Horses are herd animals and their whole evolution is geared to this kind of life. There is safety in numbers and they still instinctively feel this. Our animals may not be preyed on by wild cats and hyenas but they still retain the instinct to herd together for safety.
Of course, horses have to learn to work alone but this is quite different from being kept in solitary confinement or being turned out alone. Although some horses do get used to this unhappy state of affairs, many do not and may constantly get into trouble through trying to jump out to go in search of other horses, or wandering up and down fences and pinning the gates.
Conscientious owners and managers always take into account the horse’s mental as well as its physical needs, and company is one of the greatest. Even when horses are kept mainly stabled, being turned out daily with congenial company should be an important part of their routine, and not regarded as a special treat when it is convenient.
Freedom of Movement
The need for freedom does not mean that horses at liberty spend a lot of time moving around at faster gaits. Normally, they amble around, grazing, swinging their heads from side to side as they crop the grass. They mostly walk-thus the old advice to spend most of a horse exercise at walk, do not trot much, and use canter as a natural gait for traveling from one area to another. Of course, all gaits are also used occasionally during normal social communication and when playing, while gallop is used both during play or when escaping from danger.
It is inappropriate to give the horse a lifestyle comprising about 22 hours a day confinement and forced idleness in a stable broken up by 2 hours or less of relatively hard work. This is not a natural state of affairs for the horse, which actually requires just the opposite, i.e. several hours a day of steady walking around at liberty for most of the time, with fast or intensive physical work taking up a very short period of time.
It is unfortunate that many domesticated horses receive 3 meals a day, often with many hours between feeding, with roughage usually given only at night and in the morning. This leaves horses many hours without food at all, a situation that is unnatural to them and therefore usually creates physical discomfort and boredom, and possibly favor “unexplained” colic and stable vices.
The Digestive System
The digestive system of the horse is capacious and divided into various compartments which have individual jobs to do.
In general, digestion is achieved through the action of various chemicals, enzymes and microorganisms referred to as “gut microflora” and bacteria. The microorganisms operate in the larger intestine, fermenting and breaking down plant cellulose, a kind of carbohydrate present in roughage. And because, the digestive system of the horse is geared to function on this kind of food, this fermentation is obviously vital to the horse’s health.
Lignin is another type of bulky material, woody in nature, that is found in grass, hay, straws, and so on. It has no nutritional value but is needed to fill out the digestive tract, giving the horse that satisfied feeling we all expect after a meal. Undigested lignin is seen in the droppings as little splinters of fibrous materials. If a horse’s droppings appear smooth and barely break on hitting the ground, this may be sign that the horse is not being fed enough roughage. But roughage if given alone, is minimal in food nutrients that even if given in big amount may not supply the needed nourishment of the body especially during hard work and breeding period. Thus the giving of concentrate feeds to supplement the deficiency from roughage is essential. The problem though is that the horse finds large amounts of concentrates difficult to digest as usually the practice of giving relatively large amount of concentrate feeds at several hours interval.
The tiny microorganisms are living creatures actually living out of the horse’s own food. They also need constant supply of food, albeit mainly cellulose. Erratic arrival of food can cause many of them to starve to death or become seriously weakened so that their numbers drop and may not be enough anymore to process the next lot of food which may arrive several hours later. This condition may hamper the efficiency of the system.
To avoid this, horses should receive adlib supply of roughage, and when concentrates are fed, should be given in small amounts many times per day. Under this system, the organisms responsible for digesting the various foods will have constant supply of food to carry out their work.
THE FOOD CONSTITUENTS
The main food constituents are carbohydrates, proteins, fats or oils, fiber, vitamins, minerals and trace elements:
This elements is the sources of energy and heat of the body. The body stores excess amounts as fat in various storage “depots” in the body and as glycogen in the muscle cells and the liver.
