Theory of Relativity [in equine nutrition]


At some point during horse ownership, you’ve probably gotten frustrated trying to provide the perfect diet for your horse(s). It’s understandable! There are seemingly infinite options, research is tedious, information is biased, and facts are fuzzy! How does an intelligent horse owner even begin to understand ration balancing under these conditions? And then choose that one perfect diet for their horse!?! Below is ONE method for countering the many, many claims made by feed and supplement companies and the many, many opinions you’ll hear on forums. I’m offering one simple method for bringing much needed perspective into your equine nutrition product choices.

The Point= All nutrition is relative.

Apply this one principle to every equine nutrition discussion that you ever come across, and you will be a happier horse owner. All nutrition, whether for yourself, your horse, or your hamster, is built on theories of relativity. Obviously this has nothing to do with Einstein, gravity, or matter in outer space, so let me explain. Most of what we know about equine nutrition is based on comparison. Choices are placed on a measurable scale and then compared to one another rather than pretending that there is some perfect standard. For example…

  • Alfalfa is RELATIVELY high in calcium COMPARED to grass hay. Is this good or bad?...it depends.

  • Whole grains are RELATIVELY high in non-structural carbohydrates COMPARED to “low-carb” feeds. Is this important to you?...It depends.

  • Fat horses are RELATIVELY more likely to founder COMPARED to skinny horses.

  • Corn is RELATIVELY high in starch COMPARED to oats.

  • Rice bran is RELATIVELY high in fat COMPARED to other by-products like beet pulp.

In today’s marketing of feeds and supplements, companies often use terms of relativity like “more” or “less”, “better” or “worse” to describe and sell their products. What I want you to do next time that you come across these statements is to ask yourself “compared to what?”

Example #1: Here’s a great example- a supplement company claims that their product will make your horse MORE calm. Ok, compared to what? This is the right response, because their claim is likely based on comparing a diet with their product to a diet filled with many pounds of grain at an NSC over 20%! Unless your horse is eating multiple pounds of C.O.B., then the chances of your horse becoming “more” calm is small.

Example #2: Beet pulp will make your horse gain weight. Ok, compared to what? Yea, beet pulp is a great ingredient in many circumstances, and it’s relatively safe so it’s recommended a lot. However, it often gets mis-applied, because horse owners do not understand where it stands on the spectrum of relative calorie density. Beet pulp is RELATIVELY higher in calories COMPARED to most grass hays, but it is not RELATIVELY high in calories COMPARED to equal amounts of alfalfa hay, senior feed, or oils! I see so many horse owners struggle to put weight on a horse with beet pulp when there are so many ingredients out there that are RELATIVELY more effective.

You need your horse to gain weight. In these above pictures, the senior feed is 1.5 Mcal/lb, the beet pulp pellets are 1.2 Mcal/lb, and the alfalfa hay is 1.2 Mcal/lb. Which product you choose depends on many factors with relative caloric density only being one of them.

Example #3: You hear that corn oil is bad. Ok, compared to what? If you’re trying to make a horse gain weight, then corn oil is NOT bad because it has the exact same amount of calories per cup as any other oil. However, if you are trying to add more omega-3 antioxidants into your horse’s diet, then corn oil is RELATIVELY bad, because it has a much lower omega 3 to omega 6 ratio COMPARED to fish oils and flaxseed oil! It just depends on your end goal.

You see…all nutrition is relative.

Balancing horse diets is an art, because so many nutritional [and non-nutritional factors] come into play. Comparative reasoning is only one of those factors, but it can be the very helpful. By comparing nutrition options to each other rather than to some mysterious, unknown standard, you can take some of the confusion out of creating those diets. Again, from here on out, every time that you hear a marketing claim or some supposed doctrine of feeding horses, ask yourself “compared to what?” This one simple question helps place the new information into perspective. If this is terribly confusing, then you should definitely hire a nutritionist to help you compare options. This is our super power.


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