In the first part of our Designing a Diet series (at SmartPak.com/Diet), we talked about how modern horsekeeping is at odds with the way horses were designed to live. This time around, we’ll take a look at realistic steps you can take to make the most of your horse’s diet, keeping him happier and healthier.
Home or Away
If you keep your horse at home, you’re the horse owner, barn owner and barn manager all in one. That means you get to decide what your horse eats, how much and how often. If you board your horse, there may be barn rules that you have to work around. Luckily, no matter where you keep your horse, we can suggest a number of ways you can improve your horse’s diet, so you can pick and choose the ones that will work for you.
Weigh Your Hay
Your horse’s digestive system was designed for constant grazing, so it’s important that the basis of his diet be quality forage. Whether it’s fresh pasture, hay or a combination of the two, your horse should be eating 1-2% of his body weight in forage every day. (For a 1,000 lb horse, that’s 10-20 lbs!) Because hay bales vary in density and volume, especially from cutting to cutting, it’s best to actually weigh out your hay, instead of simply feeding a certain number of flakes.
Consider the SourceFresh pasture is the ideal forage source for horses, but according to the National Research Council, one study concluded that a horse would need to graze 17 hours per day to meet his nutritional requirements. That much quality pasture is pretty hard to come by, especially all year round! As a result, many horse owners fill the bulk of their horse’s forage requirements with hay. Unfortunately, after being cut, dried and stored, hay loses many of its valuable nutrients, including Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin A and over 80% of Vitamin E. SmartOmega 3 is formulated to fill the nutritional gaps between fresh grass and dried hay. If your horse doesn’t have consistent access to pasture, consider adding this economical supplement to his program.
The Scoop on Grain
Once you’ve gotten your horse’s hay squared away, it’s time to focus on his energy requirements. As we discussed in Part I of this series, concentrated sources of energy, like grain, are not a natural part of your horse’s diet. Very high in pro-inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids, with virtually no inflammation-fighting Omega 3s, a grain-based diet can result in a state of chronic inflammation, adding stress to cells throughout the body.
Going from “Ideal” to “Doable”
Grain is an easy, cost-effective source of calories for horses whose energy requirements can’t be met through hay and pasture alone. However, a high-grain diet may increase your horse’s risk of ulcers, colic and hindgut problems. But we’re not saying you have to banish all your grain bags. You can work with what you’ve got to help your horse truly thrive.
Before you reach for the feed scoop, consider how much grain your horse really needs. Horses in light to moderate
work may be able to maintain their weight on quality forage alone. You can certainly add grain as needed for extra calories to maintain his weight and support performance, just remember that in the long run, less is more.
If your barn feeds a fortified grain, as most barns do, you may think that your horse is getting all the vitamins and minerals he needs. However, in order to provide a full serving of essential nutrients, you would need to feed the full amount recommended on the feed bag, and most horses just don’t need that many calories.
Right now, you probably feel caught between a rock and a hard place. You’d like to decrease the amount of grain you’re feeding, but to meet your horse’s daily needs, the feed label says you need to feed more — so what should you do?Vitamin/mineral supplements can help! Customer favorites like Grand Vite and our SmartVite line make it easy to provide a full serving of the nutrients your horse needs, without the negative aspects of a high-grain diet. With eight targeted formulas, our SmartVites make it easy to meet your horse’s exact needs. For example, SmartVite EZ Keeper Grass, is perfect for a horse on grass hay and little to no grain.
Beyond the Grain Bin
The feed room isn’t the only place that modern horsekeeping is at odds with Mother Nature. As we discussed in Part I of our series, training, travelling and competing, combined with our tendency to feed large, infrequent meals can be very stressful on our horses’ delicate digestive systems. This unnatural stress can result in problems ranging from gastric ulcers (which effect an astonishing 60% of performance horses) to loose stool and even colic.
Fortunately, you don’t have to give up the things you and your horse love to do! By providing ingredients that support a healthy digestive tract, you can help your horse cope with the stress of training and travel.SmartGut and U-Gard both provide antacids to protect the stomach, with SmartGut adding L-Glutamine and soothing herbs for comprehensive support. SmartDigest Ultra or SUCCEED both of which include ingredients for both gastric and hindgut health.
Putting it in Perspective
Whether you feel like your horse’s diet is heading in the right direction or needs a lot of help, it’s important to remember that little changes can make a big difference. If you’re not sure where to start, call our Supplement Experts for a free consultation, or head to SmartPak.com/Wizard for a custom recommendation in just a few clicks!