This element builds body tissues. But it is no longer considered the main criterion in choosing foods. Instead, energy level is now the primary consideration. Excess protein in the diet can be harmful. Although small excesses can be stored as fat, they lose their tissue-building properties and are then re-used by the body as extra energy: This is a very expensive way of providing energy, because protein is more costly than carbohydrates.
Fats or oils:
Fat produces heat and energy and is a good feed for very hard-working horses as it provides one and a half times more energy than carbohydrates.
A fairly high-fat diet may be prescribed for a very thin horse. It is also good for horses in endurance ““ type of work such as endurance riding, eventing, hunting and competitive carriage driving or for horses whose owners simply like going for regular, long, active hacks/riding. Fats also help condition the skin, hair and horn or hoof.
This is the material that makes up the outer husk of grain and the stalks of hay and straw, forming the cell walls and giving plants a shape in the same manner skeletons serve our bodies. Without adequate fiber, roughage or bulk, more concentrated food would clog up into a doughy mass that the digestive juice could not penetrate. This mass will then ferment or rot and block up the digestive system, and the horse could die in agony. Fiber also stimulates peristalsis, the wave-like movements of the digestive tract which pummel food around and move it along the tract.
Vitamins, Minerals and Trace Elements:
Vitamins, minerals and trace elements are vital nutrients that are often needed in only small amounts but are essential nonetheless. All foods contain different amounts of different kinds of different purposes. Physical, mental and emotional disorders may arise as a result of deficiency or overdose. And supplement feeds containing them should never be administered without the advice of the Veterinarian or Nutritionist. If is decided that you do need a supplement, you must be careful to give it only as advised. Stick to the dose recommended, otherwise, feeding less may be pointless, and feeding more could be dangerous. Also, never mix different supplements together unless advised to do so by a Nutritionist or Veterinarian.
THE GOLDEN RULES OF FEEDING
- Feed little and often. is the most important rule. In addition, it is wise to remember that the horse has a small stomach so that, if you are feeding concentrates, you should give no more than 2 kgs. in one feeding. Give as many small feeds per day as you can possibly manage to ensure maximum digestion.
- Water before feeding . The thinking here is that if horses do not have water always available, a large drinks taken after meals could wash undigested food on through the digestive tract before they are digested and may cause colic. Horses with water always available are unlikely to suffer from this.
- Make any changes in the diet gradually. When changing from one batch of food to a new delivery, don’t use up all the old but start mixing the old and the new (whether hay, concentrates, whatever) 2 to 3 weeks before the existing supply is due to run out to give the digestive organisms chance to adapt. Put in a single handful per feeding for a few days and then very gradually change over, as required.
- Use good quality feed. The horse family has a delicate digestive system and can easily become ill if given bad food- if it is eaten at all. Horses will often go hungry first before they will eat what they consider as rubbish.
- Do not work immediately after feeding. For stabled horse that has just had a full concentrate feed, wait an hour before working and then stick to walk for the first half-hour. With horses on adlib feeding system and grass-kept horses, this is less crucial but it is advisable to keep to walk for the first hour. If a full stomach is moved around by hard or fast work, there may be indigestion and full stomach may press against the lungs.
- Feed plenty of roughage. You will rarely go wrong by giving a horse as much good roughage as it wants and you may be surprised to find out consequently how few concentrates it needs, if any. Conversely, generous amount of concentrates can easily make a horse physically ill or mentally and emotionally “crazy”.
- Try to keep to the same feeding times each day. A horse missing an entire meal while out at a show or other activities will have its digestive system very upset. Always try to get some feed into your horse, even if you only pack your bag with nuts or whatever it normally has, to keep the digestive organisms happy. Also, it is not a crime to let horses nibble a bit of grass during a check or a break. The small amount taken is unlikely to cause problems rather, it will make the horse feel much better.
For more information, contact:
D.A. Compound, Elliptical Rd., Diliman,Quezon City
Tel. Nos. (632) 929-6065 to 67 / 920-3991 / 928-1134