Reprinted with permission
FEED What You NEED
by Linda Todor-Newcomb
- 28 years old and at her new home, the Humane Connection.
|"Kelly" - 4 months later
and remarkably improved.
When it comes to feeding horses, everyone has an opinion,
and I am no different! But my formula for successful horse
feeding is simple...feed what you need.
I know that this theory sounds oversimplified, but it's
the only one that will save you money and still do the
best job of feeding each of your individual horses. By
the way, that's the key word, "individual."
A broodmare has different needs than an older gerding,
and a pony's requirements are much different that those
of a 6-month-old foal.
When you think of feeding a horse or pony, the first
things that come to mind might be pasture grass and hay.
In fact, those two components are the very basis for your
feeding program. For those who are lucky enough to have
a reasonable pasture, only supplemental hay may be necessary
(as your pasture starts to dwindle, so should your hay
For some pleasure horses or ponies, that may be all that
is required to keep your animal looking in good flesh.
On the other hand, what about the performance horse, show
horse, endurance horse, trail horse, broodmare, etc? With
many of these types, supplemental grain may be in order.
But what kind of grain should you consider feeding? It
depends on what is available to you and cost may be a
The average pleasure horse and trail horse may require
light graining with as little as 8% protein. That is the
approximate protein in shelled corn, which is what I,
personally, like as a base feed for most horses two years
and over. It is usually a less expensive grain, very accessible
to most areas, and highly beneficial. (MYTHS: Corn produces
heat in horses and should be used only in winter. Corn
causes impaction. Corn is a dangerous feed for horses.
FACTS: Corn does NOT produce heat in horses, fiber
is what will help a horse stay warm (hay). Corn does not
cause impaction. Any feed can cause impaction when adequate
water is not provided with feed or there is a major problem
with chewing of the feed. Corn produces excellent results
in horses and if you try it, you'll love it!)
Most pre-mixed feeds sold in 50-lb bags will be between
12% and 14%, with some even running 16%. These mixes would
be more suitable for young horses (under 2 years), broodmares
in the last trimester, or performance horses that will
require a higher energy level (although some older horses
may also do better on a higher protein formula).
While there would be nothing wrong with feeding these
pre-mixes to horses on a light work schedule, these high-powered
feeds may bring more benefit to your own beliefs than
to your horse's actual health. Though they will do no
harm, they may be more costly than other feeds that will
be more suitable to the level of nutrition your horse
What are the needs of young horses? Higher protein levels,
and nutrients that will provide for good bones and flesh.
How do we obtain such a balance? It could actually be
achieved in several ways.
Firstly, you could take a corn base (your 8% protein)
and add things to it that would achieve what you are specifically
striving toward. For instance, to the basic corn, you
could add roasted soybeans or soybean meal to raise the
protein level, a balanced calcium/phosphorus compound
(often called di-cal) to develop good bones, and a general
vitamin A, D, and E supplement. And to top it off (in
some areas) it would be a good idea to add small amounts
of selenium, which is imperative for healthy muscle tissue.
Without it, you could run into problems with tying-up
(Azoturia) or periodic muscle problems. Too MUCH selenium
can become dangerously toxic in your horse's system. Your
feed store will be able to help you in determining just
how much selenium (if any) should be in your feed mix.
On the other hand, if you only have one or two young
horses, you may be further ahead by simply purchasing
the pre-mixed feeds, balanced for general horse consumption...the
choice is yours.
The same type of mixes might be very suitable for your
pregnant mare in her last trimester. Consult your veterinarian
for your horse's specific needs, as every horse may benefit
from something more detailed to his or her individual
Should we add molasses to our custom feed mixes? Molasses
certainly tends to make feed mixes more palatable, but
it does not necessarily add any major nutrient to your
formula. In fact, in some horses, the sugar content may
produce the same effect in your horse that it does in
children that eat too much sugar. Once again, you must
be your own judge as to what may or may not be suitable
for your own horse.
What about vitamin supplements? Are they necessary? They
may only be beneficial when a particular nutrient is lacking
in the basic diet you feed. For instance, I mentioned
selenium earlier. Selenium is greatly absent from the
soil in Wisconsin and there is no real source for it in
the things that are grown and fed to horses. In order
to correct that deficiency, we supplement it into the
feeds we mix for our horses.
When it comes to vitamin supplements, there is a myriad
to choose from, but which ones REALLY benefit your horse?
Simply go back to the basic theory of "feed what
you need." If you are looking for energy in your
horse, look for a feed supplement with a strong vitamin
B-Complex base. If your horse is seriously lacking energy,
you might require something in a blood builder with iron.
Are you looking for a gleaming, shiny coat? Corn fed
to horses as a base seems to provide one of the most healthy
coats I've ever seen, but if you really want to see something
special in your horse's coat, supplement your base feed
with roasted soybeans. Not soybean meal, but roasted soybeans.
Soybean meal usually contains protein levels from 38%
to 44% and should be fed sparingly, but what most people
do not realize is that soybean meal is made from the beans
AFTER the oil has been stripped out. So if you really
want a glow in your horse's coat and prefer not to mess
with trying to pour corn oil over your horse's feed every
day, try about 1/2 pound of roasted soybeans added to
your horse's daily diet.
