Horse & Rider
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 (summit-equine.com) 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.