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Thursday, 15 November, 2018

How to feed your horse well? Our advice to manage a stable horse

Like care, horse feeding is essential for his well-being, health and performance. A poorly adapted diet can cause colic or other digestive diseases, and be a daily source of discomfort and stress. In this article, we address the sensitive subject of food.

1. Understanding the nutritional needs of your horse

The horse is a non-ruminant monogastric herbivore, which spends between 15 and 19 hours a day feeding in the wild, in the form of multiple small meals, day and night. Unlike humans, he is not suitable for large meals. His digestive tract is adapted to his natural diet: his large intestine is extremely developed while his stomach and small intestine are small. It is therefore essential to know the main characteristics of the digestion of your horse and their consequences to better adapt his daily food intake:

- Mares have 36 teeth and males 40. The latter, with continuous growth, are adapted to the consumption of large quantities of fodder, fibers that ensure their regular wear. A risk of wolf’s tooth exists in the horse that does not consume enough fodder and does not use his teeth enough.

- His stomach is quite small. It represents 7% of the total volume of the digestive tract, ie between 15 and 18 liters of total volume for a saddle horse. The latter is adapted to small amounts ingested at each meal, several times a day. The horse is not a ruminant, he swallows his food only after having carefully chewed and moistened it with an abundant production of saliva. The walls of his stomach secrete hydrochloric acid (about 30 liters per day). To neutralize this acid, the horse relies on his saliva and what he eats. Without enough saliva and without regular vegetable intake, the acid attacks the mucous membrane. Some studies show that less than 8 hours are enough to cause lesions...

- The small intestine is the main place of digestion. It represents 30% of the total volume of the digestive tract. The residence time of food is short: between 1 and 2 hours. This is why the distribution of frequent small meals distributed during the day improves the efficiency of digestion, especially for concentrated feed.

- The large intestine represents 60% of the total volume. The total transit time is 24 to 48 hours depending on the composition of the intake. It is faster for low fiber diets. What has not been digested in the upstream part of the digestive tract is digested by fermentation. The many microorganisms present can degrade in particular the fibers. Their number and composition depend on the intake of the horse.

Therefore, to respect the digestion of the horse, it is important to give him regular meals, at fixed times, at least divided into 3 or even 4 meals a day. This helps to distribute the consumption during the day and night. This is particularly important for concentrated feed, especially cereals, which in large quantities, are pushed into the large intestine where their fermentation is the cause of very painful colic.

In addition, a fiber intake throughout the day, providing nutrients consumed more slowly, meets his need of chewing and ensures a steady flow of feeds into his digestive tract. Diet changes must be progressive so that the flora of his large intestine has time to evolve to be effective: this flora feeds on food but also makes them digestible for the horse. A food transition is done over a few days or even a few weeks. A too fast transition is the cause of diarrhea, colic.

2. Providing a food intake that suits him

Each horse has a specific amount of food, depending on his metabolism and activity. It varies according to his needs and his state of health. The more the horse works, the higher the amount of food is.

What is the diet of the horse composed of? Fodder, a staple of the horse’s diet

There is a link between excessive consumption of concentrated foods and gastric ulcers. To limit stomach problems and abnormal behavior, fodder should be the staple of the horse's diet. Horses consume on average 7 to 15 kg of dry matter (DM).

In general, the proportion of fodder should be maximum for horses with low needs such as stallions apart from breeding season or broodmares at the beginning of gestation (80 to 100% of the daily intake). It decreases as the needs increase to reach 40 or even 30% of the amount of dry matter distributed per day (competition or racing horses).

The unlimited intake reduces stress and has a positive impact on well-being and behavior. In addition, horses would consume as much hay day as night. It is therefore appropriate to distribute at least two meals of hay: one in the morning and one in the evening.

His diet can then be supplemented with traditional feeds such as oats, barley or corn, industrial feeds such as pelleted or flakes feeds and possible supplements.

