Updated: Mar 25, 2021
This week I have enlisted the help of Saracens nutritionist Nic Read. We are going to be talking all about how to navigate the minefield of horse feeds; what to feed your horse, what brand to use, when to feed, how much to feed and everything else you could possibly think of when it comes to horse feeds!
How do you decide what brand of feed to use?
There are so many different brands of feed out there. Some are so similar and some really differentiate themselves for different reasons.
Go for a brand that has a wide range of products: this goes you flexibility in case you need to change feed for any reason from box rest to changing diet. A broad range gives you the ability to swap and change throughout the range to give your horse the best diet possible ensuring they are getting the right nutrients. Going across different products may make it more complicated to ensure your horses nutrients are balanced.
Use a brand that have peer reviewed research: Make sure the brand you use has products that are backed up and proven with research. You want to give your horse the best quality feed possible and this is one way to check that the feed your are giving your horse will actually have the desired effect.
Check feeding rates: some brands may be cheaper per bag but may require you to feed twice or three times as much. If you don't feed the required amount then your horse won't be getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. You can find the feeding rates on the back of the bag,
Check the feeds don't require add ons: some brands use a base feed and then you add on another product for conditioning, another for energy, anther for the vitamins and minerals, Make sure you are not being drawn in to having to feed more products than you need to.
Check the quality of ingredients: we wouldn't want to be using nutritionally improved straw or oat feed or wheat feed in performance feeds (although they are fine for a fibre feed or cooling products). We want to look for super fibre sources with performance feeds which have much higher digestibility. Check the ingredients label.
Check the brand is part of the BETA NOPS scheme: this tells you that the brand has been tested for prohibited substances. This is especially important for anyone who is competing.
How should I feed a hot horse?
We want to stay away from feeding too much starch as we know this has the ability to exacerbate our horses temperament. Have a look on the back of the bag and see how much you have to feed your horse of the feed and how much starch this will give your horse. This is also really important for horses that suffer with ulcers.
We would ideally be looking for a cereal free feed with high fibre sources and oil as this will provide us with the slow release energy that our horses need. Hot horses still need energy to work and quite often they can lack stamina when they work too.
Some avoid protein because they think it will make their horse fizzy but protein is actually a really inefficient energy source. It is really important for muscle development and function and repair and it is really important that we give our horses good quality protein when they are in work to support their muscle development and repair.
How should I feed a lazy horse?
Its important to cover the base, make sure it isn't a training issue and that you need to teach your horse to be in front of the leg first. Adding more fast release energy will not make your horse more forward, it won't resolve the problem.
However, if it isn't a training issue we may start to look at cereal sources. cereals provide us with more fast release energy because we want more oomph. We would really be looking at making sure they get the right recovery food like protein, glycogen and rehydration so they feel able to do the work that they are doing.
We are careful that the horse isn't overweight first. If we give an overweight horse more energy (and more calories) and the horse isn't burning those calories then the horse will only become more overweight This is when fat scoring is really important so we know what our horses condition is like. A better route would be to work the horse more and burn more calories as well as altering the diet with a lower calories product to bring the body condition score back to a 5.
If the horse is in the right training, feeding the right feed with the right amount and they are not over or underweight there should be no need for energy shots or supplements.
How should I feed a more overweight horse?
We have become much more knowledgable about knowing that forage is extremely important and that a lack of forage in the diet can cause health issues like ulcers. This can be an issue with overweight horses as we do need to control their forage to help reduce their calories. We would never recommend going below 1.5% of their ideal bodyweight in dry weight forage. But there has been research that if you leave a horse with limited forage during the day it is at a much higher risk of gastric ulcers than a horse that has been left with little forage overnight.
You can work on an 80:20 rule if a horse needs to reduce their forage intake. 80% will be fed throughout the day and 20% will be fed over night. It is research proven that this is the better way round to do that whilst also allowing them more rest time so they are not constantly 'eat, eat, eat'. Soaking their forage can also be helpful to reduce the sugar content.
A lot of people take out a hard feed altogether however, if were reducing forage intake and soaking their forage it is really important that we give the horse a top of of their micronutrients. You can use a balancer with a low cal chaff which will give them all the vitamins and minerals they need. This is important no matter what work the horse is in but is obviously extremely important if the horse is expected to train and work properly too.
What should I feed a more underweight horse?
If a horse needs to gain muscle and toppling we would be looking at a higher protein level. the important here is good quality protein as the quality of the protein his important as well as feed that is high in the essential amino acids. Oil is very high calorie as well as super fibres which are highly digestible.
We can obviously increase the bulk and amount of feed but a really important thing to do is weigh all the forage that goes into that stable as well as weigh anything that is left over. Its really important to know how much forage they are actually eating, especially when we feed ad lib haym or they don't always eat all their hay. If we know they are consuming enough then we can look at hard feed. If we know they aren't consuming enough we can change the source of forage or look at forage replacers.
If the underweight horse is also more energetic and hot then there is a balance between needing calories to increase weight but also not wanting this energy to be fast releasing. We would go for a product that is cereal free with super fibre sources and oil. This will give you slow release energy so your horse is getting the calories needed to increase their weight without exacerbating their hotter temperament.
In our 'exercise' part for this week, Nic has provided us with 8 questions to help you decide what you should be feeding your horse as well as 3 things you can do now to give you a better knowledge of your horse and what they need.
You can read it now here