Whole Foods for Horses
I have to admit, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about nutrition–my own and my horses’. It’s become somewhat of a passion of mine. And something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is whole foods. In fact, there’s a book on whole foods (for people) that I can’t wait to read–aptly titled, Whole (by T. Colin Campbell and Howard Jacobson).
A whole food is defined as “a food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances.” It’s essentially a food that is as close to its natural form as possible. Whole foods are things like nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. They are often high in fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and chelated minerals (chelated meaning more easily absorbed by the body.)
Personally, I’ve tried to move away from feeding my horses commercial feeds. I feed a forage-based diet (hey, forage is a whole food!) with a few supplements (that are lacking in the hay) added to some soaked hay pellets. But, I am constantly learning too, and I would like to incorporate more whole foods into their diet, when needed.
Below are some whole foods that can be fed to horses. They’re grouped according to which nutrient they are plentiful in, but remember, all whole foods contain other beneficial nutrients as well.
Many horses don’t need added protein in their diet, but some might–such as pregnant/ lactating mares, growing horses, and horses in hard work. A couple of times, I’ve found my hay to be protein-deficient and have needed to supplement protein. Here are some whole foods high in protein:
- split peas (48 g per cup)
- hulled hemp seeds (40 g per cup)
- ground flaxseed (31 g per cup)
- hulled sunflower seeds (25 grams per cup)
Many horses can benefit from added magnesium in the diet, especially horses with insulin resistance, extreme nervousness, or muscle issues. I’ve found magnesium to be lacking in my hay many times, and it’s something I regularly supplement. These whole foods are high in magnesium:
- shelled pumpkin seeds (1200 mg per cup)
- flaxseed (660 mg per cup)
- chia seeds (660 mg per cup)
- sesame seeds (500 mg per cup)
All horses need essential fatty acids in their diet since their bodies cannot produce these on their own. We often hear about omega-3 and omega-6, which are both needed by the horse (so is omega-9). An ideal ratio for horses hasn’t been determined yet, but we do know that omega-3 should be more abundant than omega-6 in the diet. Omega-3’s help to reverse inflammation (omega-6’s are pro-inflammatory) and also aid in maintaining a healthy immune system, protecting joints and ligaments, and supporting normal gastrointestinal function, among many other things.
Grass and hay both contain a good deal of omega-3’s, but grains and processed feeds often contain more omega-6’s. To supplement more omega-3’s you might feed these whole foods:
- flaxseed meal
- flaxseed (linseed) oil
- chia seeds
- blue-green algae (spirulina)
Remember, as with any new food, introduce it slowly to your horse. Don’t just dump a cup of flax in suddenly. Your horse may turn his nose up at new whole foods at first, but keep trying. I’ve gotten even my pickiest eater to eat things like spirulina. If you’re looking to buy some of these whole foods for horses (or yourself!), you might check out Bulkfoods.com.