In this feature, we invite experts to answer your burning questions – please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an equine nutrition enquiry. (Your questions may be shortened to fit the available space.) This month, nutritional expert, Anna Welch, BVSc, BSc, MRCVS, Veterinary Nutritionist at TopSpec, shares her expertise.
How can I ensure I am feeding my horse well without overspending?
Daniel Bloomfield, Staffs
The best value feed for horses is grass. Conserved grasses, hay and haylage, are the next best value, and so it makes sense to maximise the use of these in most cases by feeding them ad-lib. (Laminitics and overweight horses are an exception, where grazing/forage may need restricting).
Ensure a good worm management programme, regular dental checks and, for horses’ that struggle with condition, adequate rugs and stabling.
One way of saving money may be to buy a cheaper compound feed. However, if you have to feed more of it to maintain condition and micronutrient support, you may need to buy supplements to address any problems such as poor hoof quality, joint mobility etc.
Feeding a top specification feed balancer that includes high quality protein, vitamins, minerals and yeast products will improve the digestibility and utilisation of feed (including grass, hay and haylage), thus reducing the requirement for extra hard feed. You can eliminate the need for additional supplements such as a hoof supplement, joint support, anti-oxidants, blood tonics and digestive aids because they are included within the balancer. So, not only are you simplifying your feeding regime, but saving money in the long term.
Eventing and polo enthusiast Paul Thomason MA VetMB MRCVS represents Thomason & Walters equine veterinary surgeons, and says TopSpec Comprehensive Feed Balancer keeps his own polo ponies and team chase horses in excellent condition. “Because the balancer is so well formulated, we don’t need to add lots of expensive supplements to their feed,” he adds.
Q. How can diet help improve my horse’s behaviour? I am interested in finding out about non-heating feeds.
Carly Hammond, Carlisle
The horse’s digestive system functions optimally when fed little and often with forage. Those equines that are fed in this way tend to have less behavioural problems.
It is important to mimic the natural way of feeding, and in most cases, provide ad-lib forage (hay/haylage). The equine digestive system will struggle to cope if fed high levels of cereals or cereal-based compound feeds, mixes or cubes. The high level of starch results in a disturbance of the microbial balance in the hindgut, which increases its acidity and can affect a horse’s behaviour. Even some products marketed as ‘cool mixes’ contain some cereal grains and are often molassed, so can cause ‘fizzy’ behaviour. Hard feeds and balancers should ideally be low in sugar and starch, and cereal-grain free.
Horses that are anxious, even when fed a low sugar and starch diet, can benefit from the use of a calmer on top of a low sugar/starch diet. Horse owner Janet Pilling has owned Gypsy for 14 years. “At competitions I found he could get very fizzy and lose focus in the dressage. I decided to try TopSpec Calmer in addition to his TopSpec diet, as although I wanted him to remain relaxed in the dressage I still needed him to have plenty of energy and go for the cross-country phase,” she says. “The difference has been amazing and I now go to competitions confident that he will keep calm in the dressage phase rather than argue with me.”
TopSpec can be contacted, free of charge, on 01845-565030