“There’s a direct correlation between a horse’s heart and his stomach.”
That old timer’s philosophy has been proven fact time and again. Bring the big fat gelding out of his stall, saddle up, and he bucks like a bronc. He’d been getting full feed every day and that was the first attempted ride in weeks. Too much to eat and not enough work.
Then think about the Indian’s thin colt in training. The spotted horse didn’t look pretty but sure didn’t buck either, actually worked quite well.
“Some people may think they are being nice to their horses feeding them to be fat with slick hair. That’s sure not always the case,” according to trainer Martin Black.
“People are doing the best they know how,” Black continued, “but humans have taken animals that have been bred for centuries to work and be fit, and in only a few decades, fed and confined them.
“If we just step back and make an observation, the cure to a lot of our horses’ problems is obvious,” Black insisted. “We are feeding them like Sumo wrestlers and then wanting them to work like soccer players.”
Horse are not mentally or structurally designed for this life of luxury. “When I see horses that are over cared for and compare the problems, there is no question: overfeeding is a problem,” Black contended
Ranch horses may look like the high school cross country team, but they are healthy, fit and without the psychological problems found in stables and backyards.
“What most people identify as discipline problems with their horses is more likely too much stored energy,” Black said. “When horses consume high-energy feeds, they become hyperactive and need the chance to exercise.”
Horses that are confined and overfed have problems with hypertension, digestion, soundness, cribbing, weaving, ulcers, colic, founder, parasites and viruses.. “If they are in training, the handlers will be challenged with directing the excess energy,” Black assured..
“I see more problems mentally and physically with horses being overfed and under-worked than with horses that are burning as much energy as they consume and maybe show a trace of their skeletal structure.” Black said.
Feeding is one of the most rewarding chores of horse ownership. But many horses, given the opportunity, will eat far more than they need, tipping the scale to an unhealthy balance.
“No matter how much your horse enjoys eating, you do him a disservice by overfeeding,” Black said. “Excess pounds put a strain on virtually every body system.
“A far kinder strategy is to supply food and exercise in proper amounts to keep your horse fit and healthy,” Black demanded.
Maintaining the ideal weight is not always easy, however. Some horses are what are called “easy keepers.” They require minimal calories to maintain optimal body condition.
Many adult horses, especially those in their middle years, begin to retain unneeded body weight due to reduced activity and a slowdown in metabolism, becoming obese.
However, it’s also important to realize that corn, oats, barley and molasses do not supply a consistent energy supply for a performance horse who is working hard.
“These feeds contain excessive carbohydrates that lead to hypersensitivity, because of the horse’s inability to utilize too many carbohydrates at a given time,” Black said.
Also, the nutrient levels of high-protein hay are often not consistent. The hay a horse gets today may be richer or poorer than what he gets tomorrow, even though it came from the same field and looks the same.
“Hay is not a reliable nutrient source for performance horses, but it is necessary in every horse’s diet,” Black said. “Good grass hay will provide plenty of roughage and a great source of fiber.”
In bagged feeds, Black said the key things to look for are vitamin levels, organic minerals rather than inorganic, which the horse is unable to utilize, and fatty acids, which provide a more consistent energy source than excess carbohydrates.
“I am not a nutritionist, but I deal with many horse problems and have witnessed much success in health and training programs when the right balance is found between nutrition and the horse’s workload,” Black said.
Some situations don’t allow horses to have the space they need. However, things can still be brought into balance.
Owners need to owners recognize the effects of their feeding programs and allow more unrestricted exercise or work, or the consumption of less energy.
“Without the excess energy, more training could be done without extreme training methods, which would result in happier, more willing horses,” according to Black.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if we could ask the horses who is the happiest and feels the best, it would be the ones without the crease down their backs,” Black summarized.