You’ve decided to give your horse some time off work. He’s either kept in a small pasture or a stall with a run attached, but you aren’t riding. Since he isn’t getting ridden, you decide there’s no need to feed supplements but continue to feed good quality hay because:
“He isn’t getting worked, he doesn’t need supplements” ......... “He’s fat and happy” .........
“Its prime quality hay” ......
This is a common scenario for many horse owners. So how well does this diet satisfy your horses’ nutritional needs? Of course, every horse is different so as an example I have used my own horse as the subject of a full diet analysis using the details as follows:
7yo Arabian mare, weight approx.1070 pounds, normal keeper, maintenance (no work) and I’m wanting to maintain her weight. The following shows an analysis feeding 50% prime alfalfa & 50% grass hay at the rate of 2% of her bodyweight with no additional supplements.
As we can see, protein levels are much higher than needed but there are inadequate levels of some vitamins and minerals. Adding more hay might assist in bringing these levels up but also add more of everything else! There are both long and short-term consequences feeding a diet that is not balanced, including ill-thrift, poor topline and possibly even lameness issues. While your horse may look “fat and shiny” he may not be getting adequate nutrients for things such as proper nerve and organ function, skin, tendon, muscle, and bone health.
I understand there needs to be a practical element when it comes to feeding. Not everyone has the time, money, or inclination to mix a variety of ingredients to get an ideal diet. That is where the feed companies play a role with products such as ration balancers. You should still however do your research and /or seek out the advice of a qualified nutritionist. There is never a “one size fits all” situation and some feeds are most definitely better than others!
Jenni Fugate is a team member of The Equine Expert LLC, a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm offering legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases, legal matters, appraisals, and business affairs. Jenni is an expert in Arabians, Teaching, Dressage and Biomechanics. She is a native of Australia and has been working with horses since she was a child, she studied at Melbourne University and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Equine). She now lives in Utah on her farm where she trains and teaches. For more information on Jenni visit www.theequineexpert.com or you may contact Jenni at Jenni@theequineexpert.com. The opinions expressed are those of Jenni as an expert equestrian.