On Star Wars day today, what better time than to discuss the balance in the force. The key word being balance. Nine times out of ten, I am informed by well-intentioned horse people that they are providing their horses with ‘balancers’. That is all well and good but I would like to ask a few questions. Firstly, what is it that you are trying to balance? Secondly, how does the commercially prepared ‘balancer’ purport to assist you in balancing your horses feed? And thirdly, are you aware of what is in the commercially produced ‘balancer’?
Fear is a path to the Dark Side….
Dealing with the first question, I believe there is a lot of concern nowadays over balancing the horses ration with various different minerals and micro and macro nutrients. People worry about whether their horse is getting enough copper, too much copper, too much iron, not enough sodium etc. Whilst it is great to have consideration for your horses intake, it is vital to realise that it is nigh on impossible to provide a perfectly balanced diet to your horse all of the time. Every bale of hay has different levels, every bucket of feed and even every patch of grass, will vary in mineral and vitamin content. Even the bagged feed that claims to contain everything your horse needs will vary between bags. So unless you have your own lab and plenty of time on your hands, to analyse every feed you give your horse, then you will not get it perfect every time. And that is fine. Our equine friends have survived longer than we have without our interference and will probably continue to do so long after we are gone. Does that mean we should throw caution to the wind? Absolutely not. It just means that we need to do our best by our horses but do not sweat the small stuff unless you have a serious concern and your horse is showing signs of ill health. And even then, take professional advice.
These aren’t the ingredients you are looking for.
This leads me on to the second and third questions, about how the commercially prepared ‘balancers’ actually balance your horses feed and what the ingredients are that purport to do this. Some of the main ingredients in these products are Wheatfeed, Oatfeed, Nutritionally Improved Straw, Molasses and Soya or Soya Oil.
Wheatfeed and Oatfeed
Let’s understand that anything that ends with the word ‘feed’ is the byproduct of the milling process. It is the outer husk of the grain, grain particles and even dust. These particles are then bound together into pellet form using sulphites which in themselves provide problems for the horse by destroying the bacteria in the horses gut. The sulphites used to bind the oat and wheatfeed together can cause allergic reactions such as hives and breathing issues. Further, the oatfeed and wheatfeed have been treated using fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and growth regulators. All these chemicals are passed onto your horse when they consume the wheatfeed and oatfeed in your well intentioned feeding of the ‘balancer’. Once in the equine gut, they do the same as sulphites and disrupt gut bacteria. Therefore, in a time when we are all talking about gut bacteria, why even consider feeding anything that would disrupt the balance of the gut? And this is before we have even considered the effect on the liver by these chemicals.
Nutritionally Improved Straw
I would like to make one thing clear. There is nothing nutritional about nutritionally improved straw. It is chopped straw that is treated with caustic soda. Yes, you read right. Caustic Soda. Sodium Hydroxide, used to break down the lignins and make the straw more digestible. Personally I would not feed my horse straw let alone straw treated with caustic soda. Next time you are unblocking a drain at home or cleaning your oven consider whether you want to be using a product like that in your horses feed.
Soya or Soya Oil
One of the most misunderstood ingredients in your horses ‘balancers’ is soya. Mainly touted as a good protein source it hides a multitude of sins. This ingredient is the first to unbalance your horses system. It is usually produced from GM crops and is oestrogenic. That means it affects your horses endocrine system adversely and inhibits the functioning of the thyroid gland. The first thing you will find when feeding soya, is that your horse is putting on weight. Many people misunderstand this to be condition but it really is not. It is an inflammatory response of the body which results in fat pads, a decrease in thyroid function and a terrible result on the metabolic rate of the horse. Anyone with a horse that has Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) must seriously never consider feeding this. And even if your horse does not have EMS, do you really want to end up with a horse that does go down that route? If you are trying to grow a good hoof (which I presume we all wish for our horses) then soya will be the first product to scupper your endeavours.
I think we would all agree that we would not allow children to consume a chocolate bar with every meal. So my question is, why would we desire to feed our horses molasses in every bucket feed? The effect is to cause insulin dysregulation and spike glucose. This again adversely effects the gut, lowers the immunity and in a time where laminitis is prevalent, it really is not a product to feed.
If in a dark place we find ourselves, a little more knowledge lights our way.
So, bearing in mind that these ingredients are in commercially produced and marketed ‘balancers’ (as well as in many other horse feeds) why would we ever go out and buy them for our horses? They are cheap for the feed companies to produce and profit margins are high. For me, the long term ill effects of these feeds on horses, actually makes them an expensive option long term. The amount of times I have heard owners complain of the cost of laminits or EMS, only to find that they are inadvertently feeding ingredients such as these to their horses. The equine feed industry is guilty of allowing this to happen for their own commercial gain. But if we stop buying them, they will stop producing them. Instead, consider feeding your horse a good meadow hay, which in all fairness is usually enough for most horses. If your horse is in work then consider good forage based feeds without any of the above mentioned ingredients. And if you are concerned about providing enough nutrients then a good vitamin and mineral supplement is adequate. Just ensure there are no nasties in it. If you return to this page in the near future, Master Yoda will be discussing nutrition in more depth. If you have any questions or wish to consult on bringing balance to the force for your horse, then visit the contact me here.