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Species Appropriate Diet - what we feed and why

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

We’ve had a few comments recently asking us to elaborate on what exactly we feed to ensure it is species appropriate for our horses. We do encourage you to do your own research into the subject but I do understand there is a lot of conflicting opinions regarding the matter so it can get confusing.


To clarify, when we refer to something as being species appropriate, we mean that the diet, management and lifestyle being provided is fulfilling their basic fundamental needs, be it mentally, physically or nutritionally. We look to the behaviours and lifestyle of wild and free roaming horses as a guide as they fulfil their own natural instincts without human interference. Although we cannot completely replicate what wild horses have at their disposal, we can strive to fulfil their natural needs as closely as possible.

So, this is what we personally choose to feed, which applies to the management or rehabilitation of every horse in our care.


Grass


We are a non-grass Paddock Paradise track system and therefore do not allow our horses to graze grass.


Why do we not feed grass?


If we look at the natural habitat, behaviour and lifestyle or wild and free-roaming horses, we know that they are foragers that browse consistently throughout the day and night, moving from resource to resource. Although research is still forth-coming and we don't know with 100% certainty the entirety of their diet, we do know wild horses forage on the likes of rough, low nutrient density grasses that largely lack in sugars, minerals and nutrients. Wild horses will browse and move continuously, deriving a little bit of nutrition with lots of mouthfuls. Jaime Jackson's research on the wild horse diet suggests that domesticated horses largely benefit from being fed a mix of grass-type hays.


It is due to the inappropriate high potassium, high sugar grass readily available in the UK that so many domesticated horses struggle with Laminitis, EMS, obesity, ulcers, grass related issues and more. Most grass in the UK is unsuitable, however rye grass in particular should always be avoided.



Hay

Hay is our horses’ main source of forage, which is fed adlib in nets strategically placed around each track. We only feed meadow hay to ensure there is a good variety of fibre that again is low in sugar and potassium and high in fibre.


Why do we feed adlib hay?


The stomach of a horse is their smallest unit of their digestive tract and can hold roughly 8-15 litres. Depending on what they’ve digested, it can take 4-6 hours for the stomach to completely empty. As horses are designed to eat consistently throughout a 24 hour period, restricting feed can leave them standing around without forage for hours on end. After the 4–6-hour period it takes for the stomach to empty, stressy behaviours can start to occur which leads to a greater risk of ulcers, food guarding issues and aggression or anxiety.



Hard feed

Not all of the horses in our care are given hard feed, but if we feel they need some supplements or they need a little help keeping some weight on, we feed a combination of some or all of the following:


> Thunderbrook Haycobs > Thunderbrook Meadow Nuts > Coolstance Copra > Micronized Linseed


Why do we use these feeds?


Haycobs and Meadownuts are a great source of additional fibre and can add some taste for fussy horses. They are also low in sugar and have no nasties or fillers in them.


Copra is a safe, natural oil that we use for horses that struggle to maintain or gain weight.


Micronized linseed is used to replace omegas 3, 6 and 9 that are lost when all grass is removed.


Salt


In addition to providing Himalayan salt licks, we also offer salt water and add 10grams per 100kg of Himalayan salt into their feeds.



Why do we feed salt?


There are many ways a salt deficiency in horses can present itself, including, loss of appetite and weight loss, chewing wood, tails and licking hands, allergies, excessive yawning and sweating with little exertion. Horses need to have access to salt regularly and whilst providing salt licks is important, horse's tongues are smooth and cannot lick nearly enough salt to cover their body's requirements.


Additionally, if a horse is on a high potassium diet, the body doesn't always register the need for a higher salt intake, hence the need for other sources of salt. This is particular important for the horses with us for rehabilitation, that may have previously been on a high potassium diet. Salt also helps counter potassium levels.


Mineral licks

We only use Rockies 5 Star mineral licks to provide an optional source of minerals on each track, that is safe to use for all kinds of horses without the worry of nasty ingredients.

Supplements


Not all of the horses in our care are given supplements but we use a combination of the following:


> Calm Healthy Horses Vitamins and Minerals > Calm Healthy Horses Alleviate C & GrazeEzy – for metabolic, grass affected horses

As a general rule of thumb

We aim to make sure the diet of our horses is low sugar, low potassium and high fibre.



Why low sugar?


Too much sugar in grass, hay or feed can cause widespread inflammation leading to metabolic conditions like EMS and Laminitis.


Why low potassium?


High potassium feeds and forage contribute to mineral imbalances which in turn create metabolic issues for the horse. Whilst horses can normally excrete an excess potassium if experienced for short periods of time, as in nature, when the level is in excess routinely this creates stress upon their normal self regulation systems. Many horses cannot tolerate this stress, hence they become compromised and need grass free environments and diets that avoid excess potassium. See Calm Healthy Horses for more information - it gets complicated!


Why high fibre?


Fibre should be the main staple of a horses diet, being important for optimum gut function and slow release energy.


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We are in no way sponsored by any of the companies mentioned in this post.

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