If you are uncertain about your horse's nutritional needs, consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist.
Mistake #6: Failing to offer salt
Sodium and chloride--the components of table salt--are electrolytes essential to many bodily functions. Both are lost in sweat and must be replaced from the diet. These are also the only essential nutrients that are not naturally present in grasses and grains.
Horses have a natural appetite for salt and consume what they need if given the opportunity. Placing a salt block in your herd's pasture is the easiest way of providing access to this vital nutrient, but to ensure that all horses get the salt they need, you may decide to put out multiple blocks or even place a small block in each horse's stall.
If you choose the latter option, be warned, says Crandell: "Some horses kept in stalls a lot will get bored and start overeating salt, and this will make them drink a lot more and then pee a lot more." For these horses, she suggests offering just a daily portion--one or two ounces of loose salt, or more if it's hot or the horse has been sweating heavily. "If the diet is balanced, plain white table salt is fine," she adds. "It doesn't have to be mineralized."
If you do offer loose salt, it's best to keep it in a bucket rather than pouring it over feed. A horse's need for salt may fluctuate daily. If you give too little, you can create imbalances; too much, and the feed may become unpalatable.
Mistake #7: Offering too little free-choice fresh water
A variety of "old horsemen's tales" once advised withholding water from horses under particular circumstances. For example, many people still adhere to the notion that offering cold water to a hot, sweating horse will cause colic.
However, researchers now know that offering a cool drink to a hot horse does no harm, and it will help him recover from exertion more quickly. In fact, ensuring that horses have access to a ready supply of fresh, clean water is one of the best ways to reduce the risks of impaction colic, especially in those kept primarily on dried forage.
Make sure that every horse has access to the water you supply. Low-ranking herd members may be bullied away from troughs, and arthritic horses may be unwilling to climb down steep streambeds. Providing more than one source of water can help remedy situations like these.
Feeding is one of the most emotionally gratifying things we do for our horses. Who doesn't enjoy hearing expectant whinnies give way to the sound of contented munching? And yet our very human need to nurture them sometimes conflicts with their very equine need to simply roam and graze. Finding the balance between the horse's natural way of eating and the demands of domesticated life will help ensure that he will remain healthy for years to come.
This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of EQUUS magazine. For more information, see "Straight Answers to Feeding Questions" (EQUUS October 2000), Special Report: Feeding Time (EQUUS November 2001) and "How Antioxidants Promote Good Health" (EQUUS August 2005).