Nothing gives me more joy than to see one of our rescued horses finding a loving adoptive family. Since its founding several years ago, our equine rescue ranch’s mission has been to save as many horses as we can and to find them homes. Being an adoptive family for a horse is not a decision to be taken lightly. Along with matters of the heart come several vital responsibilities.
Your Equine Companion’s Nutrition
Providing adequate care for a horse is not cheap. Many of our rescues have come to our ranch due to neglect. While some cases were intentional, others were instances where people just did not have the money and resources for proper care. In addition to exercise, grooming, shelter, socialization, and regular medical care, horses require proper nutrition.
Feeding your horses is not as simple as throwing them a bale of straw, a bucket of oats, and the occasional carrots. Our four-legged friends have specific nutritional needs for each stage of their lives—just like a human. Fortunately, vets and certified equine nutritionists can advise us about specific challenges. Not all horses have the same nutritional requirements; so, they cannot always be fed the same things.
When Senior Feed May Benefit An Adult Or Younger Horse
Many horse owners have animals with age differences. It may seem reasonable that if a nutritional plan is good for one horse, it should be fine for the whole herd. Like us, you may have a few “gray mares” mixed in your herd of younger horses. Do any of your adult or younger horses eat senior feed? We have several horses on our ranch that do.
Since most of our horses have suffered trauma, abuse, and neglect, their dietary needs are often different than a horse of the same age. Scarlet, one of our 7- year-old equine rescues, eats senior formula per our resident nutritionist. She has a low immune system and has trouble gaining weight, so she has the same formula that we give to Maude, a spry 21-year-old mare. Here are some nutritional reasons why a veterinarian or equine nutritionist may approve senior feed for younger horses:
• Calorie Requirements: The daily calorie requirement your horse needs is based on his/her age, weight, health, and activity. In a popular brands comparison compiled by the Animal Health Foundation, most senior formulas have an average of 1,200-1,500 calories per pound. This average may not be within the guidelines that your vet or equine nutritionist would recommend for all your horses.
Since most senior feeds have fewer carbohydrates and more fiber, they may benefit younger horses that have a nervous condition, or those that are too thin and have trouble maintaining their weight, such as our Scarlet. Your vet or nutritionist may also recommend senior feed if your younger horse has digestive issues.
• Antioxidants: Scientific studies in human nutrition demonstrate how beneficial antioxidants are for our bodies—especially as we get older. The same benefits seem to apply to horses as well. Antioxidants fight the free radicals in the cells that can cause certain diseases and premature aging.
Most senior feed formulas are fortified with Vitamins E and C, which are potent antioxidants. Horses get lots of Vitamin E from the vegetable oils in their feed. Not all horses are healthy enough for their livers to synthesize Vitamin C, so a senior formula might be right for them. If your horse takes vaccines and travels with you a lot, this extra dose of antioxidants may be recommended.
• Proteins: Horses are unbelievably strong animals, and they need protein to build their prominent muscles. They also need protein to grow and maintain a healthy coat and hooves. The Extension Agency of the University of Georgia recommends that most growing horses get between 12-18 percent crude protein in their daily food.
However, says the source, most senior horses only need about 8-12 percent. If your senior feed is at the higher range (at least 12%), it may be fine for a younger horse that is training or does not get enough protein from forage. Again, this is something to decide with the vet and nutritionist.
When Is Senior Feed Not A Good Plan?
Even at the same ages and health conditions, not every young horse will benefit from eating a senior feed. For some, this nutritional plan could be detrimental to their health. Before we start our rescue horses on any feeding plan, we discuss it with our vets and Ben, our resident equine nutritionist. We trust his extensive training and experience. These are some concerns of Ben and other nutritionists:
• The nutritional needs of all growing animals (including humans) are higher than for adults. Ben states that young foals and yearlings require certain levels of vitamins and minerals, and a senior formula would not be sufficient for them. Calcium, phosphorous, and lysine (an amino acid) is vital for younger horses to develop into healthy adults. If they do not get it, they can face many developmental and health issues.
• If your equine companion works on the farm or is involved in equine sports, he/she needs more calories and soluble carbohydrates for energy, Ben advises. Senior formulas are usually lower in sugars and carbs, because older animals are not as active. These feeds may not give your performance horse all the nutrition that is needed.
These are some nutritional guidelines to remember if you own horses or are considering adopting one. Of course, there are other nutritional matters, such as forage, supplements, and hydration to discuss with the professionals. As our animals’ best friend, we owe it to them to seek out the best dietary recommendations for their optimal health. Our ranch has seen many sick and malnourished animals recover and thrive with the correct medical and nutritional regimens.
Some of your human best friends can be your local vet and certified equine nutritionist. Every time I look at our rescued horses, like Scarlet, or a little burro named Rufus, I am grateful for the knowledge our medical/nutritional team provides. We are what we eat, so make sure your four-footed friend has the best!