These feeds are intended to cover his energy needs (in Norway, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands and France, the feed energy is given as net energy. The unit is feed units for horses, called FEh in Scandinavia, EWpa in the Netherlands and UFC in France) proteins (expressed in g of digestible crude protein for the horse, called MADC in France), minerals (macro and trace elements) and vitamins. The recommended daily allowances take into account the needs of the horse according to his physiological situation: sex, height, age, physical activity ... Nevertheless, the body condition and the feeding behavior of each one will also have to be taken into account during adjustment of the intake.

Find below the daily needs for a blooded horse of 500 kg:

Source: INRA 2012

Example of intake calculation

The calculation of an intake is quite complex. It is best to seek advice from your veterinarian or stable manager on the amount and composition of your intake because it is vital not to overfeed your horse.

According to INRA (Europe's top agricultural research institute and the world's number two center for the agricultural science):

A horse of 500 kg, training 1 to 2 hours a day, needs:

  • 7,8 UFC
  • 562 g of MADC
  • 10 à 12 kg of DM

  The inputs of a theoretical staple intake over a day are:

  • 5 kg of hay: 2.2 UFC and 4.2 kg of DM
  • 3 to 4 kg of straw: 0.8 UFC and 2.6 to 3.5 kg of DM

The staple intake provides a total of 2.2 + 0.8 or 3 UFC for about 7.2 kg of DM. With a complete feed, it is necessary to bring in 2 or 3 meals: 7.8 CFU - 3.0 CFU or 4.8 CFU

If feed X brings 0.75 UFC per kilogram, the horse will need 4.8 / 0.75 = 6.4 kg of X per day.

Digestive disorders, the Achilles' heel of the horse

However, be careful because a too rich and concentrated food intake can cause digestive problems: colic, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, laminitis, important nutrient deficiencies, etc... Transit and digestion are essential and extremely sensitive in the horse.

Note that 60% of horses are subject to gastric ulcers. Several studies have shown that the horse's heart rate increases in case of pain. With the Seaver girth, it is possible to detect such problems.

A stable cardio but higher than 50 beats per minute as on the picture above, on a trained, calm and not stressed horse, at rest, can indeed indicate a latent pain, for example an ulcer ...

Be careful, it will depend on your mount. Indeed, some horses like Fjord, Highland, Icelandic ponies have at rest a higher heart rate than normal (30-40 bpm). In this case, this type of figure can be alerting only if it is repeated (before training, horse still and calm in his lively place).

And what about the Seaver girth?

Training a horse leads to an increase in his energy expenditure compared to a rest situation that initially results from the motion of the muscles, and also from the increased activity of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

On the home screen, you can track the number of calories burned by your horse in real time, i.e. the number of calories consumed since the beginning of the session. In the more detailed tabs of the application, you will find the total number of calories burned from the training session, the average energy expenditure of your horse in kcal/min, and its evolution over time. Thus, by measuring the number of calories burned by the horse over time, Seaver gives you the necessary information to properly adjust your horse’s diet, if need be.

3. Some tips, tricks and golden rules

 To avoid food imbalances here are some tips and golden rules to follow:

- Pay attention to your horse's teeth, especially his molars that play the role of a real file. In the event of an obstacle to rubbing, there can be a very significant reduction in the digestibility of feeds. The quality of the chewing is very easy to highlight by the examination of dungs. If the grains come out undigested, it is because the horse does not chew well.

- It should be noted that the horse blows on its food, which makes him sensitive to dust. It is therefore preferable to favor ground feeding in a clean area (avoid sand or soil) or at low height in order to facilitate the expectoration of inhaled dust (trachea facing downwards).

- If your horse is a little "greedy", put some pieces of salt stone in the manger to slow down his appetite. And, so as not to disturb the beginning of his digestion, avoid having him work within one hour of food distribution.

- The germs present in his digestive system are very sensitive to changes in intake because they are specific to each feed. This is why progressive dietary transitions must be made during a change of diet in order to allow this microbial flora to adapt.

- The use of litter other than straw would increase the risk of abnormal behavior. Straw litter unlike wood shavings further promotes the lateral decubitus position (horse lying himself out). Above all, it causes the horse to continuously search for feeds limiting boredom.

See you soon for a new article,

The Seaver team 😘