Nutrition is an important aspect of caring for our horses, but have you ever heard the following statements?
“I don’t need my horse to look like a show horse.”
“He’s just a camp drafter, looks don’t count.”
“She’s only a few months in foal and the grass is good.”
“They look healthy, and I never need the vet.”
“He’s spelling. I’ll save some money, he won’t need supplements now.”
“She’s fat, she doesn’t need a feed.”
“They get silly when I feed them supplements.”
If you’ve ever avoided supplementing minerals for these reasons then your horse is most likely mineral deficient. This means either they have not been getting enough of every mineral they require, or they will be suffering from a secondary deficiency caused by consuming minerals that are not balanced across the diet (too much of one means not enough absorption of another).
We know that deficiency is real by looking at the mineral levels from thousands of samples of plants that have been accurately measured for their mineral content.
The cold hard facts about nutrition: Did you know that the levels of minerals in grass don’t provide everything a horse needs to meet the minimum daily requirement for every mineral? Let’s take a closer look.
The graph provided (graph available in the full edition of the digital magazine) shows the mineral deficiencies in the diet of a horse grazing enough good quality C3 grass to maintain or gain weight. As an example, this horse will be deficient in copper, zinc, selenium and iodine. (Source: FeedXL)
The ratios of minerals in grass aren’t balanced to provide the mineral ratios that research demonstrates are necessary for optimal nutrition. For instance the grass in the graph contains 32 times as much iron as copper, when the horse needs around six times more iron than copper in the diet. This ratio imbalance could exacerbate the copper deficiency. Therefore copper must be supplemented to balance the amount of iron naturally occurring in the pasture.
This trend is true and even includes well-fertilised good quality grasses and grasses grown on good soils. Why? Because plants only put into leaves and stems the nutrients they need to be plants (they’re not too worried about the nutritional requirements of those who eat them!). These facts are based on scientifically measured values – the mineral content of plants and the proven daily minimum levels a horse needs to avoid a deficiency.
Although minerals are often fed as part of a pre-mixed feed, they can be supplemented separately to give the owner control over the level of calories consumed while still providing all the minerals needed. This is particularly important for horses that get enough (or more than enough!) calories from grass alone.
Ten top reasons why you should start supplementing with minerals
- Healthy hoof growth – no hoof, no horse! Important for every horse from broodmares and trail ride mounts to performance horses.
- Your horse’s body can repair and maintain itself more effectively for ongoing performance.
- Improved endurance is possible as the body has enough minerals to make enzymes critical for energy utilisation
- Better feed use efficiency because the body has enough minerals to use energy more efficiently so you can feed less
- A more resilient immune system
- Optimal reproductive performance, with more mares in foal first cycle.
- Less inferior bone development and joint problems in growing horses.
- Less risk of diseases caused by mineral deficiencies – such as white muscle disease and bighead.
- A smaller feed bill.
- A darker, shiner coat (whether you like it or not!).
Minerals provided in the right amounts and correct ratios relative to each other will boost the health and performance of a previously deficient horse no matter whether they’re provided by a pre-mixed hard feed or a quality supplement designed to balance the forage.
So, what’s the conclusion?: Over time, a well-balanced diet will also lead to growth of the best mane, tail and hoof tissue that your horse is genetically programmed to produce.
As an owner you will still need to manage the many other environmental factors that impact on manes, tails and hooves to get the best out of the nutrition you provide.
These factors include rugs, insecticides, strategies to prevent rubbing, appropriate fences, shelters, correct and regular farrier work, providing appropriate surfaces during weather extremes and so on.
Many horses fed correctly balanced diets also become more metabolically efficient at using energy, meaning you can save money on the amount and type of hard feeds your horse requires.
Where can I find out more?: Larissa Bilston has a B.AgrSc (Hons 1), she is the nutritionist for Equine Vit&Min and with the purchase of any Equine Vit&Min product you can request a free diet analysis for your horse.