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by Carol Layton, B.Sc M.Ed
It is often recommended by vets and nutritionists to feed your horses a balanced diet. A horse needs the right amount of nutrients; carbohydrates, protein and fats, as well as vitamins and minerals for proper digestive function. A balanced diet is essential for optimum performance and in avoiding health issues. Symptoms like a dull coat, poor hoof quality or topline, less than optimal performance and a weak immune system are the more obvious signs. So what is a balanced diet?
A balanced diet is one where all the nutrients are more than adequate to avoid deficiencies and the amount of each of the minerals avoids competition with another. One example is copper and zinc, too much zinc in the diet has been found to interfere with the intake of copper. Another is calcium and phosphorus; too much calcium can interfere with phosphorus and vice versa. There are many other examples.
To determine whether nutrient levels are sufficient and balanced in a horse’s diet, the amounts consumed from forage, feeds and supplements can be compared with the amounts recommended in the Nutrient Requirements of Horses, published in 2007 by the National Research Council (NRC), the reference for equine nutritionists. Providing an insurance buffer by using at least 150% of NRC target minimums and keeping mineral ratios in a tight range will protect the horse from suboptimal intakes of minerals.