RBEI MASTER COURSES: EQUINE MANAGEMENT: FEEDING 2
Taking into account that horses are grazers with 99% of their natural diet being forage / roughage / grassy type food, it's very important to get our feeding balanced to optimize our horses' health.
It is (sadly) generally accepted that a domesticated horse should be fed around 70% forage and 30% grains. However with domesticated horses so often affected by colic (a sore belly that can lead to death) it's clear our accepted system is not an effective one.
Processed hardfeeds are made from grain mixtures of varying contents. Grains are natural to horses in exceptionally small doses only. Too much grain causes acid in the horses' hindgut. This acid kills the hindgut microbes which are there to convert food into nutrition and to hydrate the horses' body. Compromised microbes causes scouring, colic, ulceration, discomfort, dehydration and health depletion.
The accepted grain / forage ratios are damaging our horses' health. When feeding horses it is best to stick to forage altogether if you can. You can safely feed such things as hay, lucern hay and chaff. Horses on large amounts of forage only diets display a lot more flexibility in their movement and in their performance. They are happier, more playful and interactive, their coats glow and become short and glossy like glass. They dapple up. Dapples are round faint circles about the size of a 20 cent piece in the horses coat (irrelevant of the horses colour). Horses 'dapple up' when they feel physically well and mentally happy.
A horse can dapple up in front of your eyes, I have seen horses dapple up instantly when let go in a large grassy paddock after being locked in a stable for a long time.
All my sport horses used to dapple up in front of my eyes while they were doing their morning exercise as long as I was very kind, gentle and encouraging.
Horses when switched from grain feeds to grass or hay diets often dapple up.
We will delve in depth into hard feeding processed feeds and grains later, but if this can be avoided please do.
Especially if you keep your horse on quite sandy soil. Horses tend to intake quite a bit of sand and it can sit in the gut and bind together causing complications, colic, under-performing, ill health etc.
The ultimate and all time best thing for easily removing sand from the gut and keeping it out is feeding large amounts of ad lib hay all the time. The digestive movement of the hay drags the sand out naturally and easily.
Regardless of whether you are feeding grain feeds or not you will also need to feed hay or chaff unless you have massive amounts of thick non-horse sour pasture available.
There are a lot of hay options available to horse owners.
Obviously different types of hay contain different nutrients, protein levels, omega ratios and qualities.
We recommend lucern and rhodes grass hay.
Rhodes grass hay is very mild, well balanced and has low, safe protein levels. Normally around 6% protein. Maximum protein levels natural to horses is around 11% This is the protein level normally present in their mothers milk and tolerable.
Plain grass hay can be a bit dull and boring however, causing horses to not eat enough and lose weight. Adding lucern hay in a ratio of about 1/3rd lucern hay and 2/3rds plain rhodes hay is the ultimate long-term diet and horses love it.
The best results I have ever had with feeding, i.e. where every horse in my care had overly glossy and healthy coats, was when I was feeding a very fine cut 50/50 hay ad lib, it was 50% lucern 50% plain grass hay. All the horses glowed so much people started asking what I fed!
I had one horse that came to me to be educated to saddle, with a very dull mousy coat, on that diet he malted out his entire coat and replaced it with a near black glossy short sleek coat that looked like he was covered in oil!
Horses digestive systems love grass and hay.
Lucern Hay is great too. It is a lot higher in protein, can be around 29% so you have to be careful. It is also high in Calcium. It's best to tone down the protein by mixing it with plain lower protein hay such as rhodes or plain grass hay.
Hay is rarely cut from actual horse grazing pasture so is not normally acidic like horse sour pasture also.
Many of us don't have acres of lush sprawling non-horse sour pasture for our horses so will have to provide enough hay to last around the clock.
The best way to do this I have ever found is to buy the large green wheelie bins, you know the household ones you put out for the council trucks to collect your rubbish. You can buy them online and have them delivered.
You then cut out the lower portion leaving a rim at the bottom so ground water doesn't get in.
These are then an automatic hay dispenser. You just slot your square bale in the top and shut the lid, the horse picks the hay out, much like grazing, from the bottom opening and the hay bale naturally dispenses like a box of tissues as eaten down.
This also saves the hay getting wet, so it lasts for long periods of time in there in good condition, horses can't gorge it, pee on it or trample it into the ground.
You should however tie these to a solid fence or tree, or something so horses can't tip them over. And I always also tied the lids down for those savvy horses that could break in and gorge themselves.
For skinny horses who you want to eat large amounts and faster, you just flip the lid open in fine weather and let them attack it from the top.
If you feed hay on the ground often horse will urinate on, trample and not eat more than 50% of it so you are effectively wasting 50% of your money and efforts. If you feed it in a hay net you risk it getting wet, bird or bat droppings in it and the horse running out of hay when you are not there.
With the wheelie bins you just open the lid, pop the bale in which fits perfectly and easily, then cut the baling twine off and shut the lid. I have used every hay dispensing contraption and option available and this is by far the best and cuts your hay bill and work in half. It's also amazingly waterproof even in very stormy rainy seasons the hay remains dry and preserved :)
Hay becomes very dangerous to horses also when wet over time, developing a mould that will cause colic and can kill a horse.
Often hay mould will look like a white or black powder...beware of this, never feed a horse mouldy hay.
Hay must be kept dry and clean. Always check when you are buying hay that it's not damp, hot inside the bale or mouldy. Also the finer the hay is the better. Hay that is very coarse has less nutrient content and takes longer to digest. Horses do amazingly well on nice fine hay.
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