Fueling Your Champions Fire!!
By Mike & Allison Rosauer
Stars Miniatures, USA
Nutrition is the fuel you need to build your horse into a champion! In this article we will explain our program. This is what works for us. You may have to adjust it to work with your horse's needs and your particular climate.
Our feed program is based on 2 cups of crimped cleaned oats, 2 cups 14% protein and 7% fat sweet feed, 4 cups of soaked beet pulp and 1 pound of alfalfa, morning and night. This is the amount that most of our show horses are given. However, each horse's diet is adjusted to their individual needs. Let's talk about each ingredient's purpose so we can understand how to adjust the ration to the individual horse.
Crimped, cleaned oats are the most efficient way to feed oats. Having them crimped breaks through the hard outer surface for better digestion. Oats are high in carbohydrates. They produce energy without fat. I think of them as fuel for our horses.
Next let's talk about sweet feed. We use a feed that has 14% protein and 7% fat. Protein is the building blocks for muscle. In order for our exercise program to be effective we must rebuild the muscle as we break it down. Also young horses need protein to grow. The second part of our sweet feed is 7% fat. Miniature horses have long, stringy muscles instead of short bulky muscles. No matter how much you work your miniature horse you are never going to build the bulk of muscle you can with a big horse. We have to carefully smooth out our horses and add substance through a layer of fat. Fat also produces energy. If we have our horses broke to stand still when we show, they can never have too much energy.
Now let's talk about the most important part of our feeding program, beet pulp and alfalfa. To understand the importance of these, we need to understand how nature designed a horse's digestive system. A horse's digestive system is unique in that most all digestion comes through the breakdown of fiber. Beet pulp and alfalfa are both high fiber. If we look at a horse in the wild they live on 100% fiber. As we change a horse's eating habits to produce the looks we are striving for, we need to keep in mind the natural benefits from fiber in keeping his digestive system working as well as keeping him happy mentally. Horses are grazing animals and alfalfa and beet pulp are fed in large volume. This extends the time it takes the horse to eat each meal, simulating grazing.
In a horse's digestive track, located under the horse's top line, is a large vessel called a cecum. This is unique to equines. It is where fiber is digested. It is also why I believe beet pulp is magic for miniatures horses. One of the hardest places to fill in on most miniature horses is their top line. Beet pulp does this. How? Beet pulp keeps the cecum full. Remember it is located just under the top line in the area our horses have trouble keeping smooth.
Besides trying to fulfill the horse's grazing needs and filling in a horses top line, we use beet pulp as a tool for hydration. We always give our horses access to clean water, but as we travel, often we have issues with horses not drinking enough. Some horses don't like to drink on the trailer. Others can have issues with water that tastes strange to them. We feed our beet pulp soaked because it swells several times in volume when it gets wet and we don't want it to swell in the horse's stomach. When it's ready to feed, it will be the consistency of runny oatmeal. If we have a hydration issue we will feed it very wet and soupy.
During the evening feeding we add Red Cell to add B vitamins and iron. Both of these help keep the horse feeling good and gives them energy. We also use a product called Healthy Coat that is an all natural supplement that includes Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, Vitamin E, Vitamin B-12, niacin and Biotin. This really helps our horses hair coats, especially those with difficult skin.
Now, with these elements in place, we create an individual ration for the needs of each horse. One thing to take into consideration when determining a horses needs is their body condition. A fat horse may need the protein and fat portion removed from its diet. However, remember that oats are more of an immediately burned food, so you may replace some of the sweet feed you take away with more oats. A horse that comes into the barn in poor condition, or a young horse that is growing, may only need high protein high fat sweet feed in its diet. We might feed them up to 4 cups of sweet feed plus beet pulp and alfalfa. Another variable to how much sweet feed we feed is the temperature. When we moved from a colder climate up north, to a hot climate here in southeast Texas, we found that in the summer we need to feed more sweet feed to help maintain our energy levels. In the winter we back some horses off of sweet feed because they aren't working as hard and the air temperature doesn't zap their energy. We've had some high energy, mature horses that ate as much as 4 cups oats, 4cups sweet feed and 6 cups of beet pulp, as well as 1 pound of alfalfa, twice a day to keep them fit while they are in training. We've also had horses that only required 2 cups of oats and 4 cups of beet pulp to stay fit. Remember that hungry horses aren't happy horses. Beet pulp doesn't add unwanted bulk on a horse, so if any negative stall responses happen, like eating shavings or stall walking, try to make the horse happier by feeding his grazing instinct with more soaked beet pulp.
If you are trying to put a lot of weight on a horse, in a short amount of time, try feeding them an additional snack, maybe extra alfalfa or 2 cups of sweet feed at lunch and an additional snack late at night. If you feed a horse too much at one feeding, and their stomach isn't used to holding that much feed, they will leave some feed behind and it will quickly get stale and go to waste. Only feed what they can eat in a short amount of time.
Start your horse on a conditioning schedule and nutritional program and wait two weeks before you evaluate them. Our horses are started on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday work schedule for 10 minutes at a fast trot, and are slowly built up to 20 minutes once they can handle it. Horses that need to lose a lot of weight are worked the same way, but on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Also, give them a day turned out on grass with a friend or friends so that they stay happy and get to relax and be a horse. Horses are herd animals by nature and turn out days make a huge mental difference. Our horses stay in the stall on the weekend so that mentally they relax and they can build up their energy levels. Two weeks gives this program time to make significant changes. If we determine that we are on the right track, and we think our horse's condition has improved, we keep the same feed and exercise schedule and we evaluate the horse weekly. If we don't see any significant changes, we try to look at the horse's body condition and their attitude to see what changes to make. Some horses need adjustments weekly and some are fed and conditioned the same for years.
One of the biggest nutritional mistakes we see people make is thinking their "pot bellied" horse is fat. Actually, a horse that has no weight over its back and a big belly that hangs low is in poor condition. It has no muscle over its top line to help pull its stomach up. Most people tend to work this type horse hard and only feed it oats. Actually, what this horse needs is sweet feed and beet pulp to help build strong muscle and fill in over its back. Combine this with a consistent, three day a week work schedule and you will see the belly start to pull up tight toward the back. The sweet feed will also give this horse the energy it needs to work hard and feel strong.
Remember, no matter what your horse's physical condition, it is also just as important to look at their mental condition as well. A horse with a well balanced diet and a lifestyle that combines work, a little play and some relaxation will be happy and able to give you 100% in and out of the show ring!