The correct feeding of our horses is essential for their recovery and rehabilitation. This is why, as a refuge, we get advice from the best professionals on the subject. This time we interview Maria Duran Navarro, equine nutritionist at Nutra Horse, who will give us her insight on how to feed a horse properly.
A bad diet can cause different diseases in our equine friend. Therefore, to prevent them, it is important to get advice not on the best brands on the market, but on the nutrients that our horse needs to have a healthy life. We must also be clear about the characteristics of our horse and what will be its level of physical demand. Since their diet will depend on these variables.
Nutra Horse specializes in advanced clinical horse nutrition. Its mission is to offer a healthy and balanced diet suitable for each horse in particular. Because, as we said before, each horse has its own demands.
“Wild horses travel long distances to meet their needs for forage, water, mineral salts… In this journey, hundreds of varieties, including herbaceous, trees, shrubs, fruits, seeds and roots, provide the horse with a diversity of many nutrients, sometimes difficult to achieve with domestication”Nura Horse
This is why the human hand must intervene to provide the horse with all those nutrients that it instinctively acquires in the wild. I leave you with this information provided by Maria Duran Navarro.
Basically, the same as other mammals with one difference: the horse’s digestive system gets most of its energy from fiber fermentation. This differentiates them from other monogastrics like us.
The diet must include daily water, protein, structural carbohydrates (fiber), fats (essential to transport fat-soluble vitamins), vitamins and minerals in variable proportions depending on the horse. Water is an essential nutrient, just like minerals.
Protein is the most abundant constituent in the horse’s body after water. It is part of the muscles, cell receptors, hormones, bones, cartilage, tendons, hooves, neurotransmitters, etc.
Vitamins act as cofactors for energy metabolism and for the development of the body’s natural function at the cellular and biochemical level.
Minerals fulfill various functions and are essential for a multitude of vital processes, regulating blood pH, hydration, muscle contraction, nerve impulses, antioxidant response, etc.
Fats are necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, cell wall formation, skin health, cholesterol and hormone formation, energy supply, the reproductive system, the immune system, etc.
Fiber constitutes about 60% of the horse’s energy when its diet is exclusively forage. It’s essential for the maintenance of the intestinal flora, the production of B vitamins and other vital metabolites in conjunction with the liver from volatile fatty acids.
Regarding water, we all know that without water we cannot live. It’s necessary for the hydration of all connective tissue, the function of vital organs, and regulates blood pressure. Furthermore, it’s necessary for digestion and part of all the cells of the body. It’s present in approximately 70% of the horse’s body.
Our refuge is located in the southern part of Tenerife. For those who do not know it, it is a completely arid area that lacks grasslands. This is why we must offer our horses a varied diet to compensate for this lack. Another reality is that the horses that we have are in full rehabilitation. Therefore, they often need other supplements and more rigorous care.
About this, Emma, one of the owners of the shelter, adds a little on how we feed our horses.
“Here we have our horses on a very natural and grain-free diet. As our horses are retired from competitive lives and they most are in light exercise, we give good quality roughage to form their diets. Unfortunately, being on a volcanic island comes with its difficulties and a price tag to get quality as everything comes from the mainland. For this, we have to add along with our hay pellet forms of forage such as alfalfa and hay cobs to get sufficient calorie intake and nutrients.
Always access to fresh water and a mineral/salt lick is a priority for us as well because here we are advocates of barefoot horses our diet also reflects this. A diet that is too unnatural for the horse (full of cereals and additives) will not promote optimum foot health, which is essential for our horses here at Tenerife Horse Rescue on the harsh terrain.Emma, owner of Tenerife Horse Rescue
*Back to Maria*
Supplementation is any extra contribution that is not part of the horse’s usual diet. The diet must provide the nutrients we have talked about daily in a specific percentage that depends on the horse in question and can vary according to its age, activity, breed, pathologies and even the time of year. If a horse does not receive these nutrients daily, we must provide them in supplement form, simply so that its diet is correct and complete and not incur deficiencies. Then there are the specific supplements aimed at a certain pathology, injury, or condition. Whenever the horse needs extra help and the supplement is well formulated, I recommend any contribution that helps improve this chronic or acute situation.
A retired horse will have extremely diverse requirements than one that is in exercise. Both are going to need the same nutrients that we have mentioned simply to stay alive and in a suitable state of health, but not in the same proportions and not in the same quantity. Even mineral ratios vary.
Logically, the horse performing a discipline will increase its energy, mineral, vitamin, and protein requirements. Why? Simply because this horse is consuming energy at a higher rate, its muscles have a requirement that the maintenance horse does not have, the same happens with its bone mass, joints, the expression of hormones, neurotransmitters, micro-muscle tears, etc. It is a horse that needs not only to respond to the demand of current exercise, but to repair all the stressed tissues after it. And also neutralize the free radicals formed so that its entire body can undergo a healthy adaptation and avoid physical deterioration and injuries.
These types of horses mostly make a maximum effort for a short period of time, so the energy consumption carries out anaerobically. What does this mean? That your cells prioritize cellular respiration through the consumption of glucose outside the mitochondria where oxygen isn’t required for the formation of ATP molecules. So, the demand for non-structural carbohydrates such as starch and sugars, increases to be able to maintain adequate levels of muscle and liver glycogen.
This means that we need to increase the ration of foods with a high starch content, such as some types of cereals. Since otherwise the horse could not produce energy in the quantity and with the speed necessary to carry out the exercise and would quickly fall into fatigue and muscle weakness. It’s important to mention that the cereals need to be heat-treated (except for oats), to obtain maximum energy efficiency and avoid colic. The forage ration is still essential and should always provide the main diet.
I believe that all feed and supplement stores have some good and fair products, at least in my opinion and experience. In general, we must look for clean, loose products, without rancid odors, with quality raw materials, adequately treated during the production process, whose packaging offers guarantees in terms of moisture and light insulation.
It is possible to find a bad product at a high price, but not a good one at a low price because simply the quality of its components does not allow prices to be thrown. Then there are products with prohibitive prices whose content does not justify it at all. But it is very difficult to determine in a few words what constitutes a good quality product and a poor quality one, there are many factors that intervene.
If you would be interested, Emma can tell you in detail what, why and how we feed our horses for optimal barefoot health and gut rehabilitation. Comment below if you would like us to write this blog post. A big thanks to Marie for taking the time to let Lola interview her for this week’s blog addition on how to feed horses!