Horses naturally seek out a diverse, varied diet. Hay and grain might be easy, but Jody Webb explains why we ought to look outside the box for more complete equine nutrition.
Bread, who doesn’t like bread? Especially bread fresh out of the oven… bread so fresh when you walk in the front door your mouth immediately waters. (For those of you who can’t eat bread, you have my sincerest sympathies.)
Can you imagine though, having to eat that same bread every meal, every day, without change? It would be darned good for a couple of meals but every day for years? Yuck! You would not only get very tired of eating bread, you would also become very unhealthy in a short manner of time.
So why am I talking about bread in a horse article?
Did you know hay is pretty much like eating bread? Bread after all is full of grains, grains which are seeds of grasses, i.e. hay. Oh yes they may be different types of grasses, but nutritionally all grasses are pretty much the same. They vary in protein and calcium levels and some vitamins and some minerals but the overall content is pretty comparable. The older the hay the less nutritious it is, as drying and aging depletes vitamin content, but that is true of all hays.
So why is this a big deal? After all, the staple for all horses is one form or another is hay.
We horse people have been trained over the years that hay is the “be all end all” for horse feeds. Some hay, some grain and they are fine… right?
Well, stop and think about that. Nutritionally speaking, hay and grain are pretty much the same. But if we look at history a hundred years ago the horse owner depended primarily on a horse grazing first. Cowboys carried around grain as a quick and easy boost for their horses as they rode the range because that’s all that was available. They carried around grain out of lack of choice. But still they depended first on a horse grazing the land. Land that was full of variety — grasses, weeds, herbs, bark, berries — whatever the horse wanted to munch on.
But in those days most people had plenty of land for their animals. In today’s horse world many horses never even get to graze or the land is stripped of everything but grass. We have taken “variety” away from the horse — and it’s showing. Food manufacturers have tried to fill in the blanks of the equine diet with measurable chemically based feeds where they can guarantee the content, but what gets lost in translation is the naturalness and variety that should go into a horse’s diet. And so as horse owners we are seeing more of our horses with early arthritis, metabolic diseases, and a rise in colic deaths every year.
So what is the solution? Fortunately people are really beginning to see outside the box where horse feeds are concerned. There is a larger variety of food choices available to horses than even 10 years ago. Though many people have a hard time getting past the “my horse is fine on hay only” there are many people now exploring the advantages of foods not seen as normal horse feeds: coconut meal, kelp, herbs to name a few. As many people are making better choices with their own health, they are beginning to think outside the box for their animals as well.
As in all things, remember that variety is the spice of life. Like us, horses cannot live a healthy life on “dead” foods. A good hay is only the basis of the food pyramid for our equine friends. Even if a horse is not able to graze on fresh grasses, there is still a large amount of fresh foods that they can have even if they are metabolically challenged. Small amounts of apples, carrots, watermelon, herbs, spices, and healthy seeds like flax and chia are all part of a healthy diet.
There is just one solid rule to remember: variety, variety, variety!
Jody Webb is the “Solepreneur” of AverageJo Equine, with a line of all natural supplements for horses and dogs. Her Wild Horse and Wild Dog line of products is the focus of years of research with the goal of taking your pets away from chemical laden feeds and supplements and taking them back to as close to nature as is possible in a tamed environment. With her three horses, two dogs, two cats, various rescue horses and their individual issues, there are plenty of willing volunteers with which to perfect each product. This desire came upon finding her then new horse Gideon was suffering from a metabolic disorder called EPSM. Though this disorder can never be cured and there will always be lifelong health issues for Gideon, he has gone from a cranky, underweight and severely in pain train wreck to a sassy and healthy looking beast! Jody is now taking her knowledge learned from owning such a difficult animal to moving on and helping other horse and dog owners have healthier, happier pets. Her writing comes out of the joys and pains of owning such a challenging animal. Learn more about all-natural horse products at Jody Webb’s blog, WildHorseProducts.com.