By Mairi Mackay
When horse feed expert Robert Fowler dropped by the yard a few weeks ago we couldn’t resist the opportunity to put some of our liveries’ burning questions about feed to him. He’s from Castle Horse Feeds, producer of Smart Horse Nutrition, which we feed to most livery horses training with Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy.
Our liveries asked about how to feed cobs to keep the weight off, what to feed horses who have been on antibiotics to avoid ulcers, how to feed to help build topline and more and Robert’s answers are really interesting. Of course, it goes without saying that you should always get expert advice on feeding for your horse’s specific needs. Hope you enjoy it!
Tatiana asks: “My horse Jasper, who is a cob and puts on weight easily, had a month off work due to a health issue. What would you recommend feeding him to keep him healthy but keep the weight off?”
Robert Fowler: The critical part for that cob is that you mustn’t restrict his diet because that has so many add on problems. What you want to do is reduce the calorie intake rather than the volume intake. He still needs the volume because otherwise his digestive system is not going to work properly.
If he’s not chewing, every part of his body will be affected. His teeth will grow funnily because he’s not grinding them properly. If his stomach is empty for long periods of time, he’s going to be opening himself up for stomach ulcers. The hindgut bacteria will get real problems. That is the horse basically — all those billions of microbes in the back of the horse.
You have to find something that he can eat 2.5% of his bodyweight a day that he won’t extract too much out of. The problem with natives and cobs is they are very good at extracting nutritional value out of most things. So, you either want to use threshed hay, oat straw or chopped oat straw. That’s the type of thing you need to feed him along with a feed balancer.
Caitlin who owns Mollie, a competition mare asks: “What can I feed my horse to help build topline?”
RW: You have to provide the building blocks for muscle, which is possibly protein, and have it in a good nutritional plan with vitamins and minerals but feed on its own not going to produce topline. The only thing to get topline and get a horse muscled is by making it work out.
So, you want to assess the horse’s condition and see if it needs more condition. If it needs more condition and more energy then maybe a bit more protein for building muscle and get the vitamin and mineral balance right. You want to provide it with all the building blocks for muscle — but the only way of building muscle is through exercise and training.
Hayley’s gelding Nugget, a thoroughbred ex-point-to-pointer, was recently injured. He was taken to the veterinary hospital for treatment and has been given antibiotics. She says: “I am worried about ulcers. How should I feed my horse after he’s been given medication?”
RW: The thing there is the antibiotics. A horse relies on microbes in its hindgut to process fibre and other food. An antibiotic will damage those microbes because they are bacteria. After a course of antibiotics, you really have to nurture the hindgut again because the microflora in there will have been quite severely damaged. You really need to make sure the horse gets a lot of fibre and look at feeding a pre-and-pro-biotic to get the gut working.
A lot of good feeds and balancers (including ours) include yeast metabolites, which the hindgut bacteria will feed on. Feeding something like that, which gives the bacteria a food source, is like fertilising the hindgut and nurturing the bacteria left to bring them back to their full capacity.
Mairi’s ISH gelding Gilly was off work for a couple of months with a hock injury. Gilly finds it hard to maintain condition but gets very fresh if you feed him high-energy foods. She asks: “What feeds are good for bringing him back into work?”
RW: You’ve got to get as much fibre into him as possible and then you’ve got to get energy into him in a form that’s not going to excite him. You don’t want starch and you don’t want sugar. You want high-quality oil, quality fibre and that sort of thing going into him. You want to get as much energy in there as possible, but slow-release rather than quick-release energy. You want the energy to come from the hindgut — being slow-release — rather than the small intestine where the energy is released directly into the bloodstream from starch and sugar.
He’s the type of horse where you want to make sure you find some really good hay, so every mouthful of hay he’s getting is adding to his calorie load. Nice green meadow hays are incredibly high in energy, which is why horses put weight on when they go out into the spring grass. It really is high-energy stuff. You want to find some really nice hay and feed as much as he’ll eat and then look at really concentrated feeds for him that are not high in starch and sugar. Micronised linseed is brilliant. Use sugar beet and some oil. Avoid cereals if that makes him excited.
This interview has been carefully edited for readability.