Balance key to a healthy horse ration

Balance key to a healthy horse ration

By: April Allen 01/11/2013 @ 10:32am

Horses have a lot of specific care needs, and this can sometimes be costly. Luckily, there are ways to cut costs by taking preventative action.  

One easy way to keep your horse out of the veterinarian’s office is to feed it properly. Mark Russell, professor of animal science at Purdue University, says there are 5 distinct categories of nutrients that are vital to healthy body functions of a horse: Water, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.

"A horse must have a balanced diet, which includes all the essential nutrients in the proper proportion and total amount. Much of a horse's health depends on the way in which nutrients are delivered and the feeding management,” says Russell.

Water intake keeps body temperature regulated. A horse’s hydration is influenced by air temperature, exercise, nursing a foal and dry matter intake. Carbohydrates are a horse’s largest source of energy. Having energy in the form of carbohydrates is essential because if there isn’t enough then protein will be used for energy instead of fulfilling its natural role for the production of milk and body repair. Then, having the proper amount of high-quality protein is needed for the development of muscles, growth, body tissues, skin and hair.

Vitamins are absorbed in small amounts at a time, but Russell says “deficiencies can cause severe side effects." Some vitamins can be stored and others can’t, so they will need to be taken continually.

Part of a horse’s diet is from pasture. So, by taking good care of pasture grasses, you can help keep a horse healthier, says Krishona Martinson, an equine specialist with the University of Minnesota.

“Spend some time and maybe a little bit of money -- if they have extra money -- and really make sure that that pasture's productive. Resting the pasture, controlling weeds, fertilizing that pasture -- yes, it all requires a little bit of input," she says. "But the amount of yield and the amount of nutrition your horse gets for a very reduced cost compared to baled hay will lead to a significant financial savings.”

Don’t save money by skipping yearly examinations and procedures at the vet’s office because those appointments can prevent an even bigger bill later on. Martinson says some procedures that can be done at home.

“I think horse owners should learn to give intermuscular injections. I also think with basic wounds, learn to do a simple bandage, learn how to take your horse's temperature, learn how to look at more of their vital signs that you know if something is really, really a concern you need to call the vet," she says. "Or maybe making that phone call and saying, 'this is my horse's temperature, this is the respiration rate,' and then having a conversation with your veterinarian if follow-up care is necessary.”

Tips for feeding and feed management:

  • Having free choice fresh water and mineralized salt available daily a horse can fulfill the need of at least one gallon of water/100 lb of body weight per day.

  • Horses who nibble throughout the day more efficiently utilize their feed so maintain a regular feeding schedule.

  • Sudden changes will alert an owner to potential problems so watch horses as they eat.

  • Avoid overfeeding horses

  • Give a horse an hour to digest a meal before forced excercse and movement.

  • Changes in feed should gradually take place over a 7-10 day period of time with increments in grain not being faster than ½ lb per a day.

  • Determine amount of feed by weight instead of volume.

  • A horse needs 1 lb of forage for every 100 lbs of body weight per day.