The Basics of Equine Nutrition

Understanding and managing a horse's nutritional needs is crucial for its health, well-being, and performance. A well-balanced diet plays a central role in this, as it ensures that the horse receives the right nutrients in the correct proportions. Below is a detailed review of the key nutritional components in a horse's diet, including energy, protein, fat, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, as well as the importance of adequate water. Each component has a unique function and contributes to the horse's overall health and ability to perform, both in daily life and under more demanding conditions.

Energy can come from various sources, the most important for horses being fiber, but it is also released from starch, sugar, and fat. Fiber provides long-lasting energy harvested by microorganisms in the large intestine. Starch and sugar are processed in the small intestine and provide short-term energy. If the content of these substances is too high in the diet, they can cause problems in the large intestine if they are not absorbed during the quick passage through the small intestine. Energy is measured in MJ (mega joules).

Protein is crucial for the development and function of muscles. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and the balance between them is very important. The absorption of amino acids is influenced by various factors and worsens as the horse ages. Some amino acids are essential (e.g., lysine and methionine) and must be supplied daily. The amino acid tryptophan is present along with serotonin, a calming substance in the body. The need for protein and amino acids varies greatly depending on the horse's usage. Protein is often reported as digestible crude protein in grams. The balance between energy and protein is often calculated; a normally performing horse needs about 6 grams of digestible crude protein per MJ of energy.

Fat contains a lot of energy but the horse can only break down small amounts at a time as it lacks a gall bladder. A rule of thumb is a maximum of 100 ml of oil per feeding. Fat is beneficial when the horse needs concentrated energy or needs to gain condition. It also provides a shiny coat. Fat is made up of fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, which are essential.

Minerals are a large group of substances that are vital building blocks in the body. Minerals are divided into macrominerals and microminerals (also called trace elements). Macrominerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and sodium. Microminerals include copper, selenium, iron, zinc, iodine, cobalt, manganese, and molybdenum. The balance between the different minerals is important for absorption. In a feed ration, in addition to individual minerals in grams or milligrams, the balance between them is calculated, for example, the ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be between 1:2 and 1:8. It can also be interesting to study the different sources from which the minerals are derived as there is a significant difference in how much the horse can absorb. Organic minerals, also known as chelated, are bound to an amino acid and thus easier for the horse to absorb.

Vitamins are a group of substances needed in many processes in the body, such as metabolism, fertility, and the immune system. Vitamins are usually divided into fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K) and water-soluble (B and C). Some vitamins are produced by microorganisms in the large intestine (e.g., B), while others must be supplied with the feed. If there is an imbalance in digestion, fewer vitamins are produced and the need to supplement them increases.

Antioxidants are a very large group of substances that protect the body from the free radicals formed when oxygen is broken down in the natural processes that constantly occur in the body. For example, during stress or heavy exertion, the number of free radicals increases and the need for antioxidants increases. The body can produce certain antioxidants itself while others must be supplied with the feed.

Water is important for all horses and should be of the same hygienic quality as for humans. Horses may be sensitive to taste and smell so during travel, it may be wise to bring your own water and on longer trips, accustom the horse to drink water with a flavor additive, such as beet pulp, apple cider vinegar, or similar. During the cold season, it is particularly important that the horse drinks enough to avoid problems such as colic and constipation. Many horses drink better if the water is warmed and there are many solutions to offer the horse this. A non-working horse should drink at least 25 liters per day, a hard-working horse needs at least double that.

The Basics of Equine Nutrition


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