by Beth Stelzleni of Mars Horsecare US, Inc.
Nutrition may be one of the most misunderstood facets of daily horse care, and there are many myths and misconceptions about feeding horses that still exist today. These wives’ tales are often passed down as tradition from one generation to another. However, as we gain scientific knowledge about horses and how to feed them, we are finding that most of these traditional beliefs are actually false. In this talk we’ll discuss the three most common myths about feeding horses we see today.
The first myth, and probably the most common one circulating the horse industry, is that excess protein will make your horse over excitable or hot. Protein, however, has never been scientifically linked to mental attitude. In fact, it is the energy in the horse’s diet that leads to high-spirited behavior. Simply put, the more energy in the diet, the more energy in the horse. A good example of this would be a hyper horse that is fed high amounts of alfalfa. While alfalfa is higher in protein than grass hays, it is also higher in energy. If the horse is being fed enough alfalfa that it is supplying more calories than the horse needs, it is the excess energy in the alfalfa causing the over excitability, not the protein.
The second myth in feeding horses is that a weekly bran mash will act as a laxative. The principle ingredient to bran mashes is wheat bran, but this ingredient is not actually high in fiber. In fact, wheat bran has approximately the same amount of fiber as oats. Studies have shown that adding wheat bran to a horse’s diet does not induce a laxative effect and does not soften the stools. In fact, regular bran mashes can be harmful to your horse. Wheat bran is very high in phosphorus; so repeated use of this ingredient can unbalance the calcium to phosphorus ratio, as well as reduce the absorption of other minerals. Weekly bran mashes may disrupt the normal microorganisms in the horse’s digestive tract as well, as any rapid change in a horse’s diet can cause digestive upset.
Another common myth in the equine industry is that you should never allow a hot horse to drink because it will cause colic or founder. Numerous scientific studies have shown that allowing horses to drink immediately after work will not cause harm, and that withholding water from these horses is actually the worst thing we can do. The horse’s greatest thirst and need for water is immediately after exercise, and if we withhold water we prolong dehydration. Once a horse has cooled down, he loses his interest in drinking and may not drink the amount of water he needs to prevent a dehydrated state.