Basic Equine Nutrition- By Michelle Sefton- Celtic Stud NZ

Basic Equine Nutrition- By Michelle Sefton- Celtic Stud NZ

Basic Equine Nutrition


This is a great topic for this time of year with the spring grasses coming through with high sugar and potassium levels affecting many horses. A lot of these reactions come down to what you are feeding your horse. A lot of feeds these days are high in potassium and sugars, which at this time of year is not ideal to feed. When looking at feeds bare in mind if you can’t feed the recommended daily amount of the feed your horse is not receiving any true benefits from that feed. Also feeding them a bit of this and a bit of that can really throw their vitamin and mineral balances out as well as causing digestive issues in the stomach right through to the hind gut.

A horses diet should mostly be made up with forage/fiber, this is what horses digestive systems are made for. Adding feeds with high grains, high sugar and potassium lead to “grass affection”, digestion issues and ulcers. A horses digestive tract is not made for these feeds, so when it hits their stomach the acids have to work harder to break them down in turn this causes ulcers. Further in the article I go into potassium levels and sugars with how they affect horses.

This is a simple feed product guideline to make sure your horse gets enough, fiber, nutrition, protein, vitamins & minerals for a balanced healthy diet.

  • Meadow Chaff
  • Copra
  • Crushed Linseed 200-300g per day or Flaxseed Oil 20 to 60ml per day
  • Vitamin and mineral mix
  • Salt 10gm per 100kg daily

This is a very simple basic feed regime to ensure your horse is receiving his/her dietary needs. Also a very cost effective feed, and can cater to a range of horses and their individual needs.

Each horse will vary in amounts needing to be fed due to many reasons:

  • Weight
  • Age
  • Exercise
  • Availability of good pasture
  • Availability of good hay or baylage
  • Good doer
  • Bad doer
  • Broodmare
  • Broodmare in foal
  • Broodmare foal at foot

To make sure their vitamin and mineral needs are met is to feed the recommended dose as stated on the multi vitamin mix as well as adding salt to their daily feed at 10g per 100kg. If they do not get fed to their ideal body weight and needs with these key elements they can become deficient in areas which can in turn affect their health and behavior.

The advantage with feeding like this is you can cater for the above different horses needs. When you buy an all in one processed feed, for your horse to have a balanced diet, and to meet all their nutritional needs, they need to be fed the amount as stipulated on the bag, if not their mineral and vitamin levels will become unbalanced then you don’t have a happy horse. Also a lot of these feeds have little to no salt and are high in sugar, potassium and fat, which does not suit most horses and can cause imbalances at different times of the year when the pasture is at different growth stages. If feeding these feeds you will find if you fed the recommended feed rate per horse from the bag that 9 out of 10 horses would be obese and have other health issues.

I’ve always believed less is more and I like to keep things simple and yet cost effective.

Pasture, unfortunately in New Zealand it is very hard to find ideal pasture for your horse unless, you own your own property and re sew all your paddocks with horse grass mix. So for most it is being aware of what grasses are in your horses paddocks, how they can potentially affect your horse and what to feed to prevent problems. Which is why the above suggested feed regime is great for New Zealand horses.

If your paddocks are mainly kaikouya and paspalum grass then you need to be aware that this will affect your horses calcium absorption which can lead to other health problems down the track. If your paddocks are a majority of these grasses, I recommend using an Oxalate Vitamin and Mineral mix, as it is also specifically made for these grasses, to their feed to ensure they are getting the right calcium and phosphorus balance in their system. These grasses deplete the calcium and phosphorus levels in our horses. I also recommend this supplement for broodmares and growing horses as they need extra calcium to produce good strong boned foals. My team are on Farmalogic TropicalPRO vitamin and mineral mix which caters for all the above, my horses have never been healthier.


