Adding Variety in your Horse’s Diet
Variety is the spice of life.
We’ve all heard this saying at one time or another. But when it comes to your horse’s diet, variety isn’t just the spice of life, it’s the key to a healthy life. At least in my opinion.
If we think about our own diet (well, most of us), we don’t eat the same things day in and day out. We like to change it up a bit. And this is good because different foods provide different nutrients. If we ate nothing but apples every day (though they’re quite healthy), we’d still likely end up with a nutrient deficiency.
The natural diet for horses, of course, is forage. If you think about it, horses grazing on open land would have access to all sorts of plants, shrubs, and trees. They’d also eat wild herbs which not only can have medicinal effects, but are also rich in specific minerals and vitamins.
Our domesticated horses’ diets are still based on forage (or should be!), but the problem is that many of them are on limited pasture or perhaps only have hay for forage. And though hay can be nutritious, it’s still going to be lacking in some important vitamins and likely minerals too. Another problem with hay is that many people only feed one type. This definitely isn’t going to be adding any variety into a horse’s diet.
Of course, most people add in a commercial feed and think they’re pretty much covering their bases, and they may very well be if they’re feeding at the recommended amount. But most of us don’t feed nearly that much feed. I know I never have.
Let’s consider the horse who is fed strictly bermuda grass hay and several pounds of something like oats or a commercial pelleted feed per day. Maybe the owner adds in a hoof supplement and some ground flaxseed or something. Is this horse still getting everything he needs? Possibly, but I’d venture to say probably not.
You can test your hay and pasture, see what minerals and vitamins are lacking, and supplement those (which I’ve definitely done before). But lately, I’ve taken a more natural approach. I’m still aware of what’s basically in my pasture and hay (which I’ve had tested several times), but now, instead of feeding specific minerals, I just make sure I’m adding variety in the form of whole foods to my horses’ diet–this ensures vitamins and minerals are going to be covered.
Adding variety isn’t difficult, but you do need to know which kind of variety to add. Throwing a bunch of random supplements in with your feed may not necessarily work. But here are some suggestions that will:
- For horses without pasture, feed several types of hay (bermuda, coastal, and alfalfa for example);
- For horses on limited pasture, offer hay as well (possibly several types);
- Feed several different herbs or an herbal mix such as this one from Wild Horse Products;
- OR you can even plant different herbs in your pasture for your horses to self-select;
- For a concentrate, mix several types of whole foods such as oats, hay pellets, dried peas, and ground flaxseed (or feed something like Crypto-Aero whole feed);
- Add in safe, fresh fruits and veggies in your horses’ feed buckets;
- Add in a small amount of safe seeds for horses (such as chia, ground flaxseed, pumpkin or sunflower seeds).
Of course, you can mix and match the above suggestions to find what works for you and your horses. I’ve really noticed a difference in my horses’ health since I’ve been doing several of these things. Their coats are shinier, each horses’ weight has stabilized, and Lee Lee’s skin allergies are much improved. Small changes can make a big difference over time!
For further reading on adding variety to your horses’ diet, I recommend these articles: