Important Tips For Feeding Your Horse

Most of the people owning a horse are of the opinion that equine supplements are a quick fix remedy for providing an immediate result on the health of their pony. On the other hand, an effective diet that is created by a supplement can let the animal to attend the standing of the equine elites. It is essential that high grade foods and even supplements should be provided to the animal that is continuously engaged in performances like races for at least three weeks before the competition and even during it for making sure that it can provide its peak performance. This type of feeding will also make sure that the interior damage caused mainly to the muscular tissues of the animal can be restored when it is continued even after three weeks of the event.

For making sure that the inadequacies are eliminated, the horse should be fed with nearly 50% of oats in combination with regular supplementation with about 40% of hay or grass. The remaining should be derived from barley, chaff, bran, wheat and quality supplements at all levels. Good quality grass can meet 15% of protein requirement of the animal, while poor quality food can just meet 2.5 percent of protein requirement of a performing animal.

When feeding the pony with dietary supplements, it is again, especially helpful in identifying the products that are placed in these natural supplements. Dietary fiber is one among them. An optimum level of fiber is included in vitamin supplements available in the market for horses. This will ensure good digestive function and will bring together the important nutrients.

In addition to different types of supplements like equine supplements, there are some online stores dealing with different types of farm products and even grooming supplies as well. In addition, they have different types of products like whips, treats, stable products, shampoo and conditioners, horse wear products and first aid products for the animals.

Generally, the equine is known to be rich in Vitamin E content and this food can make your horse to be energetic and he can perform well and can earn you good money from competitions. Not only for this purpose, but if you are growing a pony just as a hobby or as a pet animal, when the right kind of foods are provided she can lead a healthier and active life and even some of the online stores are dealing with first aid products as well.

Beginning Raw Feeding – Why Feed Raw?

There are only two ways that energy enters the body. The first is breathing, the second is through eating. Since we can’t control the air we breathe, what we eat is our focus in attaining good long-term health. In all living beings, good health starts with an appropriate diet. I am a strong advocate of a healthy, species appropriate raw diet for dogs and have been feeding it for several years. I have dogs of various ages, all of whom are on a raw diet. They enjoy eating it, and their health is outstanding. Their waste is half as much, they go less often, and it’s much less to pick up. I had tried intermittently feeding kibble to my dogs, and after continuous digestive problems I went back to raw, and wondered why I ever stopped.

WHAT DO PETS EAT?

“What should dogs and cats eat?” To most people, the simple answer is “dog food,” or “cat food.” Let’s take a closer look into this, it is a notion that deserves to be questioned. How did this come about, and who exactly is telling us what is best for our pets? The processed, extruded “pet food” pellets that we are familiar with have only been around for about 55 years!

“Pet food” caught on in the early 1900’s, before that, dogs existed on whatever foods their owners chose to give them, such as scraps of meat and bones… you know, “real” food. One of the first dog foods was introduced in 1922. It was canned horse meat and scraps. During and after WWII, dry pet food took off as a way to use cheap by-products and grains as a profitable source of income to sell to consumers, who now wanted the convenience of dry pet food. In the 60’s, the now-gigantic pet food industry began a campaign to get people to stop feeding their dogs anything but packaged dog food, warning against real food like table scraps.

By that time, the first extruded pet foods were on store shelves. Extrusion is the process of cooking a mixture using pressure and steam-heat in an extruder to form a dry, hard kibble. Because these products are processed at a high temperature, heat-sensitive ingredients such as enzymes and vitamins can be damaged or destroyed. Pet food manufacturers add synthetic vitamin/mineral supplements to compensate for this deficiency. Do you eat processed junk food, then pop a multi-vitamin pill with every single meal you eat? Ideally, you (and your pet) should get your necessary vitamins from actual whole foods sources, and from varying your diet to be balanced over a certain period of time. I believe nutrition comes not from a bag or can, but from whole, real foods that I can see!

If you choose a raw diet, you will be joining a large following in the US and Europe, of pet-owners, animal nutritionists, trainers, holistic veterinarians, and breeders who have discovered the endless benefits a raw diet offers. Raw-feeders have reported everything from resolution of allergies, improved immune system, reduced stool volume, enhanced digestion, improved dental health, lean body mass, and fantastic health and vitality overall. There are certain diseases and conditions that can be eliminated, or at least improved, with a proper diet. It also provides a solution for animals who don’t tolerate grains well. In essence, we are choosing to feed a diet that does not simply provide our pet to “survive,” but to “thrive”!

