Here we go again with another look at balance, but this time with the emphasis being maintaining a harmonious view of the whole picture. Another discussion about sugar in the press is underway, after the World Health Organisation started a public consultation on guidelines for healthy sugar intake for adults and children. There is debate between health professionals, some of whom say it’s the amount of calories we consume that make us obese (not particularly sugar) with no direct evidence that high sugar intakes cause health problems apart from dental decay. Others believe that high intakes of sugar are responsible for all sorts of health problems including obesity. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.
The sugar story does remind me, as a nutritionist, that where human nutrition is concerned, an intake of a wide variety of mostly unprocessed foods is the best way to get a balanced diet. Getting fixated on one or two aspects of the diet can cause you to take your eye off the whole picture and end up causing problems from imbalance.
Horses eat a less wide range of feeds than us, but again, it is probably a good thing not to get too fixated on one aspect of the diet. There have been many fads and fashions in horse feeding lately, including anti-sugar (and anti-molasses), low-energy fibre feeds only, copra (coconut meal) as a panacea, and restricted or 10 hour soaked hay diets that aren’t supplemented correctly.
None of these fads are bad in themselves, and a high fibre, relatively low sugar diet is necessary for leisure horses with metabolic problems BUT that doesn’t mean to say that you feed nothing but low-energy fibre feeds even when a horse is over thin. It’s important not to forget the overall diet balance when you focus on one particular area. All horses should be fed as individuals with care taken in all aspects of their diet.
Looking at the whole picture includes being discerning about the forage you choose for your horse. Hay and haylage vary widely in their nutrient content and to be sure you need to have them analysed. Don’t assume that haylage is too nutritious because an early cut hay might be higher in protein and energy than a late cut, dry haylage.
Extra feeds or supplements should then be chosen for each individual horse, based firstly on what they need to ensure intake of all the essential nutrients that are missing from their forage (for example, a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement), and secondly on what could provide therapeutic support (for example a joint supplement).
Try not to get distracted by the latest fad or fashion, because it can cause you to take your eye off the whole picture. Aim for balance.