Equine Nutrition Tips for the New Year

Equine Nutrition Tips for the New Year

The basis of every horse’s diet should be high-quality forage, whether that’s pasture, hay, or another source.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Looking towards the New Year, many riders will make resolutions to eat better, exercise more, and re-evaluate their diets in general. It is also important to do the same evaluation for your horse. The New Year is a great time to take a close look at your horse’s diet, so SmartPak has some tips to help start the year off right … and you don’t have to wait until January to get started!

“Take a closer look at your horse’s feeding program, with the help of your veterinarian or equine nutritionist, and make sure it’s as complete and balanced as possible,” said Lydia Gray, DVM, SmartPak’s staff veterinarian. “Some key elements to think about are forage, nutrients like vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and possibly digestive support.”

The basis of every horse’s diet should be high-quality forage, whether that’s pasture, hay, or another source. Horses were designed to graze nearly constantly and should receive 1-2% of their body weight in forage per day (for a 1,000-pound horse that’s 10-20 pounds of forage per day). Poor hay quality has been linked to an increased the risk of colic, so it’s wise to purchase the best quality hay that can be found in your area. If finding quality hay is a challenge, other sources of roughage can be added, such as beet pulp, hay cubes, or bagged forage (i.e. chaff) to help meet this daily requirement. Feeding hay in a small-hole haynet can also help reduce waste and keep hay in front of your horse for a longer time, helping to support healthy digestion.

In addition to adequate forage, making sure your horse is getting the right balance of key vitamins and minerals is important to supporting his or her health. These nutrients are critical to everything from immune function to recovery from stress and exercise. If your horse receives grain daily, find out how much (in pounds) and compare that to the recommended amount on the grain bag. If your horse is getting the full, recommended serving of grain for his age and workload, his minimum vitamin and mineral needs should be met. However, many horses receive less than the recommended serving size because they don’t require that many calories to maintain their body condition, but this can leave them short on key nutrients. A multivitamin supplement or a ration balancer pellet can help close the gap on the vitamin and mineral requirements for horses that receive a partial serving of grain or no grain at all.

There has been much talk about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids from sources such as flax seed and fish oil in human nutrition. As it turns out, these nutrients are beneficial for horses’ health, as well. In nature, horses typically get sufficient omega-3s in their diet from fresh grass. However, not all horses these days have the consistent, year-round access to high-quality pasture. Adding an omega-3 supplement to your horse’s diet can help to promote overall wellness and has the secondary benefit of supporting a shiny coat.

Once your horse’s forage needs are met, the vitamins and minerals are complete and balanced, and omega-3 fatty acids have been put back in the diet, it might be beneficial to consider adding digestive support. It’s no secret: Horses have a very sensitive digestive tract which is prone to upset, sometimes at even the slightest of changes. Many of the common events in the barn such as training, traveling, and even hay or grain changes can lead to increased risk of digestive disturbances. “By providing researched ingredients such as prebiotics, enzymes, and yeast daily, you may be able to help your horse’s hindgut adapt to change more easily, resulting in a balanced, healthy digestive tract,” added Gray.

It’s never too early to get started on your (and your horse’s) resolution. Work with your veterinarian and/or equine nutritionist to ensure your horse’s diet is balanced heading into the new year.

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