Monday, 20 February 2012

Feeding - essentials

I've posted before about the "essentials" - hoof balance essentials and movement essentials were the posts which started this theme.   Time to talk about feed - like movement and hoof balance, a critical element of hoof health.

Its been really encouraging to see how, over the past few years, awareness of the importance of nutrition has sky-rocketed amongst horse owners.  When I first got interested in hooves, people thought it was all about the trim and it was only with time, trial and error that it became clear that hoof health was more to do with nutrition and biomechanics than anything else.
Bailey was one of the horses who taught me the most, because she couldn't be rock-crunching unless everything was right - she is a perfectionist!

Feeding is a big subject with lots of complexities and a post like this can only scratch the surface.  However, like many aspects of horsecare, there are some basic rules which are always worth keeping in mind:
  • Forage: horses need forage as the basis of their diets, whether thats hay, haylage or grass.  I've previously posted about the pros and cons of hay and haylage here.   
  • Sugars and starch: most horses do better with low levels of these in their diets.  Many commercial feeds include lots of cereals - which means high levels of starch - and sugars.  Do check labels for wheat, barley, maize, soya and sugars like glucose, molasses and syrups.  If you don't want to feed these to your horse, then avoid most commercial feeds!
  • Grazing: sugar levels in grass fluctuate very rapidly especially in spring and summer but also in cold weather.  Its often not the amount of grass which is the problem but the sugar level - and this can be high in short, stressed, over grazed grass - a bare paddock is not necessarily safer than a lush field. Be suspicious of your grazing if your horse becomes footy  - you may need to switch to night-time turnout or restrict grazing in some other way. 
  • Minerals: if its practical, its good to balance minerals to your horse's forage but thats often not possible.  Fortunately, there are a few mineral supplements now available which supply levels of minerals which are commonly lacking in UK forage.  Pro Balance and Pro Hoof are streets ahead of most "balancers" - they may not be perfect for areas with severe imbalances but are a great first step. 
  • Magnesium: most horses need additional magnesium  - magnesium oxide is safe to feed and can be bought either as pure MgO or as calcined magnesite. 
  • Linseed is another safe feed to supplement and will help many horses.  Micronised linseed is widely available, extremely palatable and does not need additional cooking.  
  • Chops and chaffs: though popular are often a source of problems, either because they include molasses or because of preservatives.  Even "low sugar" versions can include problematic levels of sugar and in most cases feeding hay or haylage is a better and cheaper option. 
Resources: feeding is a MASSIVE subject, and for most rules there will be an exception(!).

Good resources include Clare Macleod's book:  "The truth about feeding your horse" and the equine nutrition "bible" the NRC's "Nutrient Requirements of Horses".  The latter is fairly hard core research but remains one of the only sources of fact, rather than guesswork, on feeding.

Online, Eleanor Kellon's nutrition courses, of which the foundation is "NRC Plus" are worth doing for those who want to look in more details at their own horse's diets and how to feed.   


cptrayes said...

Nic Bailey had the worst cracks I have ever seen in the front of a horse's hooves when her shoes were taken off. Can you show us them, show us what they went down to first of all, and then what they are like now that you have her nutrition spot on (which as I recall included identifying that she has issues digesting protein, and putting her on Cortaflex??)


Neets Human said...

Agree getting the nutrition / feed sorted is incredibly important.. Neets has never been shod, I've had her since she was 2 years old.. and as I have got her diet better so have her feet... they were never "bad" but We have waved goodbye to stretched white line, cracks and pretty much thrush.. we can hold our own against the bugs despite extremely wet conditions now. Clare MacLeod's book was a vital part of this process.

Nic Barker said...

C - yep, I will dig out the photos when I get the chance. FWIW, the cortaflex, while important for her, hasn't totally sorted the cracks - and guess what, it appears that they are effect, not cause, and the origin is higher up :-) Definitely worth a post, so will do, thanks for bringing that up!

NH - feed, as with everything else, seems to be a case of researching and learning as much as you can then listening to the horse above all - even the best experts can only get you so far, though they can all help you along the way!