Humans have been feeding horses for centuries, so you would think that we'd have it just about figured out by now. Yet new research seems to come out every year. We currently know more about the nutritional needs and requirements of horses than we have ever known. The recent American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention held in Denver in December marked yet another step forward in both knowledge and confusion relating to equine nutrition. Knowledge stems from the scientific community providing diets that can aid in the treatment of many equine diseases, and confusion persists because these varying diets will make feeding decisions and feeding practices much more difficult for horse owners and trainers.
This horse shows a cresty neck and fat deposits behind the elbow and along the hips and rump. It could be insulin resistant/glucose intolerant, pre-laminitic Cushingoid, or simply fed too much for its work level. A horse with any of these possible conditions will benefit from a feed that has a low sugar/low starch base along with other components that can help the body respond to these potential problems. (Photo: Ken Marcella)
Most of the major feed companies were in attendance at the trade show at the AAEP convention, and almost all were giving out new educational materials to veterinarians. A slow progressive trend toward specialty feeds during the past few years finally has become a fully developed concept, and now there are a large number of specific feeds, each targeted at a specific equine disease or condition. At first, the needs of young, growing, working, sedentary and older horses were separated, and veterinarians and owners were introduced to feeding for different life stages. Now there are feeds for many disease conditions, and owners have many more choices to make. This adds to the uneasiness felt by horse owners when it comes to choosing feeds for their animals.
A recent survey conducted by Triple Crown Nutrition shows that veterinarians are the most recognized source of feeding information for horse owners. It will be the equine veterinarian's job to introduce clients to this new feeding concept and to help them deal with the confusion that all these new choices will create. Additionally, trainers with large barns full of horses will have to try to negotiate between the benefits of many specialty feeds and the realities of management limitations. The more horses receiving individual feeds, the more chances for confusion and mistakes because, in most commercial operations, the owners/trainers seldom are doing the actual feeding themselves. Will the thin horse in heavy work stalled next to the laminitis-prone overweight horse lead to a problem if individual feeds are swapped mistakenly? Again, clients most likely will look to their veterinarians for nutritional and management advice.
Condition specificMost feed companies are addressing the same diseases and types of equine disorders. These individual companies may vary slightly on the content of a feed targeted for a specific disease, but most of the feeding principles being used by all companies are the same. A look at the general concepts used to design feeds for specific conditions may help veterinarians understand these diets and their potential uses better.