In recent years, feeding horses seems to have become more and more complex. I receive dozens of questions from horse owners weekly that start with “What is the BEST _____?” Feel free to fill in the blank with feed, joint supplement, digestive aid, types of forage…..you get the point. My answer is always: “depends on your definition of the BEST and what you want to achieve with your horse.” To define something as “the BEST” isn’t a quantification, it’s simply an opinion and we all know about opinions……..
3 intelligent questions you need to ask are:
1) Where is my horse now (body condition score, topline evaluation score, fitness level, feed, supplements)?
Having a starting point and understanding where your horse is physically and nutritionally, is the first step in moving towards a goal and determining what is BEST for your horse. Knowing how much your horse weighs, and what its fitness level is, gives us a foundation from where we can build. It’s the same as if you were to start with a personal trainer at the gym. They begin with putting you on a scale, taking your Body Mass Index (BMI) and having you create a log of what you eat. Knowing where we start gives us the ability to measure feed appropriately, see progress, make changes and evaluate the program.
2) Where do I want my horse to be?
The next question you should ask, is where do you want your horse to be? Are you planning on qualifying for Rolex next year, maybe the Olympics in 2020 or are you looking to attend your first gymkhana in this Spring? Whatever your goals, they are specific to you and unique to your situation. Having goals gives us a “light at the end of the tunnel”. Goals help us to stay motivated and moving in the right direction. The key with goals is that they be SMART : Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timed. There are very few “corporate jargon acronyms” that I care for, but this is one to live by.
Here’s an example of not having a SMART Goal: “I want to enter my 13hh Welsh Pony in the Kentucky Derby.”
This goal is not realistic (not even 50%) and therefore not a SMART Goal.
3) What can I afford?
This clearly depends on your budget. If we were all as financially stable as the late John D. Rockefeller, this wouldn’t be a question, but for most of us, horses are a passion and we have to work in order to afford our passions. Because we work, we typically need a budget too. The reason there are so many different types of feeds, supplements and forages available to us, is because there is a wide variety in manufacturing processes and ingredient quality/variations. Here’s my favorite example: Nine West and Louis Vuitton both make purses, but there is a distinct difference in the quality and manufacturing between the two. It’s Ok if you have Louis Vuitton taste on a Nine West budget. You can still get the “BEST” for what your money can buy. Understanding how to read feed tags, guaranteed analysis and ingredient listings, will help you to determine which products are going to help you achieve your goals!
The most reliable way to help you determine which feed is the BEST, is to enlist professional help from an equine nutrition consultant. These individuals eat, sleep and breath equine nutrition, they are geeks to be sure and often are a better resource for nutrition than veterinarians. I love my veterinarian and she’ll be the first one to tell you that she’s learned more about nutrition from me, than she ever did in vet school.