From state of the art hydroponic systems that allow you to grow your own forage, to bags of chopped and dried grass, there’s an ever-growing trend to feed our horses as nature intended as more and more owners turn to high fibre, forage-based, ‘free from’ diets.
Gone are the days when stabled horses were given huge cereal-based feeds and not much in the way of forage (and often suffered gastric problems and stable vices as a result), to be replaced by a better understanding of how our horses’ digestive systems are designed to work. And today’s equine nutritionists are keen to spread the message that lots of high fibre forage is best so we can replicate our horses’ grazing habits.
In the wild they’d chew a range of plants and grasses for between 16 and 18 hours a day, and thanks to the latest nutritional advances it’s easy to allow them to carry on doing just that, whether they’re out in the field or stabled.
“Most importantly, it’s important to remember that your horse’s diet is about more than just the nutrition,” says Dr Teresa Hollands, an equine nutritionist at the University of Surrey’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “From a behavioural point of view it’s vital he’s allowed to get his head down and graze for much of the day.
“If you’ve got a good-doer native pony who’s evolved to survive on sparse pasture, look for low-calorie, straw-based products that will satisfy his need to chew and forage, without piling on the pounds. You can then top this up with a low-calorie balancer to give him the vitamins and minerals he needs.”
Several companies, including the Pure Feed Company, Simple System Ltd and Dengie, produce a range of bagged chops
to safely up your horse’s fibre intake when grazing’s limited. But what if you want to
go high-tech and grow your own?
“When I was a student in the 1980s, hydroponic systems for growing mats of grass were just coming in,” says Teresa.
“If you grow the right mix of seeds, these systems can be a good idea, but they’re not particularly practical for one-horse owners as you need a massive container. You also need to feed a lot of it. A 500kg horse requires 12.5kg of forage a day (dry matter), which equates to 60-80kg in its fresh weight. That’s a lot of grass mats!”
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