This diet I have found great for those that suffer from grass affection, rye grass or paspalum staggers. As it is a fungus that causes the potassium levels to be high and sodium levels to drop which in turn causes either behavioral problems, stagger symptoms or sudden on set staggers where they are ataxic,( like a drunk person all over the place.) Having horses on this diet with the extra salt brings the sodium levels up so they are balanced with the potassium limiting the horses chance of staggers and grass affection. One of my horses suffered from paspalum staggers since going back to this “older school” method of feeding I have had no problems with staggers or grass affection. When a horses potassium levels get high their body doesn’t know how to regulate this imbalance, so adding the right amount of salt to their feed will correct the imbalance. Their system doesn’t tell them to go to a salt lick more,  it is up to us to help them.

If your horse has a sensitive gut, the best product I can recommend is Dynavyte Microbiome Support. I use to use toxin binders to little effect when I needed them to work most. Since removing toxin binders and adding Dynavyte Microbiome Support my horses gastric system is able to process more efficiently by absorbing the right nutrients better and able to break down toxins to be removed from their system and due to this I have been able to cut back the feed ratios( not the mineral mix) as my horses were putting weight on as it helps the digestive system from ingestion right through to the hind gut too! Even their demeanour and their coats have improved greatly.

If you need help working out ratios for a balanced diet for your horse please let me know as I am happy to help and do Nutrition Consults.

Another really important thing to do, is when your horse gets their annual health check, is to get blood tests done, CBC which covers their general well being, selenium, magnesium and copper which are all very important minerals your horses need to have the right balance of to function, help muscle rehabilitation,

hooves, skin, coat and general well being. If they become deficient in these it can be detrimental to their health. Symptoms of deficiency in these minerals are similar to that of over dose in their system. T4 also known as Thyroid activity, should also be tested, if the thyroid isn’t working effectively then it affects how the rest of the body and organs function. Testing for potassium isn’t recommended because as soon as the blood hits the tube potassium starts leaching out of the cells so you get a false reading. Only way to get a close reading is if blood is taken and put directly in ice and kept that way all the way to the lab to be tested.

When mixing feed make sure they are mixed with water and are quite moist, as there are some horses that can suffer from “choke” if the feed is too dry. “choke” is literally what it is a horse choking on feed, horses can’t vomit so if they eat too fast or feed is too dry they can get food stuck in their oesophagus, if this happens remove food straight away and try massage the area where feed is stuck to help move it through and call a vet. While waiting for the vet keep the horse moving and try and see if they will drink water.

Should your horse start to show signs of “colic” while eating feed, loss of gut sounds, turning looking at stomach, kicking at stomach, call the vet straight away, remove feed, and while waiting for the vet keep your horse walking, do not let them eat or lay down as they can roll and twist their gut. If you do feed Dynavyte syringe 100ml into your horse this will help greatly towards their recovery. Colic when feeding is caused by a build up of gasses in the stomach, which a horses cannot burp to release, this is where Dynavyte helps, or an impaction in the hind gut. So a vet is always needed to make sure no surgery is needed and to get the best out come for your horse.

Recommended time to feed varies on when is easiest for you. Either feed first thing in the morning in the cool or in the evening when the temperature has dropped. Reasons for this is it is a high risk feeding a horse in the heat of the day, they have a higher chance of getting colic, same goes if you have exercised your horse do not feed or offer water till they have cooled down enough, as again this poses a high risk for colic too.

When your horse is stabled or yarded they will need a feed morning and night as well as hay and/or baylage ad lib. A horse needs feed of some form in their stomach every 4 hours to prevent gut problems like ulcers and colic. Their fiber intake will also need to be increased to make up for what grass they are not getting and to keep weight on.

NOTE: A horse cannot digest more than 4kg of hard feed at any one feeding time.

NOTE: A lot of people are under the impression that baylage is high in sugar, where as in fact good quality hay has higher sugar and potassium levels than baylage. The way baylage cooks and processes after wrapping turns the sugars into digestible protiens so is safer to feed than hay, unless you soak the hay thoroughly with water, also it is good for putting healthy weight on.

So when stabled or yarded it is important to split feeds over 2 feeds or even 3 depending how much their feeds have needed to be increased for stabling and yarding.

By Michelle Sefton- Celtic Stud NZ

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