How to feed a horse

Feeding the Laminitic Horse

A horse’s dream residence would consist of rolling, lush pastureland stretching for miles, allowing the horse to graze peacefully and uninterrupted. There would be a sunset on the horizon, a light breeze ruffling the horse’s mane, and warm sun fading on its back. Despite how much horse owners would love to provide this beautiful setting for their horse, for many, it is an unattainable dream. Many horses are prone to or have laminitis, an inflammatory disease of the hoof laminae. Thick, green pastureland is typically high in sugar, which, when too much is eaten, heightens the severity of laminitis the inflammation of the hoof laminae. In the most severe laminitis cases, the hoof laminae can separate from the hoof wall, causing the toe-shaped coffin bone to rotate inside the hoof or sink deeper towards the sensitive sole. A sunken coffin bone causes painful pressure buildup on the bottom of the soles. This causes the recognizable “standing back” position a horse does when suffering from sunken, pressured coffin bones. So, if forage that is high in sugar is so bad for a laminitic horse, then how is an owner supposed to feed for optimal nutrition?

To begin, certain horses are more prone to developing laminitis than others. For instance, laminitis is quickly developed in shorter animals with large necks that become rotund easily. Sadly, this classification fits most of the pony category – that is why ponies wearing muzzles in the pasture are such a common sight! Horses with a high body condition score (BCS) of a 7 or higher are also more likely to develop laminitis, as their metabolism and the ability to break down sugars is weakened. There is a high correlation between horses that are both obese and have insulin resistance with the onset of laminitis, meaning that horses with either of these conditions are far more likely to develop the disease. Horses who are stressed, such as those with recent diet or stabling changes, are at a higher risk along with those that already have endocrine diseases, such as Cushing’s disease (PPID) or equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).

The first and foremost rule to preventing the onset of laminitis is to limit a horse’s exposure to lush, green pastureland that is high in sugar. When feed/pasture that is high in NSCs, like sugar and starch, are consumed by these higher-risk horses, the end products of digestion can cause toxic components to be created, leading to inflammation in the hoof laminae. It is best to avoid feeds that are high in soluble carbohydrates, as some horses are at a higher risk of developing laminitis. Excel Equine’s Carbolyte ® is a great choice for horses needing to limit starch and sugar intake, as it is low in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs) such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, and starch.

A balanced diet and adequate exercise have proven to be the best preventative measures for laminitis. If a horse has not yet developed laminitis, then routine exercise is crucial for those who are prone, such as ponies and overweight horses. These horses are more likely to overgorge themselves on lush green grass. However, if a horse has already developed laminitis and is unable to continue work, a structured diet plan is crucial for the horse’s health and longevity. It is important to only feed a horse according to its energy requirements so that overfeeding is avoided. Therefore, a horse who is retired in pasture may not require as much feed as a horse in work. For many, a forage diet is adequate. While soaking hay used to be recommended to reduce the hay’s sugar content, it is now encouraged against due to the nutrients and dry matter that is lost in the soaking process. For horses trying to lose weight, this is especially important, as they must receive their daily intake of nutrients. Veterinarians recommend conducting hay analyses to determine the level of NSCs so that the least number of soluble carbohydrates is given. If this approach is taken, a ration balancer should be given to the horse to provide nutrients. Excel Equine produces Enrichment ® , a ration balancer that can be fed as a top dress on grain or by itself. Enrichment ® is designed to deliver essential vitamins, minerals, and high-quality protein. Lastly, as always, it is best to avoid feeds that are high in NSCs when feeding a laminitic horse. Another supplement that may be beneficial to the laminitic horse is the use of a hoof supplement. Excel Equine Hoof Pro Plus ® provides optimal levels of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to promote quality hoof growth and maintenance.

It is important to maintain a regular turn-out schedule and perform pasture maintenance to prevent the laminitic horse from developing further symptoms. The NSC content in green grass develops symptoms of laminitis faster in horses prone to the disease than others. Considering such, it is best to limit free-choice grazing on lush pasturelands to laminitis prone-horses. It is best to turn out horses when the sugars in the grass are not at their highest, such as in the early morning. The NSC content in grass is at its lowest between a couple of hours before sunrise to a couple of hours after. Spring is the time of year known for its high-sugar grass, yet late summer and early fall are also high-risk periods. If a horse must be restricted from grazing all day, do not keep in a stall, as it will cause the horse unnecessary stress and raise its insulin concentrations. Rather, turn the horse out in a dry lot, if you have one, with another horse for company. If there are no available dry lots, it is best to turn out a horse with a grazing muzzle in its normal pasture. If using this method, remember to check the horse’s body condition score regularly to monitor weight gain when given a grazing option.

While laminitis can be a frightening condition, as it can be life-threatening, the effects can be minimized in conjunction with a proper diet plan. Feeding a horse a quality feed at recommended amounts ensures that the horse does not have to worry about laminitis developments.

Answer

Forage cubes or forage pellets are a great alternative forage source when good-quality hay is not available or a suitable feedstuff. Older horses may benefit from soaked forage cubes if dental issues limit their ability to chew hay, and horses with inflammatory airway disease are often offered forage in the form of cubes, pellets, or chaff to reduce the level of dust and mold that can be associated with hay. Forage cubes often have a higher digestible energy value than mature baled hay, as they are harvested at optimal maturity when digestible fiber (neutral detergent fiber) levels are greatest.

One disadvantage of feeding only forage cubes is the lack of long-stem fiber, which may lead to the horse seeking other sources of fiber to satisfy this need. As your horse is recovering from a colic episode, the most important thing is to provide high-quality forage as grass pasture, hay, cubes, or a combination of these.

Soaking the cubes can increase water consumption that may help prevent dehydration and act as a carrier for powdered supplements and medications. How long the cubes are soaked and the amount of water used depends somewhat on the horse’s preference. Generally, at least 20-30 minutes are needed with equal parts water to soften the cubes. Depending on the cause of the colic and the current diet, there may be other nutritional changes to consider to reduce the risk of colic in the future.

If the risk for recurrent colic is high, adding a digestive supplement such as RiteTrac or EquiShure, both developed by Kentucky Equine Research (KER), will likely help. These products work by buffering the stomach and hindgut (cecum and colon). Maintaining a stable digestive environment and reducing the damaging effects that excess acid production can have on both the stomach and hindgut can help reduce the incidence of colic when used in combination with the best nutrition and management practices. RiteTrac is not available in Australia, but other research-proven products are.

Propionic acid is the most commonly used preservative in feed manufacturing. Similar to vinegar, it works by slightly acidifying the forage or feed to preserve the product. The amount of this substance, which is generally recognized as safe, is likely minuscule; however, regulations require its use to be listed on the feed tag. Not all forage cube products will contain preservatives.

Bentonite is used as a binding product for pellets or cubes to improve product quality and reduce the number of fines associated with the final product. I could find no information regarding a relationship between bentonite-containing cubes and impaction. Nutritional Requirements of Horses, published in 2007 by the National Research Council, states that there is a regulated limit to the amount of bentonite that can be used.

Hay cubes are actually made of hay that’s been cut into small pieces then compressed. Anything added, such as molasses or oil, will appear on the label. Some people are afraid if they use cubes they won’t be able to see what’s in them, but cubes aren’t like pellets. The hay isn’t finely ground like it is for pellets, it’s only cut/chopped so you see what’s in there.

Evaluate the quality of cubes in much the same way you do hays. They should have a nice green color and a fresh, appealing aroma. Some cubes are harder and more densely packed than others, so you may need to check the products of different manufacturers to find one your horse accepts well.

The cubes manufacturers will also be able to provide you with average analysis figures on their cubes, information like protein, digestible energy (calories) and important minerals.

Hay cubes have advantages:

• Nutritional value: Quality cubes are made from hays cut at their peak feeding value.

• Hypoallergenic: Cubes are much lower in dust and mold spores than baled hays.

• Shelf life: Because of their low moisture content, low mold content and that they’re bagged, cubes hold nutritional value longer.

• Storage: Cubes take up much less space than baled hay and are easier to travel with.

• Chewing problems: Horses that can’t effectively chew long-stem hay may do just fine with cubes, and cubes can easily be soaked to a mash for horses that have trouble with them dry.

• Digestibility: For hays to be effectively fermented by the organisms in the hind gut, they have to be present in short pieces, which provide more surface area for the organisms to “attack.” Starting with the short pieces already in the cubes gives you a jump start on digestibility. Cubes may also be lower in nondigestible fibers.

• Less waste: Horses fed loose hay free choice will waste anywhere from 10 to 25% of it under foot.

• Consistency: The bag-to-bag consistency of hay cubes are usually superior to load-to-load consistency from a hay dealer. This is because hay appropriate for cubing is usually cut at the same growth stage each time, and manufacturers either maintain their own fields or buy from the same sources. This can be important for horses prone to gut upset with diet changes.

• Expense: Baled hays typically cost about half as much as cubes, unless there’s an area hay shortage.

• Chew time: Some horses become bored when fed only cubes and will take to wood chewing to amuse themselves. To minimize this in these problem horses, provide some hay between cube feedings. Even if the horse can’t chew well, he’ll keep himself occupied trying to do so.

• Choke: Choke is usually more of a problem with pelleted hays, which can be bolted down with next to no chewing at all.

Older horses that don’t chew thoroughly, aren’t producing a normal amount of saliva, or have swallowing problems or abnormal motility in their esophagus could have problems with cubes but would also have problems with loose hay. Soaking the forage is a good idea for any horse with a history of choke, whether feeding cubes or loose hay.

Feed young horses to grow at a moderate and steady rate.

Foals between the age of 3 and 9 months are at greatest risk for developmental orthopedic disorders.

Young, growing horses need a diet ratio of Ca to P between 1 to 1 and 3 to 1.

Maximizing forage intake will mimic natural feeding behavior and bring about gut health.

Feed the concentrate part of the diet across multiple feedings throughout the day.

Nutrition is important for growing horses between weaning and 2 years of age. During this time, bone formation and size greatly increase as well as muscle mass. Thus, these horses need the proper amount and balance of energy and nutrients in their ration.

Tracking growth

How to feed a horse

You can track growth over time by checking your horse’s bodyweight with a scale or measuring tape. With a tape, measure the following:

Around your horse’s heart girth

The length from the point of shoulder to point of buttock

Plug these measurements into the bodyweight equation below to estimate your horse’s weight.

Weanlings: [heart girth (in)2 × length (in)] ÷ 280 = weight (lb)

Yearlings: [heart girth (in)2 × length (in)] ÷ 301 = weight (lb)

Ideally, you should feed young horses to grow at a moderate, steady rate. The National Resource Council (NRC) recommends rates of average daily gain for horses. Recommended average daily gain values for horses of different mature bodyweights range from 0.28 to 0.39 percent and 0.15 to 0.21 percent of the horse’s body weight for weanlings and yearlings, respectively. Feeding a young horse for a moderate growth rate doesn’t result in a smaller horse.

Feeding a young horse for a maximum growth rate is undesirable because bone hardening lags greatly behind bone lengthening. At 12 months old the young horse could reach about 90 to 95 percent of its mature height but only about 75 percent of its mature bone mineral content.

Ideally, young horses should gain weight at a rate that their developing bones can easily support. Growing bones don’t have the strength to support rapid weight gain from overfeeding, especially energy. Rapid weight gain can also make other skeletal anomalies worse. In these cases the risk of developmental orthopedic disorders (DOD) and unsoundness increases.

DOD and unsoundness can also occur during uneven growth. For example, switching an underfed, slow growing horse to a good diet that allows quick growth, increases the risk of DOD. Foals between the ages of 3 and 9 months of age are at greatest risk of DOD.

