What are the basics of horse nutrition?
Horses are naturally designed to graze for long periods of time, consuming very little feed during the day. Although its stomach is relatively small to other animals, its function is critical to the health and nutrition of the horse. There are billions of beneficial and harmful microbes in the large intestine that aid fiber digestion. These microbes synthesize essential fatty acids, especially butyrate, acetate and propionate, which can be used by horses to meet their energy needs through the fermentation of fibers. Adequate consumption of roughage is essential for the proper functioning of the intestinal system. Hay is an alternative source of fiber that is often used when paddock is not available. Clover is a legume used for the same purpose. Legumes are generally richer in nutritional value than herbs.
While some horses are satisfied with roughage in their diet, working horses need additional nutritional energy. Grain-based concentrates traditionally provide this extra energy. Plants store their seeds with energy in the form of starch, so energetic cereal grains such as oats, corn and barley are important in many animal diets. Glucose molecule chains that form starch in high amounts in grains are metabolized in the small intestine of the horse by enzymatic digestion to produce glycogen and energy.
Protein: Some proteins are a must, but not all proteins are the same in terms of quality and digestion. The protein source in the horse's diet should be carefully selected to ensure the necessary amino acids. The amino acid lysine is particularly important for young growing horses because horses cannot synthesize this "building block" which is necessary for tissue preparation and repair. Young horses need higher amounts of quality protein than adult, light-duty horses.
Fat , another energy source, provides approximately 2.25 times more energy compared to the equivalent amount of starch. Fats are easily digested in the small intestine and absorbed as free fatty acids. This energy source can reduce the amount of glycogen burned during low intensity exercise. While fats can be used by all horse groups, concentrates with fat (containing more than 5% fat) added to the ration are particularly well-suited for horses with intense exercise.
Vitamins are essential for the proper functioning of various body systems. Although some of the vitamins are synthesized in the body, the other part must be taken with food from outside. Some vitamins can be stored in the horse's body for use when needed. For this reason, some vitamins taken on storage can have toxic (poisonous) effects.
Minerals are important for all horse classes because of their critical role in body functions. For example, adequate amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the right ratio are important for bone formation, muscle contraction, energy metabolism and blood coagulation. However, mineral needs vary according to the age and class of horses.