What are the risks of giving my horse cereals alone?

Cereals make interesting raw materials with their qualities and defects.

It is often assumed that horses were designed to eat oats or barley.

This notion is inaccurate since horses are primarily herbivores, and are thus designed to eat forage.

The duration of gastrointestinal transit is evidence that horses are indeed herbivorous rather than granivorous; this takes 30 to 34 hours in the large intestine, during which time the horse’s microbial flora digest the cellulose present in the forage, whereas transit through the small intestine takes 1 to 2 hours and comprises enzymatic flora which digest other matter including starch present in cereals.

Besides, we have only been feeding horses cereals for approximately 150 years.

Before then, horses were only fed forage since cereals were reserved for human consumption.

Oats are the most beneficial cereals for horses since they contain more cellulose than other cereals, particularly in the husk (hull) and as little starch.

Horses are not suited to digesting large quantities of starch present in cereals (45 to 60%) when the daily rations exclusively consist of large quantities of cereals. An enzyme, amylase, is required in order to digest starch, and it would appear that horses have very few amylases.

In the event of high starch intake, more lactic acid is produced, giving rise to a greater risk of cramps and laminitis.

Evidently, this is the opposite of the intended goal for sports horses.

Cereals also contain a high proportion of phosphorus which prevents proper calcium binding in the body, and which may promote the development of bone, cartilage and tendon disorders.

The “balanced” feeds available on the market contain cereals along with other raw materials such as meal (soya, sunflower, etc.), and alfalfa etc., and are advantageous since the quantities are determined scientifically so as to cover equine requirements as a supplement to forage.

These feeds have a limited starch content; the Royal Horse product ranges only contain 17 to 24% starch and are perfectly balanced in terms of mineral, vitamin and trace element content. These feeds optimise both sports and breeding performance.