All horse owners share a common decision that directly affects the health, performance and well-being of their horses: their choice of diet. Scientists have recently studied the effects of nutrition on performance horses and have created methods for feeding and management to increase athletic ability, minimize or delay the onset of fatigue, and significantly reduce horse injuries. The primary staple of a horse’s diet that is often undervalued is hay; the performance of your horse is ultimately determined by the quality of hay that it consumes.
Low quality Grass Hays
Many types of Grass Hays contain a moderate amount of protein and low levels of lysine, an essential amino acid. Additionally, these Grass Hays are usually low in vitamins and minerals such as calcium, selenium, vitamin E and zinc. They are more nutritionally favorable when combined with supplements or legumes and shouldn’t be fed to performing horses without additional feed, forages and nutrients added. Prairie and native grasses are often combined with various other types of weeds during the growth stage; a significant amount of the Grass Hays’ nutrients are absorbed by the weeds, lowering nutritional value even further.
Some of the side effects associated with feeding poor quality protein to a horse can include:
- Decreased ability to produce bone and tendon proteins
- Decreased ability to produce muscle proteins
- Decreased ability to produce skin and hair proteins
- Decreased production of red blood cells
- Decreased ability to produce antibodies and various enzymes
Highly active performance horses require a different quality of hay than horses that spend a large portion of the time in pastures or paddocks. Successful race horse trainers usually choose Timothy Hay—a type of hay that is high in fiber—over any other type of hay. The nutrient content of Timothy Hay is average but can be higher when cut during the early-bloom and pre-bloom phases. Higher in calcium than most of Grass Hays, Timothy Hay is also high in vitamin A and vitamin D.
Some of the benefits associated with diets that incorporate Timothy Hay include:
- Improves fat-to-muscle synthesis for optimal performance, stamina and strength
- Remains the most easily digested of all other hays
- Does not contribute to excessive fat surrounding the diaphragm, thus providing optimal breathing and stamina
- Is helpful for horses with sensitivity to proteins
- Is highly recommended by many veterinarians
Generally speaking, a horse’s diet is comprised of 50% hay—a significant amount with little room for dietary mishaps. For optimal diets, you should ensure the hay is clean, dust-free, and free of mold and weeds. Since adequate roughage is paramount to the diet of a high performing horse, care should be taken to buy the best feed possible, which can include Timothy Hay. Quality of hay can be hard to determine based on simple appearance, so it is important to choose a reputable, high quality feed supplier like Anderson Hay for your active and healthy horse.