Is your horse’s diet truly ‘balanced’?

By retired scientist Dr Keith Foster of Fine Fettle Products

We all know that currently, human health can leave a lot to be desired, and that we should ideally eat small, frequent meals of what our body is designed to eat. Equines are the same. Many types of grass, herbs and some leaves are all part of a horse’s natural diet, plus a lot of quite ‘woody’ fibrous stems of hardy perennial plants. Their diet in the wild naturally fluctuates in richness and content with the passage of the seasons, but it also fluctuates because of a horse’s selective feeding habit.

The majority of UK sown grass land is an agricultural mix intended for cattle.

The majority of UK sown grass land is an agricultural mix intended for cattle.

Conversely, cattle require protein rich grass, and use their tongues to browse, whereas horses require high fibre grass, which they graze down quite short using their lips. This essential difference allows both species to do well, grazing over the same pasture when in the wild as there is/was a variety of grass types but works against the horse especially in the UK, where a majority of sown grass land is of an agricultural mix intended for cattle. These mixes are high in protein and fructan, which is a key contributor to laminitis.

Recently, people have begun to make quite radical alterations to their horses’ diets in attempts to increase the horse’s performance, often at the risk of its long-term health. Whilst these usually very rich additives can be very effective in the short-term, they are a potential danger to the horse’s system if used long-term, since they usually render the horse’s system too acidic, thus reducing the ability of its bloodstream to carry adequate oxygen, which can result in too many anaerobic bacteria.

Many people feed their horses a balanced equine diet and then unbalance it by feeding additional supplements. It’s been found that over-supplementing can cause an excess of certain minerals, which is equally as counter-productive as a deficiency.

Research has shown that 78% of competition horses fed supplements are likely to receive excess energy, protein and an imbalance of minerals.

It is said that 78% of competition horses fed supplements are likely to receive excess energy.

Many competition horses fed supplements are thought to suffer from dietary imbalances.

This practice can lead to subclinical toxicity, and certainly prime the horse’s system to tying-up or Azoturia by loading its bloodstream with elements that reduce its oxygen-carrying ability. Basically, they can alter the pH of the horse’s bloodstream which is normally between 7.42 and 7.45. Any disturbance in the blood pH level will result in a drop in performance, and can have dire consequences for the horse’s health in the long term.

Accordingly, in order to adjust your horse’s acid/alkaline balance (its pH) and thus optimise digestion, it’s helpful to filter out the contaminants which have crept in with modern feeding practices.

From experience, the safest and only way to do this (without also filtering out essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements) is to regularly add natural charcoal to your horse’s feed. This acts as a superb biological filter taking out only those contaminants which cause problems thus giving a substantial boost to your horse’s digestive system. A horse’s digestive system is an integral part of its immune system and if you lighten its load by using natural charcoal, then it will have an increased capability to thoroughly digest the leaner diet on which the equine will thrive.

Happy Tummy Charcoal neutralises the pH of the digestive system, and adsorbs excess acid, removing it from the equine's body.

Happy Tummy Charcoal neutralises the pH of the digestive system, and adsorbs excess acid, removing it from the equine’s body.

I advocate a more natural equine diet based on high fibre, low sugar, no molasses, no alfalfa and very little of anything fancy, as I believe that on this diet, your horse will, in all likelihood, become much more healthy and you will spend a lot less money.

There’s nothing wrong with giving your horse the occasional treat or feeding him a high energy diet when he’s entering a competition. But you’re doing him no favours in over feeding, particularly with supplements, the bulk of which are not needed all the time. You can save yourself a lot of money over the period of your horse’s life and feed him considerably better for less if you regularly add Happy Tummy charcoal to his diet.

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