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What is a balanced diet for horses?

When there are no nutrient deficiences and balanced ratios so that no one mineral causes another mineral to be deficient for the whole intake.

Balanced Equine can provide an optimal, balanced diet for horses based on data, and take into account breed, age, workload, reproductive and health status. Or learn how to do this yourself by enrolling in NRCPlus, the 10 week online course provided by Dr Eleanor Kellon VMD. NRCPlus is accredited for further education for American vets. You don’t need to be a vet to benefit enormously from Dr Kellon’s courses. Horse owners from all around the world enrol in NRCPlus.

A balanced diet for horses is an intake that has more than adequate nutrient levels with all the minerals in the right proportions. A balanced diet for horses can solve a lot of problems you may be dealing with. All the following can be symptoms of a nutrient deficient or imbalanced diet:

  • Dull or sunbleached coats or a rust look in dark manes


  • Poor immune system unable to deal well with infections like greasy heel/mud fever, rain scald, weeping eyes


  • Poor hoof quality, slow growth rate, hoof cracks


  • ‘Big head’ if your horse is on Kikuyu or Setaria or other oxalate grasses


  • Topline and general muscle building issues


  • Muscle and nerve issues/twitching/overly sensitive behaviours


  • Your horse may fatigue easily when asked to perform


  • That feeling that your horse is simply ‘not right’


  • A horse with too much energy, easily over excited


  • Diarrhoea issues or grass/hay bellies


  • Fertility issues in stallions and mares


  • Joint/limb issues in a developing foetus or foal


  • Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)


The basic nutritional management for horses should be the same, whether you have a much loved member of the family in the back paddock or are feeding a horse to win an endurance ride, a competitive trail ride, or the Melbourne Cup. The ultimate goal in feeding should be to have a healthy horse able to perform at the best of their ability at their level of fitness and conditioning with a robust immune system. A balanced diet includes all the essential nutrients in the proper proportion and sufficient amounts.

Dr. Eleanor Kellon VMD, says

Healthy young to middle-aged adult horses will tolerate a wide range of minimal imbalances with no obvious outward signs, but many of the things we take for granted as ‘usual’ in horses, such as sun-bleaching, tendon/ligament/joint issues, immune system imbalances, poor fertility, muscle and nerve problems, bone problems can all have a nutritional component. All problems are a combination of genetics and outside influences. The list of outside influences is huge, but worth investigating since it’s in our control. Horses on pasture, not under any stress, may show no outward signs at all of mineral deficiencies – until their immune system is stressed, they become ill or have an injury.

Feeding horses properly is an art and a science. Working out the best diet for your horse or horses from the enormous and confusing array of commercial feeds and supplements, or from more than 100 basic feed ingredients listed in the 2007 ‘Nutrient Requirements of Horses’ from the National Research Council (NRC) can be overwhelming. There are so many products on the market for a huge spectrum of issues that you could easily over supplement, especially performance horses by concerned horse owners. This is not in the best interests of your horses.

Burt Staniar, PhD, assistant professor of equine nutrition at the Pennsylvannia State University USA, says

Not only must we supply proper amounts of certain minerals and protein a certain horse requires, but also be aware of energy in the diet and how it affects the horse’s metabolism. We must understand how the way we feed horses affects growth, maintenance and performance.

The easiest and best way to know what your horse’s intake is deficient in, or what is excessive and out of balance to achieve true balance, is to test the forage, what your horses eat. It’s not an exact science but the best approach we have in terms of accuracy.

Other methods have been suggested as viable for working out what is deficient in the intake, what is in excess and what needs to be supplemented. The following are not designed for this, the following links will take you to more information:

Hair testing

Blood testing

Soil testing

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