Feeding the weanling and yearling

Weanlings and yearlings first use energy and nutrients to meet their maintenance needs. They use remaining energy and nutrients for growth.

Weanlings and yearlings should have visible ribs. Fat should cover the top ⅓ to ½ of the ribs below the flat of the back. More fat may mean the horse is too heavy.

Risk of defective bone and related tissue formation increases with one of more of the following:

Inadequate amounts of Ca and P

A reversed Ca:P ratio

Low zinc (Zn) or copper (Cu) in the diet. The ideal ratio of Zn:Cu ranges from 3:1 to 4:1

Diet energy exceeds 120 to 130 percent of what the NRC recommends

Always provide horses free access to fresh, clean water.

Minerals and vitamins

Natural feedstuffs usually provide enough major minerals such as calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P). Young, growing horses need a diet ratio of Ca to P between 1 to 1 and 3 to 1.

Changes in forage or grains in the diet will likely alter the Ca to P ratio.

Legumes tend to have more Ca than P and are higher in Ca than grass.

Grains are typically much higher in P than Ca.

Common feedstuffs usually don’t provide enough trace minerals. Thus, supplementation is usually recommended.

Always provide free choice salt. Horses will regulate their own salt intake.

You should also supplement vitamins to most young horses.

High quality forages provide young horses most of the energy and nutrients they need.

Weanling diets should never be less than 30 percent forage by weight. Ideally, they should have much more forage. Maximizing forage intake will mimic natural feeding behavior and bring about gut health.

You can test your hay to find its energy and nutrient content. Pasture energy and nutrient content is harder to account for because it changes. Thus, don’t rely on pasture alone to provide your young horse with all the nutrients they needs.

A horse’s ability to efficiently use forage develops over time. Thus, young, growing horses need more carbohydrates than mature horses. Often, horse owners feed more cereal grains (e.g. oats and corn) at the cost of forage when forages can’t provide enough energy. But there’s a limit to how much cereal grain you can feed a horse without harm. The grain ration should contain added fat.

You can formulate your own concentrate ration or purchase a commercially prepared concentrate formulated for horses at different growth stages. Only feed enough concentrates to achieve the desired growth rate and maintain a moderate body condition score. Don’t feed any more than this.

Feed the concentrate part of the diet across multiple feedings throughout the day. Remove and replace uneaten concentrate with fresh concentrate the next feeding. Always consider the expected feed intake when calculating your horse’s daily ration.

There are many layers to understanding laminitis and what is behind the disease.

How to feed a horse

Lamintis

ebook on lamintis

Laminitis (also known as founder) is a condition where the sensitive laminae of the feet become inflamed and swell, causing separation of the tissues. Because the laminae “glue” the pedal bone to the front wall of the hoof and are the main support mechanism of the foot, this separation causes a lot of mechanical problems, including the commonly seen sinking or rotation of the pedal bone down thru the sole. The condition is very painful, and can come on VERY suddenly. It needs prompt veterinary attention. The best thing is to prevent it happening in the first place. To do that you need to know why it occurs. Unfortunately for us it has a lot of different causes.

CAUSES:

1) Presence of bacterial toxins, which cause a loss of blood supply to the foot. The resident bacteria in the hindgut can produce these toxins because there is some kind of interference with their normal activity. They can come from an overabundance of the wrong bacteria in the GI tract due to various factors. These undesirable bacteria can grow in the hindgut because too much simple carbohydrate escapes the small intestine (this is what follows when the horse gets into the feed room and overeats grain). These toxins can also be as a result of bacteria dying in the GI tract due to colic or overheating. Another source can be from bacteria growing in the uterus due to retained placenta, or from any kind of massive bacterial overgrowth.

2) Interference in peripheral circulation causing a reduction of blood supply to the hoof capsule and hence a shortage of oxygen and or nutrients to the laminae. The interference of blood supply can be due to insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), shock from exhaustion, or stress, causing shut down of peripheral circulation, amongst other things.

