Nutrition for Horses: Grain

Welcome to the next installment of Nutrition for Horses! I have to say, I’ve quite enjoyed researching and reviewing horse nutrition. It’s such a fascinating subject, one that might be overlooked when competing is far more interesting (I am sooo guilty of this!).

Today I want to talk about grain. Grain is a never ending battle for me. I feel like feed companies come out with new stuff all the time and my first instinct is to question everything I have Raven on and completely switch everything (which, you shouldn’t do. Don’t do this all the time, it’s bad.) Honestly, I feel this way because I may or may not have FOMO when it comes to having the bestest, fastest, perfectest horse. I have no idea if people also have this issue, but if you do, keep reading this post and maybe we can cure this weird mental state of ours 🙂

Ok, so grain was invented to supplement a horse’s diet. Forage is great, and usually has enough nutrients and such for a maintenance diet, but not enough for a horse in work. If your horse has trouble keeping weight, staying sound, constantly has gut issues, or maybe is in a weird head funk, grain might help!

There are many types of grain. There could be an entire blog dedicated to learning about the different grains and feed companies out there. I’m not even going to try, just because veterinarians and equine nutritionists (not to mention those feed companies) have a much better platform and better credentials to talk about that stuff. What I want to talk about today revolves around a couple things.

  1. The bases of each grain type
  2. What avenues to look down when you are trying to pick a grain

Let’s get right to it, then! Starting with the base of grain. Grain will usually be loaded with carbs. Horses are better with structural carbohydrates (you know this, forage?) and fatty acids. This is because of how their gut processes things. This is why everyone and their mother talks about using grain to supplement. I know, I know, you’re all saying, “Kait, but what about complete feed?!?!?” Yes. Complete feed is formulated differently and can be fed on its own.

It contains more structural carbohydrates. That being said, a good rule of thumb is to always let your horse have some forage. Hay and grass is what your horse was born to eat, so why stop them? If your horse still has teeth to chow down on grass, then the safest way to go is hay.

Ok, so, remember: grain = carbohydrates. These are soluble carbs (meaning your horse can absorb them). Carbohydrates are good, but its best to balance them with something. This is why owners don’t feed just regular oats to horses regularly. Balance carbs with fiber, and something that horses can produce fatty acids from. This will not upset their stomach, and meet their energy requirements.

Takeaway: find a grain with higher fat, less starch, and high fiber. This will help your horse digest their food and reduce the occurrence of colic.

Now, lets think about the avenues to find a grain for your horse. Your best bet is to consult your vet, or have a nutritionist come out. These professionals can assess your horse and help you select a diet specifically for them. If you don’t want to do this, the next best thing is the internet.

The internet is full of expert advice and amateur opinions (I’m lumped in with the amateurs, so I’m not hatin’ on anyone). While it’s easy to get sucked in to the horse forums, the best information is from free scientific research papers. Seriously! Look up what you want to know, and find a scientific paper about it. You usually won’t be able to get the whole thing, but you can at least read the abstract. Scientists are putting their work out there for you to learn. Take advantage of it!

I also use feed companies websites. And not just one! I go on Purina, Adeptus, Nutrena, Equipride, Platinum, SmartPak…literally any feed company brand. Usually they have blogs about nutrition that are really helpful. The product descriptions also work! Utilize their websites to learn more about their different grains, and how they could help your horse.

Grain is a tricky subject, so I’m planning on posting another blog about how to choose a grain. But before I get into that, let me just review what this mish-mash was all about:

  1. Grain is mainly composed of carbs. Depending on your horse’s diet, you need to be careful of high-starch grain!
  2. Go to feed company websites, look up horse research papers, and read other blog posts about what people recommend. Oh! And the reviews of different grain. I love reading these reviews.

I know that this was a bit of a rambly post, but hopefully it sparks some ideas in your head! Also, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you horse is going wonderfully and you don’t want to change anything, honestly don’t change it.

Alright! Everyone, take it one stride at a time and I’ll talk more on grain soon!

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