Equine Nutritionists Help Assure Proper Feeding

Since much decision-making about feeding horses continues to be based on folklore, tradition, and misinformation, owners and trainers are encouraged to use nutrition resources, reported Olivia Martin at the 2010 Kentucky Equine Research (KER) Nutrition Conference held April 26-27. Martin operates the independent equine nutrition consulting firm Performance Feeding Inc. and supplies feeding advice and research-based supplements for horses throughout the United States.

During her presentation titled "Feeding horses at the Winter Equestrian Festival: A review of common practices," Martin relayed key findings from her research conducted during the 2008 Winter Equestrian Festival. In total, 181 horses were weighed and had every feed component for each ration weighed and analyzed.

Key findings were:

  • Most horses did not receive the recommended 2-2.5% dry matter intake (DMI) per day.
  • Timothy hay was the forage of choice, but many horses received only small amounts of hay (as low as 30% of the total ration) per day.
  • 17/181 horses were fed a grain-based diet rather than primarily hay.
  • Approximately 85% of horses were fed some form of nutritional supplement (e.g., hoof, joint, digestive, general vitamin and mineral, vitamin E, selenium), but only 15% of owners/trainers received advice from an equine nutritionist regarding their choices.

Many horses included in the study had significant nutrient deficiencies such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, and copper. Even sodium and chloride levels were low by simply not having access to a free-choice salt block.

Horses managed by owners/trainers that had received feeding advice from a nutritionist appeared to be receiving adequate nutrients from their rations.

"The information gathered reinforces the importance of using nutrition resources to improve and enhance performance of top-level horses," concluded Martin. "Ration balancing and optimizing current nutrition research should be placed alongside veterinary intervention in importance for all elite performance horses."

More information regarding the 17th KER conference, summaries of some presentations, and video interviews is available at www.ker.com.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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