The natural horse that lives in the wild is a magnificent example of how nature truly takes care of its own.
In this post we’re going to examine how the “natural” horse is hard-wired to stay healthy through diet ...
Let’s take a close look at what kind of feed and nutrition is exampled by nature for Equus caballus –
Horses are designed to survive on forage.
What is forage?
Grasses, seeds, roots, nuts, tree bark, leaves, cacti, flowers, herbs, weeds, and shrubs.
Depending on where in the world the feral horse lives dictates what kind of forage dominates that particular horse’s diet.
In the United States the feral horse lives in areas that range from desert to mountains to oceanside. In the desert, the wild horse has been observed to eat sagebrush, cactus and the bits and pieces of scrub grasses that it is afforded. The horse that lives in the mountains will have a variety of trees, grasses, leaves, nuts and seeds while the horse that inhabits the shorelines eat seaweed, salt marsh hay, grasses and other vegetation that is indigenous to the particular area.
The horse grazes 18 – 20 hours during a 24-hour period of time carefully selecting the bit of forage it wants and snipping it off with precision lined teeth as they move slowly along their grazing territory. The forage is broken down into ¼” to ½” lengths which then pass readily through the digestive system slowly as the body takes in the necessary nutrients from the naturally grown plant and root matter. Rarely, in any location, will a wild horse have an abundance of grain to eat and rarely will the feral horse have rich, lush, fields of green pasture to graze. The herds eat the grasses down before they have a chance to flower and produce seed heads (grain) that allow for regeneration of the grasses.
Anatomically, forages are digested in the large intestine of the horse slowly while grains are digested quickly through the small intestine in the matter of just minutes. The constant grazing of the slowly digested forage ensures that the acids produced constantly by the cecum always have something to work on and the horse’s digestive system is never empty.
The slow digestive process also assures that the maximum nutrients are obtained by the body. The small amounts of grain available to the natural, feral horses are merely considered bonuses to the diet. Think of grain as ‘candy’ … treats.
Some of you might be familiar with that old Rump Roast story. You know, the one where the young wife is carving off the ends of the roast and her husband asks why? She simply answers, “Because that’s the way I was taught!”. When she asked her Mom why, she replied the same, “Because that’s the way I was taught!”. So, Mom decided to ask Gram and Gram answered, “Well, when I first got married I didn’t have a whole lot of things. I didn’t have a pan that would fit a Rump Roast so I used to cut the ends off the roast so it would fit in the pan!”
So the story goes … and goes … and goes for generations.
The same could be said about the feed and management care of horses!
Throughout generations we’ve seen the equine feed management shift gears significantly from feeding entire corn cobs to feeding multi-grained, heavily supplemented, artificially processed grainstuffs. The ingredients on some of our Equine grain bags that are offered in the market today are almost indecipherable with the additives, preservatives, and supplements added to the foundation grains.
There’s nothing to read on a simple corn cob!
However, now we have researchers telling us that high sugar and carbohydrates are causing a myriad of varied gastrointestinal and metabolic disturbances thus the demand, recently, has been for processed grains with low carbohydrate and sugar counts. Yet horses continue to become more and more sickly in spite of technology's best efforts to produce a nutrient complete diet for the horses. It sometimes seems like we all need PhD’s to decipher a healthy diet for our horses. A simple look at the natural horse and the natural diet goes a long way to the determination of what, exactly, our horse needs in terms of nutrition and diet.
Simplicity … natural simplicity.
Simple grasses, fruits, vegetables of sorts, nuts, seeds and herbs and weeds. All forages.
Feed the horse -- feed the hooves! … naturally.
Here you can find a list of foods that are safe and beneficial for feeding horses AND their hooves. The Equine Fresh Diet
Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf