How to feed horses the best possible way is one of the concerns that occupy the consciousness of many horse owners. It is just as interesting a subject as it is controversial, so it is therefore something that tickles the brain urging us to go out and find out everything about it.
What makes it controversial is that when old traditions and new scientific knowledge collides people stop to think and it turns into prestige; then it can be fruitful to pick up the best bits and pieces of each to assemble something better. It’s just like cooking; every ingredient is quite okay to eat, but when they are put together it can be a sensation. It can of course also be a total disaster, but that’s part of the game called learning.
So maybe we should try to share how we look upon horse feeding, just to provide another point of view. Feeding horses is not just about calculating the right amounts of hay and the balance between proteins, energy, important elements like Ca, Ph and Mg, it is foremost about how, why and when. This subject is a minefield and we are bare footed so we must walk slow, beginning with some background ramblings and then we go deeper into details.
Horse owners generally pay more attention to their horse’s diet than their own, so there is hardly ever any lack of ambition. Even if humans have been keeping horses in captivity for millennia, we still can’t decide which way to best feed our horses. There are many opinions and some of them even contradictory, but that does not prevent them from being based on the wrong emphasis.
The only thing we all can agree on, I think, is that wild horses know exactly how to feed themselves and anything we would do to interfere would be likely to cause problems. Horses are meant to roam free in vast open range in a varied landscape and with a wide range of grasses and herbs where they can eat whatever they feel like whenever they want. Well that is not exactly true, because the seasons vary and horses sometimes need to walk long distances for water, grass and shelter. The social structures of horses living in herds are constantly changing which deeply affect their physiology and overall needs.
When we take a horse and raise her in captivity we change everything and take on a huge responsibility. First of all domesticated horses no longer have the right kind of access to the right mix of grasses. Secondly the way we provide activity for our horse is very different from how a wild horse spends her day. Horses kept in stables typically spend a few hours outdoors in a small corral, then maybe an hour or so of horseback riding and the rest of the time they stand inside a confinement, being served hay and grain two or maybe three times a day.
I’m not saying it’s all wrong, just that it differs a lot from a natural way of life for wild horses. It may be true that horses, being domesticated for countless generations, have adapted to a different way of life, but maybe it is just what we want to believe.
Feeding is an integrated part of providing a good environment for horses. It affects not only the physiology and the overall well being of the horses, but it determines who they are and who we are. So before we go deeper in how to provide food for our horses we must define what we want to achieve.