3) Overdose of corticosteroids, both endogenous (self producing) such as in Cushings disease or stressed horses, and exogenous (overdosing steroids by the vet or others!). One effect of corticosteroids on the system is to reduce peripheral circulation. The horse is particularly sensitive to this.

4) Toxins present in the environment that get into the foot such as when the horse stands on black walnut or other hard wood shavings.

5) A horse with an injury to a limb such that it cannot or will not bear weight on it, can cause the opposite limb to founder due to stress and strain.

NEW THEORY

There is some current research that shows that Nitric Oxide is a direct messenger for many functions including control of vasodilation (opening of arteries). It is interference or loss of NO that shuts down the circulation to the laminae. Therefore anything that increases NO in the lower leg/foot will help. This can include feeding the appropriate amino acids, applying nitro-glycerin plasters onto the coronary band, using a therapy laser on the coronary band/foot, and pulsating magnetic fields onto the foot capsule.

All of these separately or together can and will reduce the pain and discomfort, halt the death of the laminae and stop the sinking or rotation of the pedal bone if treatment is started soon enough.

FEEDING THE FOUNDERED HORSE

Most founders that are NOT due to toxemia, exhaustion or carrying all the weight on one foot, are the “resistance to insulin” kind. Feed the horse as a diabetic, by giving feeds with low glycemic index. Use a feed high in amino acids, high magnesium (magnesium is used in human diabetics to enhance peripheral circulation), essential fatty acids, minerals etc.

Feeding a foundered or prone-to-founder horse usually means a magnesium/chromium supplement, with or without an amino-acid supplement, and an essential (as in Omega 3) fatty acid supplement. Feed grass hay, possibly a little alfalfa hay, or rinsed sugar beet, BUT stay away from corn, oats, barley, and especially stay away from sugar as molasses. Feed extra fat in the form of oil or rice bran if you need to get energy into the horse.

The pre-Cushinoid horse (usually insulin resistant) will also benefit from a supplement high in magnesium and chromium.

Post founder, feed a feed that will support hoof growth without excess carbohydrates. This means the best possible blend of amino acids and essential fatty acids, with a good supply of digestible minerals and vitamins.

PREVENTING FOUNDER

Preventing founder is done best by constant vigilance over the quality of the feed, and the body score of the horse.

Overweight horses are more prone, so keep their weight down. If they are overweight feed a magnesium/chromium supplement and reduce or eliminate their grain so that they lose weight.

Don’t overfeed carbohydrates (grain).

Check the placenta on all foaling mares, to make sure it is intact. If a bit is missing, call the vet!

Keep the feed room securely shut to prevent unauthorized invasions.

Don’t overdose steroids.

In spring, keep susceptible horses off the fresh grass by limiting their grazing time.

Prevent or treat horses overheating from exercise or fever as quickly as possible.

Avoid hardwood shavings in the bedding.

If the horse has an injury to one limb such that it bears no weight on it, support the other limb(s) with wraps or boots so that they get

Regardless of their size, all equines have the same basic nutritional needs. Each animal must consume enough water, forage, and (possibly) grain to meet the requirements of growth, tissue repair, reproduction, exercise, and maintenance of all body systems. Factors such as body size, age, breed, work, climate, health status, and metabolism affect the type and amount of hay, pasture, and grain a particular horse should be given. Because very little research has been done on the specific requirements of Miniature horses, feeding recommendations must be based on standards for other equines tempered by experience with Minis and careful observation of individual animals.

Deciding how much hay, grass, and grain to provide a mature Miniature horse involves, as a first step, an estimation of body condition. This is most easily determined not by looking at the belly, which may appear large even in an underweight horse, but by observing the ribs, spine, and fat deposits. For a horse in moderate condition, the ribs should be easily felt with moderate pressure, but should not be seen. The back should be flat, with the spine neither sticking up nor paralleled by raised ridges of flesh, and a light layer of fat should provide a smooth appearance to the shoulders, neck, and withers. If the ribs are easily seen and the bones of the spine stand up from the body, the animal is in thin or poor condition, and the aim of a feeding program should be to allow this horse to pick up some additional weight. At the other end of the condition scale is an animal with spongy fat deposits on the shoulders, croup, ribs, and thighs.

