a gleaming coat, healthy hooves are a reflection of a horse's
overall state of health and nutritional status. Common factors
affecting the quality of the hoof are genetics, environment,
correct trimming and nutrition. Optimal nutrition, based on the
horse's needs, is a key element in encouraging strong, healthy
evolved as constant grazers of high fiber, low energy forage.
Many health problems, such as colic and laminitis can be avoided
by keeping the horse on a simple, free choice grass hay diet.
The equine digestive system is designed to break down fiber by
means of microbial fermentation in the large intestine. Fiber
can be a significant source of energy for the horse and many
moderately worked horses can obtain all of their energy needs from
quality hay alone. Some grass hays may contain surprisingly high
levels of sugar. Horses that are easy keepers or insulin resistant
should be fed low sugar hay. Sugar and starch content can be
tested by sending a sample to a forage testing laboratory.
that work hard or are involved in sports that require high levels
of energy, such as endurance or combined training, will perform
best with a higher carbohydrate diet, including grains. Carbohydrates
from grains (starches) are digested by enzymes in the small intestine
and converted into glucose for readily available energy. Grains
need to be slowly introduced to the horse's diet in order to
avoid carbohydrate overload, which can result in colic or laminitis.
When the horse's workload is reduced for any reason, the grain
portion of the diet needs to be reduced accordingly.
is required for growth and tissue repair. Excess protein can
be converted to energy, but it is an inefficient process compared
to carbohydrates. Protein requirements increase slightly with
exercise, but the protein-to-calorie ratio does not. Although
there are 22 different amino acids that are needed for protein
synthesis, several can be made by the tissues of the body. There
are 10 that must be supplied to the horse lysine, methionine,
arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, threonine,
tryptophan, and valine. Lysine is commonly deficient in grass
hay rations and must be supplimented in the diet, particularly
for growing horses. Mature horses at maintenance are less sensitive
to protein quality than growing horses, but protein needs should
never be overlooked. According to the National Research Council
(NRC) guidelines, a mature horse needs approximately 21 grams
of lysine daily for maintenance. At best, grass hays only contain
.1 - .2% lysine, however, 6 lbs. of alfalfa could supply the
lysine needs of that horse. While alfalfa hay is a good source
of lysine, lysine may also be supplemented by adding other feeds,
such as beet pulp, flax, rice bran and sunflower seeds. Methionine
is another amino acid that is important for healthy hoof growth
and, like lysine, is usually deficient in grass hay diets. Alfalfa,
beet pulp, flax, rice bran and sunflower seeds are good sources.
The actual requirements for methionine in the horse are not known
at this time, but have been estimated to be roughly 25% of the
levels for lysine.
horse's natural diet is very low in fat. Most
grass hays are less than 3% fat. Horses do require certain essential
fatty acids (EFAs), however. Omega 3 and 6 are important for
good health. Most horses get sufficient omega 6 in their diets,
but unless they have access to green grass, omega 3 needs to
be supplemented. 2 oz. daily of freshly ground flax seed will
supply sufficient levels of omega 3 fatty acids. Rice bran is
a good source of omega 6. A 50-50 ratio of 3 and 6 seems to work
well for most horses. Horses that are prone to allergies, such
as sweet itch (gnat bites) often respond well to the addition
of ? cup of ground flax seed to the daily diet.
corn oil or other supermarket oils to a horse's diet is a popular
means of increasing calories without adding carbohydrates. These
oils, however, do not supply essential fatty acids. Processing
of oils to be stable on a store shelf destroys fragile EFAs,
as does exposure to light, heat and oxygen. Corn oil is pure
fat nothing else. Fat builds fat not muscle, bone
nor connective tissue. While horses are able to digest and utilize
high fat diets, it is best to avoid them for the serious athlete.
are involved in many bodily functions, such as formation of bone
and connective tissue, hormones, metabolism and energy use. A
proper balance of minerals is also important in hoof growth and
Calcium and phosphorus and their ratio to each other are related
to normal hoof development. Calcium is needed for laminar attachment
in the hoof horn. Excess phosphorus can block the absorption
of calcium from the small intestine. This can result in a calcium
deficiency and cause weak and abnormal bones.
Magnesium is important for a properly functioning nervous system,
metabolism and energy regulation. Magnesium deficient diets can
induce insulin resistance, while magnesium-rich diets may prevent
it. In fact, the effect of magnesium is so strong that deficiencies
may even cause type II diabetes in people who have no genetic
predisposition for it. Magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance
are also very commonly found in horses that are extremely "easy
keepers", obese, with abnormal fat deposits like large crests
or hard lumps of fat at odd places on their bodies. High calcium
diets interfere with absorption of magnesium. Ideally, aim for
a 2:1:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus and magnesium.
Trace minerals include iron, copper, zinc, manganese, iodine
and selenium. These minerals are referred to as "trace"
because they are only needed in very small amounts by body, but
they are very important. Certain trace minerals need to be in
the correct ratios with each other, in addition to the proper
amounts. Too much of one can interfere with absorption of another.
For instance, high levels of iron will block absorption of copper
and zinc. A good ratio to aim for is 4:4:4:1 for iron, zinc and
manganese to copper.
Some trace minerals, such as selenium have a fairly narrow margin
of safety. The horse needs selenium for normal muscle function
and normal function of the immune system.
Toxicity is characterized by loss of appetite, loss of mane and
tail hair, and in the severe form, blindness, loss of the hoof
wall, paralysis, and death.
Excesses of iodine will produce the same symptom (goiter) as
too little. Iodine is essential for the synthesis of thyroid
hormones that regulate metabolism. Kelp is a very rich source
of iodine and a horse regularly fed kelp based supplements may
run the risk of iodine excess.
How do you know if your horse needs supplementation? Start with
the greatest part of your horse's diet hay. Most full sized
adult horses consume 15 20 lbs of hay per day. If you can,
you should obtain an analysis of your hay and determine what
is in it. You simply cannot tell by looking at it or going by
what kind of hay it is. Sure, we know that alfalfa is usually
high in protein and calcium compared to grass/cereal hays, but
other nutrients can vary widely depending on soil and growing
conditions. Since I started testing local hay two years ago,
I have accumulated some interesting data on common deficiencies
and excesses in Butte County hay. UC Davis did a study on beef
cattle that documents trace mineral levels in California soils
and is applicable to forage grown for horses. Another good source
for data about hay is the Equi-Analytical
The most common finding in California hay is high iron/manganese
and very low copper and zinc. Excess iron is not a good thing
for horses and can interfere with copper absorption, which is
already in short supply. To make matters worse, feed companies
often load their products with additional iron. I tested one
well known brand of senior feed and found that the iron levels
were over twenty times higher than what they should have
been according to NRC guidelines. Another product by the same
company also tested very high in iron, even though no iron was
listed in the ingredients. Feed companies are NOT required to
list iron levels on their tags, so a consumer has no way of knowing
how much iron is in a product without the expense of sending
a sample off to the lab.
Before you decide to shop for a supplement, read the National
Research Council book, "Nutrient Requirement of Horses".
Understand what your horse does or doesn't need. Many expensive
products are full of ingredients that your horse might not need
or benefit from. You can print a copy of the NRC recommendations
for your horse, according to age, weight and activity level,
by going to http://www.nap.edu/books/0309039894/html/
Listed below are the recommendations for a mature
1,000 lb. horse at maintenance based upon the
National Research Council Nutrient Requirements
of Domestic Animals, "EQUINE Nutrient
Body Weight (lbs): 1,000
|DRY MATTER INTAKE
||1.65 % of Body Weight