In the Netherlands, space is at a premium. That is why it is not always possible to put your horse out on the pasture. How do you deal with that? What should you think about if your horse can’t graze?
In the wild, a horse walks many hours and kilometres a day, together with its herd mates, to gather its food. Even in our modern horses, the whole constitution and digestive system is still set up for this ‘bite-step life’. To keep your horse healthy, you want to approximate this way of life as much as possible. Even if that sometimes requires some creativity.
Free movement and social contact
Free exercise is essential for your horse’s physical and mental health. Horses’ joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles stay in better condition if he is outside for many hours or even around the clock. In addition, social contact is very important. A horse is a herd animal and likes to stand together, play and groom with regular buddies. This reduces stress and improves your horse’s mental resilience. Even if you don’t have a pasture, your horse needs free movement together with friends. In a paddock or paddock paradise, for example. However, it is important that your horse does not go too long without roughage. That can lead to stomach problems, boredom and sand eating. It is also nice if there is more to do in the paddock. For example, playing with a ball, walking on different surfaces or nibbling on a natural fence of edible bushes and trees.
There is nothing better than grass
With the exception of very sober breeds, a pasture of herb-rich and fibrous horse grass is actually the ideal food supply for most horses. Especially if there are also bushes and trees along the edge, from which they can occasionally take a bite. A pasture fertilised with pasture minerals from the Bering Sea contains grass that provides the vitamins, minerals and trace elements your horse needs. Fresh grass, for example, contains enough vitamin E for muscles, fertility and the nervous system, and plants such as nettle and willow provide minerals including magnesium and silicon. In short: you cannot compete with a good horse pasture. If your horse does not get any grazing at all, you should therefore pay close attention to the right feed. This is because many vitamins expire if you store hay for a long time. In spring, for instance, there is almost no vitamin E and vitamin C in hay. And roughage from poorer soils is pretty poor in minerals.
Supplementing minerals and vitamins
The easiest way is to complement your horse’s hay with a special balancer. To know exactly what your horse needs, you can have the hay tested. Then you will know what’s in it and you can supplement any deficiencies. Usually, you will have to feed vitamin E in any case, especially in breeding animals and sport horses. Make sure you always feed vitamin E in a form that is easy for horses to absorb. This comes very close: the best forms of vitamin E for horses are d-α-tocopherol and RRR-α-tocopherol. These forms are also called natural or ‘nature-like’ vitamin E. Artificial vitamin E is much less well absorbed by horses, but is often cheaper. However, you need to feed (much) more to achieve the same effect. A good vitamin E supplement is liquid and also contains some fatty acids. Grapeseed oil, a strong antioxidant, enhances the effect of a vitamin E supplement. Selenium is also often added to vitamin E supplements, but if your horse has a high requirement for vitamin E, this is a risk. In fact, selenium can be toxic in moderate amounts. For young horses and sport horses, the mineral silicon is also essential. Silicon helps build strong bones, tendons, muscles and ligaments. It is best to give this mineral in the form of hydrolysed, liquid silicon.
Let your horse choose
To allow your horse to replenish any deficiencies on its own, you can offer a mineral buffet in your paddock. That is a row of buckets filled with water and containing various additives. For example, rose hip (rich in vitamin C), nettle (light detoxification) and a mineral supplement from herbs. Always put fresh drinking water without additives there too. Your horse can then choose what it needs.
Want to know what other types of roughage there are? Read it here