The dietary needs of horses are very specific as they are herbivores and also the fact that they have a digestive tract which is so different from ours. When feeding horses, it is important to keep in view that there are basic nutrient categories which are relevant to them like in humans. They are carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water along with spices.
Carbohydrates: Pasture grass, hay and certain grains constitute the natural diet of a horse. It needs no emphasis that good quality hay (free of mould and dust) and cut at an appropriate length apart from being at a stage of maturity are important while feeding a horse. In fact, the digestive system of a horse is so sensitive that hay which has too coarse a stem or that is too fine, can cause impactions which is a digestive disorder. Another traditional grain fed to horses is oats. Small amount of other grains like corn may also be fed but in moderate quantity. Wheat is one grain which is not good for horses. Less roughage can lead to health disorders like colic and ulcers.
Protein: Horses that are yet to attain maturity in age and those which undergo vigorous training, require more protein in their diet. However, it must be kept in mind that subjecting horses to higher levels of proteins than what is needed will facilitate excretion of urea in urine followed by pronounced conversion to ammonia thereby leading to respiratory irregularities. Foods high in quality proteins are soyabean, tickbeans, lupins etc.
Fats: It is well known that horses don’t have gall bladder. Despite this, they digest fat well if introduced gradually in their diet. Fat lowers the risk of colic and laminitis by inherently reducing the amount of starch in the food that the horses consume. Their natural diet of primarily fresh and dried forages contains approximately 3 - 5% fat. Rice bran and flaxseed oil are both palatable to horses.
Vitamins: One unique feature of the digestive system in horses is that vitamin C is synthesized on its own which implies that external feeding of this vitamin is not required. Microbes located in the large intestine of horses have the inherent ability to synthesize the B complex vitamins and vitamin K. Good quality hay provides vitamin A and E wherein, sunlight takes care of vitamin D.
Minerals: It is vital that the calcium and phosphorus ratio in horses be maintained optimally. Horses that are indulged in even moderate work, sweat heavily and thus, lose electrolytes through their sweat. For these category of horses, it is essential to supply salt as well as additional electrolytes.
Turmeric: Just like humans, horses are vulnerable to oxidative stress. If a horse is old and suffering from any type of chronic condition, he may benefit well from this antioxidant. Even a performance horse can benefit immensely from this. Turmeric is especially beneficial for horses suffering from stiff joints and itchy skin conditions. It also facilitates support to the digestive system. However, this should be introduced to the horse’s diet slowly and then built up gradually over a week or two.