By Zoe Messina – Equine Therapist & Nutrition Consultant
WHAT SHOULD I FEED MY HORSE? And other FAQ’s
There are basically two ways you can go about answering this question. 1) – you can make an educated guess and supplement the most commonly deficient minerals or 2) – you can test your forage (hay and pasture) to be 100% sure.
The first and most accurate way to determine what your horse needs nutritionally is to send samples of your hay and pasture to the lab for analysis, then you can balance the diet properly according to the results. How do you know what your horse needs and in what amounts if you don’t know what his or her current intake is?
OPTION 1) – IS FORAGE TESTING RIGHT FOR MY HORSE AND ME?
This process of testing is relatively simple but does require a bit of fiddling around and can take some time. It’s also not really practical if you’re horse is moved from one paddock to another regularly, this is OK if the paddocks are very similar or if your happy to send off several samples however.
The other main problem is that you don’t really want to send tests away more frequently than once a year because it can get a bit expensive if done regularly. So this requires you to have access to the same hay (if your feeding large amounts of hay) for most of the year. When I say ‘same hay’ it needs to have come from the same supplier and cut from the same field/property to give consistent results. It’s also a good idea to consider testing the hay before you purchase it. Quite a lot of the time I see sample results that are very high in sugar for example, not a good choice for your horse and nice to know BEFORE buying a whole years worth!
So, if you own your own property or are on agistment where your paddocks generally stay the same and you have a supply of the same hay for most of the year, then your on track for testing. Email me for info on how to get started.
Even if you are going to test, I always recommend clients get their horses on Missy’s Bucket minerals to start them off anyway. The testing process can take a month or two, so its good to get your horse on something strait away and in most cases even after testing, I will incorporate Missy’s Bucket minerals into the balance. You also don’t want to add everything at once so getting started on Missy’s Trace mix give you the jump for when you do have your total supplement shopping list!
As for the cost, usually a hay and pasture sample plus postage costs around $95 or so depending on the exchange rate and number of samples you need to send off. I use Equi-Analytical Lab in the US. Seems strange to use a US lab until you realize that it’s actually cheaper than AU labs. Also there a many of us who use this same lab and it means that we can all compare results and work together if necessary as we know the samples have been analysed and reported in the same way.
I charge $200 to balance a diet for one horse. If a second or third horse is very similar they can tag along for free. If the subsequent horse/s have very different needs there will be an extra charge per horse depending on how complicated their history is.
If you’ve decided that you’re not in a position to test, here’s option number two…
OPTION 2) – GOING WITH THE EDUCATED GUESS
After many years of testing pastures and studying hundreds of pasture and hay analyses, it becomes fairly clear that there is a predictable pattern of mineral deficiency in the average horse diet.
Minerals are broken down into classes of ‘Trace’ meaning they are only present in tiny amounts, (they are nonetheless very important) and ‘Major’ Minerals.
TRACE MINERALS – The two most commonly deficient trace minerals are Copper and Zinc, followed by Selenium (mainly in the south eastern region of Aus). We can generally bank on a predictable level of supplementation for these three traces. Iodine also gets a look in here and it’s often good to supplement an ‘insurance’ level of this one too.
Missy’s Bucket Mineral Mix has been formulated to supply these most commonly deficient trace minerals, it also includes some important amino acids, vitamins and biotin which has been shown to help hoof health.
I specifically developed Missy’s Bucket for people who were not in a position to test their forage. It’s an excellent value, average or educated guess trace mineral mix. In my opinion, unless you’ve actually tested the forage and balanced your horses diet from scratch, EVERY horse should be on Missy’s Bucket!
MAJOR MINERALS – For the Major minerals, we often need to add Magnesium, Calcium and Phosphorus. The Major mineral however, are very difficult to guess at, as the quantity that is needed can vary widely and is dependent on many factors, also it’s often the ratio of minerals that is more important than the amount. For example we know that too much phosphorus in relation to calcium can cause bone pathology (big head) so blindly supplementing the major minerals is generally not a good idea, you can sometimes make the problems worse if you don’t know the ratio’s!
