The Importance of Horse Gut Health
Here at Equinutritive, we talk a lot about how sensitive the equine gut is and how important it is to take care of it. If you focus on horse gut health primarily, the well-being of the rest of the horse will usually fall into place with ease.
One of the things most disruptive to the horse diet is a change to their feed. At the same time, the importance of a varied and diverse diet is important to health.
Changing My Horse's Diet
We wanted to take the opportunity to talk about guidelines for changing your horse’s feed, which many of us do far too regularly and how to balance that with providing a varied and interesting diet.
How A Horse Naturally Eats
Naturally, horses don’t eat ‘meals’ in the way that we feed them these days. They graze continuously throughout the day, picking at different grasses, plants, herbs, hedges and shrubs. The notion that horses should be fed meals twice or three times a day is quite a departure from how they would normally take in nutrients and consume food.
When we feed our horses large, bulky meals, the horse gut has to cope with that and it’s actually quite a challenge. When a horse eats a particular feed, the gut and its microbial population adjust to that over a period of a few weeks and if a sudden change occurs it can cause a huge amount of disruption to the gut and cause a number of problems including colic.
Making Changes To My Horse's Diet
Most horse owners can recite that changes to the diet should be made ‘slowly and gradually’. But what does that actually mean? Changes in the ‘core’ diet – as in changes to grain or complete feed – should be made over a period of around 3 weeks. Do this by following the formula below:
Days 1 – 5: Feed 75% of original feed and 25% of new feed.
Days 6 – 11: Feed 50% of original feed and 50% of new feed.
Days 12 – 17: Feed 25% of original feed and 75% of new feed.
Day 18 onwards: Feed 100% of the new feed.
This is a slow process and many people are shocked when we share this method with them. “3 weeks – that’s forever!”. Some people we talk to don’t even feed their horse the same thing for 3 weeks running. It’s essential not to be cavalier about what you’re feeding your horse. We’ve spoken to horse owners who buy whatever is on special on any given week and their horse gets something different every time they go to the feed store! This is causing huge upset to the horse gut and the their health.
As a horse owner, it’s your responsibility to select a horse feed that is well suited for your horse, meets it’s nutritional needs and supports their health. Different horses have different needs, some have allergies or sensitivities, some are under weight or over weight and so on. Once you’ve selected an appropriate feed, you need to stick with it until you make a conscious, thoughtful decision to change their feed and then do so gradually as described above.
Providing a Varied Diet For Your Horse
So, if it’s so important to keep your horse’s diet the same, how can it also be important to provide a varied diet. This is important for a number of reasons, the most central of which is to ensure that a varied microbial population is sustained in the gut. It’s also for the sake of interest. Would you want to eat the exact same thing every day? Probably not – sounds a bit boring doesn’t it?
Introducing Horse Supplements
The main ‘meal’ that you provide to your horse, which will provide the majority of its calories, should remain constant. What can and should vary is its roughage. Feed different types of hay if you can, ideally 3 varieties either mixed up together or alternating every few days. Offer herbs, vegetables and fruits on top of their meals to add variety. Herbs for our horses are delicious, nutritious have a huge range of benefits. A little bit of reading will help you identify which herbs will help with certain things and can help to keep your horse healthy and thriving. You can check out some other blogs we’ve written on Boswellia, chamomile, turmeric, peppermint and yarrow on our site. And remember, of course, carrots, apples, turnips, celery, sweet potato, liquorice and mints will always go down a treat.
The overall message: keep it interesting but make sure to be mindful of the sensitive and complex gastrointestinal system.