Feed & Nutrition

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While we have become increasingly aware of the special needs of horses with sensitivities to starch and sugar, there remains a large population of our performance horses that can benefit from moderate inclusion of NSC (non-structural carbohydrates: starch and sugar) in the diet. Non-structural carbohydrates are found in varying amounts in all feed ingredients, with the exception of ingredients that are solely comprised of fat. The largest source of NSC in most horses’ diets is forage. Hay and pasture particularly can be very high in sugars depending on the variety and growing conditions.

Horse owners have been wetting or soaking hay as a feed management practice for many years. Soaking hay for horses can be invaluable when feeding a hay that is a little dusty as a result of soil contamination or where it was stored in the barn. Horses that have allergies and are sensitive to the natural dust and particles in hay can benefit significantly from wetting or soaking hay.

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Topline is the term used to describe the muscle coverage over the top of the horse’s neck, withers, back, loin, and croup. Because topline is muscle, a horse with a good topline will be stronger and more athletic, and will present a more pleasing appearance. What should we feed to develop the perfect topline? First we must understand that the shape of the back can vary greatly from one individual to another, and so the topline will vary in length and in curvature, with some relationship between the two. Horses with toplines that are sunken in over their withers, concave along the back and loin, or dished in around their hip bones and hindquarters will have diminished strength in those areas.

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Far too many horse breeders and owners still give their horses livestock feed, either as a matter of convenience or to save money, since livestock products are generally less expensive and also non-taxable. Nutritionally, this practice is far from recommended, since livestock and horses are not comparable from a metabolic and digestive standpoint, and their dietary requirements differ greatly.

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In recent years, the popularity of hemp as a feed supplement for horses has been growing remarkably. Although it belongs to the cannabis family, hemp is most commonly known as an industrial plant for textiles, rope, clothes, paper, plastics, biofuels, animal bedding, and sail canvases. Its seeds, oil, and leaves are all food and feed options, and hemp has found its way into the equine industry as an excellent nutritional supplement.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Equine Cushing’s Disease (also known as Pars Pituitary Intermedia Dysfunction, or PPID) are reasonably common conditions we encounter in our horses. This article will deal primarily with EMS, but because PPID can be a cause of increased insulin levels in horses, it needs to be mentioned as well.

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When you have finally found the perfect horse to take you to the winner’s circle, it’s tough to realize that he or she might be getting old. Many horses are now competing well into their late teens and early twenties, especially in certain disciplines such as dressage or show jumping where it takes many years of training to reach an elite level of competition. However, from a veterinary perspective, horses are considered geriatric as they reach the age of 15 to 20 years, which is when their physiological functions start to decline. The management of these horses becomes crucial to keep them competing at their best.

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