Choosing the right food for your horse is a crucial matter for your horse. A quarrel is currently dividing the horse world: the choice of feed with or without cereals. There are those who only use the first, those who swear by the second and many people who no longer know which way to turn.
So let’s try to see it a little more clearly.
Short-Term Advantages and Disadvantages
Foods with Cereals
There are a lot of products on the market. We therefore have a varied choice in terms of formulas, supply facilities and proximity. They are often very popular with horses. They are great for horses with high needs. Energy is supplied through carbohydrates which are well digested (provided that the amount provided per meal remains reasonable) and metabolized with little waste for the body. They are stable and easy to store products.
Some horses tolerate them badly either on a digestive level (ulcers, dysmicrobism) or on a metabolic level (PSSM, laminitis in case of abuse) or even allergic. For others, there is a risk of obesity. They are accused in case of abuse of being a factor promoting joint disorders in young horses. If supplementation or product balancing is not correct, there is a risk of calcium deficiency.
These are products that are closer to the horse’s natural diet if you choose those that contain little fat. But in this case, they are not very suitable for horses with high needs except to partially compensate for an insufficient supply of fodder.
The addition of fat makes it possible to increase their energy intake to adapt them to horses with more important needs but largely makes them lose their natural character. The digestion of lipids is good but their metabolization produces free radicals. Products with a high fat content should be stabilized often with vitamin E to prevent them from going rancid. They can accentuate selene deficiencies if supplementation is insufficient.
Long-Term Advantages and Disadvantages
Foods with Cereals
The use of foods with cereals causes glycemic peaks, more or less important depending on the amount and nature of starch and sugars. In the long term, these peaks are accused of promoting insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome and liver problems. However, they remain well tolerated by most horses provided they are used in a reasonable manner.
The massive use of grain-free feeds is too recent for us to know what the effects might be at 15 or 20 years on horse health. Some professionals believe that there could be long-term effects on the liver or the aging of tissues from free radicals. There could also be negative effects if these feeds are used on foals that are too young. But these are only hypotheses which can only be confirmed or invalidated in 10-15 years, a period necessary to have enough perspective on the question. For now, no one can say whether their long-term use is good or bad for the horse. It’s all a matter of personal conviction.