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Horse fed sweet feed - and no hay

From: Korrie

Hello Jessica! I am new to your newsletters and find them very educational! I hope you can help resolve an argument I've had with my mother. She keeps a 14 year old Appaloosa mare at her home in Georgia. The problem is my mom feeds her only sweet feed (1&1/2 scoops, twice a day). The horse has a stall and turn out paddock and is only locked in under extreme weather conditions. Her paddock is about an acre, maybe a little larger but is mostly bare. They own 12 acres but it is mostly woods. They have tried sectioning off the small paddock to let the grass recover, but are surprised to see it foraged so quickly. This horse is basically a pet as it is only worked when I come to visit a couple of times a year, if that. When I do work with her she is hard to handle. She is perfectly happy doing nothing and is very stubborn. My mom seems to think that since the mare looks healthy, her diet must also be healthy for her.

I think my mom is just taking the lazy approach, as it seems to be easier to feed from a bucket than to care for hay. My mom also seems to think I'm just a "know-it-all". I gave her one of my books, Horse Keeping on Small Acreage, to help them with their paddock situation. Also hoping that she would catch on to the dietary needs of horses as stated in the book as well. I really want to help this horse get the proper diet and educate my mom at the same time. I believe that more hay and less protein is best. In fact I don't think this horse needs any sweet feed since she is not very active. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated! I am at a standstill! Thank you so much for your time! Korrie

Hi Korrie! Congratulations on keeping your eye on the prize - in this case, educating your mother and saving her mare from general ill health and probable colic. You are absolutely right to be concerned. The short answer is "You are right, your mother is wrong", but let me go into some detail, because the short answer may not "fly" with your mother. She needs to know WHY this feeding practice is so very wrong, and so very detrimental to the horse. Horses can appear "healthy" - fat and shiny - on various unsuitable diets, but appearances can't always be trusted. Horses need good bones as well as an attractive layer of subcutaneous fat, and this mare's diet is harming her bones. "Sweet feed" - a mixture of grain and molasses - is not at all suitable as a horse's only food. A small amount given as a supplement to the basic hay diet won't harm a horse, and may add to the nutritional value of the diet, but if you have to choose between feeding a horse ONLY hay or ONLY sweet feed, the answer should always be HAY.

Can you have a private word with your mother's veterinarian, tell him the problem, and ask him to intervene? He may not even realize that she is attempting to make grain and molasses take the place of hay in her horse's diet! Your mother, like many horse-owners, might be more willing to take advice from her veterinarian. He can tell her exactly why her horse's current diet is unhealthy, and why a properly-balanced diet is preferable. Her vet may be able to convince her that a horse consuming nothing but sweet feed will eventually suffer from weak bones, ulcers, laminitis, and, of course, colic!

I suspect that you may be right about the feeding "system" being based on personal convenience for your mother - it is indeed much easier to purchase bags of grain and dump scoops of grain into a feed tub than to arrange for hay deliveries and then deal with bales of hay. It's rather like feeding a child - it's definitely easier to buy bags of potato chips and boxes of candy than to prepare nutritious meals! But people who are interested in the welfare of horses - or children - know that it's important to make whatever effort is necessary to do what's right. Just as chips and candy, although tasty, don't supply the nutrients that children need to build and maintain healthy bodies, sweet feed, althout tasty, don't meet a horse's nutritional needs.

Having said all that, I do realize that you may be fighting a losing battle if your mother simply refuses to purchase hay for her horse. Since her horse IS being fed, albeit badly, and there is obviously feed on the premises, it's unlikely that you could persuade a horse-rescue organization to step in, even if you were willing to go that route. My suggestion is that you talk to your mother about changing the mare's diet from sweet feed (an incomplete and inappropriate diet) to a good-quality, nutritionally complete pelleted feed with the hay integrated into the pellets. There are excellent complete-feed pelleted products on the market, and those are tidy, convenient, and ideal for people who don't want to handle hay, don't want a messy barn, don't want to do any "homework" about horse care and nutrition, and don't want to listen to their very sensible daughters. ;-) Ideally, your mother would want to do what's best for her horse, and would feed it hay - but if that's just not in the cards, work with her vet to get her to make the change from a grain-only diet to a nutritionally-complete one. The mare still won't get the chewing time that she needs, but she will be much healthier. The mare still won't get the chewing time that she needs, but she will be much healthier.

You chose an excellent book for her, by the way. I hope she reads it! Cherry Hill has written many other books on horse management, and they're all worth reading. ;-)


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