Deviating from horses’ core nutritional needs can adversely affect health
Horses have specific nutritional needs for water, energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins. While high-quality forage (pasture and hay) and, if needed, a commercial feed or ration balancer can easily meet these requirements, deficiencies in the equine diet do still occur. They often depend on the age and type of horse, as well as the geographic region. Providing a balanced diet that meets your horse’s nutritional needs and being aware of possible shortcomings are vital for his care.
We’ll describe seven aspects of your horse’s diet that might not be up to par.
Horse owners don’t often consider water to be a commonly deficient nutrient, but when it’s unavailable or of poor quality, it can lead to a life-threatening insufficiency. Jessica Leatherwood, MS, PhD, assistant professor of equine science in Texas A&M University’s Department of Animal Science, in College Station, says dehydration often occurs in winter, when water is extremely cold or covered in ice.
“Horses typically will drink less if they are cold and offered cold water,” she says. “Less water consumption coupled with increased forage intake to stay warm predisposes the horse to dehydration and possible impaction colic.”
Dehydration also puts horses at risk for impaired muscle and nerve function and reduces their ability to regulate their internal temperature. Leatherwood encourages owners to combat this by offering warm water during cold months and by ensuring ice does not cover troughs or waterers.
Horses can also become dehydrated during and after performing intense exercise, especially if they’ve sweated profusely due to heat and humidity. Lack of water intake during travel is another concern.
In hot, humid conditions or when traveling, some horse owners opt to add electrolytes, which include the minerals sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. These additives mask changes in water sources so horses will be more inclined to drink. If you choose to add electrolytes, it’s important to do so in advance of travel, exercise, or the onset of other conditions that might contribute to dehydration because, initially, your horse might drink less because of the unfamiliar taste. You can also give electrolytes as an oral paste, leaving the water unchanged and, therefore, not limiting its consumption. This leads us to our next deficiency. This article continues in the November 2020 issue of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of the issue to continue reading. Current magazine subscribers can access the digital edition here.