Diving Headfirst into Nutrition

Steven got me a book on horse nutrition for Christmas.


Boy, did he not know what he was getting himself into.

We had (and still have) other things to think about for the horses and ourselves so I didn’t immediately start on the book. In fact, I didn’t give it much thought until I literally heard Paige creak and pop while turning around to go back outside after eating one day.

I have had Paige on joint supplements on and off in the past. While we were showing she was on a double dose of Cosequin which got real pricey real fast. Since we haven’t been doing much of anything in the way of performance as of late, she hasn’t been on anything. It hasn’t been all that apparent that she needs anything. She doesn’t start out stiff (which I attribute to her 24/7 turnout) and I haven’t seen her lame in a long time. (I’m going to regret that one, I’m sure. I’ll knock on wood just in case.) However, she’s no spring chicken. She will be 26 Friday and when your horse audibly creaks, it makes you a little paranoid for her future.

So where do I turn? Smartpak. I love Smartpak. They have the best customer service I’ve ever experienced and they have so many customer ratings for everything on their site. Now they have a Supplement Wizard! So I took the bait. After 30+ questions, Smartpak gave me my results… and I about choked on them. Enhanced support consists of gastric support, a joint complex, a weight gain supplement and something for skin and coat. This would cost us $113.80 a month. See where the choking came from? Their comprehensive support plan adds amino acids and salt to bring the monthly total to $136.70. To me, this sounds more like a car note.

Surely a balanced diet for my horse does not have to consist of $100+ of supplements a month on top of her daily 8 lbs of senior and 1.5 lb of Empower Boost (Nutrena’s high-fat ration balancer.) This thought brought be back to my book. My plan was to use the book and basic feed stuffs to get their feed bill down just enough so I could afford a joint supplement for Paige. I couldn’t just toss an extra $45 a month in to Smartpak without cutting back somewhere.

Highlighter in hand, I read the book cover-to-cover. I highlighted all the minerals and trace minerals the author had given specific amounts for. In the back of the book, an excerpt from the 2007 Horse Nutritional Requirement Chart (NRC) filled in a lot of the blanks. I started a spreadsheet with all the nutrients listed in their current feeds and from my book. Thankfully, we already fed by weight so it was easy to calculate how much of everything they were already getting. The book also has an appendix for basic forages and concentrates like bermuda hay and oats.

It turns out Kricket was getting pretty overloaded on some things and severely lacking in others. She gets at least 2% of her body weight in tifton 44 a day so she really only needs a vitamin and mineral supplement. (Both my girls weigh the same amount give or take a few pounds, so I fill their hay nets with 3.5% of their weight so if Paige decides to eat it, there will be plenty. The generally accepted rule is 1-2% of their body weight a day in long stem forage.) What we were previously feeding Kricket cost $1.53 a day. 2 lbs of oats costs $.62 a day. The vitamin and mineral supplement I decided on cost $.18 a day and we are paying the same amount for hay. That’s some serious savings.

Paige was a bit more difficult since I can’t bank on her eating any hay much less enough to consistently count for anything. I suspect she does eat a fair amount of hay, since Kricket isn’t a walking balloon, but until Paige gets overweight, I’m not going to factor hay into her diet. Consequently, she has to get everything she needs in her daily diet from the (horribly more expensive) concentrates. Prior to reworking her diet, she received over $4 worth of senior, Empower and alfalfa cubes. Guess what? It still wasn’t enough. At least, it wasn’t enough of some important vitamins and minerals.

I also learned some valuable things about Omega-3s and their relationship with Omega-6s. My nutrition book recommends a ration of 4:1 between 3s and 6s. Sounds pretty basic and doable until you look at the amount of Omega-6s in EVERYTHING. My Empower Boost? It has almost 3 times the Omega-6 than that of Omega-3s. Black oil sunflower seeds? Don’t even try. Corn oil? Worse. I considered forgetting about the balance, thinking it can’t make that much of a difference right? You can’t even get whole flax seed in bulk here and, I mean, I’ve seen the term “anti-inflammatory” thrown around but has anyone even done a study? Yes. Yes they have.

The title of this paper is “Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation Provides Significant Benefits.” Not exactly a grey area apparently. I encourage anyone with horses to read the paper themselves. Personally, it sold me on not only supplementing both my horses with Omega-3s, but to do so with a marine-based supplement. If the idea of feeding your horse fish oil eeks you out, it did so for me too. The numbers don’t lie, though and I am anxious to try it out! From the paper: “The inclusion of omega-3s has the potential to benefit geriatric horses with osteoarthritis, as well as performance horses subjected to high-impact and high stress training, thus potentially improving quality of life and athletic performance.” Bam.

The actual math and balancing of their diets was a bit ridiculous. It wouldn’t have been that bad if everyone gave you the same information on their analyses in the same units. For future reference in case anyone out there is crazy enough to do this too, ppm=mg/kg. That will save you a headache. Therefore ppm/2.2 will give you mg/lb if you’re obnoxiously imperial and feed by the pound like myself. Once you figure all that crap out it isn’t hard to multiply the values by the theoretical amounts of everything you are considering feeding.

Forgive the poor resolution. Damn screenshots. These are just a few columns in the file. There are also columns for the supplements and the totals required for Paige. (Kricket's file is way more boring.)

Forgive the poor resolution. Damn screenshots. These are just a few columns in the file. There are also columns for the supplements and the totals required for Paige. (Kricket’s file is way smaller.)

The biggest issue I ran into was the fact that not everyone gives you an extended analysis. There are a couple of places you can go for some help. For example, http://www.equi-analytical.com will give you actual results for American hay crops for certain years. That helps to guess-timate things like lysine in your hay. It also pays to be obnoxious and contact customer service at the companies that produce what you’re considering feeding. For example, I am currently looking at replacing Paige’s alfalfa cubes with Lucerne Farms’ Hi Fiber feed which is a mixed chopped hay. (The amount of calcium in her diet is a bit ridiculous for her old kidneys.) On their website and packaging they only give you fat, fiber, protein, calcium and phosphorus. I emailed them asking for a more complete analysis and I got back a COMPLETE analysis along with some very encouraging words and well wishes for my old mare.

The moral of the story is that (when the horses are completely switched over to their new diet) they will be on a vitamin/mineral supplement, Omega-3 supplement and be completely balanced (based on the things you see in the screenshot above) and we are SAVING $23 a month. Sometimes, it pays to be a nerd and obsessive mother.

If you are considering doing something similar, look at what your options are at local feed stores first. For example, soybean meal is a fantastic source of protein… and I can’t get it from my preferred feed stores. I also suggest you drive to Mississippi to buy it if you live in Memphis. Mississippi doesn’t charge sales tax on horse and livestock feed.

For your information:

Vitamin/Mineral supplement I chose: Manna Pro Sho-Glo

Omega-3 Supplement: Su-Per Omega Boost

The website gives no analysis so I contacted customer service to receive this:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – 35% min, Omega 6 Fatty Acids – 3% min, Free Fatty Acids – 0.50%, EPA + DHA – 25%, Vitamin E – 50 ppm

If you are interested in a low calcium forage for your oldies: Hi Fiber

I have no affiliation with any of the companies or products listed above. I only wish to save someone the ridiculous amount of time I spent on the web finding this stuff. If anyone has any questions/comments/suggestions or thinks I’m crazy and would like to yell at me via comment, please feel free.


About maremother

I am a wife, designer and mother of 4. (Two horses, a dog and a cat.) I am always attempting to find new and better ways to make my family happy and healthy. This usually involves boring the crap out of my husband with information about natural horse care.
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