DOGS, CATS, AND FERRETS ARE CARNIVORES

Look into your dog or cat’s mouth. You will find these teeth are an indication of the diet they were meant to have. Their jaws have limited lateral movement (side to site) to chew like ours do. They have fang-like canines, and teeth meant to bite, tear, and scissor flesh. Even my little Yorkshire Terrier can tear through a chicken quarter and crush the soft bones with her teeth! This action also helps clean the teeth. Kibble does not clean teeth anymore than eating hard crackers would clean your teeth. Cats and dogs also have the digestive system of a carnivore- a short small intestine and a lack of enzymes (such as salivary amylase) that break down carbohydrates.

Dogs have been reclassified scientifically as Canis Lupus Familiaris, making them a sub-species of the wolf (Canis Lupus). I would like to be clear that dogs are not wolves, and are different in many ways. However, no matter how cute and fluffy your dog may seem, his internal physiology is similar to a prey-hunting wolf. So we look to the natural diet a wolf has evolved to thrive on to give us an idea of what dogs may eat. Their digestive systems, stomach acids, and short digestive tract are suited to a carnivorous predatory diet.

But dogs and cats aren’t the only ones- I would also like to mention ferrets. Along with cats, they are “obligate carnivores”, and both thrive on a raw, grain-free diet. Ferrets require a diet that is highly digestible and rich in animal protein. Many ferret owners have transitioned to raw to meet those needs, and to replicate the natural diet their ancestors would eat, rather than feed commercial cat or ferret food, which can contain fillers, chemical preservatives, and other less desirable additives.

CHOOSING RAW?

What you feed your pet is a personal choice, and by no means is raw your only option, as every animal has individual factors or health issues that may make other diets, such as kibble or homemade cooked, a better choice. Choosing and planning a raw diet for your pet requires self education, research, and common sense. Just because it is raw does not mean it is nutritionally balanced or healthy. You have several options, which are briefly reviewed below.

PREY-MODEL DIET

Also known as the Raw Meaty Bones diet, this is a true evolutionary diet! It consists of a wide variety of meaty bones, organs, and offal included in the meal plan. Feeding whole meaty bones provides the animal a chance to eat as nature intended, using their teeth and jaws, and providing mental stimulation. RMB feeders often buy in cost-effective bulk from butchers, co-ops, or meat suppliers. This type of diet is not new, but has been further popularized by veterinarian Dr. Tom Lonsdale, who has written comprehensive and peer-reviewed books, including “Raw Meaty Bones”.

B.A.R.F. DIET

BARF diets, short for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods” or “Bones And Raw Foods”. It consists of raw meaty bones, eggs, certain dairy products such as cottage cheese or yogurt, raw minced fruits and vegetables, some supplemental items, and occasionally some add a small amount of grains. The BARF diet was made popular by veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst, who attests to the health promoting benefits of an evolutionary diet. He is also the author of several books on the subject, including “Give Your Dog a Bone” (published in 1993), and several others that are essential to read before beginning this diet.

PRE-MADE FROZEN RAW DIETS

For the person seeking convenience, or just starting out with raw, commercial pre-made diets are an increasingly popular option for dogs, cats, and ferrets of all ages. They are as easy as defrost and feed! They are usually ground up, looking much like frozen hamburger. They’re available in forms such as patties, nuggets, and medallions. Some brands include meat, bones, organs, veggies, fruit, eggs, oils, and additional supplements. Look for one that is a complete balanced diet. The great thing is also the variety of proteins offered for rotation, including venison and rabbit for dogs with allergies. Some name brands include: Northwest Naturals, Nature’s Variety, Companion, Bravo, Aunt Jennies, and Primal. You can contact these companies to find a distributor in your area.

WEIGHING RISKS IN RAW DIETS

With all the options you have in feeding your pet, there are risks in each one. Considering all the past pet food recalls, I would not consider a commercial diet to be 100% risk-free by any means, and I personally feel no “safer” when feeding kibble. I feel the health benefits of a raw diet outweigh any potential risks. The two main concerns with raw diets are bacteria and bone hazards.

While food-bourne bacteria like such as e-coli and salmonella can be existent in a raw diet (these bacteria can live anywhere, including vegetables), these risks are managed and often relatively small. You drastically lower any risks by choosing fresh meat from reliable quality sources to feed your pets, and by storing it appropriately. Dogs and cats are routinely exposed to many types of bacteria and pathogens in their daily lives, and can do just fine.

