Grain and Hay
(From Clare's article archives, Circa 2010-2015)
When it comes to grain, I believe that less is better. In other words, the more that your horse can get from his hay, the better. The less complicated his grain and supplements are, the better. Having said that, I do have some products that
I endorse and, for me, are 'tried and true'.
For digestive issues, I really trust and have had great success with "Forco."
For coat improvement and shine, I really like the "Natural Glo" rice bran pellets.
For weight gain, I've had great luck with "Nutrina Safe Choice." I feel comfortable feeding it to any of my horses, but especially trust it with older horses.
I also really like Purina's "Equine Senior." The horses love the taste, and I think it is an excellent all around good grain.
(Note: the Equine Senior is supposed to be for weight gain and maintenance, and is not supposed to make the horse high. My experience though, is that the molasses does give the horses energy, but only makes the horses high if they are fed quite a bit of it daily.)
For older horses that can no longer properly chew hay, hay pellets should be the primary food source to take the place of hay, not Equine Senior.
And that leads me to the subject of hay.
I prefer that all horses get fed primarily a good quality grass hay. I prefer orchard grass, but there are many variations that are fine too, such as timothy, rye, or wheat. I do believe that there is 'bearded wheat' and 'beardless wheat',
and it is the beardLESS wheat that you want to choose.
O.K...so lets look at how and when the typical hay fed to the average horse changed from alfalfa and oat hay, to grass hay. We can blame it on the warmbloods, that started being purchased and brought over from Europe in the late 70's and early 80's. I remember this clearly, because my dressage instructor at the time was Angela Littlefield, from England, and she was one of the first to bring over a warmblood. His name was "Dux," and he was a Westfalen ( one of the German breeds of warmblood.) I also remember him being a totally different kind of creature than the horses that we Americans were used to working with.
Before the warmblood influx, the typical performance horse was usually a Thoroughbred, Quarter horse, Arabian, maybe Morgan, maybe Paint or Palomino, or some combination of the above. There were: AngloArabs ( Thoroughbred and Arab), Appendix Quarter horses ( Thoroughbred and Quarter horse), Morabs (Arab and Morgan), just to name a few.
Of course, other breeds and combination of breeds were floating about, but these were the majority, at least on the West Coast. These 'American' breeds were used to eating alfalfa and oat hay. Alfalfa is an extremely rich hay, think protein, think race horse. Oat is like carbohydrates. The Europeans don't have alfalfa or oat, they feed the different grass hays.
So, when all the warmbloods started coming in as performance horses, not only did we have to learn how to handle and work with them, but we also had to learn how to feed them. Over the years, grass hay has become the primary hay fed to most performance horses in America, no matter what the breed. I recommend it because it is the closest to natural that a horse would be eating, and it also causes the least problems for the horse,
physically and emotionally.
Among other problems, alfalfa can cause stones, and oat hay can cause gas (both having negative effects on a horses health). And alfalfa tends to make horses really high, which makes them harder to work with, in hand and under saddle.
Note: there are alfalfa/orchard grass mixes, which, depending on the individual horse, can be great. Usually any horse can handle a bit of alfalfa, like 20%, and it just makes them healthier and more energized, in a positive way. But beware, there are a few warmbloods that can't handle any alfalfa at all without getting 'high as a kite.'
A tip for old horses and hay: When a horse gets old enough to start losing their teeth, they will stop being able to eat their hay. You will know because they will start losing weight, pushing their hay around but not eating much of it, and leaving chewed up wads of hay around on the ground. These are caused by the horse mushing the hay around in their mouth and wadding it up, and then spitting it out. If you start seeing these wads of hay in your old horse's pasture or paddock, chances are you need to switch over from hay to hay pellets. Some old horses also need the pellets to be softened by adding water, this turns it into a bit of a mash. The benefits of this are twofold: one, it gets more water into your horse (ALWAYS a good thing!), and two, it helps your older horse
not to choke on their food (always a bad thing!).