Due to the high protein levels of this supplement, it
would be advisable to work up to 1/2 pound over several
days, and, perhaps, split the soybean feeding into two
feedings per day. Horses kept in stalls without daily
turn out may experience minor leg swelling, "stocking
up" when protein levels are raised quickly. We notice
this quite often when we start heavy feeding of starvation
cases. As soon as we place horses on high-protein grains,
especially if they had been given no grain at all, various
levels of stocking up are evident. That is why we start
immediate exercise programs with all starvation restorations,
even if hand-walking is all that can be done. The grain
is increased as the level of exercise can be expanded.
If you find a general supplement you feel is doing your
horse some sincere benefit, try taking your horse off
the supplement for a couple of weeks and see if there
is a change. When I am spending my hard-earned money on
a supplement, I must be absolutely convinced that it giving
me the desired result...not just that it "seems"
to be working.
I feel compelled to share with you an experience I had,
recently, with a product that demonstrates the "seeing
is believing" theory.
As a horse consultant for over 20 years, I am a die-hard
skeptic when it comes to horse supplements. New products
on the market (and even many of the standard supplements
that aren't so new), have to prove themselves to me as
being something that can uphold their claims to benefit
my horse's health. In many cases, these supplements fall
seriously short of their claims and expectations.
Recently I had a chance to talk with a representative
at Vita-Flex Nutrition. They produce a full line of horse
supplements, each designed with a specific purpose.
As we spoke, I told her of a 35-year-old gelding we had
that had all but completely lost his appetite. He would
eat small quantities of grain, but not enough to maintain
what had always been a very good-looking body for a horse
Our usual corn feeding had lost its appeal for him, so
we tried several sweet-feed mixes, oat mixes, and so on.
The sweeter the mix got, the more convinced he was that
he wasn't going to eat it, so we reverted back to a mix
of plain oats and corn. However he was still not consuming
the quantities needed to maintain a good body weight (which
was now looking a little lean).
The representative spoke of a general feed supplement
called "Accel," which had proven to be very
palatable, and seemed to produce weight gain through increased
appetite. She said the supplement also seemed to generate
energy and a generally healthy attitude. It was a familiar
speech (as many supplements make such claims), but the
gelding was a real sweetheart and was worth a little extra
The day before the supplement arrived in the mail, the
horse was still eating only a pound of grain, here and
there, while we wanted him to consume about 12-15 lbs
a day (divided into several feedings) in order to gain
some now-needed weight. Being an older gelding, he was
also fussy about WHAT he chose put into his mouth. This
wasn't the kind of horse that you could add medications
to his food and disguise it with molasses or Jell-O!
The "Accel" arrived and I mixed the prescribed
amount (a small spoon-like scoop) into the same grain
mix that he had only "tolerated" the day before...and
he ate it all!! He also ate every subsequent feeding we
gave him that contained small amounts of the Accel! She
was right, it was not only very palatable, but the horse
was actually increasing his grain consumption by cleaning
up everything I put in front of him!
As time progressed, every claim that the representative
had made was coming to pass. The horse's energy had increased,
his appetite had returned, and he looked like the healthy
older horse that I knew he COULD be again. I was a believer,
but my support for this supplement was not to end there.
We also received a pony into our shelter that we knew
to have a history of founder, but he seemed to be in pretty
good physical condition and his feet appeared to be in
reasonable shape. I noticed that the Accel had biotin,
selenium, and all kinds of good things in it, so we placed
the pony on the supplement as soon as he came in (mostly
because we had an extra container of it.)
He stayed on the supplement for close to 8 weeks and
his energy level was almost more than we needed, but he
remained sound of foot. He looked very healthy, however,
since he was in pretty good condition when he arrived,
I wasn't convinced that the Accel was the primary reason
for his good health.
We removed the supplement from the feeding schedule
and the pony showed some mild discomfort on his left front
leg just three days later. Nothing else had changed in
his entire schedule, except the absence of the Accel.
Being my typical skeptical self, I still wasn't convinced
that his mild bout with soreness could be due to the lack
of this interesting nutrient combination, but I decided
to do a little testing of the situation.
We placed the pony on very small doses of phenylbutazone
("bute") for 48 hours to remove any inflammation
that may have accumulated during his discomfort and placed
him back on the Accel. After the 48-hour period, the bute
was discontinued and he received nothing but a handful
of corn (which is his usual twice-a-day treat) and the
prescribed quantity of Accel. A month later, this pony
remains sound and rideable.
Coincidence? Maybe, but we have now experienced two
individual episodes where this particular multi-vitamin
supplement has made a significant difference in an animal's
Try the same "tests" with your supplement
and see if you really notice a change (give it a few weeks
ON the supplement and a few weeks OFF) or if the only
difference is in your pocket book!
For more information on supplements or feeding, please
call the HUMANE CONNECTION (715) 276-7187.
Till next time.....be kind to animals, and to yourself!
*The HUMANE CONNECTION is a tax-exempt, non-profit
organization that specializes in the care and treatment
of horses. We are funded solely by public contributions.
If you would like to help us save lives, your donation
will be gratefully accepted at HUMANE CONNECTION, P.O.
Box 333, Townsend, WI, 54175-0333