Skip to main content

August 2019 - Equine Nutrition

With so many supplements and grain options, how should you know what to feed? Join us this month as our expert, Dr. Alison Cornwall answers your questions concerning equine nutrition.



Click here to read this month's questions and answers.

Miniature Horses


  1. What is the best type of feed for a miniature horse? (View Answer)

    The best type of feed for a miniature horse has multiple variables. Your evaluation of the metabolic needs of your mini is most important:  weight, age, exercise level, what that exercise is, pasture pet or show mini, insulin resistant, easy keeper, well water vs. city water, etc. Put your hands on your mini under all their fuzzy hair. Do you feel their spine, ribs, hips, with a big belly? Perhaps they have good muscling at their back, 1/4" to 1/2" of fat covering all of their ribs, and their abdomen is tight. If your mini is the previous example with a big belly, your forage quality needs to improve. Next is to evaluate access to pasture or hay: what variety is available to you, what nutrients is your mini obtaining from those sources. With nutrients they are obtaining on their own or from their hay, is a supplement or grain needed? Ambient temperature is another consideration that makes a slight difference in how much forage and type to feed. Access to clean water always is key for absorption of all nutrients, no matter what is fed.

     

    Given those factors, a balanced diet including nutrients they obtain from natural sources is the first consideration. There are multiple varieties of pasture grasses and hay that can be fed depending on where you are located in the country. Supplements are marketed that may or may not be necessary, including grain, brans, dehydrated feeds, concentrates, vitamin and mineral supplements. 

     

    All miniatures, no matter what their exercise level, should have daily access to quality green forage. Hay / forage is split in to different protein percentage categories. A hay/forage with 7% or less protein is considered weight loss hay, 8% -10% protein is weight maintenance, 10% - 12% is weight gain for some or maintenance for active minis, above 12% is weight gain hay/forage. Most growers will be able to tell you what nutrients and the protein content within their product. Forage should contain an average of 8% - 10% protein to maintain your miniature horse's weight and avoid those large grass bellies that we sometimes see. All horses are "hind gut fermenters"; those bellies develop when forage is difficult to digest and it "fills" the gut instead of nutrients being absorbed easily into the body. More fecal matter is also produced with poor quality forage. If your forage is a grass pasture, a grazing muzzle and / or timed turn out is a good idea to keep your mini from overindulging. Access to a dry lot  (an area barren of forage) is an excellent idea for miniature horses when timing turn out to maintain a healthy weight.  If more assistance is needed, your local USDA Soil and Water Conservation districts can assist you in knowing what nutrients are in the soil, thus in the pasture grasses your mini might be grazing. Knowing the vitamin and mineral content of the green forage your mini is getting will determine what supplements  and / or concentrates are needed, if any. 

     

    There are so many supplements and concentrates available on the market today. Nutrition has taken leaps and bounds forward from the basic corn, oats ,and barley that was the norm decades ago, to feed specifically formulated for the needs of young to geriatric horses, sugar sensitive horses, and exercise levels. Providing a good vitamin/mineral mix daily may be all that is needed; the microminerals provided assist to ensure your mini's metabolism is functioning at its prime. If your miniature horse is active, pulling carts, showing, in foal, or lactating, using more energy than available in routine forage, a concentrate such as grain may be necessary.

     

    Understanding your miniature horse's use of energy (active vs pasture pet) will help determine what feed is best. Always feed per label directions, do not overfeed supplements or grains. Excess will be seen in fecal matter or urination excess; sometimes overfeeding will also induce laminitis, something to be avoided. If your mini is active in the show ring a good balanced grain might be needed. Some grains are marketed as "complete feed"; one only needs to feed that as all fiber and nutrients are provided within the bag.  Feed at the level directed on the bag per weight. Most grains have been tested at the manufacturer to determine the amount needed to be fed to meet requirements for weight and activity. There is no need to avoid a grain formulated for a large horse simply because it does not say miniature horse or pony. Do follow label directions for weight of your mini and the amount to feed, given your minis needs as evaluated by you. Miniature horses that are pasture pets may not need grains at all, just a well balanced vitamin and mineral supplement, or feed balancer for your area.

