Horses should spend about 18 to 20 hours a day with access to forage. Horses have evolved to be trickle feeders in which they are required to be chewing or occupied by food for a large portion of the day. They need to be fed as close to the natural diet they evolved to eat. High-fibre forage in the form of grass or hay should represent the majority of their diet.
For horse owners, feeding horses is an enjoyable and fulfilling task. It’s nice to see them enjoy eating. Although I haven’t done any competing or clinics for years now, I still remember the blissful sound of my horse munching at their hay through the night while sleeping in the float. A sound of contentment, unlike the sound of a snoring husband...lol.
It is, however, easy to make mistakes when planning for your equine’s dietary needs. Below are the top 7 things you need to avoid when feeding your horses.
Providing hay or other feeds to our friendly companions daily is very important. But it’s easy to go overboard when feeding them with the wrong hard feeds or hay that is too high in sugar or protein.
Overfeeding leads to problems like obesity, laminitis, and colic. Healthy horses need a very simple diet of good pasture or hay. They only need supplements if there is a shortfall in nutrition. Knowing your horse’s weight, the weight of his feed and using slow feeders keeps you from overfeeding them.
This is why using slow feeding nets like the GutzBusta® Slow Feed Hay Nets is very important. It can significantly regulate the amount of hay consumption that results in better body weight. We have had many customers tell us that by using our hay nets, they have found that overweight horses lose weight and skinny horses put on weight. They also tell us that the aggressiveness at eating time leaves the herd when there is always hay available.
Horses spending a lot of time in their stable also suffer from boredom easily. By using slow feeders, you are allowing them to eat strands of hay at once, not huge mouthfuls, focusing more on their food and becoming more satisfied with something in their stomach all of the time.
Not giving access to fresh and clean water
We all know that giving access to water is essential to make your horses healthy. However, simply giving them water is not enough. You need to make sure that it’s fresh, clean and not contaminated.
If you’re using a water trough or a bucket, check for green algae growth or any other contaminant that may have fallen in such as a dead bird. Dams and ponds are a good source of drinking water for horses, but you need to ensure there is adequate water depth so horses aren’t forced to drink the putrid water of a near-empty dam.
Always remember that your horse’s water consumption also depends on their body weight. A study has shown that horses of similar body weight and breed may have different intakes. An idle horse can drink 3 to 7 litres of water per 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of body weight. This is equivalent to around 4 to 9 gallons for a 1,100-pound (500-kilogram) horse. During summer or when in work, this intake drastically increases.
Feeding them by biscuit
Some horse owners tend to feed their horses by biscuit of hay. While it may look easy and convenient, feeding them should always be by weight as their fibre requirements depend on their body weight. The problem with feeding by biscuit is that a biscuit of lucerne hay is significantly heavier than a biscuit of pasture hay. This is particularly a problem when feeding overweight, laminitic or EMS horses and ponies. Therefore, you could be either overfeeding or underfeeding your horse if you’re basing the amount of hay by biscuit.
As much as it is important to not overfeed an overweight horse, it is equally important to not underfeed them with hay or fibre. Underfeeding creates stress which triggers cortisol release that actually increases the risk and management of laminitis. This is where ideally low sugar or high nutritional hay can be sourced and at-risk horses can therefore be given a constant supply of safe hay (in a GutzBusta Hay Net) and not have any insulin spikes as happens with spasmodic feeding.
A horse should eat approximately 1.5 to 2.5% of its body weight. Therefore, a 500-kilogram horse that is working moderately should be getting 10 to 12 kilograms of forage per day. If your horse is overweight, feeding them 1.5% of their body weight per day is advisable.
In spring and autumn, horses tend to become overweight because they ingest more calories or higher sugar pasture. This can lead to a condition like laminitis. If you’re just feeding hay to your equines, then weighing hay instead of feeding per biscuit will help you determine how much they should consume.