Things that dogs put in their mouths would be much different for us, as their bodies are differently equipped. Remember- this is an animal that can eat feces and show no ill-effects! If your pet, or someone in your household is immune-compromised, you may take that into consideration in your choice of diets, and discuss it with your veterinarian. When handling raw meat, you take the same commons-sense precautions you take when preparing it for yourself or your family at home, including washing your hands and sterilizing surfaces the raw meat comes into contact with.

Some may be worried that their dogs can choke on raw bones. On the flip-side, dogs have also choked on kibble and rawhide chews. Ask your vet how many dogs have come in with blockages from rawhides, yet they are still widely used and sold in pet stores. However, raw bones are vital to diets, providing calcium and minerals, as well as teeth and gum benefits to the animal. Bones such as chicken bones are considered digestible. Larger bones, such as beef bones, and should be selected and sized so that the dog cannot choke on them. Common sense comes into play. Bones must be fed in the appropriate size and type for the dog, and cooked bones should NEVER be fed, as they splinter.

WHAT IF MY VET DOESN’T RECOMMEND RAW DIETS FOR PETS?

The simple answer may be to find a vet who does! There are many veterinarians worldwide, and growing, who fully support raw diets and even feed it to their own animals. Some have been recommending it to their clients for 20 plus years and have seen the benefits clinically. Many are holistic vets with extensive knowledge of nutrition. Veterinarians may be concerned that an average person could be incapable of providing adequate balanced nutrition for their animals when doing it on their own- this is why it’s essential for the pet owner to be informed and educated. Do your research and talk with other raw feeders.

There are veterinarians who choose to sell low-quality brands of kibble that contain animal by-products and high amounts of corn and other grains, rather than selling super-premium kibbles with human-grade ingredients. If they are advocating the former as the best diet choice, it calls into question how much they really know about nutrition. A pediatrician doesn’t tell you to only feed your child pre-made, fully balanced food out of a box or bag, so why should your vet tell you to do that with your pet? There will always be people who have different opinions on nutrition, and some who are simply not educated on raw diets. Regardless of others’ opinions, it is your pet’s health, and it is ultimately your decision to make.

Starting a raw diet may seem overwhelming, but the benefits are your pet’s to reap! Fortunately, there are many books available on the subject, as well as a wealth of information on the Internet. There are also message boards, and online raw-feeding groups that are there to offer you guidance and support.

Horse Feed and Horse Behaviour

At Australian Natural Health and Healing, we believe in natural feeding. This means that if possible, provide your horse with feed as natural as they can be, that is less processed and as close as possible to what a horse would eat naturally.

Of course grass is the most natural feed available. However, our lands are not as prosperous as they used to be and the variety of grass on a small acreage property would be limited. The soil is also likely to be poor in nutrients, meaning that the grass will not be very nutritious, hence the need to provide extra feed.

The closest feed to grass is hay and chaff. It is important to provide plenty of those. There are different types of hay like lucerne, barley, grassy etc.

The important thing here is that you must provide a balanced diet between roughage (hay, chaff, pasture, bran) and concentrate (grains, meals, fats etc). Although chaff is chopped hay, hay as such is a primary ingredient of the diet because it provides longer stems which help in the horse’s digestion. When horses do not have access to valuable pasture, or are fed grains, they should be provided with hay or chaff with a minimum of 1% of their body weight to enable efficient digestion (Dr John Kohnke).

Feed should be weighted and not measured in volume because it is the only way you will be able to calculate your horse’s intake. If you are using a 2 litre ice-cream container to measure your feed, take 1 measure of each feed, weigh it and record it. On average, a 2 litre container will be about 300g of lucerne chaff, 250g of white chaff etc.

Feed must be free of mould and “unwanted visitors” alive or dead! So it is important to store your feed correctly to avoid any spoilage and contamination. Mould and horses do not agree!!

Whatever ration you establish, you must monitor its effects on your horse and adjust accordingly. For example, if your horse seems to actively seek food after he has been fed, this means he is still hungry and you might need to increase the quantity. If, on the other hand, he has leftovers, then you will need to reduce the quantity. It takes around 3 weeks to see the effect of a particular feed, so if your horse is losing weight without any apparent reason (you know he is not sick or worm infested), then you will need to re-assess his ration. The same applies if your horse starts behaving strangely.

So lets see how food can affect a horse’s behaviour.

A natural diet for a wild horse contains large amount of cellulose fibre from plants that are digested in the large intestine. This natural diet contains very little amount of starch and sugars found in grains and protein in legume plants like lucerne. Starch, sugars and protein overload in the small intestine are a cause of digestive upsets and will “heat up” a horse or cause colics as the feed ferments in this region.

