Feeding Old Horses In Winter

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Most of us feed grass hay and think alfalfa isn?t good for horses. This simply isn?t true, and the older horse is one that might benefit from mixing it in.

Alfalfa has a different amino acide profile than grass hay. The two complement each other when mixed, creating a high-quality protein that will help the horse build healthy tissue and hundreds of proteins within the body. It also adds calories. You can purchase chopped alfalfa at your feed store, which will also be easier for your horse to chew.

Alfalfa pellets or cubes will help, too. Pellets are easier to chew. Hay cubes can be too hard for many older horses. If you must use cubes, moisten them before feeding them.

Caution with grains

Most grains are high in starch, which can be a problem for a horse with Cushing?s or insulin resistance. Beet pulp is a better choice, if you don't mind doing a little extra work. It doesn't produce an insulin surge the way grain can (you must get the kind without added molasses, though). Plus, it provides almost as many calories as oats.

Beet pulp

should be soaked, especially the pellets, for a half hour, if using warm water, and an hour if the water is cold. Limit soaking to two hours at room temperature to avoid bacterial growth. Beet pulp makes an excellent carrier for supplements and horses like it, plus it helps water intake.

Adding fat

is often a natural response to a horse who is losing weight. Fat provides a little over twice the calories that protein and carbohydrates do. But you need to be careful. Some sources ? such as corn oil, soybean oil or wheat germ oil ? are high in omega 6 fatty acids, which increase inflammation and exacerbate common senior aches and pains.

Try flaxseed oil and flaxseed meal for added fat instead. Flax is high in omega 3s and has a good ratio of omega 3s to 6s, similar to grass. Choose a commercial ground stabilized flaxseed product, as flax has 10 times more phosphorus than calcium, and a commercial product will have calcium added to correct this naturally inverted ratio. Good sources include www.horsetech.com or 800-831-3309 and www.omegafields.com or 877-663-4203.

We recommend feeding a good probiotic (with billions, not millions, of CFUs) or a prebiotic (not live microbes, but fermentation products) to keep the hindgut microbial population healthy. Horse Journal?s perennial favorite is Ration Plus (www.rationplus.com, 800-728-4667).

These microbes produce the right enzymes to digest fiber. Without enough of them, forage won?t be adequately digested, which means your horse won?t get all the calories.

Monitor water consumption

To naturally increase your horse's water consumption, add a little salt to his feed, up to 2 tablespoons per day. You can also offer him warm water, but you must do it consistently as he'll start to wait for the warm water. And don't forget the beet-pulp mash for water intake.

If you think he still isn?t consuming enough water, and He's showing signs of dehydration (sunken look, dark/orange urine), talk with your veterinarian immediately.