Equine Nutrition FAQ’s – Nutritional Management
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I purchased a horse 18-year-old paint gelding who is about 1,100 to 1,200 lbs. He was a body condition score of 3 and little to no work, hung out in a backyard stall, but has been at barns before. He gained about 100 to 200 lbs. over the course of a year. Now he has a body condition score of 5. When I purchased him, he was being fed half bermuda/half alfalfa about 15-18 lbs. of hay and 2 lbs. of Integrity Senior with no molasses. I found he was way too fiery on the feed. I slowly reduced the alfalfa hay and changed it to 2 lbs. alfalfa/bermuda pellets (using it for the calcium to help buffer, prevent ulcers and add some nutrients) no added fortification and he gets about 20-23 lbs. of Bermuda hay a day (want him to have access to hay, there is no pasture) along with 1 lb. of bermuda pellets. His behavior improved, but he was still quite spooky. Then I took him down from 2 lbs. of the senior down to .25 lbs. and it made a huge difference in reactivity/spooky behavior. He has been dealing with free fecal water syndrome for 7 months so I am trying an elimination diet. I slowly pulled him off a hoof supplement (he had a 4 inch crack in front hoof due to confirmation issues) and took off .25 lbs. of ration balancer, and 4 oz. flaxseed treats (which helps lessen the fecal water). He is now down to Bermuda hay with 2 lbs. alfalfa Bermuda pellets, 1 lb. of Bermuda pellets and .25 lbs. Integrity Senior. He is also on a full bucket probiotic to help with FFWS and just had to try a product recently due to severity of fecal water. His poop looks pretty good, and fecal water is not during passing manure. I know you recommend no other supplements other than Integrity as it is balanced product. I am trying to find out what is the least amount I can give him that would give him enough vitamin/minerals without making him too spooky. Something in the product makes him more loopy when I give it in higher amounts. I tried the Integrity Lite but he would not touch it - he prefers the senior formula. He typically gets ridden 3-4 days a week, lite walk/trot arena work for fun. I am an older rider just enjoying time with him for about 40 minutes and then hand walk the other days. Not on joint supplements, as additional MSM made him go crazy spooky with the whites in his eyes and then he ran off. He reacted with hives to a glucosamine/chondroitin product so I stopped those immediately and his behavior and reaction improved. Fecal water happened after 4 days of but the Vet said it’s not colitis. I would like to stick to your product as that is what he used to be fed with no issues at the time of purchase. I am also trying to figure out how much bute I need to give to make it worthwhile. Also, he loved using it when I had to mix bute and antibiotics hence why I keep the .25 lbs. in his system in case I need to give him meds his Gi is still acclimated to it. Any recommendations would be helpful. He may be the kind that less is more and trying to be easy on the GI tract due to the chronic fecal water/ inflammation we have been dealing with.
Thank you for the details and this is quite a bit to unpack and address; so, when there are multiple issues, I always start with feeding fundamentals and how one’s current feeding is similar or different with what the horse needs daily.
Consistency with forage fed is critical to maintain a healthy gut which translates to maintaining a healthy bacteria population in the gut; changes, inconsistencies will disturb the microbiome (bacteria population) in the gut.
Hope the following information is helpful.
- Grass hay minimum at 1.5% of body weight; 1,200 lb. body weight = minimum 18 lbs. hay per day
- Teff or timothy preferred; orchard or Bermuda are acceptable but may need some modification depending on source and/or quality. Usually, will add a little alfalfa with orchard to ensure adequate calcium in proportion to phosphorus. West coast orchard is inconsistent with Ca:P ratio compared to east coast orchard which has inverted Ca:P. So, for example if feeding orchard you would feed around 3 lbs. alfalfa with 15 lbs. of grass. Bermuda is fine stem and usually drier and needs to be introduce slowly.
- Any changes in hay requires a gradual adjustment; 1 lb. change over per day.
- I am not an advocate of feeding alfalfa unless in small amounts or for horses that are producing milk the first 8 weeks of foal life. My general rule is alfalfa should not be more than 50% of the total forage intake. At Dr. Bray’s corner there is a fact sheet on forage feeding.
- Your quote …“alfalfa/Bermuda pellets now, (using it for the calcium to help buffer, prevent ulcers and add some nutrients)” … these pellets will not add any buffering and are not a biological reason for preventing ulcers and adding other nutrients. In fact, the best buffer source is salvia and horses have to chew baled hay whereas with pellets there is less chewing.
- Pellets are just a ground source of hay and more often than not are a more mature grass that was grounded to form the pellet. More mature hay is more fiber and lower in protein and other selective nutrients. The issue with hay pellets is that a horse drinks less water compared to bale (long-stem) hay; water is important not only for hydration but also for moving gut content through the gut and influencing gut pH.
