Natural Feeding for Horses: Book Review
I recently had the chance to read a new book called Natural Feeding for Horses written by Alexandra Wesker, MSc., an animal scientist living in the UK. Alexandra specializes in horse health and works as an independent consultant for horse nutrition. Through her studies, she has developed a natural approach to feeding which puts the health of the horse first. To learn more about what she does, please visit her website.
When Alexandra contacted me about reading and reviewing her book, I agreed without hesitation. After all, I always enjoy learning more about equine nutrition. But since I’ve taken several equine nutrition courses, and have studied it fairly intensively on my own, I did wonder if her book would contain any new information I wasn’t aware of.
As it turns out, I did know quite a bit of the information in the book, but there was also some new information for me, as well as a review of a few things I’d forgotten.
I found Alexandra’s views on horse management to be very much in line with my own. And I liked the fact that this book wasn’t just about nutrition, but how to how to apply nutritional concepts in a natural way. As Alexandra states early on in the book, “This is not just another book on horse nutrition. It is about a feeding system.” She stresses that feeding at forage- based diet from ground level is the basis of her natural feeding system. This is how horses in the wild eat after all. She states that feeding from the ground is important for many reasons, including for the support of:
- joint health;
- bone density;
- muscle and tendon health; and
- dental health.
I agree 100%.
Alexandra goes on to explain why having access to forage 24/7 is so important, saying that it helps to promote saliva production and a healthy stomach (think ulcers), and also supports good bacteria in the hind gut. This, I also wholeheartedly agree with.
One of my favorite parts of this book is the part where she lists common grass species found in horse pastures and hay. Alexandra describes the pros and cons of each grass species and provides an illustration for identification. This will be a handy reference for me.
The second half of the book explains how horse owners can implement a natural feeding system for their own horse(s). Again Alexandra stresses that supplying forage-based foods on a continual basis is key. She also notes that diet uniformity is important. This concept was new to me, but it makes sense. She said, “The bacterial colony in the gut can get disturbed with abrupt diet changes. Feeding individual feeds one at a time create a non-uniform diet and can cause the same digestive upsets.” I’d honestly never thought about this before.
She then goes on to describe how to find your horse’s natural feeding level. This part of the book gets a little technical and just a fair warning– you will need to do some math to figure it out! (I will say that it is somewhat similar but less intensive to what I did in my equine nutrition courses, when learning how to balance minerals, etc.)
The natural feeding levels are explained from level one (for small ponies) all the way through level 16 (professional competition horses). She also explains how to calculate nutritional needs for horses which may need a higher natural feeding level than that. (These would be your elite levels sport horses during the competition season.)
Alexandra also explains how to make nutritional changes for broodmares and stallions, as well as for growing horses.
Another part I loved was the section on protein. She said it was important to keep dietary protein low for adult exercising horses, stating that “excess dietary protein has no function in the body and is excreted with the urine.” I think many people have misconceptions when it comes to protein in their horses’ diet, thinking more is always better, and I’m glad she included a few paragraphs on this.
Plenty of ‘real horse’ examples are given in the book so that you can see how the natural feeding system works.
I also really appreciated the appendices where Alexandra provides quite a bit of useful information for horse owners, including how to estimate your horses bodyweight, how to replace cereal grains and manufactured feeds with roughages, as well as the nutritional values the different types of hays and grasses. She also provides a chart of the mineral amounts horses will need at each natural feeding level.
At the very end of the book is a nice glossary for all those unfamiliar terms!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and thought it contained plenty of useful information. I would recommend this book for anyone who has a valid interest in feeding their horse naturally and who is willing to put it out some effort to do so.
Alexandra’s book is available at Amazon.