April's enews from Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr, Independent Equine Nutritionist. Nutrient Focus, Q&A, Research snippets and more... 


Spring seems to be arriving, finally. We’ve waited patiently! The grass should start growing now that the sun is warming the soil. The delayed spring grass growth caused many of us to feed hay or haylage for much longer than usual, so we are facing a bigger forage bill than expected. The lack of grass has caused many pastures to get overgrazed, so they may need extra rest as the grass tries to get going. The lack of spring grass is good news for good doers and laminitics, but keep a close eye on them once the grass does start sprouting.
March was a month full of talks, lectures and workshops for me, and it was great to meet so many enthusiastic students, eager to learn. Nutrition is a complicated subject, but if you can understand the foundation, then you will feel more confident and able to choose feeding strategies that optimise the health and welfare of your horse or pony.
This month, in preparation for summer riding activities, I will be fitting plenty of riding and other exercise around my work. The only way to get fitter is get out there and exercise! 

Research snippet: Equine Metabolic Syndrome - an overused term?

Not strictly research this month, but an interesting blog from the team at Spillers made a good point, worth sharing. The term Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) was coined about a decade ago, after comparison to a similar (but not exactly the same) syndrome in humans. The term was used to describe a condition characterised by laminitis, obesity and insulin resistance in horses and ponies, and was defined as “a collection of risk factors that are associated with an increased susceptibility to laminitis” (excerpt from EMS diagnostic information sheet from the Liphook Equine Hospital). Stating that an overweight horse has EMS without any veterinary diagnosis is incorrect and – as described in the blog below – could be unhelpful in choosing the best management and feeding strategies. Horses or ponies without all three characteristics cannot be described as having EMS. Further study is necessary to better understand the syndrome and other diagnostic indicators including blood pressure and fat-associated hormones are under investigation.
To read the Spillers blog, click on the link:
Nevertheless, although your overweight horse or pony might not have EMS, they should have management and feeding strategies put in place to cause them to become (and maintain) a healthy weight, and all horses and ponies who are sound benefit from exercise.

Nutrient focus
Let’s take a look at another essential macronutrient this month – protein. Protein is often misunderstood, especially in horse nutrition! Protein myths include: it builds muscle (on its own), it cause laminitis, it causes tying up, it causes fizziness, it causes bumps and lumps (amount of protein, not type), it causes leg swelling and working horses need high levels because it ‘fuels’ exercise.
Protein does none of the above, but it is still an essential nutrient because it’s a source of essential amino acids. Protein is essential for body tissue repair and normal turnover and for enzymes, hormones, and transport compounds. It is essential for muscle growth, but only after stimulation via exercise.
Proteins are complex compounds that are made up of chains of amino acids, which are broken down via the digestive process. Horses, like other animals, cannot make all their own amino acids that they require to build body protein, but they can make some amino acids from others. These are called essential amino acids and must be supplied by the diet if the horse is to stay healthy. The quality of protein refers to its content of essential amino acids. The essential amino acid present in the lowest quantity in feeds can be called the ‘limiting’ amino acids, and in most equine feeds this is lysine, followed by threonine then methionine. Feeds that are lysine rich include soya bean meal, sunflower seeds and linseed (oilseeds) and these are included in compound feeds to supply good quality protein in horse diets.
Adult horses need just 656 g protein in 10 kg feed intake (typical 500 kg horse) which is just over 6.5% in the total diet. In light work they need 820 g and in moderate work, 984 g. The increase in energy required for working horses will usually meet the increase in protein requirement, if a good quality diet is fed. Growing youngsters and lactating mares have much higher protein requirements.
Good growing grass supplies around 16% protein and 0.7% lysine, so it is a good source of protein for adult horses, in all levels of work. A horse eating 10 kg dry matter of such grass would receive 1600 g protein and 70 g lysine (adult hard working horse needs about 46 g daily). Good grass hay usually contains between 8 and 11% protein; plenty for horses in light or moderate work.
Compound feeds supply protein levels that will balance poor forage, and they contain good quality protein to ensure that lysine isn’t a limiting factor in health. Pelleted balancers contain a source of good quality protein as well as vitamins and minerals to balance a forage diet, and can be a useful way of balancing forage of questionable protein content e.g. very late cut hay or hay that is soaked for more than a few hours.
If you want to read more about protein, amino acids and their functions in the horse’s body, please refer to chapter 4 of my book ‘The Truth About Feeding Your Horse’, available from my website at
Growing grass is a good source of protein for horses

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Quote of the month: 

Physical fitness can neither be achieved by wishful thinking nor outright purchase” Joseph Pilates

April's Practical Tip
Value for money
Get to know exactly what your chosen feeds and supplements supply in order to feed only those that are necessary to balance your horse’s forage, along with those that have therapeutic benefits. Investigate different sources of nutrients to ensure you get value for money. There is no point in buying a supplement that costs £20 per month if it supplies less than half the recommended amount of an active ingredient e.g. biotin or glucosamine. Pay more and feed a well-formulated supplement that supplies levels of ingredients that are more likely to have a beneficial effect. Likewise, there is no point in paying more for an expensive compound feed then feeding just a scoopful of it – if you are not feeding the full recommended amount of a compound, change to a different product e.g. a pelleted balancer or multi-vitamin and mineral supplement and mix with a small amount of a less expensive feed simply to ensure your horse eats up.

Linseeds are grown for their high content of oil.


Please email with ‘Enews question’ in the subject box if you would like to have your question answered. Thanks to Vikki Fear for this one.

Omega-3 fats for Horses
Q: I was wondering whether horses have the same requirements for omega 3 fats as humans? And if it is important to them, whether they can easily obtain it from their forage diet (green grass or hay/haylage)?
A: Yes, horses – like humans - do have a requirement for the two essential fatty acids, alpha (α) linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid (FA) also called ALA), and linoleic acid (an omega-6 FA also called LA). How much of each and the best ratio are unknown for horses. However, we tend to use a ratio of between 4 to 1 and 1 to 1 omega-6 to -3 FA as appropriate. There is enough ALA for horses in grass and hay/haylage. Horses seem to need very little fat in their diets and forage contains about 4%. High grain, low forage diets (high in omega-6 FA) should ideally be supplemented with omega-3 FA e.g. from linseed oil. Or, alternatively, even better, feed less grain and more forage. A high fibre, low grain diet should provide enough essential fatty acids for most horses. Some, however, with poor coats, skin or hoof health can benefit from extra supplementation, especially of ALA. The richest vegetable source of ALA is linseed (flaxseed), followed by rapeseed.


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