top of page

Horse Feeding Myths & Misconceptions

Research studies have proven that adding wheat bran to the diet does not have a laxative effect. Loose stools because of a bran mash could be caused rather from digestive upset because of the high starch. Wheat bran fed long-term can result in a higher phosphorous to calcium ratio which can lead to mineral deficiencies and an unbalanced diet. (1)

"High Protein Diets Cause DODs in Growing Horses"

Nutrition, exercise and genetics all have roles in the development of healthy bone in the growing horse, yet these same factors are linked to developmental orthopedic disease (DOD). Mineral imbalances, not excessive protein, have been documented as a cause of DOD. Feeding more protein than the growing horse needs does not increase the growth rate and restricting protein will not result in improved bone growth. However, restricting protein by decreasing feed intake will affect growth rate and skeletal development. DOD problems occur mostly as a result of overfeeding, especially if protein and mineral intake are not increased at the same time. (1)

"High Protein Feeds Make My Horse Excitable"

There is no research to show feeding excess protein causes “hot” behavior or excitability in the horse. There have been studies showing that a diet high in soluble carbohydrates (starch and simple sugars) is related to more excitable behavior. There is also research to suggest that overfeeding grain will also increase excitable behavior. So high protein is not the problem, but rather the high carbohydrates found in feeds or hays (ie. alfalfa). Feeding more protein than the horse requires results in more heat and ammonia produced in the horse’s body but does not necessarily correspond to the horse being "hot". (1)

"Beet Pulp Must Be Soaked Before Feeding"

Will unsoaked beet pulp swell and block the esophagus or rupture the horse’s stomach? Choke associated with beet pulp is usually caused by a rapid eating rate (bolting) and inadequate chewing, inadequate access to water, a raised feeder (not at ground level) and inadequate chewing, and particle size (pelleted and finely shredded beet pulp). It is also not likely that dry beet pulp will rupture the horse’s stomach because the stomach has the capacity to hold 4.5 to 9.5 pounds of dry beet pulp, which is much more than most horse owners would feed in a single meal. If you don’t soak beet pulp before feeding, provide lots of water to drink and feed the beet pulp close to the ground to minimize choking. Benefits of soaking: Soaking beet pulp makes it easier to chew; more palatable; provides a good medium to add supplements or medications; reduces the chance of choke. (1)

"Alfalfa is Too Rich to be Safely Fed to Horses"

"Alfalfa contains more protein, digestible energy and calcium than grass hays, but it is usually lower in soluble sugars. Its reputation for being “rich” may stem from the highly nutritious leaves, which are more digestible than most hays and can contribute to gastrointestinal upset and even colic if introduced too quickly into a horse’s diet. It’s wise to gradually introduce alfalfa hay to your horse’s diet, just as you would acclimate him to lush pasture grass. Most horses would get obese if fed good quality alfalfa free-choice, so it is usually best fed in limited amounts, supplemented with grass hay that provides adequate “chew time” to ward off boredom." (2) Benefits of feeding Alfalfa: protects against ulcers due to the buffering effects of the higher protein and calcium; research has proven that alfalfa will not cause, and may actually prevent, developmental orthopedic disorders in young horses.

"Corn, Barley and Oats are “Heating” Feeds and Should be Fed in Winter"

"Heat increment refers to the amount of heat produced due to the digestion, absorption and metabolism of feedstuffs in the horse’s body. Heat increment is greater for fibrous feedstuffs like hay that must be fermented in the large intestine of the horse compared to feedstuffs high in starch like corn, barley and oats. So feeding more hay during winter weather would be more advantageous to the horse. A diet with more hay would generate more heat and assist with maintaining the horse’s body temperature, because during cold weather heat is lost from the horse’s body at a greater rate. The horse’s metabolic rate and calorie loss is greater during cold weather as it tries to maintain normal body temperature." (1). So in other words it is the bacteria in the gut digesting the fibre in the hay that produces the most amount of heat.

"Always Feed Hay Before Grain"

Studies have proved that offering your horse hay before you give him grain has no advantage over feeding both hay and grain at the same time or offering grain first and then hay, as in most cases. However the problem with large amounts of grain being flushed through the digestive tract is that less starch is digested from the grain in the small intestine, and more starch passes into the large intestine, where it can cause problems ie. colic. For most horses that are fed no more than 0.5% of their body weight per feeding (i.e. 5 pounds for a 1,000-pound horse or 6 pounds for a 1,200-lb horse) it won’t make any difference; feeding hay and grain at the same time is ok. If you are feeding larger amounts of grain (more than 5 or 6 pounds) per feeding, consider going to a controlled starch or fiber-based horse feed (maximum of 20% starch). If you have a horse with a chronic history of gas colic or founder, switch to a lower starch feed and consider providing more separation between hay and grain meals to minimize the amount of starch escaping to the large intestine. (1)

"Concentrates or Grain Form the Foundation of a Horse’s Diet; Hay is Secondary"

Forage (pasture, hay) should always make up 60-100% of a horse's diet. Concentrated feeds or grains are necessary only for hardworking equine athletes, lactating mares and other horses with higher energy demands, or when the hay available does not provide sufficient calories and other nutrients (in which case a supplement may be all that is needed). Nonetheless, in a balanced equine diet, concentrates should never comprise more than half of a total ration. Most horses do well if they receive about 2 percent of their body weight in forage per day. (2)

"Feeding in Raised Feeders is Better for My Horse"

Horses are designed to eat off the ground: the lower jaw slides forward into proper grinding position only when its head is down. Eating from a raised feeder results in improperly chewed food, improper tooth wear, decreased saliva, increased incidence of choke, and respiratory issues from more inspired dust and mold in hay and grain. (1)

"Weight Issues Are Solely Related to How a Horse is Fed"

Not necessarily.... weight issues (under/over weight) may be the result of various conditions or diseases such as dental issues, parasite loading, systemic illnesses, metabolic issues, laminitis, etc. If a horse is having weight issues seek the attention of a qualified vet to determine if there are any underlying problems. (2)

"Letting a Hot Horse Drink Cold Water is Dangerous"

Research has repeatedly shown that a hot, sweaty horse who drinks cold water is not at a greater risk of colic, cramping or laminitis. However withholding water can lead to dangerous dehydration. It is best to allow your horse to drink when he is most thirsty, which is probably right after a workout. Waiting until he is “cool” may result in him drinking less, even if he is dehydrated. (2)

(1) Dr. Marty Adams (PhD Equine Nutrition)

(2) Equus Magazine:

REMEMBER TO: Always provide salt and fresh water, make diet changes gradually over 10-14 days, feed smaller meals more often rather than 2 large meals per day, provide regular exercise and daily companionship for your equine. Horses are foragers and herd animals regardless of what we expect from them. Practice good horse ownership!


Healthy Horses. Happy Owners. Superior Results!

The articles contained in this column are for the purpose of education and are not intended to take the place of proper veterinary care. They may be used in conjunction with such care to facilitate healing and maintain health of the horse.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
bottom of page