Some horses are so intolerant to starch they cannot eat oaten chaff (yes, there is a little bit of oats in quality oaten chaff). A common feed stuff that is very high in starch is wheat bran with between 30 to 50% starch. If you must feed grains, it is important that you provide plenty of roughage to help with digestion and the amount of grains be minimal.

Synthetic or poor quality vitamins and minerals may also create some unusual reactions, depending how sensitive your horse is. Horses are like people, some react to red cordial, others to lactose, some to red meat etc. Unfortunately there is no black and white answer. It is a matter of trialling something and observe how your pony reacts.

The good news is that once the culprit ingredient is identified and removed from the diet, your horse should return to its normal-self within days.

A good idea is to introduce new feed one by one (if possible) and see how it goes after few days.

Of course there are other factors that might affect your horse’s behaviour and they should be eliminated from the equation before blaming its feed. Horses by nature are not mean animals. They do have a hierarchy in their herd and there is always few fights among them. The alpha horse will ensure to maintain its status and will “boss” other around if needs be. This is normal. There are few books written on the subject that might help understand their behaviour within a herd.

An aggressive horse, on the other hand, is not normal. We should ask ourselves questions such as:

  • When does this behaviour happen? (feed time? During riding? Etc)
  • Has he always been aggressive?
  • If he became aggressive suddenly, what happened? We might need to investigate a little
  • Was he abused, starved or neglected in the past? Horses have a phenomenal memory and it might take a lot of re-education to change behaviour caused by bad memories!
  • Is he in any sort of pain? Like us, some horses are more sensitive to pain than others so a little thing might seem the end of the world for the sensitive ones! This is where we (or a vet) need to check his feet, back, neck, muscular tightness etc. If a horse is unbalanced, even slightly, it may cause some pain in his body and could be the cause for misbehaving. it is true that some horses will endure horrible pain without blinking an eye until they simply fall apart (or down)! This is then a shock to the owner who did not know their horse was hurting. One should take the time to really know their horse and be attuned to them to depict any abnormality. It takes time and patience.
  • Does his tack fit properly? Wrong saddles can cause some musculoskeletal issues and make our pony very unhappy!
  • If it’s a mare, is she in season? Some mares can get extreme during these times!
  • Is he badly educated? Have we got a spoiled brat?
  • Does he have an ulcer? This is difficult to determine and you will need your vet to run some check-ups. According to scientists, it is very common in horses, especially those who raced or competed as they get highly stressed and their diets might not be the best in terms of digestion. Some symptoms might be sensitivity to some feed stuff, especially starch and proteins, behavioural issues and weight loss. These symptoms alone are not sufficient to provide an accurate diagnostic, so if you suspect your horse has an ulcer, contact your veterinarian who will be able to confirm it and prescribe medication.
  • Now, a very simple question which gets overlooked quite often: does he get too much food for his activity level? Food is energy, so if our horse does not use his energy in his activity, he will have some left to spare!!
  • Does the horse buck when ridden (regularly)? Bucking takes a lot of effort for horses so there has to be a good reason. Assuming that it is not a horse in breaking, causes for bucking may be a painful saddle, sore back/body/feet, bad memories as explained above, too playful (too much food)?

I guess the first thing to eliminate is any physical health issues whether they are illnesses or injuries. Your veterinarian is the person to contact first and they will be able to refer you to other professionals if needs be, like farriers, chiropractors etc.

Elimination of any ill-fitted tack is the second one. If there is an issue with the saddle then you might need to get a saddle fitter in. It is not expensive and is worth the spending. Better have a good saddle than having a horse that bucks, is sore, unhappy and dangerous.

Any mental issues due to the horse’s past are better dealt with the help of professional trainers. Same applies to a badly educated horse. These professionals can help us in re-educating our horse and teach us what to do or not do.

If your horse gets supplements like minerals and vitamins, do a bit of research to see how other horses react to what you are giving yours. It is not uncommon to see a change in behaviour according to supplements given to a horse. Sometimes, it is wise to stop all supplements to see if the horse goes back to a gentler state. It is possible that these supplements might be too concentrate, or of an average quality, or that the horse has some allergic reaction to them, especially if they are synthetic. And sometimes, it might be necessary to only give natural supplements like herbs, dolomite etc.

Minerals and vitamins (supplements) should be given based on what the horse’s nutrients requirements. A good start if to check the NRC web site and John Kohnke’s book “Feeding Horses in Australia” to understand nutrients and calculate what your horse needs.