All equines have evolved on a diet of fibrous foliage (grasses, plants, herbs, bark & forage), but Iberian horses, like many breeds who evolved in dry, arid conditions, are generally well adapted to high fibre, moderate quality forage diets.
Many are born with low metabolic rates and therefore survive and do well on low calorie, fibrous foliage, which is often dry in content and lower in nutrients and water than forage/grazing found in northern atmospheres where rainfall is higher. For this reason, it is important to maintain our Iberian horse’s weight and health feeding forage and concentrate ingredients which are suitable to his metabolic type. These breed types are not adapted or suited to modern day diets high in water soluble carbohydrates (cereal starch & sugar), and if fed incorrectly can be prone to metabolic disease such as insulin resistance, diabetes and laminitis.
Fibre, along with water, is the most fundamental and crucial nutrient in the horse’s diet, regardless of the type of work or lifestyle. All horses, from elite athletes to family hacks have the same digestive system which is primarily designed to digest fibrous foliage to sustain digestive equilibrium and life.
Feeding the Species……First of all, let’s stand back and take a look at the horse as a species; the first thing that is noticeable is that he has a long head attached to a long neck which given the opportunity is usually pointing to the ground. This tells us that he is a grazing animal. The equine head houses 40-42 teeth within the jaw that functions like a large hinge pivoting from the back of the head just behind the ears. Swinging the jaw while chewing forage at ground level means that the teeth are worn evenly. When feed is raised either in a bowl or hay net, the natural jaw action is disrupted and uneven tooth wear results. Fibrous foliage has a large surface area, therefore the horse has to swing the jaw and chew intensely to break the forage down into smaller particles in preparation for swallowing. In contrast, cereals have a much smaller surface area so the horse has to chew in small circles which also results in hooks and sharp edges, leading to pain and discomfort.
Apart from the benefits to teeth, chewing plays a large part in the initial stages of digestion as saliva is only produced in response to chewing. Saliva contains high levels of bicarbonate and saline which acts as a buffer to gastric acid and as a lubricant to prevent choke. Equine saliva doesn’t contain carbohydrate digesting enzymes such as amylase which is needed to break down starch bonds in cereals. Feed type also affects chewing rates and saliva production. For example; Long fibre such as hay requires between 3000 – 5000 chews per kg, whereas on average, cereals such as oats require only 800-1200 chews per kg. These are just some of the basic, fundamental reasons to avoid cereal based concentrates and choose a high fibre, balanced option for your Iberian horse.
Finally, to advance equine nutrition and make the right choices for our horses, we have to look back at how the equine species evolved and how far removed the horse is now from his natural habitat and lifestyle. It is quite ironic that an animal which is naturally a free-roaming, herbivore is now frequently enclosed and often fed unsuitable cereal based ´meals´.
Related information can be downloaded on the following articles:
Linda Bennis BSc (Hons) Equine Physiologist
If you would like more information on feeding your horse or specific dietary advice, please contact Linda on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the TOTAL Horse feed web sites on www.inspiredhorsefeed.com or www.holistichorsefeed.com