Dangers of Commercial Horse Feeds
Whilst there is no doubt that fresh spring and summer grass contains natural sugars produced by the grass this is a far cry from the large amounts of refined and processed molasses and "sugar derivatives" included in commercial equine feeds to increase palatibility. In some cases this can amount to nearly 50% of the feed. So-called "lite" varieties still contain significant amounts of molasses and are completely contra-indicated for horses and ponies at risk of or suffering from laminitis. High molasses/sugar levels have 3 advantages for the manufacturer -
- Horses eat up to 40% more food = increased profits = poorer owner
- It covers the taste of the low grade ingredients used to maximise profits
- It creates hard food addicts. This creates repeat business.
If you don't believe me on this addict point why
else do all the horses on the yard kick the door at feed time even if
there is forage available?
Answer: They want their fix.
Unfortunately there are other downsides beyond your continuing expense on hard feed. Your horse/pony is likely to get fat as it will continue to eat more than it would otherwise do. This can put strains on the liver, heart and other organs and will predispose to disease of these organs including laminitis, Cushings, bleeders, tying up and even diabetes.
If too much hard feed is fed too early in life (this includes during pregnancy as a foetus), growth can occur too quickly and joints especially will struggle to cope and predispose to problems such as OsteoChondritis Dessicans (OCD) and Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). This is more likely with geldings where early castration delays the closure of the growth plates of the bones so that they grow bigger than they would have been if left entire. Over-working young horses and ponies to early in life is a major contributor to OCD and DJD in my opinion too.
Luckily there is now a new horse supplement to promote strong bone growth and healing for bone injuries - OsteoEquine. Many supplements just concentrate on Calcium, but the strength and quality of the collagen matrix is equally important. See product page for more details.
Unlike ruminants such as sheep, cows and goats which have a 4-chambered stomach called a rumen where plant fermentation takes place, equines have a very large hind-gut - the large colon - where bacteria ferment the plant material in order to release plant nutrients. Even natural simple plant sugars are released slowly as cell walls need to be broken down to release it. This means that energy is usually released on a fairly continual basis. Horses are best suited to diets that provide for this process. In practice this ideally means no simple refined sugars which are provided by molasses and minimal grains and pulses.
When the balance of the gut bacteria etc (the intestinal Biome) is disrupted - called Dysbiosis then metabolic disturbances can occur. I am increasingly convinced that this is the root cause of the increasingly diagnosed Equine Metabolic Syndrome. I have a separate page to deal with this issue, here.
The most successful old-school racing trainers used to feed soaked
oats, alfalfa, linseed and good quality hay. Diets could be
individually adjusted according to work and the trainers eye and today
costs a fraction of the expense of compounded feeds.