Horse Health Nutrition Information

Many books have been written on the subject of Equine Nutrition, with special emphasis on the feeding of specialized performance horses, young growing horses, or breeding animals. It is important to remember that the basics of horse nutrition for most of our horses are relatively straightforward. Basically, horses require just water, salt, and energy, in the form of food to survive quite nicely.
What a Horse Needs
Horses need an adequate supply of water at all times. If for any reason they are deprived of water, the first sign is often a loss of interest in eating. While a horse at rest in a cool environment might only consume 10 gallons of water a day, heat, physical exercise or lactation may increase their water consumption to 3-4 times their basic consumption to 30 or 40 gallons a day. Some horses will drink excessive amounts of water which is often a psychological problem or bad habit, but excessive water drinking could signal the onset of various diseases like Cushing’s Disease or rarely problems with the kidneys. Any unexplained change in your horse’s water consumption pattern should be investigated and your EVA Veterinarian should be contacted.
While the forage and concentrates we feed to our horses to fulfill their energy needs often contain adequate amount of salt, it is generally recommended that all horse have access to a salt block so that they can ingest additional salt if required. Some horses will abuse this privilege. They may eat too much salt causing excessive thirst resulting in flooding their pens with urine. In that instance, it may be necessary to remove the salt block simply for hygienic purposes.
The search and need for “energy” could simply be described as hunger. All living creatures require energy to maintain life. If the body is burning more energy than it is taking in every day, then the horse loses weight. If the horse ingests more calories every day than it burns, then weight gain is the result. The appropriate balance between caloric intake and calories burned is determined by the horse work schedule as well as the types of feed which are provided to the horse to meet its energy needs.
Eating Dirt
Some horses seem to just like to eat dirt. Often clients wonder if the horse is eating dirt because it is lacking in minerals or some other nutrient. This question has been studied and it appears that horses, just like you, DON’T realize that they are experiencing a nutritional deficiency. A human may experience scurvy from inadequate amounts of Vitamin C, but he does not crave citrus fruits because the condition is developing. The same thing is true for horses. In fact they will “search out” only three things to ingest; Water, Energy and Salt. If a horse is eating dirt, and it has adequate food, water and salt, we generally assume that the eating of dirt is just a bad habit. It is a dangerous habit, because the dirt may settle out and accumulate in the horse’s intestine and cause colic.
Energy in the Diet
Energy in the horse’s diet can be in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and are fed as either forages (hays), concentrates (grains) , or special supplements. Forages may be legumes , such as alfalfa hay, or grass hays and are a major source of fiber for the digestive tract. Additional “energy” may be packed into the diet by feeding concentrates such as oats, corn or barley in an attempt to put weight on a horse rapidly or to significantly increase its energy level for performance purposes. In addition, protein may be added to the horse’s diet with soybean meal or cottonseed meal, while additional fats can be added with vegetable oil or rice bran. The addition of extra fat in the diet is an excellent strategy for putting weight on a horse and giving it a nice hair coat without dramatically increasing the horse’s ‘hotness” or energy level when being ridden.
Contact Us
For more information regarding horse nutrition, diet or concerns that you may have regarding your horses health, feel free to contact Equine Veterinary Associates of Orange County by using our online contact form or calling our offices at 714-777-3942.