- Integrity Adult/Senior is a balance formula that will complement the forage portion of diet by providing vitamins, minerals, probiotics, yeast culture and small fiber polysaccharides that are being labeled as pre-biotics (poor name) along with soluble fiber sources that help promote the gut to move with consistency and nourish the gut’s microbiome (microorganisms in a particular environment).
- For a horse that is 1,100-1,150 lbs., not active to very light work, along with the 18 lbs. of hay, feed 2–2.5 lbs Adult/Senior. BCS will tell you within 2 weeks if feeding too much or not enough.
Relative to body weight. A paint, stock horse type will usually be around 1.100 lbs. at body condition score (BCS) 5.5. Bottom line, is that BCS is your best tool to determine a healthy weight.
There is an article in Dr. Bray’s Corner on Free Fecal Water Syndrome (FFWS). Information being written appears off base and demonstrates a lack of understanding with gut physiology and feeding management.
Are feeding practices for ponies different than horses?
Overweight ponies appear to be at greater risk of developing conditions such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), laminitis, and insulin resistance. Ponies are often over-fed or fed in a group setting with horses. Also, owners may overestimate the pony’s body weight thus feed more than needed. There is also the visual deception with estimating body weight compared to adult horses that weigh 900 – 1.100 lbs. One needs to accurately estimate the pony’s body weight and amount of exercise to determine how much is fed and, perhaps most importantly, be skilled with Body Condition Scoring to observe changes in body weight.
If the pony has been fed with larger horses than the pony needs to be isolated to prevent over consumption. If the pony is in pasture than limiting the time in the pasture will be necessary to prevent over consumption.
I utilized your feed selector tool and got the results to feed either Lite or Senior. I’m already feeding Lite so it’s good to know that I’m on the right track. My question is: If I try Integrity Senior, do I need to transition feeds slowly? It seems like the ingredients are so similar that it would be ok to just switch. Please advise.
The general conservative recommendation is ¼ lb. change-over per day. However, you are correct relative to the similarity in ingredients that the transition does not need to be as conservative. Adult/Senior is higher fat than Lite and Adult/Senior does contain oats. So, the transition depends on how much you are feeding. If you are feeding more than 2 lbs. per day, then I would transition not more than ½ lb. (~2 cups)/day. There are a bevy of variables that influence feed adaptation so taking your time has no cost other than time.
Does corn oil upset the digestive system of the horse? Should I not feed my horse corn oil? I was told only to feed fat that is high in omega 3.
Feeding corn oil as a fat source is not an issue. Corn oil consist of higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids and is low in omega-3 fatty acids. The known important relationship between omega-6 & omega-3 fatty acids in humans cannot be applied to horses. In fact, fatty acid requirements have not even been established for horses, much less an omega-6-omega-3 fatty acid ratio.
Fatty acids do have a role in all warm-blooded animals, but their level of importance varies relative to type of gut system which translates to differences in diets. A horse on only grass forage (pasture or hay) consumes less than 2.5% fat. In animals that consume much high levels of fat, cats, dogs, humans, then that omega-6-omega-3 ratio becomes more important.
Perhaps an oversimplification, but omega fatty acids importance is how they play a role as building blocks for hormones that have inflammatory and anti-inflammatory properties. The balance in these inflammatory and anti-inflammatory hormones is important in nurturing the immunological response of animal systems. Since horses have such a low-fat requirement, does that translate to omega fatty acids as not important? NO! However, it does explain why one cannot parallel the importance to that of humans or carnivores. I do believe in the benefits of different fat sources for a number of reasons which is why Integrity has a combination of fat sources including whole ground flaxseed, canola oil, and rice bran.
My pony currently gets small amount of a commercial low starch low sugar competitor. I was wondering if Integrity Senior low starch/no molasses is a low sugar grain. Is it similar in ingredients and would it be a good substitute?
Integrity Lite No Molasses is the lowest sugar/starch formula in the Integrity line. Integrity Adult/ Senior No-Molasses is the next lowest. No grains in Lite. There is small amount of oats in Adult/Senior. Both are balanced formulas to complement the forage portion of your pony’s diet. The commercial product you referenced contains processed grain byproducts which are not used in any Integrity formulas.
Hay is so expensive I asked my feed store if there were any other options. They tried to sell me hay pellets, but I worry about my horse choking. I have heard horrid stories about pellets. What do you think? Are there any other options for hay?
