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


We’re into July and the warm, wet weather continues. What a spurt of grass we have! However, we really do need some dry weather for hay and haylage making, without which our winter forage could be very expensive. Probably due to all this grass, I keep seeing very fat horses being ridden around the lanes, which is unfortunate considering the amount of awareness and information available about the health hazards of obesity in horses. Owners of good doers usually have to work hard at keeping their horses at a healthy weight, but this effort will pay off in health benefits for the horse.
Apologies to those who had to wait for books recently, after I sold out at a couple of talks I gave last month. It was great to get so much interest, and we had lots of juicy questions too. Recently I attended an exercise physiology conference at Aintree, for CPD (Continued Professional Development). Some interesting research was presented, some of which is outlined here.
If you are going on holiday and someone else is looking after your horse, consider a bespoke Horsecare and Feeding poster to give them all the information they need including your horse’s feeding regime, and numbers for vet, farrier/trimmer, physio, feed merchant and more. Your poster even includes a picture of your horse. See  

Feed Focus: Alfalfa

Alfalfa is a relatively recent addition to UK horse feed buckets, but it has become a staple for many horses, albeit in small quantities. In Europe and Australasia, alfalfa is usually called lucerne.  Alfalfa is a legume, rather than a grass plant, so it is quite different as a feedstuff for horses when compared to grass. Legumes include peas and clover, and they are deeper rooting and tougher plants than grasses, meaning they can survive in drier climates. Being deeper rooting means they contain higher levels of minerals than grass. They fix nitrogen into the ground so do not require nitrogen fertilisation for good yields, and the crop can be harvested several times in the growing season.
Alfalfa can be made into hay or cut and flash-dried and made into chaff, or ground and pelleted. In the UK it tends to be fed either as a chaff (from the dehydrated plant), pelleted, compressed into wafers or biscuits, combined with sugar beet in pellets/lozenges, and less commonly as hay.
Compared to grass, alfalfa is higher in protein and minerals, especially calcium. The fibre it contains is highly digestible, and per kilo dry matter, it is a medium energy feed for horses. The total water soluble carbohydrate level is low compared to grass and this makes alfalfa a more suitable forage for horses who tie up, and those prone to laminitis and metabolic syndrome (as part of a calorie controlled diet). Alfalfa can be used to balance the calcium shortages in oats and other cereals.
Alfalfa is a useful feed for horses with stomach (gastric ulcers) due to its high protein level, which buffers excess acid. It can be offered overnight to stabled horses as a separate forage e.g. 1-2 kg of chaff in a big tub trug, and it can be given as a meal before intense exercise to help reduce stomach acid splashing. Dengie’s website has a useful section all about alfalfa 

Research Snippet
‘Winning Ways’, an interim ICEEP (International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology) meeting, took place on 16-17 June at Aintree racecourse. Some notes from one of the vet sessions are given below, and more will follow in future issues of Enews:

Musculature of the back and its relationship with back pain (Narelle C. Stubbs, Michigan State University)
Back pain is a common problem in ridden horses, and is associated with a significant loss of performance. Spinal dissection studies are showing a high level of lesions in the spines of performance horses, euthanized for reasons other than back pain. Vertebral problems and pain is commonly as a result of joint instability, resulting from muscle problems. Specifically strengthening the postural muscles - including many small muscles that hold the spine together – is important in rehab to restore optimal function and performance. These small but powerful stabilising muscles should ‘fire’ momentarily before the big ‘limb moving’ muscles, and after injury this function is lost. Dr Stubbs has co-authored a useful rehab book along with Prof Hilary Clayton, which includes a DVD: ‘Activate Your Horse’s Core’ is available from your local bookshop or the British Equine Veterinary bookshop at

Next month’s Enews will contain notes on the presentation on ‘DOMS (Delayed onset muscle sorenss), Overtraining and Myopathies by Dr C McGowan. 


If you have any friends who would be interested in Clare's Health and Nutrition enews, please feel free to forward this message onto them. Don't forget to submit your Nutrition and Feeding Questions to Clare ( with 'enews question' in the subject box and it may be picked out of the bag for inclusion in a future enews Q&A. Thank you for your interest.

Thank you to Sally Brett for the image of the horse's nose, eating hay (Above Quote of the Month)

Quote of the month: 

“You are what you eat” Victor Lindlahr 

July's Practical Tip
It has been said that if you do the opposite of what everyone else is doing, then you are probably on the right track. This snippet of wisdom often rings true, and it does apply to feeding. Giving a horse a limited haynet overnight whilst stabled, then feeding a scoopful of regular compound feed such as coarse mix or nuts and a handful of chaff does not supply a balanced diet, yet this is still how most owners feed. Trying to think of simply balancing your horse’s forage rather than considering what bag of feed he needs is a more correct way of feeding. Many horses simply require more forage (unless they are already overweight) and a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer (and salt if they are in work).  

Each month Clare will be answering your questions. Please email with ‘Enews question’ in the subject box or post my Facebook page if you have a question.

Feeding for good wound healing
Q: What can I feed to my horse to promote good wound healing?
A: First and foremost, ensure your horse has a well-balanced diet that supplies enough minerals, vitamins and good quality protein. Zinc is commonly short in unsupplemented forage diets, and it is an important micromineral for skin health and healing. If in doubt and definitely if you feed less than the full recommended amount of a fortified compound feed, you need to add a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. Ensure at least 500 mg of zinc (for a 500 kg horse). On top of a balanced diet (for a 500 kg horse) add an extra 2000 mg of vitamin E, plus extra antioxidants. Good antioxidant supplements include Winergy Ventilate and Day, Son & Hewitt Respyt. Both are marketed for respiratory support but would be useful for healing. Add probiotics if your horse in on antibiotics. If your horse is on box rest and restricted feed intake and especially if you are soaking hay or feeding straw, you need to add extra good quality protein e.g. a good quality pelleted balancer product e.g. from Spillers, TopSpec, Dodson & Horrell. 

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