Missy’s Bucket does not contain any Major minerals for this reason.
MAGNESIUM – The one exception to this would be Magnesium. Magnesium is very commonly deficient and it’s generally regarded as being a safe one to supplement in low levels. Magnesium Oxide is usually the form I recommend, you can find it in the SHOP. If buying elsewhere, ensure it’s Australian mined, often the cheaper imported forms can be VERY high in Iron which we now know to be toxic to horses in high levels.
The other exception to Major mineral supplementation is if your horse is grazing oxalate pasture, more details on this later.
OTHER FEEDING CONSIDERATIONS:
SALT – Extra salt is necessary to maintain sodium levels within the body and horse feed is often lacking in sodium. This is important to keep the electrolytes balanced and is particularly necessary in hot weather or when your horse is sweating during exercise. For the average sized horse feed two tablespoon (60g) of plain table salt per day. Add another tablespoon for every hour of sweating work or on very hot days where the horse is sweating in the paddock. Sodium deficiency can show up as dehydration, poor exercise tolerance, muscle fatigue and colic.
FEED A HIGH FORAGE DIET
The main component of any horses diet should be good quality hay and/or pasture. Horses evolved eating long stemmed forage and it’s essential for gut health. For most horses their protein and energy needs will be well and truly met with a forage only diet. Unless your horse is working very hard or has health issues, they simply do not need a high protein or energy feed.
Where possible try and source good quality plain grass or meadow hay. Avoid hays such as improved rye, clover or hays that have been grown specifically for cattle (milk and meat production). These improved pasture species often result in hay that is very high in sugar, not at all good for your horse, especially if you have a horse prone to Laminitis and hoof problems. Native pasture is best if you can find it!
PAY ATTENTION TO THE OMEGA BALANCE IN YOUR FEEDS
Feeds such as corn, canola and vegetable oils, rice bran and black sunflower seeds all have an inverted omega 3 to 6 ratio. It is important to make sure this ratio stays at a level that reflects that of the horses natural diet, grass. This is in the range of 4:1-6:1 omega 3 to 6’s. The omega 3’s are known to be anti-inflammatory, in other words they help resolve inflammation in the body, whereas the omega 6’s are known to be pro-inflammatory, meaning they can worsen inflammation. If feeding high omega 6 feeds you must balance this with the addition of an omega 3 supplement. Best to avoid high omega 6 feeds to start with. The best source of omega 3’s in my opinion is Flax or linseeds or chia seeds. Check the label on your current feed! Many commercial feeds contain high Omega 6 ingredients. See my BLOG for more info – Article on Sunflower seeds and Article on Linseeds.
If your horse has limited access to green pasture or if the pasture has dried out for long periods then it’s a good idea to supplement Omega 3’s as hay and dried pasture can be lacking.
WITH ALL OF THE ABOVE IN MIND, A COMMON DIET FOR THE AVERAGE 500KG HORSE MAY LOOK SOMETHING LIKE THIS:
· Good quality pasture and hay – preferably native species or unimproved.
· Missy’s Bucket mineral mix – 30g daily (two 15ml scoops)
· Magnesium Oxide – 10-15g daily (one 15ml scoop = 15g approx.)
· Plain white salt – 60g/day, more on hot days or if sweating for long periods.
Always mix powdered supplements with a DAMP feed to reduce sifting and to avoid inhalation of powders.
WHAT SHOULD I USE AS A CARRIER FEED?
I usually recommend the following feeds as carriers for supplements. These feeds can be increased if you feel your horse needs more energy or if you want to increase body condition (weight) and grass and hay is just not cutting it.
Maxisoy – Low GI super fiber pellets, find HERE. Must be soaked (5-10 mins) in 4 times its weight in water, for example for every cup of pellets, soak with 4 cups of water. I often start with 1-2 cups/day (dry weight)
Lucern/oaten chaff – 1-3 scoops daily.