Horse owners have frequently shared their concerns about horses’ choking eating pellets, but very few have had a horse choke. Assuming there are no structural problems/lesions with the esophagus and oral cavity and a horse exhibits “typical” eating behavior, a horse is not prone to choking on pellets any more than some other feed form. However, a horse that bolts his feed, senses competition from other horses (even those in the next stall/pen), is generally nervous, or an aggressive eater may need to be managed differently during feeding. That’s not a problem with the feed but an issue with nutritional management of the horse.
Nutritional management with feed bolters, etc. include a feed container that is wide and shallow, feed in smaller amounts more frequently, and use large irregular shape, flat bottom stones (not boulders or rocks) that forces the horse to navigate around the large stones to procure the feed. Stones must be large enough that it cannot be mouthed or picked up by the horse. The goal is to slow down the amounts of feed consumed per mouthful.
Another option is to soften the feed by adding water and mixing to an oatmeal consistency. The term gruel is used to describe this form. I had responsibilities for a lot of horses over the years but never had a horse choke on my watch. Identifying horses that are potential risk by their behavior or pecking order position and being studious on nutritional management fundamentals are important tools to reduce concerns with choke.
I have a 10 yr old 1000lb, 14.3 hands Arab/saddlebred (NSH) mare and a few months ago we began basic dressage training. We lunge 2 - 3 times a week and ride 1 - 2 times a week. She has always been on a Timothy grass hay diet, 1 flake 3 times a day with 4 ½ - 5 scoops Timothy pellets once a day. She has a big belly and that along with her age suggests she may need extra nutrients. She appears to be in excellent health, with dapples showing beneath her shiny coat. I need help determining the correct feed without 'cooking' her. Can you recommend a well-balanced nutritious program?
“Big belly” syndrome is not because of her age but most likely due to the difference in hay quality. The hay you purchased a few months ago is not necessary going to be the same quality purchased at a later date. This condition can occur particularly when a hay is low in protein and very high in fiber. Adequate protein is not only essential to the horse’s body but is also essential to the bacteria that reside in the gut. The gut’s microorganisms are dependent on protein, and the micros are the only component of the digestive process that can break down the fiber portion of the diet.
Hay belly usually parallels an all long-stem forage diet and is often associated with pastured horses since they consume more volume compared to hay because pasture approximates 80% water and hay has roughly 10% water.
If you are feeding West Coast timothy then 3 flakes would approximate 17 – 18 pounds of hay. With the 5 scoops of timothy pellet – and I do not know the size of your scoop – conservatively that would be 5 – 6 lbs. A small coffee can of pellet hay is more than 1 lb so if your scoop is larger than a small coffee can the weight would be more. So 22 – 24 lbs of forage for a 1000 lb horse is 2.2 – 2.4% of their body weight which is the maximum forage for a light working horse. Another option is that you can use Timothy pellets to replace a portion of the timothy hay. Processed hays (pellets and cubes) should not be more than 50% of the total hay fed per day.
I suggest eliminating the hay pellet and replacing it with Integrity Lite. Integrity Lite is very low in starch and sugars and is available with or without molasses. Based on the information you provided, a 1,000+ lb horse in good health, dewormed 6 times/yr, with a light workload should be fed approximately 16 – 18 lbs of hay per day and 1.5 – 3 lbs of Integrity Lite.
My horse is thin and will not gain weight. He is a warm-blood Hanoverian gelding, 16.1 hands high working at first level dressage. He is fed three flakes of timothy in the morning and three in the evening with 3 small coffee cans of alfalfa and Bermuda hay pellet. He also gets a flake of alfalfa for lunch with 1 coffee can of rice bran and 1 coffee can of beet pulp that is soaked in water and probiotics. Can you provide any suggestions?
The numbers do not add up.
Seven flakes of West Coast timothy is approximate 42 – 45½ lbs; one flake of alfalfa is about 6½ lbs; three coffee cans of alfalfa and Bermuda hay pellets approximates 3½ lbs; one coffee can of rice bran approximates ½ lbs; 1 coffee can of beet pulp (dry) approximates ½ to ¾ lbs. That all adds up to 53 – 56½ lbs of feed per day!
I do not know your horse’s body weight. If we assume he is of moderate bone for a Hanoverian around 16 hands, then his body weight would be about 1,250 lbs. That would mean he is being fed 4.25 to 4.5% of his body weight each day—an impossible amount of dry feed for a horse to consume daily. A horse of this body weight and work would consume approximately 2.25% of body weight and certainly not more than 2.5%.
I would suggest you weigh your feeds to be sure we are on the same page relative to weight of a flake and coffee can. Also, how much hay is left after each feeding? Do you purchase the feed and feed the horse?