These horses usually have rounded ridges of flesh along their backs so that the spine appears to lie in a depression, and ribs cannot be felt even with firm pressure. Because colic, laminitis, and bone and joint problems commonly affect overweight horses, the owner’s goal should be to reduce the body weight of animals in this condition. Miniature horses tend to be easy keepers, meaning that they seem to maintain or increase their weight on limited forage and little or no grain. The challenge for the owner is to provide complete nutrition while keeping the horse within an acceptable weight range.

After looking at body condition, the next step in working out a feeding program is finding out how much the animal weighs. In a study conducted by Kentucky Equine Research (KER), 49 Miniature horses (mares, geldings, and stallions between the ages of 1 and 12) had an average weight of 213 pounds, and fewer than 15% of these animals weighed as much as 250 pounds. The study found that owners of Miniature horses commonly over- or underestimated the weight of their animals by up to 20%, an error that could lead not only to inaccurate feeding programs but also to possibly dangerous dewormer or drug dosages. If a scale is available, this is the most accurate way to determine weight. Because weight tapes designed for standard horses are not accurate for Minis, KER designed equations using measurements of girth, height, and length to yield a number very close to the Miniature’s correct weight.

To measure girth, place the tape just behind the front legs and over the withers. Pull the tape snug but not tight enough to depress the flesh. For height, stand the horse squarely on level ground or pavement and measure the vertical distance from the ground to the top of the withers. If there is a question as to the exact location of the withers, allow the horse to lower his head and neck as if to graze and measure to the highest point in front of the saddle area. The tape should be kept perpendicular to the ground, not laid against the horse. Length is measured from the middle of the horse’s chest, along the side, and around to a point under the center of the tail. Use the measurements (in inches) in one or more of the following equations:

1. (Girth x 9.36) + (length x 5.01) – 348.53 = body weight in pounds.

2. (Girth x 11.68) + (height x 2.85) – 357.26 = body weight in pounds.

3. (Girth x 13.18) – 326.07 = body weight in pounds.

After an owner has figured body condition and weight, the final step is to work out individual nutrition plans. Grazing is the natural feeding pattern of horses, and pasture or hay can often supply the majority of a horse’s nutritional requirement. As a general rule, a full-sized horse should be given hay or grass at a rate of about 1 to 1.5% of body weight per day. Scaling down for Miniatures would point to about 3.5 to 4 pounds of hay. Easy-keeping Miniatures may get along well on even smaller amounts of hay, and should never be given unlimited access to grass. If the horse gains weight, increase exercise and reduce intake. Use a grazing muzzle, drylot, or stall for part of the day, and consider changing to hay that provides fewer calories (grass instead of alfalfa or clover). For a horse that is too thin or is losing weight, gradually increase grazing time, or feed more and better hay.

Because of their extremely efficient metabolism, Miniatures do not need a lot of grain. Many Miniature owners, who measure feed by the cup or half-cup, would agree that a full-grown Mini’s grain ration should not exceed 1 pound per day, and as little as half a pound per day is often adequate. To help ensure adequate fortification at this low volume, owners may want to use a feed with a protein level of at least 14%. Protein levels of up to 16% may be required during periods of highest demand (breeding stallions, extremely heavy exercise).

Equine nutritionists suggest that a different way to approach grain feeding is to look at what a commercial feed actually provides. Protein, calories, and fortification (vitamins and minerals) are the dietary benefits of a grain ration. With the possible exceptions of lactating broodmares and very heavily worked animals, mature Miniature horses derive sufficient energy and protein from forage. To ensure sufficient intake of key vitamins and minerals without the danger of grain overload, a supplement such as All-Phase may offer a safe alternative to a textured or pelleted concentrate. Miniatures should be given about 1/4 the amount recommended for a mature horse, and caution should be exercised so as not to oversupplement.

