by Paul Burdziakowski
In part 1 of feeding your horse naturally, holistic horse expert, Dr. Harman covered the basics of proper nutrition. The cornerstone of optimal nutrition comes from six main classes of nutrients including water, fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. In order to get these six nutrients in the horses diet Dr. Harman offered some basic guidelines to follow.
The primary source of food under these guidelines should be forage consisting of grasses and hay. Whole grains such as oats and barley should be fed whenever possible. Horse owners should not rely on vitamins which come as part of the feed, but rather add vitamins separately as the individual horse requires. It is also helpful to supplement the horse with free choice minerals while providing salt separately.
These standards work well on normal healthy horses but how do you feed horses with special conditions? Dr. Harman offered some suggestions on a few of the more common conditions that horse owners may come across.
Feeding the fat horse:
Starvation is not the way to get an overweight horse back to optimal weight. This will only cause boredom and stress, which could lead to ulcers and other bad habits. Instead Dr. Harman recommends plenty of exercise. Owners should put the horse out in the pasture where it will have plenty of room to roam around. If the horse will wear one, apply a muzzle to help limit calorie intake from foraging.
When it comes to feeding Dr. Harman recommends using hay pellets, non-GMO beet pulp and slow feeders for hay to keep the horse busy. If possible check the non-structural carbohydrate content of the hay. Ten to 12 percent is considered safe but a lower percentage is even better for an overweight horse. Structural carbohydrates are the fiber part of food while non-structural carbohydrates consist of sugar and starches. Research has shown that excessive consumption of sugar and starch can overwhelm the horse’s stomach and small intestine, which can lead to colic and laminitis. Large amounts of sugar and starch also rapidly ferment which leads to lactic acid and the destruction of good bacteria from the horse’s digestive tract.
Sometimes insulin resistance, poor glucose metabolism or Cushing’s disease can be the culprit of why the horse is overweight. The best advice for horse owners is to not let it get to the point of disease by supplementing with magnesium, chromium, vanadium, arginine, milk thistle and turmeric. These minerals and herbs help to support proper insulin and glucose metabolism.
Feeding the thin horse:
There are a couple things horse owners can look at before delving into the diet of an overly thin horse. First try ruling out ulcers or poor digestion as the cause. It is also well known that horses can worry their weight off so horse owners should pay close attention to any stresses that their animal may be under such as bullying from other horses, frequent transport by trailer or a painful injury that they may have.
When it comes to feeding horse owners should include probiotics as part of the horse’s nutritional supplements. If consumed appropriately probiotics can have a number of beneficial effects on the animals’ immune system and digestive tract. From there Dr. Harman recommends feeding the horse additional concentrates. Any whole grain or pelleted feed that is non-forage and non-vitamin or mineral is considered a concentrate. In the case of a thin horse it is also helpful to add fats of vegetable origin to the diet. Rice bran oil and cold pressed oils are helpful as well.
A final thing to look for is whether or not the horse is getting the proper percentage of protein in their diet. Adult horses need about 7.5 percent while young horses need 12 to 14 percent. Good sources of protein include grasses plus legumes such as alfalfa and clover. Alfalfa is higher in protein than grass hays, but in moderate quantity it boosts the overall protein quality. Alfalfa is also low in sugar and supplies additional minerals. Alfalfa should be mixed no more than 50 percent with grasses to keep protein levels in check and prevent intestinal stone formation.
Feeding the old toothless horse:
The age at which a horse is considered to be old can be difficult to define because it depends on their previous health, activity level, and genetics. As horses age, their ability to chew, digest, and absorb food diminishes. With this in mind Dr. Harman recommends predigested senior feeds, well soaked beet pulp and fats consisting of oils or pellets added to the mix. Other good food options include soaked hay pellets and hay cubes. The added water to pellets and cubes causes them to disintegrate into smaller pieces, which your horse can easily consume and digest.
It is also still very important that your horse gets turned out to graze but keep in mind that in this condition they get very little from good grass. Long stemmed hay is no longer a good option either because it can cause choking. If a horse has some dental crown left you can continue to feed some hay as long as it is chopped.
Ulcers and antacid use in horses:
In today’s modern feeding methods horses do not get the lengthy periods of grazing that is necessary. They are instead fed at designated times which leaves the horses stomach empty between feedings. Digestive acids are secreted which cause damage to the stomach and leads to painful ulcers. Horse owners then turn to antacids as a way to neutralize stomach acid.
According to Dr. Harman the use of antacids causes key minerals to become ionized and useless. Some of these key minerals include calcium, magnesium and manganese, which are needed for bone growth. Other minerals negatively affected by antacids are zinc and selenium, which are important for immune function. Protein digestion is also negatively affected by the use of antacids. Acidity is of primary importance to the breakdown of protein. Without the proper acidity foods that reach the gut are not processed correctly. As a result food can rot, ferment and trigger allergies.
Another drawback to antacid use is a lower pH and a more alkaline environment in the horse’s digestive tract. Lower pH can kill beneficial bacteria and allow dangerous pathogens to prosper. All of this can lead to more serious digestive disorders.
The fact is horses continually secrete gastric acids, where humans only secrete them in response to ingesting food. Knowing this, the simple answer is not wasting money on antacids but rather providing a steady supply of food for their stomachs. The continuous feeding of hay is the best way to prevent ulcers. Dr. Harman also recommends the most important supplement of all, probiotics. Fermented probiotics can balance the pH in the horses gut and give a place for good bacteria to live.
Diseases treated in horses are a reflection of the nutritional, behavioral, physical and energetic health of the animal. Solid nutrition is the foundation of all healing programs. For more information on Dr. Joyce Harman visit www.harmanyequine.com .