Natural Feed (Horses)



 Poor Weight Gain or Lack of Condition

Is a condition where the horse fails to thrive in spite of being fed what may seem to be a normal diet.

Natural Approach to Horse Nutrition

To be able to provide the horse an optimum diet it is necessary to look at its original feeding habits. Horses are generalist browsers. The bulk of the diet comprised of roughage ie a variety of pasture grasses, weeds and pickings from shrubs and trees. Concentrates were eaten only when available as seed heads formed. They browsed in herds with one horse keeping sentry duty in turns when the others had REM sleep which lasts around 30 minutes at a time. Changes to diet were gradual and dictated by  how far they moved per day and seasonal changes. Horses eat for most of the twenty four hour period.

Note: Fundamental to humans having some sort of control over the horse depends on its feed energy levels and willingness to co-operate with the rider. A horse with excess energy levels and/or lacking in magnesium will be difficult to handle.


These may include:

  1. Sub clinical illnesses like an undiagnosed low grade infection (kidney, bronchial, systemic etc.) cancer,
  2. Poor immune response possibly due to the indiscriminate use of organophosphate fertilisers.
  3. Imbalance of gut flora possibly due to repeated doses of antibiotics and incorrect feeding regime.
  4. Insufficient absorption of nutrients some of which due to sluggish digestive system, incorrect pH levels, perforated gut lining, putrefying gut flora, poor liver function.
  5. Lack of available nutrients in diet or an imbalance of vitamins and minerals
  6. Incomplete metabolism of glucose and fluctuations in glucose levels due to low levels of Chromium.
  7. Teeth problems and parasitic infestation
  8. Nervous disorders which may include weaving, wind sucking, highly-strung disposition.
  9. Environmental conditions like unpredictable noises, lack of shelter, insufficient space, lack of equine company (leading to boundary pacing as well as sleep disorders), possibly a higher than normal electromagnetic field due to presence of power pylons (currently under research), unnatural light levels which affects absorption of vitamin D and the assimilation of calcium and phosphorous (stabled horses)
  10. Lack of fresh green fodder particularly in the case of horses stabled for 100% of the time and only let out for 2-3 hours ridden exercise. (More common in Asian racing stables)
  11. Incorrect ratios of concentrates to roughage
  12. Changes to range of feed substances and insufficient nos of small feeds.
  13. Air borne fungal spores, dust and pollutants in stables giving rise to bronchial conditions and sub clinical infections.

 Improving Condition without Heating the Horse

  1. Sub clinical illness must be assessed and treated by a vet followed by a diet high in recuperative antioxidants and plant substances that address the immune system. Beta-carotene in yellow petals (non-poisonous), carrots etc, bioflavonoids in rosehips, grapeseed meal
  2. Poor immune response may be addressed using herbs like Echinacea, garlic, ashwaghanda etc.
  3. Introducing beneficial bacteria like acidophyllus may restore imbalance of gut flora.
  4. Insufficient absorption of nutrients can be corrected by introducing demulcent herbs (soothes mucus membranes in digestive tract), digestive bitters, and liver stimulants like milk thistle, artichoke.
  5. Nutrients and minerals are more easily absorbed as bio-compounds in the correct proportion rather than inorganic ie magnesium is found in all green plant material.
  6. Introduce plant-based chromium found in some roots which helps in stabilising glucose levels.
  7. Teeth need to be checked and parasitic conditions treated conventionally. Selenium levels addressed.
  8. Weaving etc will prevent the horse from putting on weight. Horses naturally move and sway as they graze and to deprive them of this natural function will result in compensatory  nervous behaviour.
  9. Environmental conditions need to be modified to provide adequate shelter, shade, sunlight equine company, paddock rotation etc. (In the case of horses stabled for most of the time white lights need to be installed to maintain correct circadian rhythms.)
  10. Fresh succulent fodder given as grass/barley sprouts on a daily have a different biochemical constitution to ordinary grain or mature foliage and in small quantities provide valuable nutrients. Barley can be sprouted rotationally in ice-cream containers when green fodder is scarce.
  11. A horse carries its ‘fat’ throughout the muscle fibre with some laid down around the outside of organs. Feed with light exercise will improve condition.
  12.  Energy values in food are available in cellulose, carbohydrates, protein, fats and oils.

Feed Categories

Cellulose (fibre) The action of bacteria in the large intestine form volatile fatty acids which are absorbed into the blood stream. These volatile fatty acids are used by the horse for maintaining body temp, respiration etc. but not changed to glycogen for muscle activity.

Note: To maintain condition without heating fibre or roughage should consist of more than 2 thirds of the total feed regime. The break down of cellulose in the large intestine can take up to ten days.

Carbohydrates This energy is contained within the endosperm (flour) which has a higher proportion of phosphorous due to seed requirements for germination.  Carbohydrates can only be absorbed in the small intestine. This is converted into simple glucose and then to glycogen. (Muscle fuel)

Carbohydrates make up the concentrate component in the horse’s ration and is measured in weight and not volume.

Note: Concentrates should not make up more than one third of the feed regime.

Protein is more concentrated than carbohydrate and consists principally of nitrogen which is responsible for cell division and growth. Animal proteins like skim milk and meat meal are not part of the horse’s natural diet and should not be included. Plant material with protein in foliage include pasture with nitrogen fixing legumes (clover, lucerne etc).

Note: Protein should only make up 10% of the concentrate component by weight.

Fats and Oils  note refined oils particularly those purchased in bulk in plastic containers are pro-inflammatory. Cold pressed oils are the only safe ones. Omega oils should be cold pressed, backfilled with nitrogen and stored in the fridge. Up to half a cup daily.


 DISCLAIMER: Hira Laboratories will not be held responsible for the use or misuse of any products listed. We recommend that either a qualified herbalist or your animal professional carry out diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Herbal remedies must not be given not be taken in conjunction with other medication with out consulting a medical professional.


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