When we talk about ‘performance horses’ we are referring to horses that are used in activities such as cutting, roping, barrel racing, eventing, jumping, rodeo or just working hard on the ranch. In other words, any horse that ‘has a lot asked of him in a short period of time’™. These horses use up minerals and electrolytes either through heavy prolonged work or by sweating. Hauling from show to show also imposes stress which can result in electrolyte loss. The amount of these nutrients in good quality hay and grain are not enough to keep up with these high demands and therefore need to be supplemented.
A salt block should be kept in front of horses at all times as insurance that sodium needs are met. Minerals and vitamins should be mixed with the grain ration and fed twice daily (three times is better) to insure that we help to meet the amount required. And remember, free choice is just for insurance. The old wife’s tale that an animal will eat supplement if he needs it is no more true today than it was 50 years ago. If that were true then we would not need nutritionists, computers, NRC guidelines and every horse would be healthy and never have a problem. Horses that were critically deficient in phosphorus offered straight monosodium phosphate (one of the purest forms of feed grade phos.) refused to eat it, even when mixed with a little grain.
Colic, ‘tying up’, attitude and joint problems can in most cases be corrected by feeding the horse a more balanced diet with the addition of bioavailable minerals and nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and MSM. Calcium and phosphorus ratios and the levels of other related minerals, trace elements and vitamins all need to be considered when balancing rations. The huge differences between alfalfa and grass hay demands a supplement balanced for each type of forage.
In many cases, show horses fall into the performance horse category yet they still require a little more nutrition when it comes to body scores (bloom), coat condition, and rapid growth on high energy diets. It is critical that young horses that are being fed for maximum growth get ample minerals and vitamins in addition to those already in the feed. Most forages and grains grown under modern farming practices lack essential minerals and trace elements. Typically, only N, P and K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) are applied to fertilize the soil. This leaves huge gaps in the mineral profile of the crop for minerals such as copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt and so on. If these nutrients are not supplemented in proper balance from forms that are readily absorbed by the horse, conditions such as epiphysitis and abnormal bone development are prevalent.
The addition of grain to add phosphorus is not adequate to balance the abundance of readily available calcium in alfalfa hay. While grain does contain more phosphorus in ratio to the amount of calcium that it has, the phosphorus for the most part is in the form of phytin phosphorus which is only half as available as phosphorus from supplements like monosodium phosphate.
Adding fat from plant sources that has the proper fatty acid profile and one that is high in Omega 3 and low in Omega 6 has benefits for the show horse. Fat contains 2 ½ times the energy that carbohydrates do. Fat is also considered a ‘slow burn’ energy source that does not cause the kind of ‘high’ associated with feeding extra grain.
As most show horses are kept in close confinement in barns to keep the sun from dulling coats, the lack of natural sunlight and ‘green’ forage can greatly increase the need for supplemental vitamins and enzymes.
‘Blessed are the broodmares’. Any woman that has had children knows that it is a huge job and one that our very survival is centered on. Nutrition is one of the biggest factors influencing a successful pregnancy. Mares require optimum nutrition during the entire breeding year and most of all during the last three months of gestation and the first three months of lactation.
During the end of gestation the bones of the unborn foal are starting to harden. The calcium, phosphorus and magnesium required for this to occur is often more than the daily ration can supply when on pasture or feeding hay and grain. In this case the minerals are actually drawn from the mare’s own bones. Once her own body stores are depleted, there is no longer enough of the needed minerals to be transferred to the foal. The results can be tragic.
Supplementing these minerals along with trace elements and vitamins, balanced to the type of forage being fed, is one way to keep this from happening. When enough hay can be bought in advance to warrant it, testing the hay for mineral content can help to zero in on the elements that are truly deficient (or in excess) so that the proper balance can be calculated.
‘There is no substitute for a good start when it comes to raising horses.’ As mentioned above, raising a strong, sound, healthy foal starts with how we feed his mom. When the foal is born he relies on the nutrients in his mother’s milk to start his growth. Once he starts to eat on his own he needs all to the properly balanced nutrients that we can give him. Once again, blood lines and environment have to be taken into consideration. Horses will differ greatly in what they will tolerate with regards to ration composition and growth rate. Consult your vet and farrier regularly and get their opinion on how your young horses are growing.
For help with setting up a feeding program, feel free to call us at 800-580-6632 or email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to help our customers and work with your vet to set up the best program for your horses.
As horses grow older, their needs change nutritionally. For one thing, they may not get enough exercise. This can lead to loss of muscle and bone density. Dental issues may cause a horse to under chew his feed resulting in poor digestion and problems such as colic. Make sure that the feed is high quality, good smelling and dust and mold free. Grain should be steam rolled to increase its digestibility and reduce fines and dust.
Supplementing these older horses with enzymes and beneficial bacteria help in digesting what they eat and aids in strengthening the immune system.
Regular moderate exercise and smaller portions of well balanced; top quality feed offered three times a day will go a long way to keeping your faithful old friend fit and sound for years to come.
There are may ways that horse owners can choose to purchase feed and still do a good job of providing for their horses. Hay bought from dealers is convenient but varies in quality and comes from many different farms. Whenever possible, purchase hay direct from the grower. In many cases the grower will have the hay tested right after it is baled so you are sure of the quality (at least the protein level). Sunlight and moisture erode the vitamin levels rapidly. Keep the stack under cover or well tarped to prevent this.
Buying grain is another adventure. The prettier the bag, the fewer dollars left over to put into the feed inside. Take the time to compare labels or tags. Give added attention to the Guaranteed Analysis and the Ingredients list. All feed companies are governed by the same laws with regards to how they guarantee the amount of nutrients in their feed and how they list the ingredients. Ingredients must be listed by the rate of inclusion with the ingredient making up the highest percentage of the feed listed first and so on for each subsequent ingredient.
Stay away from ‘proprietary blends’ and formulas that contain ‘oxide’ form minerals and trace elements. Proprietary blends that do not list the ingredients as mentioned above are illegal and lead one to ask ‘what are they hiding’. Oxide form mineral and trace elements are not water soluble to any great degree and extremely difficult for horses to absorb. They are however much cheaper and therefore used to make the analysis look better than it really is.
All of this can get kind of confusing so we offer our customers the service of supplying them with one-on-one comparisons between Sierra Gold® Supplements and over 45 different comparable supplements. We are proud of the fact that when you cut away all of the fluff and glitter, our formulas come out shining!
Horse Feeding and Nutrition – Tony J. Cunha 1980 Academic Press, Inc.
Feeds & Nutrition – Ensminger & Olentine 1980 Ensminger Publishing
Equine Supplements & Nutraceuticals – Eleanor Kellon, DVM – 1998
Nutrient Requirements for Horses – National Research Council – 1989
Written by Dan Houdeshell CVCP