Feeding horses properly is an art and a science. Sometimes it helps to work with an equine nutritionist to design the best diet for your horse. The vet is often the first person to realize that a horse or farm has a nutrition problem.
The team effort between the veterinarian and nutritionist can be of great help with a problem horse. Most of the progressive veterinarians and nutritionists realize there is a professional relationship – which they can work together. The nutritionist does not comment on the medical situations and the vet tells the client to talk to the nutritionist about that aspect of the horse’s problem. The client benefits most by utilizing the expertise from both practices.
If an orthopedic veterinarian makes treatment recommendations that fall on deaf ears, or the horse owner doesn’t do the follow-up treatment and rehab, then the horse will not recover as well. The same is true with a nutrition program. The horse owner needs to follow the nutritionist’s recommendations. When dealing with nutrition, things may not progress to a life-or-death situation, but attention to detail can be the difference between a sound or unsound horse, or between an “also ran” and a winner.
Some basic guidelines for dietary management include forage analysis. Hay may change from year to year. The protein and energy are what change most often. The trace mineral profile of the hay, depending on where you are in the U.S., will stay about the same, however.
Forage must be a key component in the diet. The nutrient requirements vary, depending on whether the ranch is trying to show horses as weanlings, sell them as yearlings or produce Olympic dressage horses. This changes the end point, regarding what the horses’ body condition should be and what rate of growth they need to achieve to be commercially successful. Once the forage analysis is completed, it can be determined how much supplemental feed needs to be added to the diet. When you have formulated those products so they complement the hay, the horse is getting a balanced diet.
There are a lot of horsemen who don’t buy hay by the season. They buy a few bales at a time and haul it home from the feed store in the back of their pickup. A forage analysis is of no use to them, but a nutritionist can say a certain mineral profile is typical of California alfalfa, or Nevada alfalfa, for instance. This is the same type of evaluation you’d get from a feed manufacturer – not analyzing the individual loads of hay, but using the library of all the hays they’ve analyzed in that particular region. They then make feed recommendations based on that.
Large breeding farms have more than just an interest in horses, but also a financial risk involved. After they have invested in land and horses, and planned all the breedings, they don’t want to let something that can be corrected and managed, like nutrition, interfere with their breeding program.
It is not that difficult to feed horses correctly. There is no reason to have horses that are grossly overweight or neglected. Providing proper nutrition can be as easy as correcting a poor nutrition program. There are all kinds of feeds – some formulated to deal with a specific horse problem, some commercial feeds designed for the overweight or underweight horse. There are feeds that are low in non-structural carbohydrates, to help horses with carbohydrate-related problems. The technology is there to create whatever is needed.
There are many avenues for finding a nutritionist who can help with feeding questions. The first option is to check with a company that makes commercial grain feed. Many companies have an equine nutritionist on staff.
You can go to a university and pick out an equine nutritionist; however, not all universities have one on staff.
A private consultant can often give you the most in-depth help for the nutrition evaluation. He works for you alone, not bringing with him a bias of products he wants you to use. He will evaluate what you are doing, and then make suggestions. If you ask about certain products, he will evaluate them and give you an objective overview, which you are paying him to do.
Through better veterinary care and better nutrition, we can deal with just about anything. We used to think that a ranch horse was old at 15. But now, if that horse is taken care of and his teeth are done, he may go on in peak condition much longer. His nutrition needs change. And with that comes responsibility to address those needs. There are good products now that can give the senior horse or problem horse the extra nutrition needed. Feeding these horses properly is attainable.