An Instructional Guide for a Healthier Horse


Important Information to Follow for a Healthier Horse

a) Limit the Feeding of Grains.

“I understand it’s not easy to know what to feed your animals. Information is scant, and often misleading. But I have a simple request for all horse owners.

b) Don’t over-feed grain to your animals.

Over-feeding grain harms the horse, plus it’s expensive. So why is it done? “That’s how we’ve always done it” is not a good reason. Read on, and we’ll get into what keeps a horse healthy.” Dr. Harlan Anderson, DVM.

Evaluate Your Horse.

Naturally, horses in different stages of life have different nutritional needs. Age, type, weight, general health, climate and exercise all factor into the quantity and make-up of feed required. If you stay in tune with your horse’s condition, you’ll be more successful in keeping your animal fed at the correct levels. How can you tell? Your horse is “talking” to you about its condition and feeding program if you learn how to watch, listen and evaluate its temperament. Horses express their dissatisfaction with their feeding program with several behaviors, such as what many call boredom — or frustration — typified by wood chewing, weaving (standing in place and swaying), stall walking (the horse equivalent of human pacing), and cribbing (arching the neck and sucking air). Better digestion improves temperament and overall health. The beneficial microorganisms of a forage-based feeding program result in disease resistance and prevent digestive disorders such as gastric ulcers, colic and foundering, also called laminitis — a very painful inflammation of the feet.

See more about these issues in Information Deep Dive.

But there are a few things that apply for keeping your horse healthy, under any circumstances:

a) The Horse is Built for Forage. Think about the heritage of the horse before they were domesticated. They ate nothing but forages – mainly plant leaves and stems. Their digestive systems are designed to process forage, not high-protein grains. Too much grain and too many supplements interfere with proper digestion.

b) A Horse Wants Freedom to Eat. Horses are made to eat freely and frequently. Their stomachs are small compared to body size and cannot hold large amounts of food. Free choice feeding – supplemented by plenty of water and loose salt – results in better digestive health.

c) Preventive Medicine Starts with Good Nutrition. The right nutritional program will prevent the stress of disease, improve the immune system of your animal, and reduce visits by the vet.

d) Weight Control is Important. Obesity and diabetes can be the result of overfeeding cereal grains. Starch and sugar can be valuable elements in a horse’s diet, but they should be controlled carefully in a Total Mixed Ration.

e) Sorting Should be Controlled. Given the opportunity, a horse will sort through feeds to find the “treats” it likes and leave behind beneficial forage. Owners need to find ways to assure horses are consuming a balanced diet.

f) Make Feeding Changes Gradually. Don’t make radical changes in diet. Let the horse’s system adjust slowly over ten days to two weeks.

g) The Research is Clear. Go to our Research section to see what respected horse nutrition researchers have to say about our approach to horse health.

h) It’s Not Easy. As a horse owner, there is a lot of information to absorb, manage and act upon. That’s why Dr. Anderson has developed an easy-to-feed solution that relieves the horse owner of worries about feeding – a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) solution — Square Meal Horse Feed.

Top Myths of Horse Feeding
>1) Myth: Horses need lots of grain.

Reality: No, they don’t. The digestive system of the horse is the perfect engine for processing forage, but overfeeding grain causes digestive problems that are manifested in ways that hurt horse health and contentment.

2) Myth: Grain is critical as a protein supplement.

Reality: Nope. There’s plenty of protein in a diet rich with high-quality roughage. A good feeding program should be based on forages with very little in the way of supplements.

3) Myth: My feed salesman said horses need grain to stay healthy.

Reality: These folks may be well-meaning, but they’re selling grain, not horse health. Too much grain is harmful to horses’ digestive systems.

4) Myth: I need to buy multiple feed products and supplements to keep my horse healthy.

Reality: Again, no. Horse owners aren’t nutritional experts – they just love their horses. They should be able to rely on a one-source nutritional solution such as Square Meal to assure proper horse health. Dr. Anderson advises Square Meal, plenty of fresh water and free choice loose salt as a complete diet.

5) Myth: My horse is suffering from boredom and needs “busy hay.”

Reality: Most of the signs of boredom are actually actions that your horse is telling you that there is something wrong with the way it’s being fed.

6) Myth: The horse will choose what they need to eat based on what they need.

Reality: I have never met a horse that has a degree in equine nutrition. The horse is like the rest of the animal population (including people) — eating what tastes the best. If an animal is so deficient in some nutrient that they will crave it, they have been incorrectly fed for a long time. The one exception to this is salt. People and animals do have the ability to self regulate themselves when it comes to salt and therefore it is good and safe to make free choice salt available. (Salt blocks are made for cows. Horses have tongues similar to people and should have loose salt made available to them rather than salt blocks.)

7) Myth: Horses need long stem hay.

Reality: The horse usually will not swallow stems longer than two inches in length. When horses are offered long stem hay they will chew it into small pieces before they swallow it. In the process of chewing, the horse is producing large quantities of saliva. Saliva has bicarbonate-like products that when swallowed will act as a buffer to the acid stomach. The saliva will also help to lubricate the food that will pass down the esophagus. The esophagus does not have the ability to secrete a lubricant; therefore dry food that is swallowed will result in possible choke — the inability of the horse to pass the food completely into the stomach. (Square Meal is produced in a biscuit form to control the nutrients but also so that the horse will not swallow it before chewing it and lubricating it with saliva.)

8) Myth: Horses will choke on hay cubes.

Reality: It is possible for the horse to choke on hay cubes, or pellets, or anything else that the horse will swallow in a dry form without saliva. However, proper feeding of hay cubes or biscuits will not cause choke. Choke occurs when the horse has gone without food or has been fed a very low-quality feed or forage. Especially in a herd setting, even high-quality food is consumed as quickly as possible for fear herd mates will take it away or the food will run out. There should be no pressure to eat with the fear that it may be taken away or disappear. That is why Square Meal biscuits are to be fed free choice continuously so that the horse can eat at its convenience. The horse will chew and generate the needed saliva before attempting to swallow it.

9) Myth: If one ounce is good, two ounces will be twice as good.

Reality: Without full knowledge of the ingredient, you must be careful about overfeeding because of the harm that can be caused to the horse. There are a lot of micronutrients that are very necessary to a healthy horse. If quantities are fed in excess of the recommended levels they can easily become toxic. An example would be iodine – an element with health benefits. But some horses are being overfed iodine. When iodine is added to salt and other livestock concentrates, having too many sources of iodine result in iodine toxicity. Even if each livestock concentrate has an appropriate amount of iodine, the manufacturer has no way of knowing what else the livestock owner is feeding. While there are hundreds of additives that can be fed to the horse, there is a danger of the wrong balance of these ingredients being fed together and resulting in significant harm to the horse, or even death. Square Meal does not recommend the feeding of any supplements unless a veterinarian has diagnosed a particular condition that requires a certain element or drug. The advice of a veterinarian is very desirable.