Speedibeet/Micrabeet type feeds are also good, I just like Maxisoy as it’s quicker to soak and cheaper. Feeds like Hygain Zero are also OK, but again more expensive.
WHAT IF MY HORSE IS ON OXALATE PASTURE?
Oxalate pasture blocks calcium absorption so if your horse is grazing Oxalate pasture then you will need to supplement higher levels of Calcium. Even more reason to actually TEST your pasture in this case. As a general rule, the % of oxalate grass your horse is grazing is the % of calcium that will be blocked from that pasture. For example if your horse is grazing 100% Kikuyu grass then you can assume that 100% of the calcium from that pasture is being blocked. If the horse is grazing 30% Kikuyu (or any other oxalate species) then assume that 30% of the calcium from the pasture is being blocked.
You will firstly need to identify the pasture species in your horse paddock to determine how much of it contains oxalates and then you’ll need to determine how much of that particular species your horse is actually eating. Go out and observe your horses whilst grazing in order to get a rough idea.
An average 500kg horse needs around:
- 40g of calcium/day for maintenance.
- 60g of calcium/day for light work
- 70g of calcium/day for moderate work
- 80g of calcium/day for heavy work
Calcium Carbonate, the most common form of Calcium you’re likely to find at the feed store, is approx. 35-40% calcium. Therefore a horse on maintenance (no work) will need around 100g of calcium carbonate/day to provide 100% of required calcium when the diet consists of 100% oxalate pasture, and so on..
The info above is for demonstration only. There are many variables that need to be considered in this situation and I’d highly recommend testing pasture in this situation if possible.
Oxalates in pasture can also vary according to environmental conditions and growth stages of the plant. They tend to be higher in new growth and in wet weather.
If your horse is grazing oxalate pastures and begins to show signs of shifting lameness, this may be a sign that the calcium levels are too low.
A reasonable place to start could include supplementing with a 2:1 mix of DCP and Calcium Carbonate at 20-40g/day for an average sized horse. This amount of supplemental calcium may cause palatability problems. Another alternative would be to feed 3kg/day of lucern hay.
DOES MY HORSE NEED EXTRA IRON?
Iron is the one thing that our horses do not need! Iron is very high in all horse feeds and excess can be detrimental to our horses health. Excess Iron has been shown to worsen inflammatory conditions, aggravate Insulin resistance and metabolic problems, interfere with the absorption of other essential trace minerals such as copper and zinc and weaken the immune system.
Resent research has proven that Iron is toxic to horses when fed in excess, and I can tell you without a doubt that in many horse diets it’s ALREADY IN EXCESS AND APPROACHING TOXIC LEVELS! (Just one of the perks of carrying out regular pasture tests). Check feed labels and mineral supplement labels, if it has added Iron don’t touch it!
CAN I FEED MISSY’S BUCKET WITH SUPPLEMENT ‘X’?
Missy’s Bucket is formulated to be the only trace mineral supplement your horse needs. Therefore it’s not recommended to feed it alongside large amounts of other highly fortified feeds or trace mineral supplements. This however, really depends on how much of the other feed you want to feed and it’s content of trace minerals. Read the label and if the trace mineral content isn’t clearly listed, contact the company and ask for more information.
The main Trace minerals in Missy’s Bucket that you want to avoid in large amounts elsewhere, are Selenium and Iodine, both of which could make your horse sick if overdosed.
Read the label and/or get the info from the company, if your still confused or worried, send me the info and I’m happy to have a look for you. But please do the legwork yourself and get me the analysis!
IS FEED/SUPPLEMENT ‘X’ A GOOD HORSE FEED?
Have a look at the label. Does either the label or the company website have a full list of ingredients and do they provide a detailed analysis including trace mineral amounts? If not, can you contact the company and request this info? If not, I’d advise against feeding it.
