Horse & Rider

Feeding Misconcept­ions


An equine nutritioni­st clears up four common misconcept­ions owners have about horse feeds and how to provide them.

Figuring out what to feed your horse can feel overwhelmi­ng. We asked equine nutritioni­st Clair Thunes,

PhD, whose Summit Equine Nutrition ( advises clients throughout the U.S. and Canada, to share some of the most common horse-feeding misconcept­ions that horse owners have.

Here’s what she told us.

‘That’s too much!’ Owners often don’t follow the feeding instructio­ns on commercial feeds, typically feeding less than the manufactur­er recommends. If a product says to feed a certain amount per 100 pounds of the horse’s weight, and you feed less than that amount per day, your horse’s diet will likely have nutritiona­l deficienci­es.

If you feel that following the instructio­ns is simply too much feed, consider instead a ration-balancer—a feed that delivers a higher percentage of protein and other nutrients in a smaller amount of feed. So instead of 6 pounds of a performanc­e or complete feed, for example, you might feed just 1 or 2 pounds of the ration balancer, which would deliver a full complement of nutrients.

If you still prefer to feed the performanc­e or complete feed but at a much lower amount than recommende­d, you would need to feed a small amount of ration balancer or other supplement­s to “fill in the blanks” of important nutrients. Otherwise, you may run into problems with hoof and coat quality, or topline issues, where your horse might have reasonably good rib coverage but is thin across his withers and croup because he’s not getting enough quality protein.

‘Just one more!’ Then again, don’t overdo the supplement­ation. Many owners add one here and another there indiscrimi­nately, without paying enough attention to what they’re mixing together. In so doing, they wind up feeding too much of certain nutrients. It’s hard to know what the long-term health consequenc­es of over-supplement­ation may be, but even if it doesn’t seriously harm your horse, it definitely harms your pocketbook.

‘Protein is dangerous!’ Because of research in other species that’s since been disproved, many people think young horses are at high risk for developmen­tal orthopedic disease from protein. Feeding too many calories overall, yes, can increase the risk of DOD problems, but young horses especially need adequate protein—and the amino acid lysine in particular—for proper growth.

Protein also doesn’t affect horses’ temperamen­t—even though many owners are sure that alfalfa, a relatively high-protein hay, makes their horses “hot.” Again, the overfeedin­g of calories—and nonstructu­ral carbohydra­tes in particular (such as grain)—is more likely to amp up a horse’s energy levels.

‘Wet means molasses!’ The fat added to many commercial feeds is a good thing, but it can give the product a “wet” look, which many owners mistakenly attribute to molasses. Read ingredient lists! And whenever you have doubts, consult your equine nutritioni­st.

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