Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hay for Horses is Entertainment Not Nutrition

You may think the stuff you throw over the fence, the hay for horses, offers your horses the nutrition they need to stay totally health, but you would probably be wrong. Being a zen cowgirl inquisitive science-type, and having hung around with a major hay producer in my area who actually tests hay for its nutritional value, I'm realizing that hay for horses is basically entertainment, not nutrition.

In other words, the hay I'm throwing, while better quality than the hay in some places, is pretty empty of the vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals that my performance horses need to both perform and stay healthy. If you look around at the performance horse barns in your area, you'll see what I mean.

An Example to Chew On
For instance, around here we have a top cutting horse barn. The horses get fed either straight grass hay or a grass/alfalfa mix. Nothing else. The horses get top-quality care, are glossy and well-groomed, and look good. They perform well. However, the average age at which a horse in that barn is retired because he's used-up or injured is six years old. Does it make sense to you that a six-year-old horse should be "retired" because it's too old, injured, or tired to keep going? Does it make sense that three-year-old horses need hock injections to keep going?

Why Hay Alone Isn't Enough for Performance Horses
The fact that most of these horses need hock injections or are retired at such an early age tells me that their bodies are not getting the nutrition they need from hay alone to stay healthy.

Nutritionist Carol Bennett says, "Aging is the process in which the body loses the ability to defend itself." When performances horses age prematurely and have to be retired at such a young age, I get the message that their bodies are unable to defend themselves against the stresses of training. Add to that this statement from the Surgeon General and you get a more complete picture: "67% of all human diseases are diet-related." Now I know we're talking about horses here, but I interpret this to mean that a poor diet leads to disease, whether in humans or horses.

So if hay for horses doesn't cover the basic nutritional needs, what is it good for? Why, for entertainment, of course. Horses need be walking and eating about 23 out of 24 hours in the day, so having hay constantly in front of them is fairly essential. In fact, if you really want to reproduce the conditions of wild horses, you would not only have to have hay in front of horses all the time (or have them out in pasture), but you would have to keep them walking and chewing. Pete Ramey has discovered a wonderful way to do this with his Pasture Paradise concept (just Google it for more info).

The Good News Hay for Horses
So the bad news is that the hay you throw over the fence for your horses probably isn't enough to meet their full nutritional needs, especially if they are in training or heavy work. The good news is that it doesn't take all that much nutrition to fill in the gaps that feeding hay alone creates. This is because horses are used to eating foods that are low in caloric and nutritional value, so adding just small quantities of high-quality nutrition to their diet will create a big effect.

For instance, I feed my horses 1-2 ounces daily of a special nutritional "goo" that I whip up at my kitchen table. It amazes me that 1-2 ounces of nutrition does the job on a 1,000 pound horse, but the results can't be denied. Adding this small amount of power-packed nutrition results in healthy hooves and coat, no allergies, no colic, and a generally happy outlook on life. In case you want to know, the goo consists of 1 packet of Simplexity Health Essentials (blue green algae, probiotoics, and enzymes) plus 1-2 ounces of a specific antioxidant juice. It works a treat.

So do I grow hay for my horses? Yes. Do I feed plenty of it? Yes. Do I count on its nutritional value? Never. I cover the bases with algae, probiotoics, enzymes, and mangosteen juice. I enjoy watching my horses eat hay, though, because I know it entertains them thoroughly and satisfies their instinctive need to chew continuously on long-stem, low-content food. And when they're happy, I'm happy.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Photo credit: / CC BY 2.0

No comments:

Post a Comment