There is another possibility which I have experienced once before. Who does the feeding? Are there other horses at the stable? Another time a similar question came up—also with a warm-blood—purchased the feed but did not feed the horse. After talking to me and doing some investigative work, she learned she was feeding more than her horse at the stable each day. Hope that is not your case.
The temperature in the higher elevations dips down into the 20s and my horses are not drinking very much. What do I feed them so they will drink more water?
Several things will influence your horse’s water intake during the winter months. Perhaps the most important consideration is the temperature of the water. In general, optimum temperature for drinking water should be 45 – 65° F. If you have extended periods of cold temperatures and are using water troughs that do not need a daily refill, then there is a good chance that your water temperature will drop below 45°.
Horses drink less water when the water temperature is outside the optimum 45 – 65° F range. Just like with humans, drinking a significant amount of water that is just above freezing, isn’t easy to do. During cold winters, horses will drink enough water to maintain body functions but may not be hydrated at normal levels. This subclinical dehydration is a cause for winter colic.
Other considerations for why your horses are drinking less water:
- They are less active during winter months o They perhaps have less turn out time
- Less pasture grazing
- They have less routine work
- A change in forage (such as replacing long stem hay with pellet hay)
Why does urination increase when feeding a pellet feed to horses?
It depends on the feedstuff that makes up the pellet, but in general, if the pellet is a hay pellet, the opposite actually occurs. Fiber feeds that have been ground for a pellet form will actually reduce a horse’s water intake when compared to the same forage from a bale (hence, long stem fiber requires the horse to drink more water).
If the pellet is high in protein, then the amount fed to the horse could also influence its water intake. If an animal consumes more protein than its protein requirement, then the excess protein translates to excess nitrogen (protein is approximately 16% nitrogen). Excess nitrogen is eliminated as a waste product through the urine, which is why the horse drinks more water—to get rid of the nitrogen. In addition to fiber and protein, electrolytes and starch concentration are other feed components that will influence water intake.
Why does micturition increase when feeding a concentrate pelleted feed to horses?
Micturition is another word for urination.
It depends on the feedstuff that makes up the pellet, although generally the opposite occurs. Fiber feeds in pellet form actually reduce water intake, when compared to bale form. That is why long stem fiber requires the horse to drink more water. Protein, electrolytes, and starch concentration are other feed components that will influence water intake, regardless of the feed form.
Nitrogen is a major element in amino acids/protein. It is eliminated through the urine. So a feed that contains high protein contains high nitrogen levels. Thus, when more protein is fed to a horse above requirements, it translates to the horse drinking more water to eliminate the excess nitrogen.
What is extruded feed?
Extrusion is a process in which feed is ground, quickly cooked at a high temperature, and processed under high pressure. The feed is then pushed through a die, which makes the feed a unique and uniform shape. The main benefit of extruded feed is improved digestibility.
The difference between pelleted and extruded feed is that pellets are not cooked, and are prepared at a much lower temperature and pressure.
For raw feed ingredients—specifically grains such as corn, oats and barley—both pelleting and extrusion can improve the digestibility. The amount of grains in a formula is also a factor in determining if extrusion is beneficial to the overall digestibility.
While extrusion can be very beneficial, the nutritional value of a feed is more dependent on the formula than the type of processing.
My vet told me not to feed my horse a senior diet that has beet pulp and soy hulls because these feeds will cause gas colic. Is this true?
The production of gas in the gut (gastrointestinal tract) is normal for all mammals and especially for those animals whose gut is designed to eat large quantities of plant materials. Horses are classified as non-ruminant herbivores. Their hindgut, which includes the cecum and colon, is the major site for fermentation of the plant materials that are not (or can not) be digested in the foregut through chemical and enzymatic digestion. In the fermentation process, it’s the “job” of the microorganisms to digest the plant materials and produce selective nutrients and energy that are available to the horse. “Gas” is a by-product of the fermentation process and the horse’s gut is capable of moving the gas though the colon to be released.
Excess gas production, which has the potential of causing a first class bellyache, known as colic, can result from numerous factors. These factors include inadequate fiber in the diet, inadequate exercise, inadequate consumption of water (note: fiber and exercise influence water consumption), inadequate management routine, certain drugs, especially antibiotics, over feeding starchy feeds, changes in feeds and amount fed, inconsistent daily meal frequency and amounts fed, and (perhaps the cause that will step on the toes of horse owners) inadequate nutritional management experience and knowledge.
