The horse’s digestive tract is designed to be continuously processing forage. Ideally, horses should be on pasture grazing most of the day, which produces a continuous amount of saliva. The saliva creates a protective buffer for the stomach that decreases the risk of ulcer formation.
A high fiber diet maintains their gut health with constant forage to digest. Depending on your situation and facility, the ideal situation is not always possible. Many horses are given allotted quantities of hay and grain at feeding times, and this can affect their overall health.
In order to maintain your horse’s management as close to ideal as possible they should be fed ad lib, high fiber grass hay to allow them to “graze” on it throughout the day. Pasture turnout can be the most effective method, but if that’s not an option, slow feeding hay bags are useful. You can increase the amount of fiber in their diet by including soaked beet pulp or soaked alfalfa cubes to their grain. You should consider the nutrient profile of your horse’s diet and consult your veterinarian if your horse has any specific health concerns.
While concentrates (grain) are an excellent way to balance the nutrient profile of your horse’s diet, they should be offered in addition to forage (hay or pasture). Ration balancers are a great way to supplement a forage-based diet to make sure your horse is getting the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Older horses can benefit from a forage-based senior feed due to dental issues or digestion/absorption complications that come with age. Sweet feed should only be offered in small amounts for encouraging consumption of medications or as a top dress to pellets. Sweet feed does not offer nutrition and can affect your horse’s gut health and lead to problems with gastric ulcers and obesity.
If you have any concerns or questions about your horse’s turnout plan or diet, talk with your veterinarian.
This column is sponsored by Polk Equine, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.
BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.