Modern horse keeping is sometimes at odds with how horses were designed to live and eat, but luckily there are realistic steps you can take to build your horse’s ideal diet from the ground up.
In their natural state, horses spend up to 20 hours per day roaming and grazing on a variety of forages. Even though your horse can’t graze the Great Plains, his diet should still consist primarily of roughages like pasture, hay, or an alternative source such as hay cubes. More specifically, your horse should be eating 1–2% of his body weight in hay or other forage every day. For a 1,000lb horse, that’s 10–20lbs daily! Ideally your horse should have free choice access to hay and/or pasture all day. If that’s not possible (or not appropriate, like in the case of an easy keeper), a small hole hay net can help your horse slow down and enjoy his hay longer. If your horse has a metabolic disorder or other condition where sugars and starches should be limited, you should work with your veterinarian to design the appropriate feeding program for his needs.
2. Vitamins and minerals
Even if your horse was able to graze 24/7 on pasture, his forage alone probably wouldn’t be able to provide enough vitamins and minerals. Fortified grain can provide an additional source of these key nutrients, but you should only feed the minimum amount of grain your horse needs as a calorie source for optimal body condition (visit SmartPak.com/BodyCondition to learn how to body condition score your horse). If your horse is like the majority who only get a partial serving of fortified grain (Not sure? Check out SmartPak.com/ReadingFeedLabels to learn how to check), a multi-vitamin supplement can help bridge the gap and ensure that he is getting all the vitamins and minerals he needs, without the unneeded calories and sugar from feeding more grain. Got an easy keeper? A ration balancer like Nutrena Empower Balance will provide all the vitamins, minerals, and protein to complete and balance your horse’s diet without any grain.
Salt (sodium chloride) is essential for healthy nerve and muscle function, plus a horse that doesn’t get enough salt may not drink enough water. Many horse owners don’t realize that even a horse in no work needs at least one ounce of salt per day! And that need increases with exercise and hot weather. Hay, pasture, and commercial feeds provide very little salt, but top dressing meals with table salt or an electrolyte supplement and providing a Himalayan Salt Lick can help your horse get what he needs.
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are both important to your horse’s well-being, but maintaining the correct balance between the two is critical. Since omega 6 fatty acids support pro-inflammatory reactions and omega 3 fatty acids support anti-inflammatory reactions, you want to provide your horse with two to four times more omega 3s than 6s. Fresh pasture is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, but many horses don’t have access to pasture grazing. In addition, grain is very high in omega 6s. These two factors are the reasons that the modern horse’s diet often has too many omega 6s and too few omega 3s, which sets the horse up for a chronic state of inflammation. Luckily, supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids like those in SmartOmega 3 Ultra is an easy way to help correct this important dietary balance and let your horse’s good health shine through.
5. Additional supplements as needed
Once you have the foundation of your horse’s diet squared away (Steps 1–4), consider whether he needs specific supplements for proactive support, or to help manage any special health issues he may have. Popular areas of support for performance horses include joint, hoof, digestion and gastric health.
6. Treats as needed (and deserved!)