Updated: Oct 21
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Horses are incredible creatures that rely on a balanced diet to maintain optimal health and well-being. In the wild, horses are free to roam to new areas in search of different varieties of forage, herbs and even clay. However, captivity severely limits this ability to access varieties of food and thus varieties of nutrients as well. In captivity, hay is a primary staple in a horse's diet, and while it can
keep weight on, it may not provide all the necessary nutrients for their overall vitality. In this article, we will discuss why feeding hay alone can lead to nutrient deficiencies, the limitations of horses kept on dry lots, the potential deficiencies even in pasture grazing, and the essential supplements required to maintain a horse's ideal health.
Nutrient Deficiencies from Hay-Only Diets:
Hay, while providing essential roughage, often falls short in terms of nutritional content. Forage quality varies significantly depending on factors such as soil fertility, maturity at harvest, and storage conditions. Hay may lack crucial vitamins, trace minerals, and essential fatty acids, making it insufficient to meet a horse's dietary requirements. Thus, an exclusive hay diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies over time. In order to have an understanding of the nutritional content provided by your hay source, we recommend asking your supplier for copies of the hay tests. Of course, nutrients can vary slightly from bale to bale but a test will give you a good idea of where the hay may be missing any nutrients…from there, you can create a wholesome and well informed supplement routine.
Limitations of Dry Lot Enclosures:
Horses confined to dry lots, whether due to limited space or management practices, often face restrictions in movement and diet diversification. The absence of varied grazing options restricts the horse's natural foraging behavior and can have detrimental effects on their overall well-being. Limited movement negatively impacts their physical and mental health, which can lead to muscle stiffness, obesity, behavioral issues, and even increased risk of colic.
Nutrient Deficiencies in Pasture Grazing:
While access to pasture grazing is beneficial, it still does not guarantee an adequate nutrient intake. Pastures can suffer from soil deficiencies, causing them to be nutrient-poor. This deficiency may, in turn, affect the dietary intake of horses grazing in those areas. Additionally, certain pastures can promote the growth of toxic plants or harbor harmful parasites. Therefore, relying solely on pasture grazing may not provide all the necessary nutrients.
Essential Supplements for Optimal Health:
Supplementing a horse's diet is crucial to ensure their health and well-being. At a bare
minimum, horses should receive three essential supplements:
Salt: Horses lose significant amounts of salt through sweating and exertion when working. However, salt is a necessary nutrient for the sedentary horse as well. Providing free access to a salt block or adding non-iodized loose salt to their diet ensures proper electrolyte balance, muscle function, and hydration.
Omegas: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are vital for maintaining healthy skin, a glossy coat, joint health, and overall immune function. These fatty acids can be supplemented through flaxseed or fish oil supplements. However, it is important when picking a fat supplement that the Omega-3 and Omega-6 content is balanced. The ideal supplement has a higher anti-inflammatory Omega-3 content. Selecting a whole food supplement such as Twenty Four Carrots’ Inner Glow Omega Booster is an affordable and balanced option which mimics a wild horses’ natural diet.
Trace Minerals: Horses require various trace minerals, such as zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium, for optimal bodily functions. These minerals play a role in enzyme activity, immune response, hoof and coat quality, and reproductive health. There are several trace mineral supplements on the market which can ensure an adequate intake.
In conclusion, feeding hay alone can lead to nutrient deficiencies, compromising the overall health and well-being of horses. Restricting horses to dry lots limits their movement and diet diversification. Even with access to pasture grazing, deficiencies could still arise due to nutrient-poor soils. To maintain a horse's ideal health, supplementation with essentials like salt, omegas, and trace minerals is crucial. By providing a balanced and complete diet, we can ensure our equine friends lead happy, healthy lives.
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