24th September 2006
FEED TO NEED
The following article appeared in the Equest Newsletter – June/July 2006 Edition.
Steven Jeffery is known world-wide as the man who opened the 2000 Sydney Olympic. His breathtaking gallop onto the centre stage with his Stock Horse “Ammo” together with a huge rear and crack of the whip signalled the start of Sydney’s Olympic Games.
Steven is in high demand from the Equestrian Community as a student teacher for TV programmes, film, problem horses, seminars and university lectures.
This article on feeding is well worth reading.
From his consulting position in Doha for the Asian Games, Steve Jeffery’s reports on the serious issue of overfeeding.
One of the main ingredients in training successful, well behaved horses is managing the amount of energy or fuel that you put into them through their feed. There is no doubt that you will make life hard for both you and your horse by not balancing the amount of fuel that you put in to the amount of energy you burn up on a daily basis. You don’t need to be a nutritional expert to work this out, it’s more common sense than anything else, yet many of us don’t seem to recognise the importance or the benefits of getting it right.
There are obvious differences between fat, fit and over fuelled horses. It’s great to have a fit and healthy horse with nice muscle tone, but muscle is the result of a balanced diet in conjunction with an appropriate amount of exercise. Horses are like humans, you can’t just feed them more to make them look great, a fat horse is just that, fat and therefore unhealthy.
Over fuelling is quite different, a horse doesn’t have to be fat to be over fuelled, it’s simply where the amount of fuel being put in exceeds the energy requirements of the horse at that particular time. Particularly with young horses this can be a day by day monitoring issue, as the horse’s energy requirements will vary with the workload. It’s like having a young hyperactive child, and sending them off to school full of red cordial and chocolate. At best, the child will have trouble concentrating in class, but more likely he will misbehave. This situation could be avoided in most cases, by simply reducing the fuels that are creating the excess energy. However if the same child is about to run a marathon, then fuelling him up is not only appropriate, but necessary in order to provide adequate energy for the event.
There is no doubt that even the best behaved, calm and reliable horses can totally change their personality and behaviour as a result of too much food or “energy” and often this is the start of our problems. I’m sure we have all ridden horses that on one day seem as if they can’t put a foot wrong and yet a couple of days later the same horse is inventing things to look, snort and shy at!
Remember a horse is a creature of habit, and therefore every step they take they are learning something that will quickly become a habit. With this in mind, it is possible for your horse to misbehave as a consequence of being over fuelled, and in doing so may develop unwanted habits that will continue. Whilst there are other issues such as the weather and changed or unfamiliar surroundings that can influence these things to some degree, the fuel is primarily responsible for instigating these problems. As horses become older and more experienced they will generally learn to accept progressively higher levels of energy wilt being able to maintain their concentration and work ethic.
I often hear stories that are similar to this, “We have just bought a beautiful new stock horse from the country. He was so quiet and well behaved when we brought him home just ten days ago, but now he is a different horse. It’s gotten so bad that yesterday he shied at a piece of paper on the ground and then bucked my daughter off. WE would like you to look at him as we feel that he may have been drugged when we bought him, and we are now frightened to ride him”! The answers will be something like this; he has gone from his paddock to a stable, he is being worked less, and fed far more than before. He is still the same beautiful horse that you bought ten days ago, but now he is over fuelled. This situation is generally easily rectified over the next few days, the horse just needs more work and less fuel. As I mentioned above it’s possible for these situations to get out of hand. The horse shied and bucked for the first time because he had excess energy, which he took advantage of. I however this horse was inclined to be a bit devious, as they can be, this opportunity may have allowed him to discover that bucking is fun!
Although people are overfeeding their horses with the best of intentions, it’s clearly detrimental to you horse, and in many ways we are killing our horses with “kindness”. We should take a good look at the negative effects of this issue, as it’s not only behavioural problems that result from overfeeding. We often find physical issues such as founder, laminitis and a variety of hoof and leg problems which result in unsoundness.
There seems to be a number of common reasons for us over feeding our horses. Basically, “if the horse looks good and is performing well, then he doesn’t need more feed” . For instance if your horse lives in a paddock and grazes all day, you don’t need to feel guilty about not feeding him the extra hard feed morning and night, and he’s unlikely to need that extra biscuit of lucerne for lunch. It seems a common concern that, “the feed in the paddock is not enough”, but if he looks great, works well, and has plenty of energy, why does he need more? Remember, horses were eating grass and surviving very well, long before we arrived, and it is more likely in this situation that the horse is getting sufficient roughage from his paddock and may only require small amounts of concentrated energy feeds such as grain, grain mixes and the processed feeds that are available, if more energy or weight is necessary.
Not all horses have access to paddocks or day yards, and this will effect how you feed. The horse in the paddock not only had constant access to roughage, but he is also constantly walking or working off energy. As the circumstances change, so must the feed. If you are sitting around the house all day, you are not going to feel like eating the same amount that you would if you had been out playing sport all day. Your horse is the same, yet we tend to put the makeup of our horses feed on the “whiteboard” and that becomes his feed regardless.
We are often influenced by the appearance of the feed. We would feed a rich green freshly cut lucerne hay, in preference to grass hay that may be a few months old and discolouring on the outside. We prefer to feed the lucerne, not because it’s any better for the horse, but because it looks better to us. The fact is, for most domestic horses, the grass hay is probably the better feed, it provides bulk roughage without the same energy or protein, and less likely to go straight through the horse causing a stomach upset from being too rich. If your horse requires extra jump and energy then the lucerne or even a mix of the two, may be appropriate for you.
Another common cause of the problem is that we copy what and how much someone else feeds their horse. The problem here is, just like humans, horses are all different personalities, different levels of education, they can be different ages, and more than anything they can have vastly different amounts of work. They are all individuals, and although you can get a guide from what someone else does you have to feed your horses according to their own individual needs.
It is obvious that one of the driving forces behind over feeding is the fact that we are often more concerned with how a horse looks, than how he performs or behaves. I am very much the opposite; I want the horse’s “mind” working with me, where they are very calm and soft, before I worry too much about the appearance. Once you have their “mind” you can set about building a body on them with a combination of work and feed, ending up with a horse that both looks and works beautifully. On the other hand, if you over fuel the horse in an attempt to speed up the “beautifying” process for next week’s show, it’s likely that you will be taking a longer and far more frustrating road. If you do get to the show, then you are likely to have an uncivilised and inattentive horse that won’t relax at the show. The problem here is the horse is learning to be uncivilised and inattentive.
I feel we should be discouraging overweight horses in competition regardless of the class. The horse is supposed to be a balanced athlete, and as such I feel that more emphasis should be placed on the horse behaving and performing well. In a ridden class it should be the best performed, and in a halter class the horse best conformed to perform. We should be rewarding the horse that is not only beautiful but would be beautiful to ride.
There are plenty of good feeds around these days, but the question is finding what and how much you really need. It is important to remember that horses are designed to graze, and therefore their gut is far happier and healthier with good access to roughage. Regardless of what you feed it is very easy these days to ensure that your horse has access to the many vitamins and minerals necessary for good health, simply by including appropriate concentrated additives to their feed as required.
The key to success is “feed to need ”. Remember that horses are working animals that thrive on hard work. My horses are like dogs, they will load themselves on the truck when it starts up, in fear of missing out on something!