What is the
Best Horse Feed?
Know what drives your equine's health and feeding costs..,
It’s not so easy to find information on the best horse feed programs and if you do it is often technical and dry, so much so that it’s almost impossible to digest.
When I started this section of the web site, my intent was to give a starting place when figuring out how to
grade healthy horse food
alternatives or other healthy horse food supplements, as well as to look at ways to read feed labels with a more informed vision.
However, as I went along, it became apparent that what was also needed was a way to easily synthesize through reams of technical information and try to make it easy to read by giving an over-all view of the possible best horse feed and nutrition ideas for their horse’s health and feeding program.
I figure this kind of information will not only benefit our equine friends, but will also keep those extra hands out of our proverbial Levi pockets, by reducing unnecessary bills that have been foisted on, or marketed to us, through unintentionally poor feeding practices.
It is said that the horse came to us millions of years ago as a forest dwelling, dog sized animal. Grazing on tough native grasses it is felt that they traveled 25 or more miles per day moving west and south until various species of Equus had established themselves in places such as Asia, Europe and Africa.
Did you know that the horse became totally extinct in North America about 10,000 years ago? And that it was explorers who eventually re-introduced them back to the plains they once roamed?
The horse is an animal of prey. This means that the horse does not eat meat. It is a grazer and the best horse feed meant that a horse was living on a low energy or low sugar diet which is more easily digested by their gut. Horses are designed to take in food continuously and move gently all the time.
Does it sometimes seem that horses prefer not to work? That’s probably because as the horse evolved, speed was reserved for emergencies such as running away from those who are looking at the prey animal as something for their dinner plate.
A horse’s health..,
In the good ol days, the best horse feed horses ate was sparse and generally fibrous. Fibrous food came in large amounts of hard to digest cellulose, which is a low energy diet, not the sugars in foods today.
In order to digest this large amount of cellulose, horses evolved into the modern equine of the day with 3 large fermentation sacs – the cecum, ventral and dorsal colons. These sacs contain digestive bacteria that are able to break down the hard to digest cellulose and allow the colons to absorb the fatty acids which the horse will use for energy through its liver.
It is said that many of our modern days horse’s health problems are a result of the changes we have brought into the horse’s lifestyle.., probably starting as far back as when we began domesticating them for transportation, war, agriculture etc. It is the change in feed, our understanding of their best horse feeding practices, frequencies and general understanding of the Equus that more than likely produces much of their health issues and contributes greatly to our vet bills.
But what can we do? The great grazing plains of the past are gone. Environments are far more controlled and limiting to the long distances and fibrous hard to digest grasses that they are used to in their yesteryears.
As I try and learn more about what makes a healthy horse tick, I have learned that it is the processing of “sugars” which are a concern to our equine friends.
It seems that carbohydrates are a plants link to sugars and that all sugars are carbohydrates. However, not all carbohydrates are sugars.
Plants produce sugars through molecules such as glucose. How digestible the sugar is to the horse depends on the complexity of the molecule. The complexity of the molecule depends on the stage of the life cycle of the plant which is being eaten by the horse.
How are sugars produced?
Understanding sugars is a fascinating look at a plant. Sunlight, the life blood of all growing things, gives a plant the energy to change water and carbon dioxide into simple sugars which bind together to provide starch.
As the plant matures, starches continue to accumulate and begin to bind into longer and longer chains and molecules eventually becoming cellulose or the building material for cell walls.
Nitrogen, a mix we generally give our plants, causes the cell walls to become stronger and firmer on a plant. Nitrogen comes from the roots of our plants and mixes with the long chains of cellulose to make for a rigid and mature plant. This is called lignin.
As the plant ages, the product becomes progressively less digestible, fiberous, and less “hot”. Hot refers to the sugars and starch within the plant. Digestibility is from sugar to starch to cellulose to lignin.., lignin being the most rigid and more mature stage of a particular plant.
So, what does all this mean? It means that generally speaking, grasses in the early growth stage of spring are high in sugars and starch, and that this is a dangerous mix which is considered “hot” and not the best horse feed for your equine friend.
