Perhaps now more than ever it is tempting to add supplements and different feeds to your horse’s diet in an attempt to improve condition or perhaps to help with a specific health issue. With the best of intentions we read up and research to find something that we think might be suitable for our horses and start feeding it – this could throw the overall diet out of balance, depending on the nutrient content of the new addition.
In this tip we will explain the importance of not overcomplicating the diet and ensuring that it is balanced and healthy for your horses.
Winter Feeding Tip # 7 – 5 Steps to a Perfectly Balanced Diet
The first thing to understand is that the interaction between nutrients is complex and that they are often interdependent on each other.
The image above shows a list of nutrients around the outer ring and a series of lines between each of them. The intersections where one line intersects another shows that there is a relationship between the two nutrients. In other words, there might need to be a certain amount of one nutrient in the diet for a horse to be able to uptake and absorb another. The purpose of this graphic is not for it to be remembered in detail, but is to highlight the complexity of a diets balance.
Good equine nutritionists will consider all of these factors when developing and formulating a ration, so that the horses get their recommended daily allowance of each nutrient and that they will work in harmony with each other. As there is myriad of supplements and premixed commercial feeds available on the market, it is extremely important to be aware of which products are fortified with broad spectrum vitamins and minerals – and which ones aren’t. When we blend two products together that have broad-spectrum vitamins and minerals and are not designed to go together, we can loose this intricate balance of nutrients and without knowing it – sometimes doing more harm than good.
So what precautions do we take and how do we ensure that we get the balance right? The following is a guide to help make sure that the diet is as safe and balanced as it can be in terms of the nutrient content.
1. Know where your nutrients are coming from in your horse’s current diet.
By reading on the packaging of the products we can find out relatively easily, whether a product has been fortified with added broad-spectrum vitamin and minerals. To generalise, normally a cubed feed would have broad-spectrum vitamin and minerals such as conditioning cubes, horse and pony pellets, balancers (always do), some supplements, ‘complete’ fibre’s and some soaked fibre’s do. There are many things that don’t have broad-spectrum vitamin and minerals in such as some soaked fibre’s like sugar beet, our Pink Mash, plain chaffs and chops. It’s a case of just checking the packaging of what you are currently feeding to determine which products do – and which ones don’t.
2. Make sure you stay within a brand for fortified feeds.
Once we have determined which products within the diet contain added vitamins and minerals, we need to make sure we stay within a brand for anything that is fortified with vitamins and minerals. For example, our Stay Cool contains broad-spectrum vitamins and minerals, as does Keyflow Perfect Balance. If we are feeding a balancer together with this cool mix we need to make sure it is from the same brand because that will usually mean that the nutritionist who has formulated those rations has designed them to be compatible with each other. Also they will often utilise the same nutrient sources and therefore be more closely matched. By doing it this way you are getting the best chance of balance.
By contrast however, by mixing two fortified rations from different brands you are risking losing control and compromising nutrient compatibility and balance in the diet.
3. Look for unfortified complimentary feed/supplement products that won’t conflict with the base ration.
As an example for our Key-Plus doesn’t have a broad-spectrum put into it so that it remains compatible with any other feeds it is being added to. It is a part of the products success and effectiveness, it will add condition and topline but won’t risk imbalancing an otherwise good diet.
The same is true of Pink Mash although it contains a significant quantity of pre and probiotics, they are specifically designed to support hind gut and microbiome health and will not jeopardise an otherwise balanced diet.
There are other products on the market that are similar to this that don’t have broad-spectrum vitamins and minerals. An example of this would be commercially available plain chaffs or soaked sugar beets that can be added into the diet without risk of imbalance.
4. Do you really need it?
It’s a question that is sensible to ask. It is sometimes tempting to find a product on a shelf or recommended online that compels you to feed it, when we haven’t actually taken into account that this product has a whole suite of added nutrients that actually means there is a risk of conflict with certain existing nutrients contained within the diet.
It’s therefore wise to ask ourselves twice whether our horses need the added supplementation or whether it is already being well catered for in the diet. Perhaps we need to look at another aspect to solve the issue or problem such as the horses forage or management.
5. Keep it simple!
The best diets are simple diets, we have less chance of something going wrong or causing an issue when a diet is simple and easy to stay consistent with. In addition to daily forage intake, usually feeding a high quality hard feed, a simple chaff, a probiotic mash and perhaps something like an Omega 3 oil (try Key-3 ), will cover most areas of a horses nutritional needs. As well as being easy to remain consistent with, a simple but high quality diet is usually the most cost effective, especially once you consider the amount of supplements that don’t need to be fed.
When we get the balance right it becomes obvious to see as your horse becomes healthy, shiny, has a good appetite, is settled relaxed, trainable, rideable and a lot more fun!