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The Rules of Good Feeding

30th November 2009, 21:20

1. The horse should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Water is often overlooked but is the most important ingredient of a horse's diet. It is used to mainian body temperature, to lubricate joints, to transport nutients around the body and plays an active part in digestive process.

2. Feed according to the bodyweight of the horse. A horse's weight should be monitored and their feed adjusted accordingly.

3. Keep feed rooms, buckets and equipment clean. By keeping everything clean you reduce the risk of contanmination, espeically when medications and supplemnts are invloved. Fussy eaters may also be put off their food my dirty, smelly buckets.

4. Every horse is individual. Dietry requirements will change depending the workload, temperament, condition and lifestyle of each horse.

5. Feed plenty of forage. Horses need plenty of forage to maintain a healthy gut function. At least 50% of the horse's diet should be roughage. Allowing a stabled horse plenty of forage will also help to relive boredom and reduce the risk of them developing a stereotypies e.g. wind sucking.

6. Keep to a routine. Horses thrive on routine and are happier if they know when they will be fed. Furthermore horse's bodies will learn to better utilize their nutrients if they know they will have a regular supply.

7. Feed little and often. The horse is a trickle feeder with a proportionally small stomach for its size. Dividing the horses daily concentrate intake into small feeds (abour 2-2.5kg) is more natural and will allow more efficient digestion.

8. Always feed good quality feeds and forage. Make sure that forage is mold and dust free to reduce the risk of respiratory disease. It is often cost effective to buy feeds from a well known manafacturer as they will often have a higher nutirtional content than some of the lower cost feeds. It is very important to read the label so you can make sure the horse is recieving the nutirients it needs.

9. Any changes to the horse's diet should be made gradually as the horse's digestive system will need time to adapt. It takes about 14 days for the microbial population of a horse's gut to adapt and large, sudden changes can cause digestive upset.

10. Do not feed immediatly before or after exercise. 1 - 2 hours is an appropriate gap for light exercise while up to 4 hours is more common for intense exercise. If the horse is asked to work too quickly after feeding the blood supply will be diverted away from the digestive tract to the working muscles which will result in digestion being impaired. If a large meal has been consumed then a full stomach can also restrict the area in which the lungs have to expand and this  will reduce cardiovasciular efficiency.

Sarah Graham, BSc