Natural Feeding for Horses
As with the other companion animals we recommend as natural a diet as possible as close to that they would enjoy in the wild.
Horses, other equines are definitive herbivores, making them totally dependent upon fibrous forage for a healthy digestive system and metabolism. Their dentition is specialised to grind fibrous food and their very large hind gut is a massive fermentation vat, utilising bacteria for fibre and herbage digestion.
They will also browse low branches and chew tree bark.
In the wild, they live in open grassland and roam to graze over a wide area, in family groups and herds. They are social animals with a well-defined 'pecking-order'.
In any confinement (e.g. by fencing), they will create a 'latrine area', where they go to defaecate and urinate, thus leaving their main pasture area unpolluted. They are the only large domesticated herbivore to do this.
They have a large daily requirement for water, which should be clean and fresh.
Suitable foods are:
They thrive on fibrous forage, such as species-rich mature grassland and forage plants such as lucerne (alfalfa). Ground from which grass, hay, grass products and other forage are taken should not be treated with artificial nitrogen fertilisers.
Hay is better fed on the ground (the horse's natural feeding position) rather than in a suspended hay net. This may not always be practical.
Much of today's modern pastureland has been rendered poor in herbage diversity (as opposed to traditional, species-rich and bio-diverse grassland) and artificial nitrogen application makes it even less desirable again.
Creating a more varied pasture, hedges and field edges can improve the diversity of the species available to be grazed.
Cooked linseed (flax seed).
Vegetables - it is good to feed fresh vegetables, preferably organic. Carrots, if fed, must be organic.
Herbs - these a good source of minerals and vitamins. The distinction between medicine and food was never so blurred as with herbs for herbivores.
Oil - cold-pressed, not solvent-extracted (e.g. olive oil, sunflower oil, flax oil, evening primrose oil, borage oil).
Supplementing the diet with a mineral and vitamin supplement can be a reasonable 'insurance' against imbalance but products should be checked very carefully for unsuitable or unhealthy ingredients and additives such as cereal filler, sugar or synthetic flavourings and colourings (colourants).
Manufactured vitamins, included with many manufactured feeds, may be coated with animal by-products (e.g. gelatin), which can also be included in many manufactured feeds. This is not declared on the bag or pack.
Unsuitable food ingredients are:
In general, a horse should not require cereal grain and it may be harmful. An exception would be in the case of extreme work demand. In such cases, oats are the best cereal to feed. Warning: ground cereal can even be included in some supplements, as a cheap filler.
Haylage, silage and oven-dried grass products do not encourage the correct bacterial digestion for a horse.
Refined and semi-refined sugar materials are not at all good for horses, causing undesirable changes in the bacterial flora of the hind gut, on which a horse is so dependent for health and immunity. This includes, glucose, syrups, molasses, sucrose, dextrose etc.
Warning: such sugars are very common ingredients in manufactured feeds and supplements and are often added to high-fibre diets too.
Most oils added to horse diets are cheap, solvent-extracted oils these are not an ideal supplement for horse.
Grass or grass products that have been fertilised with artificial nitrogen fertilisers are not good for horses or ponies.
Feeding manufactured sweets is common but not advised. They are refined sugar and some surprisingly contain animal by-products, such as gelatin.
For more information read this excellent little ebook by Christopher Day MRCVS who has been treating horses in a natural way for 40 years