January 2013 eNews from Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr, Independent Equine Nutritionist. Nutrient Focus, Q&A, Research snippets and more... 

Happy New Year!
A very Happy New Year to you! I hope you enjoyed the season. Perhaps because I’m a Scot, I love New Year. New beginnings, spring around the corner and generally many things to look forward to.
I have a very exciting trip to the US to the ‘Legacy of Legends’ event ( in late January, which I feel very privileged to be able to attend. The event is run to preserve the teachings and horsemanship style of the great Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt.
Here in the UK we’ve all been challenged with the amount of rain during December, and many owners who usually keep their horses out 24/7 have been bringing them in for part of the day, to allow them to dry off. Discussion on my Facebook page indicated that those on sandy soil seem to be the best off, with less mud!
My horses had a 3-week rest whilst I was recovering from a couple of bugs, and as I now bring them back into work I am reminded of the importance of a gradual fitness programme to get them conditioned whilst avoiding injury. My Masters degree in Human and Equine Sports Science has recently been a little underused, and I intend to change this in the coming year!
I wish you good health and all the energy you need to fulfill your plans for the coming year.


 Research snippet: Some obese horses and ponies are ‘weight loss resistant’ and researchers recommend they have their feed intakes reduced severely for weight loss, if no exercise is possible.
A research group at the University of Liverpool , UK, led by Dr Caroline Argo found that obese horses and ponies needed to have their dry matter intakes reduced to 1.25% of their body mass in order to consistently lose fat. (Dry matter describes a feed with all moisture removed, so for example 1 kg of dry matter hay would be equivalent to about 1.14 kg fresh weight, since hay is about 12% moisture). They found a large variety in responses to such a regime, and concluded that some were ‘weight loss resistant’ and might need to be reduced to 1% of the body mass of intake per day in order to consistently lose weight. The obese horses and ponies on the study were fed either hay plus balancer or hay plus a balanced chaff, but neither forage was very low in energy.
Argo, C. M. et al, (2012) Weight loss resistance: a further consideration for the nutritional management of obese Equidae. Veterinary Journal, 194(2): 179-188
NOTE! Practically, it is the energy intake we should be more concerned about than actual intake of dry matter. It is a deficiency in energy (calorie) intake that causes fat to be used up and therefore lost, not simply a reduced daily intake. Reducing dry matter intake below an animal’s natural appetite is a welfare issue, so you need to source the lowest calorie forage you can find (to reduce energy intake) and be sure to exercise your obese horse or pony, because exercise increases energy use. You will definitely need to severely restrict grass access, and may need to feed straw, which you must supplement with good quality protein, vitamins and minerals (e.g. with a feed balancer). Feeding 1% of bodyweight is not recommended and if this was necessary for weight loss, then a much lower energy forage needs to be sourced, and the horse or pony exercised much more.

Nutrient focus
 At New Year, many of us leave their indulgences in alcohol and rich food behind and focus on health and vitality, some turning to vitamin-enriched detox drinks and supplements. Many horse owners also think of vitamins as a tonic or something to feed if a horse is ‘under the weather’. Vitamins aren’t a tonic or ‘pick me up’; but instead are a group of essential nutrients that are a core part of a balanced diet.
Vitamins are required by the body in very small amounts, hence are called ‘micronutrients’. They are, however, absolutely essential for health and deficiency will result in disease. Vitamins – unlike minerals - are not similar compounds, and vitamin activity can be found in a variety of related substances.
Vitamins can be divided into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble, which relates to the way they are handled in the body. Vitamins B complex and C are water soluble and are excreted if ingested in excess (with the exception of vitamin B12). Vitamins E, A, D and K are fat soluble, transported in association with fat in the body, and can build up in the body if ingested in excess.
Body functions that rely on vitamins are wide ranging. A healthy horse has no dietary requirement for vitamin C or the B complex vitamins because they manufacture their own, but B vitamins are often supplemented because body supplies rely on a health hindgut. Vitamins A and D can be toxic if over-supplied and some feed and supplement products contain unnecessarily high levels of vitamin A. Take care if you feed several fortified products. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant and the B complex vitamins are involved in energy metabolism as well as many other processes. Growing grass supplies good levels of pro-vitamin A (betacarotenes) and vitamin E, and sunlight supplies vitamin D. During winter it is more important to supplement vitamins for horses on preserved forage (which can be short of vitamins A and E).
If you want to read more about vitamins 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


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.

Quote of the month: 

 Nutrition isn't everything, but there's nothing without it' Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr  

January's Practical Tip
Add fresh food into your stabled horse's diet; If your horse has limited access to growing grass and their diet consists of dried feed e.g. hay and compound feed, try to add fresh feed daily. Even although compound feeds and multi-vitamins and minerals contain everything that is necessary for a balanced diet when fed with forage (providing you feed the full recommended amount), the phytochemicals present in fresh feed probably benefit your horse. Root veg including carrots, parsnips, turnips and beets, fruit including apples, pears and bananas, and green plants including grass cuttings or hydroponic grass (grain sprouts) are a welcome addition to a stabled horse’s dry diet. Grazing in hand where green grass is available is another way of giving fresh feed.


Please email with ‘Enews question’ in the subject box if you would like to have your question answered by Clare. Please note that only one question per month will be answered.

Novel feeds and forages for horses
Q: Can I feed small amounts of bamboo to my horse to help keep him occupied during his long hours stabled?
A: Bamboo is a type of grass and pandas eat it, so you might think it was suitable for horses. However, bamboo in large quantities is poisonous to horses so you should limit them to a few leaves at a time and never allow them free access e.g. on the edge of their pasture. Authors of a paper published in the Veterinary Review in 2006 (Vol. 26 (9)) described bamboo poisoning leading to neurological disease in 16 horses in Brazil. The horses had eaten large amounts but the poisoning was not fatal. Plants safe for one species may be poisonous to another, so for any feed or forage not commonly fed, do look up whether or not it is safe for horses.

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