EQUINE FEED from A to Z
The feed value of hay will vary; test for nutritional content to know what supplementation may be needed.
Photo by Christy Rawls
HHH: Never underestimate the role diet plays in the health of your
To get the most nutrition for your horse offer as much pasture time as possible in a variety of vegetation, maximize natural organic foods or treats, and minimize processed feeds and extruded pellets. Your goal should be to supply the age-appropriate nutritional requirements of your horse to meet his individual needs. Consider your horse's environment, history, overall health, breed and age when selecting an appropriate diet. Know what your horse is consuming. READ LABELS. Whatever you feed, be consistent. Feed little, often. Changes in routine are always a concern for horses. For safe and nutritious feeding be familiar with the following:
Active ingredients - are the part of the compound responsible for
the actual “work”, as opposed to the inert carrier.
All natural - means it occurs in nature.
ARS - is the Agricultural Research Service, the US Department of Agriculture’s chief science research agency. Read how very-low-density lipoproteins transport more fats in the blood from refined grain than from whole grain in their March 2006 magazine. See www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar06/grain0306.htm
Barley - is a grain; soaked or flaked is an alternative if oats cause
excitable behavior. Too much ground corn or barley is not easily digested
and may lead to colic. Rolled barley in feed helps a horse to gain
weight without becoming overly “hot”. If only fed barley
grain, which is high in phosphorus, add calcium.
Botulism - is a neurological disease from eating spoiled (likely molded) feed or hay in which small mammals got caught in the baling process.
Bran - is the outer husk of cereal grains. Bran mashes should not be fed too often due to the large amount of mineral phosphorus which binds to and inhibits calcium absorption.
Carbohydrates - are molecules (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen); energy
for your horse; complex carbohydrates are indirect sources of energy.
Certified Organic - means test results confirm 100% NO pesticides, artificial fertilizers, antibiotics, irradiation, GMO’s or hormones.
Chewing - is done by a row of premolars and molars on each side of the mouth in a natural side-to-side motion.
Choke - is when a wad of food material blocks the esophagus.
Colic - is a broad term for stomachache, a symptom or signal of pain which can be more or less severe, even fatal.
“Complete” mix or pellet - describes a combination of both fiber and nutrients for horses whose hay intake may be limited.
Concentrates - are another name for cereal grains; they are low in fiber and high in digestible energy. Organic is the best choice.
“Crude protein” - on a label is misleading. Digestible protein tells you how much protein your horse can really use!
(DE) Digestible Energy - is the energy content of the digested portion,
minus that lost in feces.
(DM) Dry Matter - is the weight of feedstuffs without water in it.
Electrolytes - are a mixture of salts that can be added to water to
provide the necessary minerals lost through sweat.
Essential Amino Acids - must be supplied by diet; all are needed for protein production.
(EFAs) Essential Fatty Acids - fats that must be supplied by the diet.
Extruded feed - has been treated, heated at high temperatures and formed into pellets. Extruded feeds usually get rid of the less digestible outer shells of grain which can be preferred for some older horses. Check the label for beet pulp; which if fed can lead to choke in some horses if not wetted down prior to consumption. Pellets can be soaked in water to make eating and digestion easier for older horses.
Fat pellets - are supplements made from waste products such as fat
trimmed off of cattle; contain pesticides, herbicides, toxins, and
growth hormones! Horses are vegetarian and cannot handle these saturated
Fiber - includes grass, hay, alfalfa and oat-straw; High fiber feeds provide complex carbohydrates and protein.
Fine-stemmed hay - is easier for senior horses to eat.
Flora - is the bacterium within your horse's gut; balance is important; acidophilus and lactobacillus are good flora. Antibiotics kill flora.
Food allergies - can come from molds, bacteria, fungus, and mycotoxins (often in corn). These toxins can lead to poor attitude, dull coat, current or future digestive problems, chemical build-up, gradual weight loss, dry hooves with ridges/rings, hives and even botulism. Watch labels for artificial fillers, coloring agents, binders and flavor enhancers. Avoid molasses and other sweeteners whenever possible. Familiarize yourself with applied kinesiology and use muscle testing to check your horse for sensitivities to feeds.
Food value - is the actual energy (nutrition) that a horse can use from its food, varies depending on plant maturity and availability.
Founder - is to fall or sink, here in reference to the coffin bone of the hoof; a result of and often called laminitis; may come from digestive disturbance caused by overeating, or toxic fermenting foodstuffs; is particularly common when horses are fed too much grain, or feed meant for hogs, chickens or cattle.
Forage - is grasses, high in fiber and vitamin C, low in carbohydrates, is 8-10% protein; and most palatable at early growth. www.safer-grass.org
Free choice feed - is available for the horse to choose at will; may include loose (granular) trace mineral salts, humate, seaweed, limestone flour, or a variety of herbs. Horses will take more or less as needed.
Glycemic response - is a spike in insulin released by the pancreas,
in response to glucose that feed or rich grass produces. Corn provides
an insulin rush which is problematic, especially for sugar intolerant
GMO’s - genetically modified organisms, including seeds. Genetically modified organisms wreak havoc on us, our animals, and the environment through increased cancer risks, food allergies, damage to food quality and nutrition, antibiotic resistance, increased pesticide residues, genetic pollution, damage to beneficial insects and soil fertility, creation of genetically engineered "superweeds" and "superpests", new viruses and pathogens, and socioeconomic and ethical hazards.
Good fat - is cold-pressed, energy and calorie rich, provides building blocks for enzymes, and insulates your horse's body against changes in temperature.
