What to feed a horse can be a bit controversial, especially if you talk to someone who has “had horses all their life”. If you ask, most people think you feed horses oats. And you’d be surprised at how many people feed a cheap $6 bag of sweet feed! It makes me cringe when I hear or see what most people feed their horses!
What people aren’t aware of is how grain is processed when consumed by horses, which are created to graze 18 hours a day (this includes on hay). All grains are metabolized as sugar. This is like feeding candy bars to your horse. While this may not appear to be a problem, it could certainly be causing problems that you can’t see, and it is most definitely a devastating problem if your horse is Insulin Resistant, not to mention that diets high in sugar (grain) can affect immune system function. It would actually be safer to feed sugar from the grocery store than grain, as grain contains a higher glycemic index than table sugar!
So then, what do you feed your horse? Because horses were meant to graze, the vast majority of horses would be much healthier if they were fed a diet that primarily consisted of low glycemic grass hay. I’m not talking about a couple of flakes twice a day. I’m talking about free choice hay, 24/7. Horses are not meant to “fast” either, their intestinal tract is meant to be kept full and moving. A lack of this can cause colic and ulcers. As for “feed”, if you think you must give your horse feed, there are many choices that are safe and do not contain grains or sugar (molasses is a common sugar added to a majority of feed to enhance palatability).
Do your research, look for a “feed” that does not contain molasses or grain heads. Hulls are fine, such as oat hulls or soybean hulls, this is roughage. Look for feed that contains roughage as the main ingredient, most often this is in the form of timothy grass or alfalfa. Rice Bran and non-molasses Beet Pulp are also wonderful choices with low glycemic index. Just because a feed says “safe choice” for horses with metabolic problems, look at the guaranteed analysis and the ingredients. Often you find that these feeds still contain grains AND molasses!
Most horses need only a VERY small amount of feed, if any, as long as they are fed the proper amount of hay/grass. Consider how your horse’s digestive system was created to work and consider what is best for them nutritionally before you listen to the old farmer down the road who fed oats to his horses for 60 years!