Other supplements may be added to the diet if a horse has special requirements. Products to enhance hoof quality or prevent musculoskeletal problems can be fed to Miniature horses at a level based on body weight. Package directions are usually related to supplementing the diets of full-sized horses (1000-1200 pounds), and reductions can be made in proportion to a Miniature horse’s smaller size. Because oversupplementation has the potential of harming the horse, the diet should be evaluated carefully before additional nutrients are included.

Remember these points:

• Know the horse’s body condition and weight. Make feeding choices based on whether the horse should reduce, maintain, or increase weight.

• Monitor changes in weight and modify intakes accordingly.

• Base the diet on forage (grass or hay) and add grain and supplements only as necessary. Water and salt should always be available.

• Keep a regular schedule for dental examinations and deworming.

• Feed each horse as an individual, taking into account size, weight, state of growth, metabolism, and work. Based on body condition, feed a small horse proportionally less than a full-sized horse.

Answer

Forage cubes or forage pellets are a great alternative forage source when good-quality hay is not available or a suitable feedstuff. Older horses may benefit from soaked forage cubes if dental issues limit their ability to chew hay, and horses with inflammatory airway disease are often offered forage in the form of cubes, pellets, or chaff to reduce the level of dust and mold that can be associated with hay. Forage cubes often have a higher digestible energy value than mature baled hay, as they are harvested at optimal maturity when digestible fiber (neutral detergent fiber) levels are greatest.

One disadvantage of feeding only forage cubes is the lack of long-stem fiber, which may lead to the horse seeking other sources of fiber to satisfy this need. As your horse is recovering from a colic episode, the most important thing is to provide high-quality forage as grass pasture, hay, cubes, or a combination of these.

Soaking the cubes can increase water consumption that may help prevent dehydration and act as a carrier for powdered supplements and medications. How long the cubes are soaked and the amount of water used depends somewhat on the horse’s preference. Generally, at least 20-30 minutes are needed with equal parts water to soften the cubes. Depending on the cause of the colic and the current diet, there may be other nutritional changes to consider to reduce the risk of colic in the future.

If the risk for recurrent colic is high, adding a digestive supplement such as RiteTrac or EquiShure, both developed by Kentucky Equine Research (KER), will likely help. These products work by buffering the stomach and hindgut (cecum and colon). Maintaining a stable digestive environment and reducing the damaging effects that excess acid production can have on both the stomach and hindgut can help reduce the incidence of colic when used in combination with the best nutrition and management practices. RiteTrac is not available in Australia, but other research-proven products are.

Propionic acid is the most commonly used preservative in feed manufacturing. Similar to vinegar, it works by slightly acidifying the forage or feed to preserve the product. The amount of this substance, which is generally recognized as safe, is likely minuscule; however, regulations require its use to be listed on the feed tag. Not all forage cube products will contain preservatives.

Bentonite is used as a binding product for pellets or cubes to improve product quality and reduce the number of fines associated with the final product. I could find no information regarding a relationship between bentonite-containing cubes and impaction. Nutritional Requirements of Horses, published in 2007 by the National Research Council, states that there is a regulated limit to the amount of bentonite that can be used.

Feeding the Laminitic Horse

A horse’s dream residence would consist of rolling, lush pastureland stretching for miles, allowing the horse to graze peacefully and uninterrupted. There would be a sunset on the horizon, a light breeze ruffling the horse’s mane, and warm sun fading on its back. Despite how much horse owners would love to provide this beautiful setting for their horse, for many, it is an unattainable dream. Many horses are prone to or have laminitis, an inflammatory disease of the hoof laminae. Thick, green pastureland is typically high in sugar, which, when too much is eaten, heightens the severity of laminitis the inflammation of the hoof laminae. In the most severe laminitis cases, the hoof laminae can separate from the hoof wall, causing the toe-shaped coffin bone to rotate inside the hoof or sink deeper towards the sensitive sole. A sunken coffin bone causes painful pressure buildup on the bottom of the soles. This causes the recognizable “standing back” position a horse does when suffering from sunken, pressured coffin bones. So, if forage that is high in sugar is so bad for a laminitic horse, then how is an owner supposed to feed for optimal nutrition?

