One day, while searching my favorite equine feed brand's website in search for a new grain to switch my horses to, I took a look at the ingredient list of the grain I was currently feeding. I mean really looked! The first thing I noticed was ingredients I recognized: beet pulp, flax seed, rice bran, vegetable oil, just to name a few. But there were also ingredients I didn't recognize, including questionable preservatives. Not to mention the constant presence of sugary molasses. I suddenly felt like I was looking at the equivalent of a McDonald's Happy Meal. It seems healthy, it seems balanced, but it's also full of substances I do not really want to be pumping into my horse's body. So I started looking at feeds and supplements with my eyes wide open, and I soon figured out something they all have in common. Pick up any random supplement off your feed store's shelf and chances are one of the first ingredients will be a recognizable substance such as flax, rice bran, etc. So it made me wonder, if those foods such as flax are the main ingredient, then why am I not just feeding the flax? This question led me on a long educational journey to formulate my own horse feed made with natural ingredients and none of the sugars and preservatives found in commercial grains. This article talks about the components to what I call my "winning formula".
This formula is based on my own personal research. Before trying any of these feeds in your horse’s diet, please research them for yourself to determine if it is a right fit for your horse.
First of all, the horse is designed to graze all day. So, the equine gastrointestinal tract--small intestine, large intestine, and cecum--is adept at processing a near-continuous stream of high-fiber forage. I make absolutely sure my horses have access to hay/grass all day long. I usually use a fescue grass mix. And of course fresh water should always be available to your horse at all times.
Alfalfa Pellets: I use this as my base. What better to use than forage? Alfalfa is best fed in small quantities anyway, so it makes a great pellet base for your feed. Most horses lack protein in a forage based diet; the alfalfa fills that gap. If your horse has a nice-sized belly but is ribby with no topline, it means they need more protein in their diet. The high calcium levels in alfalfa is also key to balancing out the phosphorous in your rice bran (see below).
Rice Bran: This is an excellent source of energy, vitamin B-6, potassium, fiber, phosphorus and magnesium. It also contains gamma oryzanol, a naturally occurring "antioxidant" which helps to protect cell membranes from damage that can occur during strenuous exercise. Stabilized rice bran is a safe, palatable means of adding calories to the diet.
Whole Flax Seed: Flax seed is high in omega-3 fatty acids and enhances overall health in horses. It can help reduce inflammation, which can relieve symptoms associated with sweet itch and other skin conditions. It can also alleviate symptoms of allergies. It also boosts the immune system and can help regulate thyroid function, making it an ideal supplement for metabolic horses as well as aging horses. It is best to feed these little guys whole. The nutrients start degrading as soon as they are touched by light and oxygen, so by the time you've ground them and dumped them in the feed pan, they have already lost nutrients. Even though some whole seeds may appear in the manure, the majority of them are used completely in the equine digestive tract.
Coconut Oil: Most oil users use vegetable oil in their feed. Horses in general don’t get enough fat in their diet, which is why most owners turn to oils. But which oil is the best? Vegetable oil is the most common simply for the cheap cost. Essential fatty acids are contained in most vegetable oils but are often damaged by refining and processing or destroyed by free radicals. A diet rich in coconut oil can enhance the efficiency of essential fatty acids by as much as 100%. Be sure to choose a pure coconut oil.
Apple Cider Vinegar: This stuff has all kinds of benefits! Promote healthy joints, an anti-inflammatory for arthritis, a de-toxifier, an aide for digestion and gastric upset, and antibacterial properties just to name a few.
Whole Oats: You need the intact kernel in order to receive the fat content of the whole grain. The husk of the whole oat is very important for correct chewing and digestive processes. A horse with good teeth and proper dental care will chew and digest the whole oat, leaving only husks in the manure. Oats have 90% starch digestibility, compared to corn which has around 30-35%. So when oats are fed in appropriate amounts, they are easily broken down in the small intestine and the enzymatic processes are not disturbed. There are also amazing benefits to the horse’s hoof growth!
Vitamins & Minerals: To ensure that my horse is also receiving the proper vitamins and minerals, I also provide my horses a block of Purina Free Balance 12:12 along with a small salt block in their pasture.
Every horse is different, so do your research and adjust your levels based on your horse’s needs. For example, I have a sixteen year-old mare who is an easy keeper but has poor hooves. So she gets less rice bran than the other horses and more oats. I hope this article gets you curious and inspired to do your own investigating into what goes into your horse and to create your own "winning formula".
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.
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