Equine Nutrition

September 14, 2020 (published)

Having your horses on a good nutritional program is important for their health and performance.  Nutrition is an important reason to have your veterinarian give your horses a wellness exam twice a year when they are vaccinating your horses.  If your vet does not examine your horse at the time of vaccination, ask them to do so. A nutritional consultation should be a part of this exam.  Your vet should ask about the current feeding program, assess the body condition of your horses, and consider taking samples of the feeds and hay you are using, and even the grass your horses are eating.  If you are providing a commercial feed, it is usually unnecessary to have this feed tested. 

However, if you feed whole grain out of the field, such as oats, or if you mix concentrates as do many folks, you probably need to get the ration tested as the feeds are not intended to be mixed and the ration could be unbalanced.  Plus, when you mix a few feeds together, you cannot determine the amount of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, fat or minerals so mixing is not recommended but if you do mix feeds, testing is a good idea.  Dr. Amanda Bradbury indicates in the Remuda publication of the Texas Equine Vet Association that current feeding practices include determining if the horses are fed together or separately, as this plays a large role in nutrition. Hay and feed samples must be collected correctly, and this includes sending in the feed mixed in the proportions you mix it, and hay samples need to be collected with a hay probe.  Also, any supplements need to be added to the mix in the amounts they are feed and sent in as this can affect the balance of the ration.

Dr. Bradbury said body condition score is evaluated with three techniques including body weight, body condition score or fat cover, and muscle tone.  As far as body weight, the most accurate measurement without a scale is by using a formula including height, heart girth circumference, length and neck circumference. There is an inexpensive app for your smart phone called Healthy Horse that you can use, and you simply measure your horse in inches and plug in the numbers.  Fat cover is evaluated by using a scoring system of 1-9 with one being emaciated and nine being obese. Five to six is normal, the same as a body condition score.  Many feed companies have information on how to determine your horse’s body condition score and your vet can also help with that. I assign a body condition score to every horse I examine. 

Muscle tone is determined by a tool called the Topline Evaluation System that evaluates muscle development over the topline in three areas, including withers to back, mid back to croup, and hip to hindquarter.  Evaluators assess a grade of A through D for each horse, with A being ideal.  Dr. Bradbury indicates using all three techniques can give you a good overall assessment of your horse’s condition.  

There are many misconceptions about equine nutrition, and some of these are that processed feeds are low quality, byproducts are less nutritious than whole feeds, natural is better, commercial concentrate feeds are hot, and starch is dangerous in all horses. Speak with your equine veterinarian to make sure you’re providing a healthy diet for your horse.


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