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Finding a Safe Path to Feeding Your Horse

November 17, 2011

With Zoe Davies, Msc Eq. S., R Nutr.

The newly formed New Barn Riders gathered in force on the 16th November to hear a talk by leading independent equine nutritionist Zoe Davies. Zoe is an expert on the subject, having published eight books on equine nutrition, and is also a regular contributor to HORSEScene magazine.

Zoe’s talk was designed to take the mystery out of feeding, and she walked her audience step-by-step through the process of choosing a diet to produce a healthy, habit horse.

“Many people are confused by the vast range of feeds on offer,’ she explained. “Most feed companies now produce a range of 15 – 20 different types, compared with the two or three on offer 20 years ago. Horse owners are understandably confused between all the feeds on the market.”

Zoe reminded us that every manufacturer is legally obliged to put certain statutory information on the bag, including the batch number, the nutritional analysis and the purpose of the feed, the ingredients being listed in order from the highest proportion to the lowest.

Large feed manufacturers use sophisticated milling and mixing equipment to ensure consistency of the feed, but with feed from smaller companies the quality, consistency and even ingredients may differ from bag to bag.

Many feeds have added ingredients such as vitamin E, which is a useful addition but expensive, meaning that many cheaper feeds have low levels of added vitamin E. Some manufacturers also add vitamin C; however this is not only unnecessary but can be harmful. Horses can manufacture their own vitamin C in their livers, and if fed additional vitamin C can gradually lose their ability to manufacture it.

“Most so-called ‘complete feeds’ are not ideal for horses in light work, as they must be fed according to the manufacturers’ instructions to give enough nutrients. This may equate to much more bulk that you want to feed.

Always ensure your horse has free access to water. Photo copyright Vassil, Wikimedia Commons 2007

Another common problem area that I see with many horses is the use of cool mixes. Many so-called cool mixes, ostensibly designed to give your horse energy without ‘hotting up’, have very high starch levels. These feeds contain no oats, but do contain barley. True cool mixes should contain no more than 15% starch in order to have the desired effect. GAIN Easy Go is one of the lowest starch feeds on the market, containing only 8%.”

The increasingly competitive horse feed market has led to many manufacturers pushing vitamin, mineral and nutritional levels right up to the maximum permitted levels, in order to try and gain a competitive edge over their rivals. As a result, Zoe is starting to see more and more horses with toxicity of the liver.

“Most horses in light or medium work require only good quality forage and a balancer. Balancers provide a concentrated hit of vitamins and minerals, without adding bulk or unnecessary ingredients to the diet. They must not be overfed, and must be fed at the same rate every day.”

Feed good quality forage such as hay or haylage. Photo copyright BLW, Wikimedia Commons 2007

Zoe then moved onto the thorny topic of supplements. Any supplement that claims to have a medical benefit, such as the management of laminitis, must be licensed by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Many supplements designed to target a certain problem, such as poor hoof growth, contain many added vitamins and minerals in addition to those needed.  If you are already feeding a vitamin supplement, you could be in danger of overdosing with certain nutrients.  If possible, it’s better to feed ‘straight’ supplements such as biotin, which are specific to one area. Many people feed herbal supplements, believing they’re offering their horse the ‘natural’ alternative, but in Zoe’s opinion no herb should be fed long term as there has been insufficient research on the long term effects. An example of this is comfrey, which used to be available as a skin and coat conditioner and was later found to contain liver toxins.

Allow your horse free access to salt in the stable or field. Photo copyright Beentree, Wikimedia Commons 2007

Zoe ended her talk with a reminder not to over feed, always to follow manufacturers’ instructions for the best results.

New Barn Riders would like to thank Zoe for such an interesting, informative and thought-provoking talk.

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