Feeding For Condition this Spring
The right condition is essential for health and well-being, but sometimes horses and ponies can drop condition and may need help to re-gain it. The key to adding condition is to ensure there is more energy or ‘calories’ going into your horse than going out, but it’s important to provide the nutrients to do this in a safe, controlled fashion. Here, Lisa Elliott – Msc – Nutritionist at Castle Horse Feed, explains more:
Fibre (complex carbohydrates)
Fibre is fermented in the hind gut by billions of microbes who thrive on it. So, feeding plenty of fibre will help them to flourish, and greatly increase your horse’s potential to gain weight and condition. However, it’s important to be aware that the quality of fibre you provide can be quite different depending on its composition.
A feed that is high in fibre, won’t necessarily promote the best condition because it is the quality of the fibre that is most important. Therefore, good-quality fibre is essential because the better the fibre is digested, the more calories it provides, so it is important to ensure you feed the best quality forage you can find on an ad-lib basis.
In the winter fibre works like an internal heating system for your horse because heat is released as it is fermented. This effectively keeps your horse warm from the inside out, which helps maintain weight.
Alongside good-quality forage, highly digestible fibre like beet pulp, soya hulls and grass pellets can supply extra calories. Like forage, these digestible fibres are non-heating, so they help to build condition in a calm and controlled way.
Fibre digestion can be enhanced with yeast-based prebiotics which have been proven to help support the gut microbes and improve fibre digestibility. This means your horse can get the most of out of their fibre to further improve weight gain and condition.
Oil is great for weight gain because it contains nearly three times more calories on a weight for weight basis than cereals, so can really help to boost your horse’s calorie intake. Fats and oils provide controlled condition, as like fibre they are a source of non-heating, slow-release energy.
Oils also contain essential Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to promote good skin and coat health and overall good condition. Linseed and soya are excellent sources of oil which add significant calories but also contribute to the right balance of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
Cereals (simple carbohydrates)
Cereals such as barley and maize contain starch to help contribute to weight gain and condition but it’s important not to feed larger amounts as this can result in digestive upset or excitable behaviour. Smaller amounts of cereals can be a useful addition if your horse needs to gain weight and is working regularly. Cereals that have been suitably processed or micronised to maximise digestion and minimise digestive upset are best to help promote good condition.
These nutrients provide a source of energy or ‘calories’ for your horse. Energy for horses is expressed as Megajoules (MJ) of digestible energy (DE) and one megajoule is equivalent to 239 calories! The ideal energy level for building condition is around 12-14MJ DE depending on how much is needed, so look for feeds containing energy levels within this range to help promote safe weight-gain.
Protein is important to help build good muscle tone and integrity, which helps contribute to the overall condition of your horse, along with correct work, but protein quality is key. Amino acids provide your horse with the building blocks for making protein, so look for ingredients like peas, linseed and soya, all of which have an impressive amino acid profile and will help build the best quality protein.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are important because the best condition is only achieved through a fully balanced diet, containing a good supply of these essential micronutrients. Vitamins and minerals are vital and perform hundreds of roles within the body, but they need to be supplied in adequate amounts to fully support weight gain and condition. They can be provided by feeding a good-quality balancer or feed which is formulated with fully balanced vitamins and minerals, fed at the recommended levels.
Dehydration will affect physiological processes and reduce digestive efficiency. In winter, horses will typically drink less, so it’s important to make sure they are always fully hydrated, particularly if your horse has lost condition.
Breaking ice regularly in water troughs and buckets in colder weather is essential. Adding hot water to warm up drinking water to above 7⁰C will also help increase water consumption. Additionally, providing a tablespoon of salt in feed will help stimulate thirst and increase water intake to support good condition.
By considering the necessary nutrients and selecting feeds accordingly, you can provide the right nutrition to promote optimum condition in your horse all year round.
If you have any questions for Lisa about how to create the best diet for your horse, email email@example.com or call 01497 570345. See www.castlehorsefeeds.com for further information and to sign up for free nutrition news and insights.