Providing a balanced, healthy diet suitable for the level of work undertaken by your horse is a key aspect of management. Overfeeding, underfeeding or unbalanced diets can lead to several problems. The most common we see include:

Laminitis

This is caused by a number of factors, but most commonly an excess of grass and/or feed. Where a restricted diet is required, supplements must be added to ensure that vitamin and mineral levels are maintained.

Equine Rhabdomylosis (ERS)

This is caused by overfeeding, but usually in association with a sudden decrease in workload. If your horse has to stop work suddenly, make sure the hard feed intake is significantly reduced to try and avoid ERS. Electrolyte or mineral imbalances can also be a cause in recurrent cases. These can require extensive investigation.

Excitability or difficult behaviour

We often encounter overfed or inappropriately fed horses, which are receiving too much protein and starch for the workload they are doing. By simply decreasing their hard feed and increasing the forage content of the diet you can vastly improve behaviour and therefore the welfare of your horse.

Malnutrition

This may be caused by underfeeding or by an inability to digest feed efficiently. If your horse is failing to thrive, please seek veterinary advice.We are happy to give advice: please telephone the practice and ask to speak to an equine vet if you have any queries on nutrition for your horse. Always remember the higher the proportion of forage the better.

Practical feeding of the older horse

As your horse gets older his nutritional requirements will change. Although his energy demands will decrease with retirement his nutritional demands will usually increase due to:

  • Poor dental function e.g. teeth wearing smooth or becoming loose and falling out.
  • Digestive dysfunction e.g. parasite induced.
  • Reduced mobility/stiffness preventing ready access to feed.
  • Disease e.g. Cushing’s.
  • Difficulty maintaining body temperature/getting cold easily.

To maintain an older horse’s requirements it is important to provide good quality protein, maintain fibre intake and increase micronutrients, especially antioxidants. Feeding in small frequent meals also prevents the gut being overloaded and enables the most to be got out of the food.

Ways to Maintain Fibre Intake

This is especially important with the loss of chewing ability which comes with old age.

  • Provide large quantities of dried grass/hay replacers i.e. NON-molassed chaff/ chops e.g. Alfa-A. Approximately 8kg per day should be provided for a 500kg horse.
  • Access to soft leafy hay or haylage ad lib.
  • Add sugar beet pulp to the feed.
  • Feed high fibre cubes/grass nuts/alfalfa nuts. These can be soaked before feeding to increase digestibility.

Concentrates and Supplements

Pick concentrates low in starch and high in digestible fibre with elevated micronutrients e.g. Saracen Veteran Pencils, Simple Systems Horse Feeds. For good doers choose a low energy concentrate e.g. Saracen Cooling Pencils and provide a broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement. Vegetable oil, e.g. Soya oil, added to the diet can be a good way to increase calorie intake.

Supplements should be used wisely. Probiotics e.g. Protexin® are good for individuals with dental problems. Joint supplements to help with arthritis should contain the following: Glucosamine (10g or more per day), Chondroitin (5g or more per day), MSM (10g or more per day) (ideal quantities for a 500kg horse). Check your supplements to check that they contain enough of the active ingredients to be of use to your horse.