Does the feed contain ingredients that are high in Omega 6’s? If your horse has inflammatory issues such as skin conditions or arthritis you will definitely want to avoid excess Omega 6’s for the reasons already stated above in the discussion on Omega balance. See link in that discussion for more details on Omega balance and ingredients to avoid.
Does it contain Molasses? Sugar is BAD FOR YOUR HORSE! More on this later.
Does it have added Iron? Sad to say, most fortified feeds and mineral supplements do. Just another of the reasons I developed Missy’s Bucket Mineral Mix. I recently sent several samples of Missy’s Bucket to the lab and I’m happy to report that the iron levels were so low that they were barely detectable in the sample at all.
And just another note on Iron… many forms of other minerals can be very high in Iron too, DCP (Di Calcium Phosphate) and some forms of Magnesium oxide for example. Choose Monosodium Phosphate and Australian Magnesium Oxide for Phosphorus and Magnesium supplementation instead. And if your current feed or mineral supplement lists DCP on the label for example, know that this will increase the iron content even if Iron is not listed as an ingredient!
WHAT ABOUT LAMINITIS?
Horses prone to Laminitis and Founder have special dietary requirements as their diet needs to be kept under 10% ESC plus Starch (measures of carbohydrates in the diet). It is also really important that these horses receive an optimal trace and major mineral balance. Once again, testing the forage is important here but if you can’t, the general guidelines set out in this document should be followed.
Magnesium is also particularly important for the Laminitis prone horse and should always be supplemented at a rate of around 5-10g/day. Equal to 10-15g magnesium oxide.
Managing Laminitis requires a whole horse management approach which involves, not only getting the diet right, but also making sure the horse is trimmed appropriately, is comfortable and in the right living conditions. There are MANY things you can do to rehabilitate your horse and or prevent laminitis from occurring in the first place. For great trimming services from trimmers you can trust, go HERE.
Laminitis IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE, but it can be confusing and overwhelming for any owner, even very experienced horse people! To help you along here, a Rebecca Scott from GoBarefoot and I wrote a ‘How to’ book on managing and rehabilitating the Laminitic horse. If your concerned about Laminitis, have a laminitic horse in your care, know of one or especially if you just want to avoid and prevent it happening in the first place, I’d highly recommend you purchase our book!
It’s the ONLY GUIDE YOU WILL NEED on Laminitis. Its in the SHOP.
There is much conflicting advice out there on the internet, much of it is outdated and simply wrong.
Don’t get confused, get the book. Or the eBook if you’d prefer HERE.
MY HORSE IS STIFF AND I’M WORRIED ABOUT ARTHRITIS…?
Yes joint supplements can help your horse and prevent arthritis from developing or getting worse BUT… the dose needs to be correct or it wont work! And unfortunately, one of the main ingredients in most joint supplements, Chondroitin, is VERY expensive! For this reason, there are many joint supplements on the market that are taking people for a ride.
Research is clearly identifying Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM as being beneficial for joint health and repair. These ingredients are known to have healing, protective and preventative effects for horses suffering or at risk of suffering from joint arthritis, pain and inflammation. Not only can these ingredients repair damage but they are also thought to have a preventative effect.
Research has also clearly shown that they must be present in adequate amounts to have any beneficial effects. The average sized horse needs 10g Glucosamine, 7.5g Chondroitin and 20g MSM per day. If your supplement doesn’t contain close to these amounts then your likely wasting your money! Again, read the supplement label.
I’ve been getting some fantastic feedback from my Joint FX formula, its also in the SHOP, so if your not 100% with your joint supplement or are not sure of the levels of actives, try this one.
If your horse is very sore I would also recommend you combine the Joint FX with my Joint and Pain Herbal Fx for the ultimate in joint and pain killing effect.
MY HORSE’S HOOVES ARE NOT HEALTHY… WHAT CAN I FEED TO HELP?
See my Article in the BLOG on feeding for Hoof Health.
If your horse is wearing shoes, take them off. For help on this one go HERE. If your not in Victoria contact me for interstate trimming help.