Choosing the right horse feed
The Stance Equine Feeding System was developed to provide a logical method for feeding horses.
Feeding horses has become complicated. There are lots of feeds, supplements and ideas on how to feeds horses. How do you choose the right feed or supplement? What do you believe?
There is one undeniable fact. Many horses are now being overfed, underworked and they are suffering from many behavioural and metabolic disorders as a result. Research has shown that most of these disorders are caused by overfeeding with sugars and starch (termed Non Structural Carbohydrates or NSC). The accepted safe NSC level in feeds is 12%. Levels above 12% can be fed, however the level of work must also increase.
It is suggested that feeds containing >12% NSC can cause increased blood glucose levels, and over time the horse can lose sensitivity to insulin, becoming resistant to insulin which is linked with obesity. Obesity and insulin resistance in horses have the same relationship as obesity and Type II diabetes in humans.
The NSC content varies considerably between the various horse feeds. Samples of horse feeds were sent to a lab for analysis, and the NSC levels are shown below.
The NSC content of the feeds tested varied from 11% for CoolStance to other supposedly "cool" feeds, showing levels as high as 60% NSC. Listed in the graph above are some of the more well known feeds sold today.
High NSC feeds are suitable for horses in heavy work. Feeding high NSC feeds to underworked horses however will cause obesity, and predispose the horse to starch disorders and eventually insulin resistance.
The Stance Equine Feeding System is designed to maintain insulin sensitivity, horse health and well being.
The key question therefore is "are you harming your horse with your current feeds and feeding program?"
To answer this question, you must Establish the Baseline by considering the following factors.
Check the horses teeth.
- If the horse is quidding (dropping food on the ground), the horses teeth may need to be checked and rasped if necessary. Sharp teeth prevent the horse from fully grinding the feed, and will reduce feed intake.
- Are there any damaged or missing teeth?
- Physical deformity - Some horses may have poor mouths e.g. undershot or overshot jaws, and may not be able to chew the food properly.
Age - Older horses may have lost some or all of the teeth and so cannot eat fibrous feeds
Body condition - Is your horse in poor condition (hard keeper) or well conditioned (easy keeper)?
Physiological state - Is your horse young and growing, mature, pregnant or lactating?
Level of work - Is your horse spelling, in light, medium or heavy work?
Pecking order - Is your horse with other horses? Is your horse the dominant horse, or at the bottom of the herd? Bullied horses are more stressed, and eat less. They need to be fed separately if possible.
Temperament - Is your horse excitable or "fizzy"
Does your horse have a diagnosed health condition (e.g. laminitis, ulcers, colic, cushings?)
What worm control is being used and is it regular?
Are there flies, or insects that are preventing your horse from grazing/eating
Grazing - Horses are selective eaters, and what you see in the pasture is mostly what the horses don't like. The following photo shows a horse paddock with lots of grass that horses won't eat. Just because the pasture is lush and green doesn't mean the horse will eat it. How much feed is really available?
Pasture Analysis - Most pasture species have been designed for dairy, beef and sheep production. These pastures can contain high levels of NSC, and are unsuitable for horses see www.safergrass.org. Does your pasture contain high levels of non structural carbohydrates (NSC) or have high levels of oxalates?
Horses have a small stomach and are designed to eat steadily for 18 hours a day. How long is your horse grazing, or have feed available
Are there toxic plants in the pasture?
Stables/ corrals - If your horse is stabled, it can only eat the feed that is provided. Feeding twice daily is abnormal to the horse digestive system, and will cause 'insulin spikes" in the blood stream at feeding times. Feeding little and often is ideal, however it is not practical. How often is your horse being fed?
If you horse has a metabolic condition such as obesity, laminitis, cushings, insulin resistance or EMS, then locking the horse is a yard with no feed, and allowing grazing/feeding twice per day will cause insulin spikes and exacerbate the disorder.
Feeds and Water
All feeds contain NSC (see above graph). Has your feed been analysed? Is your feed above 12% NSC?
Does your hay contain seed heads or grain? The hay may be low NSC; however the seed grains will provide starch.
What treats are you feeding? Treats mostly contain sugars and starch (e.g. Molasses).
How much are you feeding? Are you overfeeding for the activity level of your horse? Is your horse overweight?
Is there plenty of good quality water?
Carefully consider the activity level, i.e. how much is your horse ridden or worked each week. Horses with higher work levels require a greater level of energy and balanced nutrition. Are you overfeeding NSC's?
Establish a Feeding Program.
Record what feeds, treats and grazing your horse receives for one week.
Record how much is fed (weigh if possible) and the hours of grazing.
Monitor the pasture your horse is or isn't eating. You may assume the horse is grazing but in fact it may not be eating the particular species present.
Record the body condition, is your horse overweight?
Record the activity level (type of activity, hours spent and intensity) for one week.
Consider all the factors listed above to identify all factors that may influence the health and well being of the horse.
Are you concerned that you are feeding above 12% NSC, and maybe inducing long term metabolic disorders?
Keep your feeding simple. For most horses, provide medium quality hay, a low NSC energy feed, and balanced minerals and vitamins.
Select feeds that provide roughage and a level of NSC that suits the condition and activity level of the horse. It is suggested that a level of <12% NSC in the diet is acceptable to most horses, without predisposing the animal to the longer term effects of insulin resistance.
Select medium quality grass hay with little seed head.
Provide fresh clean water, with the feed trough away from the water trough.
Feed hay in racks that restricts the rate of eating is one way of allowing horses to eat for longer periods.
If your horse is bullied, then try and feed it separately.
If your horse is subject to choke or has bad dentition, then always wet the feed.
For horses at a higher level of work, provide more energy as a balance between oil and NSC. This balance of NSC's, oil and sugars helps avoid an "insulin spike"
Stance Equine feeds
The Stance Equine feeds have been designed to provide energy and nutrient intake that meet the horse's specific needs. As the activity level increases, the digestible energy (DE) intake must also increase. Most horse feeds achieve this by feeding grain, which contain high levels of NSC's. The challenge therefore is to increase the DE intake without feeding an unbalanced amount of NSC, and possibly predisposing the horse to metabolic disorders.
CoolFibre provides very low, non NSC energy and quality fibre suitable for insulin resistant, cushings and EMS horses. CoolFibre absorbs water to assist with intestinal function and metabolism in metabolically stressed horses.
CoolStance provides <12% NSC, and is fed to most horses together with medium quality hay.
GoStance contains 23% NSC, and has been formulated to provide a balanced supply DE for "fast" energy and "endurance" energy. GoStance is for high activity horses including dressage, racing, harness, polo, polocrosse, eventing and endurance.
PowerStance is powdered coconut oil, and is fed as a supplement to provide Medium Chain Triglycerides, which provide readily digestible energy, and may preserve gut health.