Have some Chardonnay with that Equine Senior, why don’t you?

One day I noticed that the owner of one of the ponies at the barn had switched her pony’s feed. I asked her why. She had been feeding the pony a regime prescribed by a nutritionist that had come to the barn and evaluated several of the horses.

Her reply? The new feed looked more appetizing. Or at least, it did to her. I wondered what kinds of “side dishes” she would serve next, or perhaps she would offer the mare a glass of Chardonnay to wash it all down.

Forget whether or not it was a suitable feed that met her horse’s nutritional needs. Sure, Equine Senior is for older horses, but finding the right feed for a particular horse is more than just matching categories.

I’ll admit that when I first moved my horse to a co-op barn, what to feed him was a mystery to me. For all the years I’d owned horses, they had been at full care facilities and the barn manager made the hard call of what to feed and how much. Some of them discussed it with me, but several just put my horse into their program. When my horse left his last “full care” facility, he was being fed 8 quarts of a 16% pellet and 1 quart of oats per day.

Six years later, my horse gets a 1.5 lbs of ration balancer per day, hay and some hay stretcher. He looks better, has more endurance and is holding his weight (he’s built like a tank at about 1350 pounds) just fine. I find it hard to believe that I used to feed him so much concentrate.

Getting my current feeding regime required a lot of research and good advice from an equine nutritionist.

I came to understand that forage should be the cornerstone of any feeding program. I realize now that the full care barn fed such a high volume of pelleted feed because they didn’t feed very much hay and the hay they did feed was not very high quality. Today I aim to feed my horse 1.5% – 2% of his body weight in forage and I buy the best hay I can afford. If your horse weighs 1300 pounds, that’s 19-26 pounds of hay (or equivalent) per day, which is a far cry from the 2 flakes a.m./p.m. that my horse got at many boarding facilities. Horses evolved to eat more or less continuously (granted, the food wasn’t put in front of them), and their digestive systems work better when they nibble throughout the day. When hay supplies are scarce (as they are now), I bolster their hay ration with some hay stretcher and/or hay cubes.

I learned that had to weigh everything, rather than feed by volume, because it is the only way to accurately determine whether a horse is getting the nutrients it needs given its weight and its workload. I tried weighing different feeds and was surprised to find that a quart of one feed might weigh 1.25 pounds while the same volume of another feed might weigh only 14 oz! I also weigh the flakes of hay that I feed so that I know they are getting an appropriate amount of hay.

I researched the right amount to feed each horse and I adjust what I feed depending on the horse’s activity levels. I feed more during foxhunting season than off season, for example, and I make sure they have a bit more forage during the depths of the winter to help them stay warm.

I know lots of folks who swear their horse can survive on a handful of grain each day, but when you look at the nutritional content, it’s akin to saying that you can meet all your dietary needs by eating a salad and a handful of nuts. Yes, it’s nutritious, but it’s not enough. If you don’t feed a minimum amount of a particular feed, then your horse cannot get the nutrients it needs. Especially when different regions of the country tend to have mineral imbalances in the soil that leave forages without a balanced profile. Horses that are easy keepers, and which grow fat on the minimum amount of grain prescribed, do best on a ration balancer or multi-vitamin which helps round out the nutritional profile of the forage.

It turns out that my Trakehner gelding didn’t need 8 quarts of pellets and a quart of oats every day. Once he started getting enough hay, his caloric needs were pretty much met. He’d get fat if he ate that much concentrate. However, feeding him just two quarts of Purina Strategy each day wasn’t meeting his nutritional needs. Switching him to “Born to Win”, a ration balancer, increased his endurance and gave him more energy. It packs a lot of nutrition into a small package.

Even my OTTB gelding, who came to me needing groceries, has thrived on this diet. With adequate hay available, his cribbing has almost disappeared and he is holding his weight just fine with hay and a ration balancer.

Does that ration balancer look appetizing to me? Not particularly. Not even with a glass of Chardonnay, or even a Merlot. However, I’ve noticed that there is rarely any left in their feed dishes, so I’m going to guess that they like it just fine.

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