What’s in Your Horse’s Feed, Really?
And who decides this stuff? Jody Webb explains why we ought to look outside the box — er, bag — for more complete equine nutrition.
For the last five years it has been my passion and goal to not only give my own horses a healthier diet, but those of my customers as well. Making my own horses healthier led me into starting an herbal supplement based business just because people asked me “Why do your horses look so good and how can I do that?”
I’m not a veterinarian, I’m not a nutritionist and I do not have a degree in herbalism. Many people think this disqualifies me, but since when is a good brain and a lot of independent study not of value? Why did a piece of paper on a wall and a lifelong stack of student loans become more important than life experience? I know many people with a degree on their wall who I wouldn’t allow to fold a piece of paper for me, let alone decide what I should feed my horses. And thus we come to the problem of commercial horse feeds.
This may sound like a jump in topic but follow me for a moment. Every single horse owner out there has depended on someone telling them what to feed their horse at one time or another. How many of those people they asked actually had a degree in horse nutrition? I’m guessing such a small percentage that I couldn’t even put it on a graph.
Ever walk into a feed store and ask them what you should feed your horse? How many of those feed store workers actually have even owned a horse? Certainly most of them have never even taken a course in feeding an equine. And yet you take advice from them. Kinda makes you go “hmm” doesn’t it?
So then we have the people making the feeds. They all have someone with a degree on their staff that helps put together that feed, or at least they advertise that they do. Some of the feeds even actually care about their customers’ animals, but let’s be honest here: For many feeds companies it’s all about “the bottom line.” They want to make a product that 1) makes them money 2) looks like it’s working. That sounds okay, doesn’t it?
Well, it does until you take a close look at what is really going on. After all, you can be on a pretty bad diet for years and the consequences slowly creep up on you. By the time you figure out it’s the feed you’ve been feeding that has caused your horse to have so many issues, it may be too late to do anything about it.
By this time you may be thinking “so what the heck do I do?” Well, while you don’t actually need a vet degree with a focus in nutrition to feed your horse healthily, you do need to educate yourself a bit. It’s not enough to throw food at them; there actually needs to be some thought put into what they are fed.
Let’s face it: “complete” feeds have made many of us lazy. All we have to do is find a pretty bag from a company that says it cares and all the thought is done, right? They have your best in mind, right? Hmm, no, not really. It’s a company with stockholders and bottom lines. They have THEIR best interest as number one, remember that.
So let’s take a look at an “average” well known and much-used bag of “complete” feed and break it down a bit. The first step towards being educated about feeding your horse is knowing how to read a label.
THE MAIN INGREDIENTS
Processed Grain By-Products, Roughage Products, Plant Protein Products, Forage Products, Grain Products
These are a whole lot of not-very-clear-what-it-actually-is products. It can be a mix of anything that falls into the “grain and forage” category. It’s the leftovers of some other food process. It can have wheat, soy hulls, rice hulls, grasses, etc. etc. etc. in it. While variety is great and these products provide protein, they provide limited nutrition, are hard to digest in large amounts, and cause inflammation in the body by being high in Omega 6s and low in Omega 3s. Much of it is GMO, full of Glyphosphate and soy is high in estrogen, causing hormonal imbalance. Got a “moody mare”? Remove the soy from her diet!
Molasses Products. Molasses helps get the horse to eat the feed. It’s high in sulfur, but it’s not worth the added sugars to this already very starchy diet. This feed is between 24-28% Non Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) — this is part of the reason why so many horses are becoming insulin resistant. It’s like a candy bar in a very large bag! The average horse should stick with feeds between 12-16% NSC.
Soybean Oil. More soybean, which has been invading the horse feed since corn growers started selling off their corn for ethanol.
Calcium Carbonate. Used in antacids for upset stomachs… ever wonder why it’s in horse feeds? Calcium Carbonate provides calcium and alkalizes the feed. Since the above grains are very acidic this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but without adequate magnesium the bones will not absorb it.
Salt. Ever hear of “below the salt”? Any ingredients below the salt level is in smaller quantities than the salt. The following are the minimal nutrients:
VITAMINS, MINERALS and STUFF
L-Lysine, DL-Methionine. Amino Acids — they add two, there are 24 more that your body needs to be healthy
Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Oxide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Choline Chloride, Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin Supplement, Calcium Iodate. It’s great that they are adding nutrients, however it is a very limited amount of nutrients. Kelp has 45+ vitamins and minerals, plus amino acids. Above is what I call “chemical nutrients,” single ingredients that is very questionable how much the body can actually use. But it looks good on a label, right?
So now that you’ve run out to the barn and grabbed your feed label and researched it, only to find the same basic ingredients as listed above. What do you do? First, start with educating yourself on what a healthy diet actually is for a horse. Remember that a healthy diet isn’t an “easy” diet, and there needs to be variety.
A few ideas to get you started: Good quality hay (that doesn’t mean expensive, but clean and dry), horse friendly herbs, “live” foods (grass, carrots, apples, whatever your horse can handle, as a regular part of their diet), healthy seeds (flax, camelina, chia, sunflower are some ideas) and a good natural source of minerals (bentonite clay, diatomaceous earth, Redmond mineral blocks etc).
Remember, a horse needs the same things we need: Fiber, protein, healthy oils, vitamins, minerals and VARIETY. You will have a healthier horse, and your horse will thank you for it.
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.
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