Grain - should be fed in several small amounts; never overfeed grains - for accuracy, weigh all feed and grain rations. Nutritional labels should reflect grain AFTER it has been pelletized to determine what was lost in manufacturing. Pellets reduce moisture content and the risk of mold formation allowing longer, safer storage - must be kept dry. For maximum nutrition the pellet must easily absorb moisture and break down in the digestive tract in 30-45 minutes. Pellets absorb water from the body as they break down so make sure your horse drinks enough water. Add a supplement such as “Just Add Oats” to barley, oats, and other grains to render them more complete; thus eliminating any glycemic issues.
Hay - is grass in its dried form; is the 2nd best choice for feed
after natural pasture; is best cut at the pre-bloom (before flowering)
stage, should be primarily leafy, deep green, and slightly sweet smelling;
is 5-8% water. A mature horse usually requires 16-18 pounds of hay
per 1,000 pounds. There is a lot of variation in the feed value of
hay; test for nutritional content to know what supplementation may
Hydrogenated oils - are bad fats; also called transfats, and are vegetable oils that have been chemically altered.
Impaction colic - is caused by a blockage of the gut, usually by ingesta
Insulin resistance - is a form of type II diabetes; check the neck for thickness and crestiness; avoid spring grass.
Laminitis - may be caused by overeating carbohydrates or lush spring
grass - especially if treated with nitrogen fertilizers; or from toxins
or toxic products of fermenting foodstuffs.
Low quality protein - has mostly nonessential amino acids and is low in those that are essential from food.
Made with Organic Ingredients - means at least 70% of the ingredients
Mash - is a soft, wet, heated, easily digestible porridge benefiting older, ill or dentally challenged horses.
Monounsaturated fats - are good fats such as olive and coconut oil!
“National Food Uniformity” Labeling Law - controversially
eliminates over 200 US state food safety labeling laws! If it passes,
safety labels on foods/beverages concerning cancer, birth defects,
allergies, poisons etc., as well as GMO notifications would all be
eliminated! Take action at
Natural grazing - is a free-range pasture environment for horses. It normally exceeds 20 hours.
Oats - can be whole (in the husk), rolled (crushed), and naked (kernels
without the husk).
Omega 3 fats - are good fats such as flax or linseed oil; are for tissue repair, healing, hoof growth, CNS activity, and modulation of inflammation.
Organic - means 95% was produced without pesticides, artificial fertilizers, antibiotics, irradiation, GMO’s or hormones.
Pasture roughage - may come from grass, legumes, hay. Pasture is usually not enough for the working horse; feed grain or other supplemental foods.
Polyunsaturated fats - contains desirable Omega 3 and less desirable Omega 6 fats; are mostly vegetable oils like sunflower and cottonseed; they come from your horses’ diet; corn, soy and safflower oil form transfatty acids that damage cell membranes which in turn causes inflammation!
Probiotics - supply beneficial bacteria to the GI tract.
Protein - for horses is recommended at 12-14%; when all essential amino acids are not present, then protein isn’t bioavailable and they will be excreted in the urine. Watch for a high urine output with a strong ammonia smell as an indication of low quality protein in your feed. Animal protein has been linked to immune difficulties, eye problems, and over-reaction to vaccinations or insect bites.
Saturated fats - are bad fats found mostly in meat. Horses manufacture
saturated fats from excess carbohydrate, protein and fat molecules.
Soluble carbohydrates - are primarily grain starch.
Spring grass - is up to 90% water, high in sugars and simple starches (soluble carbohydrates), and high in some plant hormones; all of which, when overloaded, can produce toxins, lead to a magnesium deficiency, laminitis, and/or loose stools due to its passing through the digestive system too quickly. Limit turnout and offer hay, as well.
Straw - stem of the grain stalk, used for bedding and sometimes hay; low energy feed, 40% fiber; high risk for impaction colic.
Stretch receptors - indicate that adequate food has been consumed; horses DO NOT posses these! The urge to chew - not the stomach - is the driving force with horses.
Supplement - is something added to basic feed to supply a nutrient that may be insufficient in that feed. Horses in stalls, for example, or with limited turnout who eat mostly hay, will require supplements.
Sweet feed - is mixed cereal grains, agricultural products and molasses.
Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) - listed on feed labels, are the
portion that is digested and absorbed (ex. carbohydrates, fats and
proteins), yet is not specifically identified.
Treats - can be fresh picked herbs or healthy carrots, apples, and pears; cut them in small pieces lengthwise (not round) to avoid choke.
United Nations Biosafety Protocol - is an international law mandating full disclosure of foods. For info on how the US and other Biotech corporations are trying to hide GMO’s in our foods see www.organicconsumers.org/ge/goliath060313.cfm
Van Soest Analysis - is an analysis of forages to assess the amount
of energy they would provide. The label ID is NDF, neutral detergent
fiber, and ADF for acid.
Vitamins - must be found in foods or supplemented in the diet. Good grass pasture and three hours a day of sunlight supply nearly all your horse's vitamin needs! Most vitamins will store in the body for a few weeks.
Whole grains - intact, untreated, and not mixed with anything.
Zeolites - are naturally occurring nonflammable minerals that reduce ammonia odors. Keep feeding areas clean; Remove manure and urine to avoid parasites. Zeolites can be used safely around water and feed; can be added to feed to enhance bone formation.
In answer to those of you who requested a source for the 70% fulvic and humic acids, as mentioned in NHM Volume 8 Issue 2, Feed Facts and Fancies, Humic Substances: Equine Support Against Toxic Environments by Shari Frederick:
Terratol, LLC Nutritional Supplements
8571 Boat Club Road
Ft. Worth, Texas 76179