     

    A typical diet I feed my active show miniatures that weigh an average of 200 pounds is: one pound of low molasses 14% concentrate, a vitamin/mineral supplement, 1 pound of alfalfa, twice daily, access to a trace mineral block, and dry lot turn out. My miniatures that have the season off from showing are on 8% pasture grass (mowed) with a trace mineral block. Our soil provides the rest of the nutrients for them to maintain excellent weight and body condition. My pregnant miniature mares during their last trimester and during lactation receive grain formulated for pregnant mares fed for their weight, alfalfa/timothy mix hay free choice, short pasture (mowed) turnout, and a quality vitamin/mineral mix, along with a fat supplement for their weight. The foals eat what mom eats, they share the grain.

     

    Feeding per the metabolic needs of your miniature horse will keep them happy, active, and healthy for a very long time. Barbara Kahl, DVM, Yamhill, Oregon

  2. I am considering getting a miniature horse in the future, what are some differences in the care requirements between them and a horse or, in particular, draft horses? I currently have two draft horses and a mule. (View Answer)

    I am so happy to hear that you are planning to add miniature horses to your home!  As you already are feeding drafts and perhaps mules, miniature horses may be fed the same forages, concentrates, and vitamin/mineral mixes that you give the other "bigs". A change you will need to make is with a water trough, auto waterer, or bucket. Miniature horses will require a water trough where the edge is lower to the ground so they can reach in to it. That alteration is good to have for feeders and fencing as well.

     

    When feeding the minis, feed per their weight which is an average of 200 to 250 pounds for minis that stand approximately 32" to 34". Adjust accordingly to their activity needs, just as you would for the "bigs". If access to pasture is available, time your miniature horses turnout so that they do not overindulge; have a dry lot available. If this is not possible, there are many varieties of grazing muzzles made for miniature horses that may help curtail eating to excess. This would be seen with a miniature horse showing visible fat pads around the tail base, shoulders, and topline of the neck. 

     

    Congratulations on bringing a miniature horse in to your family, you will have so much fun! Barbara Kahl, DVM, Yamhill, Oregon

  3. I have been caring for a miniature horse that is on pergolide. I muzzle him to go out at night and feed Purina mini and pony feed at a 8oz am and pm feeding. He does not have a cresty neck nor fat pads, but is still holding on to his winter coat. The farrier says his feet look good so far. Is there anything I can do to progress him to start shedding out? (View Answer)

    Thank you for taking such good care of a 'metabolic needs' miniature horse. Look at the contents of the grain you are feeding, evaluate the vitamins/mineral list, probiotics, prebiotics, fat content, etc.  Compare labels. A low sugar grain might be a better choice that is formulated for a metabolic needs horse. Add a vitamin/mineral supplement to compliment the concentrate you are feeding, unless it states "complete feed". Feed per weight; miniature horses despite being small, require the same nutrients as a big horse. The only alteration is feeding for their size and weight as given on the bag recommendations.  

     

    Most miniature horses only shed out "some" in summer; that is normal. I recommend shaving your miniature horse and having a turnout sheet, fly sheet, or blanket available as needed for the ambient weather conditions in your area. Sunscreen may also be needed if your mini has a lot of white areas with pink skin after shaving. Bathe your miniature horse to remove the deep dirt close to the skin. To shave use a clipper blade that is 7.5mm or shorter cut (the larger the number, the shorter the cut). 7.5mm is a good length for those minis that will be in the pasture and not used for showing, driving, or other activity. Start shaving at the belly and work up the sides and neck. Shaving some of the hair from the main also is helpful to thin it out taking strain off of the nuchal ligament in the neck. Working backwards from the neck do the back and hips.  If your mini is on pasture, there is no need to shave below the carpus (knees), or hocks, ears or face. This should help your mini be more comfortable as summer approaches. If their halter is tight, shave a bridle path at the mane, and shave the cheeks and muzzle of your mini. They will grow their hair back before the winter months.

     

    Thank you for being a great caretaker for a special needs miniature horse! Barbara Kahl, DVM, Yamhill, Oregon

  4. What are the determining factors that put minis at risk for laminitis/founder? Mine is accustomed to being outside year round and nibbling on whatever grass she can find. Is spring grass, then, still a danger, aside from the fact that she might put on too much weight? (View Answer)

    Spring grass is that silent laminitis inducing, lush green forage that has a higher content of NSC. NSC stands for non-structural carbohydrates and is the combination of sugar and starch in horse forage. The higher content of NSC in the grass is the factor in determining a concern for laminitis. Allowing your mini to graze during evening or late night hours is best. Morning grasses have the highest accumulation of NSCs. Depending on how much area your miniature horse has access to, a grazing muzzle might be needed. 

