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  • February 09, 2023 5 min read

    10 Top Feeding Myths Busted 

    The introduction of the internet has provided us with information at our fingertips. We can search for anything and have that information immediately. However, whether you source your information online or from your equestrian friends, there can be a lot of misconceptions or falsities that arise. This is particularly true regarding equine nutrition and feeding your horse. Let's look at some common feeding myths and bust out the truth!

    1. Oats make horses fizzy 

    Compared to other cereal grains, oats have a higher fibre content and lower starch content. Also, compared to maize and barley, oats are lower in energy! The component in grains that gives horses more energy is starch. But, the starch in oats is actually more digestible than other cereal starches. So, technically oats shouldn't cause any more fizziness than other cereal grains. If you find that your horse is fizzy when fed oats, it may be the amount that you provide rather than the grain itself. 

    2. My horse has a big belly, so it needs to go on a diet 

    Body condition score should not be assessed on the roundness of your horse's belly! In fact, a horse will hold weight in other areas of its body, such as its crest, hindquarters, and over the rib and flank areas. When your horse has a good body condition score, that is, you can feel the ribs when you run your hand over them but still has a large belly, then this is most often due to gut fill caused by eating a high intake of fibrous forage. This is a good thing and a perfectly natural and healthy state for your horse! If you feel your horse is carrying too much fat, other areas of the body need to be observed, such as a cresty neck and fat deposits along the backbone, hindquarters and flanks. 

    3. You need to fast your horse before exercise 

    This myth does have some merit, but for it to be a truth, it should state: Horses should not be fed large meals of starchy concentrates before exercise! Why? Because a large meal of concentrates will trigger an insulin response, stopping the horse from using glycogen and fat stores that are needed to fuel muscles during exercise. Hence, the horse will tire quickly. So, getting back to this myth, horses should have access to forage all the time. In fact, if a horse has hay or chaff in its belly, particularly lucerne, this could be very beneficial as it has shown that this will reduce gastric disease.

    4. Horses cannot drink immediately before or after exercise 

    Ask any endurance rider and they will tell you that this simply is not true! Horses should have access to water before and after (even during) exercise. Encouraging a horse to drink will ensure that it remains hydrated. If you are riding for an extended period of time, then the horse should be offered water during your ride. 

    5. Bran mash is a good laxative 

    This myth has been around for a while! Bran has been fed to horses for a long period of time and can be a good source of fibre that is well digested. Many people use bran as a laxative and feed it once per week, but the reason why it acts as a laxative is because you are changing your horse's diet. A simple change will cause a digestive disturbance, which actually is not good for your horse and should be avoided. Bran should also be fed with caution, as it contains high levels of phosphorus and phytate, which results in a reverse calcium to phosphorus ratio and reduces the absorption of minerals in the hindgut, respectively. 

    6. My horse has increased its workload and needs a higher energy feed 

    Not necessarily. It is true that if your horse has had an extreme adjustment to their workload that they will need an increase in their feed requirement. But, that doesn't mean you have to increase the starch content (i.e. grain) portion of the feed to get the energy. Some horses can't process starch in the same way others can, and so often exhibit excitability, which isn't great from a training perspective. So, for these horses it may be worthwhile considering using other energy sources such as low starch and fat alternatives. In this way, cool energy is provided, allowing you to have a manageable horse. Just remember, always make sure your diet is balanced and this will ensure your horse receives the required amount of energy. 

    7. Old horses should be fed a veteran diet 

    Just because your horse is old, doesn't mean it needs a veteran diet! A horse's diet shouldn't be based on age, but rather its workload, body condition score and mouth health. If your horse is able to eat and chew well, and is healthy on its current diet, then there is no need to change. If however your horse needs more conditioning or has difficulty in chewing, then there are specialist feeds available that have a high nutrient, energy and fat profile which can assist your horse to maintain its weight. 

    8. Hard feed first, hay second 

    Many people believe that horses should receive the bulk of their dietary needs from hard feed as opposed to hay. But the opposite is true! Horses actually require far more hay than we once thought. The ideal forage requirement is 1.5% to 2% of the horse's body weight per day! Long stemmed hay is so important on multiple levels; it helps increase saliva production, helps feed gut microbiome, provides a good source of dietary fibre and provides a good source of protein, energy and nutrients to your horse. Concentrates do have their place and are especially beneficial for performance horses, but your horse's diet should be focussed around their hay consumption first. 

    9. Don't feed pellets - they are just floor sweepings 

    There always will be two schools of thought when feeding horses - those that are happy to feed processed feeds and those that aren't. It doesn't really matter which side you sit on, the most important thing is that your horse's diet is balanced. That being said, pellets are not just floor sweepings and if you choose to feed pellets, know that manufacturers need to adhere to guidelines and provide you with ingredient lists and nutrient profiles. There are so many different concentrates to choose from nowadays, with different feed profiles. When choosing a pelleted feed, just make sure the ingredients are clearly labeled. If there is no ingredient list or nutrient profile, and the manufacturer is reluctant to provide one, then it is best to avoid that feed! 

    10. My horse doesn't need the recommended feeding rate 

    Manufacturers of pelleted feeds and concentrates place a feeding guide on the bag. The feeding rate is a guide based on the horse's weight, usually 500kg. So, if you choose not to feed the manufacturers recommended feeding rate, then your horse won't be receiving the recommended nutrient requirements. If this is the case, then you need to ensure that you balance your horse's diet using other supplements of feeds to meet its nutrient requirement. Similarly, if you are just feeding a "handful" of the pelleted feed, then it might be worth considering if you are better off feeding a supplement that will better meet the nutrient requirements. 

    These are our top 10 feeding myths, and there are many more! But, we hope that these busted myths will give you more confidence in feeding your horse. If in doubt, it is always recommended to seek advice from a qualified equine nutritionist (many feed companies will provide you with a dietary analysis for free!) or your vet. We have a huge range of equine feed in stock, or if you are looking for something in particular, we are happy to source it for you! Visit us in store or online, we are here to help! 

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