Equine nutrition is a subject often spoken about and one that can lead to some confusion. When it comes to young horses, their diet sets the foundation for their future and needs to be balanced and as natural a possible. Professor Meriel Moore-Colyer believes feeding doesn’t need to be complicated – it just needs to be balanced.
Meriel has always had a keen interest in equine nutrition, loving to make up the feeds at the yard and looking at how feeds can have different effects on different horses. She has also been very interested in biology and how the body works.
“I strongly believe that there's a reason that your gut is in the centre of your body and that’s because it is actually the centre of everything,” says Meriel. “We are now understanding the links between the gut brain axis both in humans and horses, and the massive influence that a healthy gut can have on your health, temperament and your well-being. The topic of nutrition is just so fascinating.”
We can’t wait to welcome her to the Horses Inside Out Conference in February 2024. Meriel will be giving a presentation on Feeding for the Future.
Meriel completed her PhD in Equine Digestive Physiology at the University of Edinburgh in 2000, and since then has specialised in equine nutrition.
Meriel has been involved with horses all her life, although her parents didn’t ride her great aunt was the first lady in the northwest of Ireland to ride a stride in the hunting field.
She has competed in most disciplines but focusing mainly dressage. During her university days she rode on the British Universities team across Europe. She trained her last homebred Irish Draught horse to Grand Prix level and they competed small tour.
About five years ago Meriel was involved in producing a full starter feed that is entirely fibre based – completely cereal free. Following testing in the lab and then feeding to young, growing foals, the results were fantastic.
“I have done some work looking at various different types of diets that you can feed young horses,” Meriel explains. “There are still a lot of traditions in the equine world when it comes to feeding young horses. Some are very reluctant to feed fibre to young horses because they think it leads to pot bellies and horses don't grow as well.”
Meriel is passionate about finding alternative and better diets for young horses that promote quality growth.
“It’s more than just how many inches does the foal grow in a month – it is much more about quality,” she says.
Feeding shouldn't be complicated. It needs to be right and balanced but not complicated.
The Role of Gut Health
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when Meriel attended the European Equine Health and Nutrition Congress in March this year. Chris Proudman talked about a paper that studied the effect of early gut health on the microbial microbiome profiles in young thoroughbred hopefuls. He had 50 foals and followed them all the way through to racing. He found that those with a healthy gut had better performance and lower incidences of disease. They were much healthier and stronger even into their racing careers.
“The tradition of feeding foals bowls of cereals to make them grow needs to change,” Meriel stresses. “The health of the gut and a fibre-based diet will do just the same thing but the long term welfare of the horse is much improved.”
Meriel’s advice when it comes to feeding young horse is to avoid cereals not just because of the issues with developmental orthopaedic diseases, but also because of the new information about it doesn't help develop a healthy microbiome. Feed a high-quality fibre ration and make sure that the foal can live as natural a life as possible. That's in terms of movement, interaction and feeding. These three things go together – it’s not just all about the feeding.
“You know yourself if you have a large evening meal and the following day you sit at your desk – not only do you put on weight, but you feel awful because your gut isn’t moving. The horse feels the same. Keeping horses in stables for long periods of time and feeding them a diet of cereals doesn’t do the gut development any good at all.”
With a mind boggling array of supplements available and many owners feeling the need to use them Meriel's advice is simple.
"Feed a good natural diet and have your forage analysed. This will tell you what your horse is deficient in and then you choose your supplement accordingly, instead of just thinking your horse needs one."
She also suggests that if there are some nutrient deficiencies which need to be balanced, reaching for a tub of supplement isn't your only choice. There are more natural ways of balancing the diet by adding different types of feed and this is where it is wise to seek the advice of an independent nutritionist for help and advice.
If you would like any advice on your horse's diet, Meriel is happy to help. You can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Growth and Development: A Journey of a Lifetime
If you're keen to discover more about the growth and development of horses, then please join us for the Horses Inside Out Conference
Two-days of amazing guest speakers who will be presenting the latest research and thinking connected to this subject. You can join us in person or online - book before 31 October 2023 and save on ticket prices with our early bird discount!