These 5 simple tips can be related to any horse breed in whatever discipline or work load. By following these simple bits of advice, you will care for your horse in such a way that will improve their overall health whilst only spending money on what they really need whilst keeping them happy.
1. Always allow maximum movement.
Horses have an innate desire to be constantly on the move. In the wild they will have to walk miles each day to find enough food. Confinement increases stress, particularly over night when horses are naturally most active. At night, 'predator' risk is greater so the horse's natural survival mechanism is to be at their most alert and active. Of course domesticated horses don't have 'predators' but their brain and innate behaviours are still 'wild' and so we should, wherever is practically possible, allow these natural behaviours to be shown. To encourage weight prone horses to move more when in the field; tape of a 'track' around the edge, let the grass get grazed down tight then offer supplementary forage at various locations. This will encourage the horse to move more to find food, mimicking their natural foraging behaviour.
2. Graze and forage on a variety of species.
Pasture containing a good mix of grasses and herbs or wildflowers will improve your horses health. Often pasture contains little variety with only a few species of high sugar grasses which if eaten in high quantities could harm those horses who are sensitive to sugar. Wildflowers and herbs are often deep rooted which allows minerals to be accessed from deeper underground. Allowing horses access to hedgerows is also a good way to not only provide natural shelter but also allows them to select woody plants to increase the range of minerals in the diet. Horses will also often self medicate and select plants which may be beneficial to overall health (providing toxic plants are prevented from being eaten such as sycamore seeds and bracken).
3. Feed forage first.
Many horses, if fed enough good quality forage like our High Fibre Ryegrass or Timothy Haylage will not need extra hard feed. Fibre is the first and foremost most important aspect of their diet where most of their energy and protein requirements will come from. Long fibrous forage such as hay and haylage is the most cost effective way of feeding horses and is also what they are designed to eat. Keeping the stomach full at all times will reduce the 'stress response' to restricted fibre intake, help keep them warm in winter, maintain a healthy hind gut and minimise the risk of ulcers. Forage should not simply be regarded as 'gut fill', it plays an immensly important role in horse's long term health and wellbeing so don't fall into the trap of feeding low quality cheap forage. This is a false economy, as dusty poor quality hay could mean repiratory problems are increased and shortfalls in protein levels will have to be made up using expensive additional feed.
4. Understand what you are feeding.
If extra feed is needed to provide more energy in the form of straights or blends then be crtical of the ingredients. Excess starch and sugar is now well known to cause undesirable effects such as laminitis and hot behaviour. Take a good look at the ingredients and the analysis and try to choose feeds based on fibre and not cereal grains which are often also high in molasses. To provide extra energy in the diet, try using oils in which the energy is released slowly. Oils also have the added benefit of improving overall health due to levels of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids which can improve mobility, skin and coat condition.
5. Balance with broad spectrum vitamins and minerals.
If the diet can be solely comprised from forage then it is important to make up for the mineral shortages in UK grass by feeding a broad spectrum vitamin and mineral balancer.
Some complete hard feeds will only provide enough of the necessary vitamins and minerals when fed at the recommended rate. This could be costly! The most cost effective compromise would be to feed good quality forage on an free choice basis and then feed a supplement either in a pellet form or 'loose' minerals added to a small amount of fibre based mash.
For information on how you could source our haylage, to be fed as the core part of your horses diet click here.