As horseowners, we’re understandably concerned about our horse’s nutritional needs. Ask 20 people what they recommend, and you’ll get 20 different answers.
With all the resources available today – books, magazines, the Internet, research papers, advice of experienced professionals and feed manufacturers – keeping our equines nutritionally healthy can be a mental and financial challenge.
Looking at nutrition holistically, we consider all facets of a horse’s existence. Domestication and confinement have limited our horses’ access to natural sources of minerals and vitamins, forcing them to survive on a few selected forages, feed and water.
Optimally, these feed ingredients should contribute sufficient and easily-assimilated nutrients. Realistically, however, heavy crop production and application of assorted fertilizers have depleted soil’s natural mineral content and fertility, making it nutritionally inadequate. Nourishment is further lost during harvest, processing and storage. First, second, and third-cutting forage and landscape diversity yield dissimilar nutritional components. A plant’s carbohydrate and protein contents vary from am to pm. Differing species of grasses contain unique nutrient profiles affected by weather and seasonal changes.
Horses have diverse nutritional requirements daily, even hourly. Fluctuations will occur with physical activity, stress levels, age, illness, genetics, hormonal changes and throughout pregnancy. The weather and immoderate levels of parasite infestation are capable of wreaking havoc upon an animal’s well being.
Would a 1000-pound, 15H horse with large hooves and high muscle mass require the same nutrients at the same levels as another 1000-pound, 16H horse with smaller feet and refined muscle?
Research suggests horses should eat 2% of their body weight every day. For a 1000-pound horse, that’s 20 pounds of food per day. This same horse will drink 8-10 gallons of water per day. A gallon of water weighs just over 8 pounds, translating to approximately 75 pounds per day. Consequently, a horse should consume almost four times (3.75) more water than food. Water contains nutrients that affect nutritional balance, laying the foundation for illness. It makes sense to get your water tested and take the necessary precautions.
FREE CHOICE SUPPLEMENTATION
Why do some horses eat wood fences and barns, destroy trees for consumption of bark, gobble up dirt, feast upon feces of other horses, lap at urine puddles or prefer one bale of hay and not another?
Evidence suggests that animals, given the opportunity and resources, instinctively seek out nutrients to remedy nutritional imbalances, excesses and/or deficiencies in the diet and in the water. Free choice supplementation provides the opportunity for nutrients to be balanced accurately for each individual horse in its own unique environment.
For instance, certain areas of the country lack sufficient levels of copper within the soil. A free choice copper supplement would compensate for this deficiency. Water sources may embody increased levels of calcium, in which case phosphorus and magnesium free choice supplements would benefit in balancing those macrominerals. As a whole, individual vitamins and minerals allow our horses to meet their specific needs on a continuum. Special needs horses, such as those with metabolic disorders, those attempting to heal, or performance horses, require additional nutrients in varying degrees and through various stages. Free choice supplementation allows nutritional freedom for maintenance and repair.
Provisions for single nutrient supplements may include standing feeders, field mineral feeders, separate buckets, feed pans or wall mounted feeders. A horse may satisfy his requirements with only a few minutes per day. Larger feeders may be mounted in outdoor structures when supplementing a herd. Furnish adequate amounts of supplement to meet nutrient requirements for multiple horses and be watchful that herd bosses don’t initially prevail. Recognizing horses’ destructive nature, employ sturdy containers and pay attention to placement. Supplements should not be mounted near drinking water. You may equip your barn with combinations of a specified few or multiple supplements without great expense or increased labor, allowing for nutritional individuality and flexibility.
For simplicity’s sake, we focus on nutritional deficiencies, searching for that “magic bullet.” Nutrition is not static; it is riddled with precise, cohesive relationships. Current studies point toward maintaining nutritional equilibrium in an effort to create internal stability (homeostasis). Another concept reaching the forefront is the cation/anion (+/-) balance of a diet in relation to the water and blood pH. Since every living being has an electrical charge, diets are being balanced according to the charges of each nutrient to create a cationic/positive state or anionic/negative state, dependent upon species and their current state of health.
Nutrients not available or accessed through food sources must be provided somewhere else. Supplementation is defined as something added to complete or improve something else. Protect your horse: read product labels!
- mineral blocks and complete mineral mixes may indicate they fulfill mineralization purposes, but they limit the vitamin and mineral intake with salt
- some blocks are processed with molasses and artificial flavorings to force intake
- sweet and pelleted feeds are manufactured using least-cost rations to meet nutritional averages. Feed companies reap economic advantages from this and will utilize inexpensive by-products that camouflage reduced quality grains and other nutrients.
WISE WORDS FROM THE EXPERTS
One of the first proponents of the link between disease and mineral deficiencies is Dr. Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel Prizes. Much of Dr. Pauling’s research discovered the importance of the acid-to-alkaline balance in the body, the removal of toxins and the need for supplementation. Professor Pauling summarized his research findings saying, “Every sickness, every disease can be traced to a mineral deficiency.”
Dr. Frederick D. Provenza’s “Foraging Behavior: Managing to Survive in a World of Change” describes the wisdom of the body. “Bodies are integrated societies of cells, organs, and organ systems all with nutritional needs. They interact with one another and with the external environment through feedback mediated by nerves, neurotransmitters, and hormones.” The digestive system and the nervous system interact with the remainder of the body to develop a relationship with what Dr. Provenza terms “flavor-feedback” and “postingestive feedback.”
Dr. William A. Albrecht writes, “Out of the soil comes the weal or woe of living things.” F.A. Behmyer stated in an article about Dr. Albrecht’s studies, “Through the ages, before man came along, Mother Nature ran things and did a pretty good job of it.” From this perspective, thoughts are replenish the soil, heed animal instinct and let the healing begin.
Kendra Helfter is the President of Helfter Enterprises, dba Advanced Biological Concepts, Osco, IL. Helfter Enterprises was founded to develop nutritional technology for the prevention of disease. Advanced Biological Concepts is a manufacturer of natural and organic feed supplements and nutritional additives. The company works hand-in-hand with holistic veterinarians to address current health concerns. www.abcplus.biz