The nutrient table tells you the effects of a feed on your horse. This part of your horse’s feed bag is also essential if he has special requirements. For example, keep a lookout for starch if its intended recipient is prone to laminitis.
Digestible energy is the amount of energy that the feed gives when fed at the recommended ration. “It’s the most limiting factor as your horse needs the energy from his feed to match his workload,” says Dr Courtney Miller, a nutritionist for Dodson & Horrell. Digestible energy is expressed as megajoules of digestible energy per kilogram (MJ/Kg). Energy and calories are often confused, but as Sarah Nelson explains, there’s an easy way to remember. “We tend to associate energy with performance and calories with weight,” she says. “But they’re actually the same. Body condition is the best indicator of whether your horse is consuming the right amount for his workload. “If he’s losing weight, check you’re feeding the recommended ration before moving to a higher energy alternative.” Fibre — keeps the gut healthy Horses have evolved to live on fibre and it’s an important part of your horse’s diet. “Fibre is important for the function of his digestive system,” explains Sarah Parkinson. “The fermentation process also produces heat, keeping him warm when it’s cold.” Due to fibre’s gut-friendly effects, look for feeds that are higher in fibre if you’re concerned about your horse’s gut health.
Protein — builds muscle
“Protein provides the building blocks for muscle,” explains Sarah Parkinson. “It works hand-in-hand with exercise and is needed by horses in regular work to maintain topline.” Protein is made up of chains of smaller molecules called amino acids. Your horse’s body creates some amino acids but others — such as lysine — can only be obtained from his diet. Protein is often associated with energy, but as Sarah Nelson explains, this isn’t actually the case. “Protein isn’t a primary energy source for horses and it won’t cause or increase the risk of laminitis, tying-up [azoturia] or excitability,” she says. “Generally speaking, higher-energy feeds will also be higher in protein, which is where the confusion may have come from.”
Protein is safe for most horses, but seek advice if yours has a liver issue. You’ll need to keep protein levels as low as possible.
Starch — best for energy
Starch is a form of carbohydrate that’s derived from cereals and is a quick-release energy. It’ll be listed in feed as a percentage. “Starch is good for a bit of oomph,” advises Sarah Parkinson. “It’s easily digested in the small intestine. In general, horses aren’t used to eating it in huge quantities. It can be useful in performance horses or laid-back individuals.” “Starch is most relevant for behaviour,” adds Courtney Miller. “Keep levels low in fizzy horses, as well as in those with laminitis or gastric ulcers.”
Oil — great for calories
Feed that provides added oil is one to look out for if you’re after some extra calories. “Oil is a non-heating way to give your horse extra calories,” says Courtney. “It releases energy slowly and is good for fizzy horses. It’s also great for improving coat condition and benefits the digestive tract.” Oils are a type of fat and are easily oxidised in your horse’s body. Oxidisation produces molecules called free radicals that damage cells. To balance this, ensure your horse’s diet has plenty of antioxidants, such as vitamin E.
Vitamins & minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential for a variety of functions in your horse’s body, but it’s not always easy to identify a feed bag’s vitamin and mineral content. “The bag may only list a small selection or those that must be declared by law,” warns Sarah Nelson. “Don’t assume that the feed doesn’t contain a specific vitamin or mineral because it’s not on the packaging — call the company for more advice.”
Horses have evolved to have large amounts of fibre in their diet
Starch can give your horse a bit of oomph — ideal for horses competing at a high level