This is where you can maximise the use of your GutzBusta® Slow Feed Hay Nets. You can load up the nets with the right amount of hay suitable for your horses in whatever quantity suits your individual requirements.
You can also regulate the feeding rate by choosing a net hole size that suits your individual horse or pony as our hay nets are available in 3cm, 4cm and 6cm holes. We also offer a hay weigher, a perfect tool to help you identify what volume of hay your horses should be getting based on their lifestyle.
Over-supplementing is a real problem many horse owners face. Some horse owners will purchase more than one over the counter supplement after reading the claims on the label of the product. They often believe that it will help their horses have a longer and stronger competitive life without consulting a veterinarian or an equine nutritionist.
Instead of buying a mass of supplements, it’s worth your time and money to work with a specialist first. An equine nutritionist can help you determine what your horses need specifically in regards to vitamins and minerals from analysing their hay, grass and other additives they are being fed.
Before adding any supplements to their diet, they will recommend you to check the ingredients of your horses’ feeds or have your hay checked to see if it already has any specific nutrients. By working with them, you will also have a deeper understanding of equine nutrition and your horses’ dietary requirements that will help you know what steps should be taken next.
Always remember, when in doubt, consult an expert. It is worthwhile working with independent Equine Nutritionists such as Larissa Bilston from Farmalogic to guide you on this subject.
Not providing salt
Salt or the combination of sodium and chloride is essential to the horse’s health. It’s important to maintain their electrolyte balance, muscle contraction and digestion of protein. It also plays a vital role in the absorption of nutrients in their small intestine.
The importance of salt in the equine’s diet is sometimes overlooked by horse owners. Some people don't know that when horses don’t have access to salt for a long period of time, salt deficiency may develop.
Possible symptoms of salt deficiency are pica (eating unusual things), dehydration, lack of sweat, decreased appetite, and reduced muscle coordination. To avoid this, salt is often added to the equine’s diet since hay or pasture grasses don’t contain enough sodium. Some will put loose salt on their feed, but salt blocks are the most commonly used form of sodium chloride for horses. Iodised salt licks are a great investment.
Access to salt blocks will allow your horses to self regulate their salt intake. You can effectively do this by putting it in a hay net like the GutzBusta® Salt Lick Nets. This will enable you to hang your salt lick off the ground. No rope goes through your salt lick, so it won't fall to the ground as it gets licked away. Less wastage, no fuss.
Giving poor-quality hay
Buying hay can be difficult, especially in a drought. This is why it’s important to find hay alternatives to avoid giving poor-quality hay to your horses. Poor hay can cause nutritional deficiencies to your companions, while mouldy hay can be dangerous for their lungs and can cause colic.
If you’re experiencing hay shortage, there are products available to help stretch out your hay supply with various substitutes to hay that you can use to feed your horses. Beet pulp is one option that you can use as it’s a good source of fibre. It can be incorporated with feeds or hay, too.
If you’re looking for other hay substitutes, you can also try soybean hulls. Soybean hulls stimulate cecal fermentation and are sometimes a great substitute or addition to help prolong your hay when supply dwindles. These are rich in fibre and accepted well by most horses.
Always remember that as a horse owner, you also need to do your own research to know what suits your horse’s needs. For overweight horses and ponies, we often hear that they should be fed low-quality hay or rough hay. This is, however incorrect to a degree. They should be fed low sugar, high-quality nutritional hay.
Changing their hay abruptly
If you’re planning to change your horse’s hay, you need to make sure that you’re doing it gradually. Changing feeds is ideally done slowly as sudden changes can also disrupt the good bacteria in their body, which can lead to stress.
According to a study by National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements for Horses, “any changes in the amount or form of feed—including grain or concentrates, hay, and pasture—should be made gradually due to the horse’s sensitive digestive system. Gradual feed changes lessen the risk of colic due to digestive upset”.
Aim to substitute only 25% of your horse’s current feed ration every other day. A gradual change from one feed to another will give your horse’s gut enough time to adapt.