Whether horse or human, a balanced diet involves the correct balance of nutrients to meet the body’s daily requirements. These include protein, amino acids, fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
For horses, a balanced diet is rarely supplied by grass or forage alone. Grass is often deficient in key nutrients, including copper, zinc and selenium. It’s important to correct potential deficiencies by supplementing the diet, but a guesswork approach using occasional scoops of compound feed is unlikely to balance the shortfall properly.
The solution is a balancer – a small nutrient-dense feed fed by the cupful, providing vitamins, minerals and quality protein alongside a negligible level of calories. Balancers are fast becoming the favoured way to ensure your horse receives the nutrients he needs, without unwanted calories, yet there are still may misconceptions about them.
Clare Barfoot RNutr, the research and development manager at feed manufacturer Spillers, explains what horse owners need to know.
Do Balancers help weight gain? No. Balancers (apart from stud products) provide negligible calories when fed at the recommended ration. Even if balancers contain additives such as probiotics to support gut health, they simply will not provide the additional calories that poor doers need to gain weight.
Why are Balancers expensive? Actually, they’re not. Low feeding rates (typically 500g cup per day for a 500kg horse) mean balancers are actually a very cost effective. Depending on pack size, a bag of balancer will typically last 30-40 days for 500kg horse.
Will a balancer make my horse excitable? No. Diet can exacerbate excitability in two ways, either by over-supplying energy (calories) or by providing higher levels of cereal starch and sugar. Most balancers provide negligible levels of energy, starch and sugar when fed at the recommended ration.
Will a balancer give my laidback horse more energy? No. Balancers provide a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Energy/calories are negligible, which is why they are ideal for good doers but are unlikely to give your horse more oomph. However, using a balancer to support a forage-based diet will help your horse’s general health, wellbeing and performance.
Should I stop feeding a balancer when the grass is ‘richer’? No. Although grazing can easily exceed energy (calorie) requirements in spring and summer and levels of some nutrients will be higher, certain nutrients such as copper, zinc and selenium are usually still low. A balancer is always important to make up for the potential shortfall.
Are all balancers essentially the same? No. Some brands simply don’t contain enough nutrients to provide a balanced diet. A good balancer will supply the right combination of nutrients to balance the base ration of the type of horse or pony they are designed for. Many will contain added functional ingredients such as live yeast or glucosamine to support specific needs. There are numerous balancer options, such as stud balancers, lite balancers for good doers and senior balancers for veterans, to meet the needs of your particular horse or pony.
Spillers has introduced a new range of Balancers. To find out more, visit www.spillers-feeds.com or call the Spillers Care-Line on + 44 (0)1908 226626.