The owner plays a vital role in the overall health of the horse. They are solely responsible for their diet and the nutrition of the animal. The wild horse roams the countryside to find what he needs, but domestic horses are confined to pastures or stalls. If the pastures aren’t adequate the horse suffers, so the owner needs to have a basic knowledge of what the horse needs.
The pasture should be a good mixed grass. Warm season grasses are best because when the grass becomes stressed the sugars go down into the roots unlike cool weather grass which retain the sugars in the stems during stress and are available to the horse.
If you have a horse that founders due to diet, it’s because of the high sugar content in their diet and the horse has an insulin intolerance to the sugar. This greatly affects the horse’s feet. The white line stretches, the sole drops and the hoof actually pulls away from the coffin bone. To correct the problem you first have to reduce the sugar in the diet, pull the animal off the pasture, feed only good quality hay, salt, mineral and water. No grain or treats, like apples, carrots, horse cookies, etc. The hay should be given freely to keep the gut working, not just once or twice a day.
The hay should be a good grass hay like Orchard Grass, Bermuda, Timothy or Brome. Fescue is okay for hay, I prefer hybrid fescue over common fescue because in the common the stem is finer and can make colic an issue. A small amount of Clover is okay, but no more than 10 percent. I don’t recommend Alfalfa for horses. Dr Christopher Pollitt has linked laminitis in horses to Alfalfa.
Horses don’t really need grain to be a part of their diet. They can get what they need from hay, salt, water and mineral. A small amount of grain to get them to come to you when called is ok, but no sweet feed.
Minerals are important in the diet. Horses will get some through their forage, but that’s not always enough, so give them free choice mineral and they will eat what they need.
Horses need a good clean water source at all times. All of these recommendations are for a healthy horse. If you have an older horse, or rescued one that’s starving or abused you need to consult the advice of your veterinarian. The horse’s hoof is only as good as the nutrition it takes in.
Louetta Plumlee is a Certified Natural Hoof Care Practitioner and Certified Booting Specialist.