To begin, certain horses are more prone to developing laminitis than others. For instance, laminitis is quickly developed in shorter animals with large necks that become rotund easily. Sadly, this classification fits most of the pony category – that is why ponies wearing muzzles in the pasture are such a common sight! Horses with a high body condition score (BCS) of a 7 or higher are also more likely to develop laminitis, as their metabolism and the ability to break down sugars is weakened. There is a high correlation between horses that are both obese and have insulin resistance with the onset of laminitis, meaning that horses with either of these conditions are far more likely to develop the disease. Horses who are stressed, such as those with recent diet or stabling changes, are at a higher risk along with those that already have endocrine diseases, such as Cushing’s disease (PPID) or equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).

The first and foremost rule to preventing the onset of laminitis is to limit a horse’s exposure to lush, green pastureland that is high in sugar. When feed/pasture that is high in NSCs, like sugar and starch, are consumed by these higher-risk horses, the end products of digestion can cause toxic components to be created, leading to inflammation in the hoof laminae. It is best to avoid feeds that are high in soluble carbohydrates, as some horses are at a higher risk of developing laminitis. Excel Equine’s Carbolyte ® is a great choice for horses needing to limit starch and sugar intake, as it is low in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs) such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, and starch.

A balanced diet and adequate exercise have proven to be the best preventative measures for laminitis. If a horse has not yet developed laminitis, then routine exercise is crucial for those who are prone, such as ponies and overweight horses. These horses are more likely to overgorge themselves on lush green grass. However, if a horse has already developed laminitis and is unable to continue work, a structured diet plan is crucial for the horse’s health and longevity. It is important to only feed a horse according to its energy requirements so that overfeeding is avoided. Therefore, a horse who is retired in pasture may not require as much feed as a horse in work. For many, a forage diet is adequate. While soaking hay used to be recommended to reduce the hay’s sugar content, it is now encouraged against due to the nutrients and dry matter that is lost in the soaking process. For horses trying to lose weight, this is especially important, as they must receive their daily intake of nutrients. Veterinarians recommend conducting hay analyses to determine the level of NSCs so that the least number of soluble carbohydrates is given. If this approach is taken, a ration balancer should be given to the horse to provide nutrients. Excel Equine produces Enrichment ® , a ration balancer that can be fed as a top dress on grain or by itself. Enrichment ® is designed to deliver essential vitamins, minerals, and high-quality protein. Lastly, as always, it is best to avoid feeds that are high in NSCs when feeding a laminitic horse. Another supplement that may be beneficial to the laminitic horse is the use of a hoof supplement. Excel Equine Hoof Pro Plus ® provides optimal levels of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to promote quality hoof growth and maintenance.

It is important to maintain a regular turn-out schedule and perform pasture maintenance to prevent the laminitic horse from developing further symptoms. The NSC content in green grass develops symptoms of laminitis faster in horses prone to the disease than others. Considering such, it is best to limit free-choice grazing on lush pasturelands to laminitis prone-horses. It is best to turn out horses when the sugars in the grass are not at their highest, such as in the early morning. The NSC content in grass is at its lowest between a couple of hours before sunrise to a couple of hours after. Spring is the time of year known for its high-sugar grass, yet late summer and early fall are also high-risk periods. If a horse must be restricted from grazing all day, do not keep in a stall, as it will cause the horse unnecessary stress and raise its insulin concentrations. Rather, turn the horse out in a dry lot, if you have one, with another horse for company. If there are no available dry lots, it is best to turn out a horse with a grazing muzzle in its normal pasture. If using this method, remember to check the horse’s body condition score regularly to monitor weight gain when given a grazing option.

While laminitis can be a frightening condition, as it can be life-threatening, the effects can be minimized in conjunction with a proper diet plan. Feeding a horse a quality feed at recommended amounts ensures that the horse does not have to worry about laminitis developments.