As the plant continues to mature and finally grows a seed head and dies back, it is then that it leaves a product which is almost totally indigestible to the horse.
How does the horse digest?
Having a basic understanding of how a horse digests its food is important part of its feeding program. I will cover this more thourghly later on but will include here a general outline so that we can understand the basic through-fare the best horse food takes when we feed our equine friends.
Did you know that the horse’s digestive tract is
closely related to the pig?
Animals need to be fed to their physical makeup. Horses exemplify this requirement in their
best horse feed practices.
So if we start from the beginning.., from the horse’s mouth so to speak…, let’s find out where the food originates and the path it takes.
The Best Horse Feed..,
The horse's food enters the mouth of an animal as he eats or in this case grazes. Chewing and saliva aid in the break-down of the plants cell walls and begin the process of breaking down the starches. The food is swallowed and passes through the esophagus to the stomach.
The horse has a very small stomach compared to its size. It is not much larger than a human’s. Because of this and its lack of chambers the horse’s stomach is called a “simple” stomach.
The stomach in a horse is a place which accepts the incoming feed and mixes it with an acid which starts breaking down the food’s proteins. Nutrients are not necessarily absorbed by the horses body here, but begin to be picked up by the animal as the broken down food moves on down through the small intestine.
Did you know that large meals are not the best horse feed program and may do more harm than good to your horse? Not only can they make your animal over weight, they can also over fill the stomach which leads to too much acid and possibly the development of ulcers, particularly if the food is high in the sugars we mentioned earlier.
The small intestine mixes the processed food with various enzymes which prove the best horse feed to become less acidic. Simple sugars pass through the small intestine wall and are carried by the blood vessels to the liver. The horse’s blood stream releases insulin to help the animal’s muscles absorb the sugars from the bloodstream.
The small intestine also aids in digestion of fat. Fat-balls leave the small intestine walls and are collected in the lymph glands in the horse’s neck where they enter the bloodstream. Proteins are bound and sent to the tissues where they are needed most.
The Hind Gut..,
The food moves through the small intestine towards the hind gut. These remains are generally the high fiber indigestible portions as we talked about earlier.
The hind gut is made out of 3 large fermentation sacs. These fermentation sacs break down the resulting product to various simple fats which enter the body as energy. Fermentation takes place through bacteria.
The bacteria which can be found in the hind gut is beneficial to the horse’s digestion system. Damage to this process can cause severe problems.
Did you know? There are a range of different bacteria present in the horses digestive tract. If good bacteria starts to die in vast numbers they may release toxins that can be absorbed by the colon walls which can be a cause of founder.
There are 2 large fermentation sacs which are able to absorb water soluble vitamins. They are joined by small narrow pipes and are the place where horses may experience blockages or some forms of colic.
And finally the remains move along to the rectum whose walls form the fecal balls which ultimately expel the best horse feed waste from the animals body.
The Horse, our Friend, and their Best Horse Feed program..,
• The horse is an animal in balance.
• The horse was born a grazer but whose best horse feed regime has been changed through human necessity and misunderstanding over time.
• The horse needs to be fed fiber.
• Horses are better with small every so often meals over a large meal which over fills their “simple stomach”.
• It is vital for the horse owner to understand the basic make up of the horse.
• It’s true that different horses require different feed.., but misunderstanding the basic requirements of the horse can have costly outcomes and painful consequences for our equine friends.
Links to more best horse feed ideas:
with All Natural Horse Care and Jenny Edwards. Jenny Edwards started her career working at a large riding stable where she was introduced to different horse activities including Western and English riding, breeding and teaching. This is an excellent website where she talks about the various feeding and general health of the horse.
with Sarah Bell. Sarah's priority is healthy horses. She is a Naturopathic practitioner who studies the foundation blocks which make up the well being of a horse. This website covers the basic nutrition and feeding of a horse from a Naturopathic view.
PLEASE NOTE: This web page is based on the research and conversations that we have had with various people and professionals on the subject of horses health and horse wormer requirements and is not intended to replace veterinary care for your animals. We do not accept liability for errors or omissions. A vet, horse nutritionist or other trained professional should always be consulted with any equine concerns, or before changing any feeding or care regime.