounts of amylase—the enzyme that begins starch digestion—indicating that they do not have a naturally high tolerance for starch. The upper part of the stomach does not contain enzymes, but instead is populated by a colony of bacteria to begin fermentation. Little, if any, breakdown of starches occur in the stomach. All of these processes signify that the horse is a fermenting machine and specifically designed to resourcefully break down their forage-based natural diet.
Horses are meant to eat forage as the main source of their diet. This means grass, plants, and other fibrous foods. When we start adding high starch, high fat, and high sugar diets is when we encounter issues. A natural diet is very low in fat, and there is a limit for fat digestion in the body of a fermenter. Sugar levels naturally fluctuate with the seasons, but a springtime founder on fresh grass is indicative of a horse that is unable to tolerate high amounts of sugars the fresh, young blades have to offer. Ancestral or wild horses are not prone to this type of luxury, as they must move and “forage” for their food.
Mustangs, Arabs, Morgans and other very old breeds carry with them long-standing genetics. These horses worked hard and had sparse grazing from which to feed themselves. Their exercise capacity was high and their intake levels low. Thus they passed on a strong survival instinct in the form of their thrifty metabolism that ensured success of their future lineage. These horses are prone to metabolic issues when kept in modern practices of genetically engineered grasses, commercially bagged feeds, and high carbohydrate feeding habits.
If you believe that your horse absolutely must have a processed bagged feed in his diet, you need to ask yourself: why? While commercial bagged feeds are labeled “complete and balanced,” this only applies if that bagged feed is your horse’s only source of food. You are not providing essential minerals and vitamins unless you are feeding based on the manufacturer’s recommendations. You are providing additional calories that your horse may or may not need. You are providing additional fat, sugar, and starch, which unless your horse is a true performance athlete, he or she may not need.
Horses have specific mineral and vitamin requirements. Instead of supplementing by feeding grain or browsing through a catalog for what “might” work, a better idea is to have your hay tested to determine what your horse is eating versus what is lacking. More often than not, hay provides enough calories and protein to supply the energy a working horse needs and almost always covers the requirements of a horse in light exercise without the need of commercial feeds. The only thing lacking is a mineral supplement to complete the diet, to make up for the deficiencies found in the hay-based menu.
Animal Nutrition Solutions wants your pets to live the longest, healthiest life they can! Our own canine and equine nutritionist does affordable consultations to help you understand what your pet needs in terms of nutrition, and best of all- answers WHY!
Animal Nutrition Soultions Equine and Canine Consulting emphasizes client education over all else. It is our goal to have you understand the reason for our recommendations, achieving the best health for your animals, as well as ensuring that our clients become educated consumers to make good choices when purchasing animal feed and supplements. Since we are a private, independently owned company, we are not limited in our recommendations and suggestions by name brands and preferred dealers. We are not compensated by any company, instead we work for you! Your pet’s best health is our top priority.
We work primarily by referral basis, from both large and animal veterinarian referrals to farriers and clinicians and pet owners. Our rates are kept low to ensure that we are able to help the most amount of owners and animals possible. Consulting services for both horse and dog nutrition are offered to our clients.