Beet pulp and soy hulls contain a type of fiber that is fermentable and is broken down by the microorganisms that live in the gut. The grasses that are fed via pasture and hay also have some fermentable fiber as well as the fiber that is classified as insoluble fiber. If there is inadequate forage provided, and the horse is fed a large quantity of fermentable fiber, then excess gas production could occur. Another scenario is if large portions of grain type feeds (in which major ingredients including corn, oats, and/or barley) are fed, then an excess gas production could occur. Any combination of factors listed in the first paragraph can cause excess gas production. The bottom line is that nutritional management of the horse plays the most important role in his gut health. Nutritional Management does not come from what we read on the internet, it’s a result of time, experience and education.
In addition, there some horses whose gut may be more sensitive to fermentable fiber type feeds. Through my 40+ years of experiences with horses as an owner, breeder, farm manager, university professor, and nutritional consultant, I have not had one horse that could not be easily managed with a diet that includes fermentable fiber such as beet pulp and soy hulls.
Summary: Beet pulp and soy hulls:
- Are important feedstuffs in the nutritional management of horses.
- Are safe sources of energy in balanced concentrates to fuel the horse in whatever he does.
- Are solid ingredients with other feedstuffs that are formulated for a balanced concentrate mix that will complement the forage portion of the horse’s diet.
- Have bulk laxative like properties that will assist the gut to contract with consistency and regularity as well as maintain a healthy microorganism population in the gut.
The bottom line: the information provided by your veterinarian is incorrect.
Do you have to soak beet pulp in water the day before feeding?
I am unclear of the origin of soaking beet pulp for a day or 24 hours but that practice is not only excessive but also unfounded—you are not making beet pulp wine! The practice of adding water to beet pulp is to soften the feed because the beet pulp by-product is stiff and course. Chewing reduces the feed’s particle size as well as stimulates salvia production which moistens the feed. The chewing and moistening process thus prepares the feed for swallowing. The amount of beet pulp consumed by the horse at each feeding really determines the chewing effort that is needed to prepare the food for swallowing. Some horses tire of the chewing process more quickly than others which are often driven by the compulsion to eat more. Other horses may be disciplined eaters and just take their time with the chewing process. The general rule I provide for beet pulp shreds is at least 1½ times the volume of water compared to the beet pulp volume; allow the mixture to soak until it softens, which will usually be ready after a couple of chores prior to feeding time.
My horse is suspected of having a history of founder and I am feeding a supplement that helps strengthen the hooves. She does not like the taste unless I mix it with something. I am looking for a feed that is low sugar and low starch to mix the supplement. Any recommendation?
if taste is the issue then the most common flavor camouflage is something sweet. A cup of Integrity Lite with molasses is an option. The very small amount of molasses will help disguise the bitter taste that is common with many OTC supplements or even medications. Integrity Lite No Molasses is a low starch, low sugar, no grains, and highly soluble fiber-balanced formula. The starch content of Integrity Lite No Molasses averages less than 4.3% starch and 5.9% sugar (ESC).
Molasses or brown sugar is another option. A tablespoon or two of either will add insignificant amounts of sugar relative to the amounts of sugar already in a typical forage diet. I understand there are those that may objective to this option but many do not understand the amounts of sugars and starch that already exist in a typical forage diet. Viewing the example at the bottom of the Nonstructural Carbohydrates Fact Sheet may help put it into perspective.
If your horse has laminitis and any rotation of the coffin bone you will need to exercise caution with the feeding and exercise program. Talk with your veterinarian. The OTC supplement you referenced is a source of Mg (magnesium) and Cr (chromium) and there is no evidence that these two minerals will strength a hoof made of keratin.
I’ve read that soy is not good for horses because the protein cannot be broken down and they are allergic to soy. Is that true?
Much of this concern has evolved from misleading information about soy. There is zero evidence showing that horses are allergic to soybean meal, soybean oil, or whole roasted grounds soybeans.
Blood tests commonly used for diagnosing allergies are not a reliable diagnostic tool according to experts in the field. Board certified experts in the field lack confidence in blood tests and recommend skin tests instead. Granted, skin test are expensive and require an expertise other than general practice.
You may have heard about trypsin inhibitor as it relates to the trypsin enzyme. Proteins are too large to be absorbed into the blood stream and several enzymes are responsible with breaking down the proteins into smaller ones (peptides) and to the amino acids. Trypsin is one of those enzymes that is produced in the pancreas, released into the gut and has a specific job in the digestive/preparation process of protein.
There is a trypsin inhibitor in raw soybeans which is why a standard and common practice is to roast the soybeans prior to use and formulating in animal and human foods. The roasting is at a fixed temperature and time period to denature (destroy) the trypsin inhibitor. around 1000 lbs, then feeding 1 ½ lbs of Integrity Lite will work, or feeding half the amount recommended of a generic vitamin/mineral horse supplement.