     

    Laminitis occurs with hindgut disturbances that may induce inflammation within the hoof. However, spring grass with high NSC levels is only one inciting factor that may lead to those disturbances and laminitis. The digestive capacity of the hindgut and the ingestion of high amounts of starch and sugars exceeding the digestive capacity of your miniature horse's small intestine is key to inducing or not inducing laminitis. Over indulging, eating too much grass, may increase undigested material in the stomach that flows through to the gut, inducing a rise and proliferation of lactic acid bacteria; with that rise comes a change in hindgut pH, acidosis, and a cascade of events leading to laminitis.

     

    Healthy miniature horses that have been on pasture consistently, are a healthy weight, and have never experienced laminitis may not need pasture restriction, just a change in pasture size. Each miniature horse is different so each should be evaluated for their ability to be on pasture, whether they need to be muzzled while on pasture, or completely removed and fed in a dry lot situation. Avoid putting your miniature horse on a pasture that is overgrown. Avoid pastures exposed to low temperatures combined with sunlight as that reduces the growth of grass and thus increases the NSC content of that grass.

     

    As your miniature horse has been on pasture consistently, merely reduce the pasture size to ensure he/she is eating grazed grass while turned out.

     

    Thank you for this important question regarding laminitis. Barbara Kahl, DVM, Yamhill, Oregon

  5. How does a miniature horse acquire fleas? I thought any horse could not get fleas . . . I live in Maryland. (View Answer)

    Fleas, that terrible little ectoparasite that causes so much scratching!

     

    First, understand that fleas are worldwide with over 2000 species, and affect not only dogs and cats, but people, livestock and poultry as well. Within 2000 or so species of flea, four are the most prolific culprits that we will focus on:

    • Echidnophaga gallinacea, the poultry flea that affects other livestock
    • Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea also affecting other pets and livestock
    • Ctenocephalides canis, the dog flea that loves cats, people, and livestock
    • Pulex irritans, the people flea that can transfer to pets and livestock

    As I am unaware if you have poultry, I'll direct my answer towards the latter three species of flea that is common to cats, dogs, people, and livestock, including horses. 

     

    It helps to understand the basic lifecycle of the flea when trying to eliminate it from an area and animals. An average flea lifecycle lasts about thirty days. Both males and females are obligate blood-sucking parasites meaning that they must use blood as their only food source. Adult females lay eggs that fall to the ground off of their host. A host can be any animal from cats, dogs, horses, to mice, rats, poultry, or other live animals. These eggs can remain for months as flea pupae, in bedding, shavings, sawdust storage, or other areas in a stable. When animals are brought in to those areas, body heat of the animals raises the temperature of the stable, Pressure from hooves, and an increase in carbon dioxide stimulates flea egg hatch, where larvae begin to grow. Larvae survive by eating excrement from adult fleas, old flea skins from molting, etc. until they grow into a flea. When an animal is in reach for a blood meal, the flea(s) leap on. Now, not only do we have these little pests in the stable bedding, throughout the stable with mice or other rodents and mammals, but on our horses too! Their life cycle continues, weather without extreme temperatures allows proliferation year-round.

     

    It's good to know that you might already have a treatment available to rid your horse of this ectoparasite. Pyrethroids (many fly sprays) and organophosphates are effective against adult fleas. Given that miniature horses have a naturally thick haircoat, I'd recommend shaving them to enhance the ability to get to the skin with products. Remove the hair by bagging it all and throwing away into a receptacle. Clean/spray all brushes, brooms, etc. with a parasiticide as well. With that being said, be certain to know that the fleas you might be seeing on your mini represent only about 5% of the fleas in your stable. The other 95% remain in the bedding, under boards, mats, in shavings piles, mice nests, arenas, ground around the facility, just waiting to hatch and bite.

     

    One will need to treat not only the animals for success, but the environment as well including all the dogs and cats on the facility, simultaneously.  It is also good to completely strip stables of all old bedding and remove it from areas where animals can get to it, including cats and dogs. Bedding in storage (shavings pile), mice nests or other areas where animals bed down at should be treated with insect development inhibitors, however, the chemical safety around animals should be evaluated prior to use. Those safety labels are found on the containers.  If there is ever a question on safety of a substance in your area or for your animal, contact the manufacturer directly, or your local veterinarian. Barbara Kahl, DVM, Yamhill, Oregon