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Cynthia Emond
Posted on Sunday, Dec 5, 1999 - 1:48 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Dr. O & friends: I have an ongoing disagreement with a wonderful 79 yr. old trainer at our stables regarding what causes a horse to act up because of "hot" feeds & supplements. I have had horses come in underweight that I have supplemented with corn oil (good results) and/or rolled barley, corn-oat-barley dry, corn-oat-barley w/molasses. Our base feed is alfalfa cubes (15% protein), 15-28#/day depending on horse's size & condition. We are in a rural part of Hawaii & do not have a great feed selection. Grass & alfalfa hays are very pricey & inconsistent in quality. Most of these horses are worked under two hours a day, 5-6 days/week, low-level dressage & jumping gymnastics (under 18"!), with occassional 2 hour hilly trail rides.
Whenever a horse acts at all silly, my 'tenured' trainer friend says it's because of the grain or corn oil. I do not give any "sweet feed" to horses that tend to be high. I have read that rolled barley may break down in a slower process and therefore not dump energy as quickly as other grains. I have also read several opinions on what's hot & what's not.
My interpretation of the nutrition articles I find from Dr. O are that some grains in a working horse's diet are part of proper nutrition. Comments?
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A.F.M. Hyde-Clarke
Posted on Monday, Dec 6, 1999 - 2:34 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hi Cynthia,

I believe it is not WHAT you feed necessarily but HOW you feed and WHEN you feed. In other words, when horses are given several small feeds a day [four, five or more], and a more or less ad lib supply of hay, digestive disorders are rare and the horses are physically more content and so mentally more settled and relaxed.

It has been proved that horses on a maintenance ration, receiving maybe just grass and good quality hay, can perform light work, say an hour’s gentle hacking daily, without losing condition, but it is normal to give concentrates for more strenuous work than this.

The problem is that some horses can take only a little grain [concentrates] because of the problems resulting from the digestion and metabolism of this more concentrated food. The problems in question can be excess nervousness and spookiness, restlessness, stable vices resulting from nervous tension, azoturia, laminitis, and digestive disturbances resulting in colic. Probiotics are excellent in helping a horse to assimilate the grain.

It is also vitally important to weigh the grain. For example :

- oats are generally considered to be the best and safest grain [but have an undesirably high content of a chemical called phytin]
- barley “weighs heavy” compared to oats – 0.3kg barley equals 0.4 kg oats;
many horses do become less “dizzy” on barley and lose the minor skin problems such as dullness and itching which some horses do show when fed on oats.
- maize [corn] is not recommended to be fed in hot climates; it should only be used to supplement the energy requirements as it can provide 50% more energy than oats from the same weight of grain; it is not as good a source of protein as oats, and the fibre content is low.

If your horses are working lightly, they should be fed about 2% of their bodyweight with probable ratios of :

- concentrates 20%
- legume hay [alfalfa, etc] 30%
- good grass hay 50%

Many horses in South Africa cannot tolerate alfalfa [called Lucerne here] as the protein levels can go up to 20%, and the horses just go dilly. I only feed my horses 2 to 2,5 lb a day maximum, whereas they get +/- 22 lb of hay plus are out grazing all day. They then get between 1.0 kg [2.2 lb] to 3 kg [6.6 lb] absolute max of grain. They are thoroughbreds and weigh +/- 550 kg.

You say you cannot get good hay, so this is obviously a problem. I presume that you have grazing? Corn oil, soya oil, sunflower oil, etc. are all excellent additions to the diet, and not heating at all.

Perhaps sometimes you are right, and sometimes your resident trainer is right, depending on the individual horse!

It would be interesting to have more details.

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Robert N. Oglesby DVM
Posted on Thursday, Dec 9, 1999 - 8:55 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hello Cynthia and Alexa,
As Alexa alluded to, your open question to comment on the statements you have made is difficult to reply because it is so nonspecific. Let me hit the highlights of yours and Alexa's comments.

Grain and other concentrates are used when a horse cannot maintain condition through the use of forages (grass or alfalfa) alone. It is true that many working horses will fall into this category but some very efficient breeds, Morgan's come to mind, may be able to do quite a bit of work on a good quality forage alone.

I too have heard Barley is less hot (behavorially) than other grains but know of no proof of this. It is between oats and corn in energy, fiber, safety, and heat (metabolic) production during utilization. It's starch is more slowly digested but this is a detriment not a benefit: It means it delivers more starch into the large bowel, increasing the growth of bacteria and production of endotoxins. But this is a minor deal and as stated is less of a problem than with corn but worse than oats. There is good research to show processing, like rolling, is not needed for horses with good teeth.

There is no doubt that any horse will act hotter as the amount of metabolically available calories goes up, no matter what the source. There does seem to be a bit of an exception to fat calories: they seem to be cooler (behavorially) than carbohydrate calories in early studies. So, if your horses are overweight or could maintain their weight on less concentrate your trainer is probably right. But if your horses are maintaining there weight on the minimal amount of concentrate I do not think you can make adjustments that would significantly effect behavior.

Concerning Alexa's concern about phytates. Phytates are chemicals in the oats that can bind minerals and some metaloproteins. Yes oats are high in them and there is concern that this may be a problem in human's who have a naturally high need for iron: Women during there menstrating years and children. However there is no such research indicating a problem with horses.

Though there are many iron containing suppliments for horses these are based on the frequent inaccurate diagnosis of anemia in horses (See Diseases: Cardiovascular: Anemia). Most forages contain between 2 and 5 times the daily requirement of iron and grains contain right around the amount needed. The only known causes for the need to suppliment iron in the horse are for chronic or severe blood loss. However, iron toxicoses from administration of suppliments is reported, sometimes with death resulting, particularly in foals.
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