Updated: Nov 19, 2022
Feeding horses is a subject of much debate and with so many different feeds available it can often lead to confusion. However, feeding doesn’t need to be complicated – what is important is that your horse receives a balanced diet.
With a better understanding of the anatomy of your horse’s digestive system and following some simple steps that can be adapted for all horses will make sure your horse gets all he needs in his daily ration.
As Nature Intended
In the wild, when left to themselves, horses graze for up to 17 hours a day on a variety of grasses, shrubs and forage, as well as other tough and often poor vegetation. This natural diet is high in fibre and low starch. As browsing herbivores horses are trickle feeders with digestive systems designed to deal with this. This natural foraging behaviour is a far cry from the paddocks full of rich grass, refined cereals and man-made mixes that many of your horses have access to.
Even then you may still ask the question whether what you’re feeding your horse is enough, particularly if he’s out competing. Keeping horses in stables, feeding a rich high energy diet or giving them access to too much sugar laden grass puts strain on the digestive system and can be a contributory factor to lameness, weight gain and colic.
Developing an understanding of the digestive system, its processes and limitations is essential for the successful feeding of the modern-day horse. With this knowledge you’ll be able to feed more efficiently and economically, as well as reduce the risk of intestinal problems and allow your horse to perform more effectively.
The aim of the one-day seminar Digestive Anatomy, Feeding and Nutrition with Clare MacLeod and Liam Gamble is to help you gain a thorough understanding of the anatomy of the digestive system, why the basic rules of feeding are so important, how to balance the diet and much more.
Understanding how the digestive system works
The function of the digestive system is to take in food, break it down into a state that's easily digestible and get rid of any waste, aid hydration as well help to keep him warm.
The whole gastrointestinal tract is about 30 metres in length – that's pretty long, so it’s no wonder so many problems occur within the horse's digestive system. However, there’s a lot we can do to help support him and his gut, which we will cover in this seminar.
Did you know that the horse's digestive system is extremely heavy?
For a horse that weighs approximately 500kg, the contents of the hindgut of the digestive system weighs approximately 150 kilograms - that's equivalent to seven or eight bags of horse feed!
It's also interesting to note that this heavy weight is underneath your horse's spine - so his back has evolved to carry weight - that's why there's so little movement within the back, but it's not the weight of the rider that he's designed to carry it's the weight of his very heavy hind gut.
The Truth About Feeding
Clare Macleod is an independent Registered Equine Nutritionist who’s on a mission to spread the truth about feeding horses.
Clare owns two horses – one who’s retired and a Quarter Horse mare who she bought as a yearling. There was never really the intention to compete her but thanks to a fabulous trainer the combination has competed at BE80 level.
As well as a lifetime love of horses, Clare is hugely passionate about science but couldn't see herself working in a laboratory, she wanted a job that was more hands on.
"My career was always going to involve horses," says Clare. "Equine nutrition gives me the best of both worlds - I get to help horse owners who want the best for their horses and I also get the chance to indulge in my love of science - pulling out information from scientific reviews and collating something useful that you can then apply."
Empowering horse owners
On a day to day basis Clare spends most of her time helping horse owners who want to care for their horses to the best of their ability.
"Most clients come to me for consultancy because they are uncertain or confused about feeding their horse. There's nothing more satisfying than hearing back from a client who's put your advice into action and there's been a successful outcome. Just knowing that I've been able boost their knowledge and confidence around feeding and health makes my job worth while," says Clare.
Time for change
There are also areas of the equine world that Clare would like to see change.
"I would really like to change what has become the norm in terms of the leisure horse body condition. This new norm is not as healthy as it used to be. I don’t blame horse owners, many don’t even realise their horse is putting on weight until there’s a health problem. Then they feel really bad and didn’t mean to get to that point. We all need to change the way we view our horse's body condition. "
"I also feel very strongly that there could be more done to regulate the equine feed and supplement industry. As a whole it’s not a very well regulated industry and for the good of the horse this really does need addressing."
Boost your feeding confidence
"I'm really looking forward to the one-day seminar with Gillian and Liam. The aim is for you to go away feeling confident and empowered about what to feed your horse, debunk some feeding myths and discover some practical tips to keep your horse healthy. It's going to be great - I can't wait," says Clare.
Feeding Forage tips
Here are a few tips from Clare for more natural forage feeding.
Mixing more than one type of forage enriches your horse's diet and can encourage browsing behaviour in stabled horses. Make sure you feed the same mix daily to keep the gut microbiome (the beneficial gut microbes) healthy.
Try feeding forage from different feeders at different heights to avoid your horse staying in the same posture all night, this could benefit their musculoskeletal system.
Follow this link to view the recorded seminar: www.horsesinsideout.com/digestive-seminar