Nutrition Series Part 4
Feeding According to Requirements
By Dr. Amanda Wilson
It is no revelation to anyone who spends time with horses that no two horses are the same. Our equine companions can have a lot of variation in size, personality, activity level, appetite, and pretty much everything else! This is why diets should be customized for the individual horse's needs.
As mentioned in previous installments of this series, all horses (unless otherwise recommended by a veterinarian or equine nutritionist), should receive adequate amounts of high-quality hay or forage. In addition, some horses need a concentrate feed such as grain to provide nutritional needs not met by forage alone.
Here are a few classes of horses that may need special attention when it comes to
how we feed them:
Broodmares spend a lot of extra calories, especially during late gestation and early lactation. Their energy requirement can nearly double during this period! It is important to feed good, quality hay free choice and supplement extra calories with a grain formulated for broodmares. Care should be taken to avoid overfeeding broodmares, because excess body fat can cause difficulties during foaling and difficulties conceiving a pregnancy.
Young, Growing Horses (Weanlings and Yearlings)
Young horses have special dietary requirements and it can be a balancing act between providing enough nutrients for growth while avoiding overfeeding, which can lead to developmental orthopedic diseases (DOD.) Youngsters should be fed a concentrate that is formulated especially for their particular life stage. Vitamins and minerals play an important role, and the Calcium to Phosphorus ratio of the diet is especially important to healthy skeletal growth. Formulated diets are balanced specifically for these life stages.
Performance horses have a higher energy demand than other horses because they burn more calories doing their job. In general, these horses require more calories and sometimes need multiple feedings throughout the day to supply enough calories for them while avoiding digestive upset. A horse at peak conditioning can require twice the amount of feed than that of a horse of similar size that is not exercised. Horses in exercise should be monitored closely for changes in body fat and muscle, both of which can change rapidly in working horses.
Keeping a senior horse healthy and well-conditioned can sometimes be a challenging task. Older horses can have long-term health issues such as dental disease, inflammatory GI disease, metabolic disorders, and arthritis. It is important to maintain a good preventative health program with our senior companions. Some older horses with dental disease benefit from complete feeds, which supply the nutrients they would normally get from hay or grass. Most feeds labeled as "senior" feeds can be fed as a complete feed, but it is important to verify this with the feed company to make sure your older horse is getting enough from the feed. Senior feeds are also typically pelleted, which makes it easier to chew and digest.
Horses that are underweight and underfed must be re-introduced to feeds carefully to avoid digestive upset. These horses should be offered low-quality hay free choice. The amount of concentrate fed should be gradually increased over time to an amount appropriate to allow the horse to gain weight and condition. If a malnourished horse is re-introduced to feed too quickly, they can develop a serious condition called "refeeding syndrome," which is characterized by lethargy and neurologic signs and is a result of massive electrolyte changes in the body. Refeeding syndrome can be life threatening.
When it comes to nutrition programs, horses should be fed as individuals with specific requirements. Consult with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist regarding the best nutrition program for your horse.
In our next installment, we will discuss diets for horses with specific medical conditions.