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Navigating the World of “Fast Food” for Horses By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 25, 2016

For most horses, the days of peacefully grazing in open fields on a mélange of various forages for much of their existence have gone the way of the dodo. Instead, busy horse owners with limited pasture rely more and more on preserved forages and commercial feeds to provide their charges a nutritious diet.

“Ready-mixed commercial feeds are formulated to meet the specific dietary needs of a range of horses participating in a variety of athletic events or stages of reproduction and growth,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research (KER) nutritionist. “These feeds come as concentrates that are formulated to complement forage or as complete feeds that include forage in the formulation.”

Some of the benefits of commercial feeds include:

  • The convenience of prepared feedstuffs is undeniable; these feeds are easy to transport and less time-consuming to dish out than home-mixed rations;
  • Local adverse growing conditions, such as drought or flooding, will not impact the ability of owners to provide adequate forage or pasture to meet a horse’s energy (caloric) requirements; and
  • Commercial feeds allow for a tailored diet designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of a horse.

According to a recent research report*, those feeding commercial, ready-mixed products should keep in mind:

  • The horse owner’s responsibility to choose a quality, appropriate product, similar to the selection of suitable nutritional supplements (note the number of companies relying on testimonials rather than science to support their products); and
  • The impact of owners diluting a specifically balanced commercial feed with other concentrates, straight grains, and supplements, thereby altering nutrient balance and potentially providing excess energy.

“Quality commercial concentrates such as those offered by KER and its partner companies can be a huge benefit as they streamline the care and maintenance of horses,” said Crandell. “That said, the age, use of the horse, and any underlying medical condition must be carefully considered when customizing any diet. Typically, this is best achieved with the assistance of an equine nutritionist.”

Overfeeding must be avoided to minimize obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, laminitis, and even gastric ulcers, and to stave off abnormal behaviors and stereotypies.

*Kohnke, J.R. 2014. Changes in equine feeding in Australia over the past 30 years. In: Proc. Australasian Equine Science Symposium, Vol. 5. Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. p. 13-14.