WHAT WE MEAN BY ‘COOL’ & ‘HOT’ FEEDS
If you’ve been around horses for a while, chances are you’ve heard people talking about feed as having “cool” or “hot” characteristics. But this has nothing to do with temperature! This technical term used for horse feed is all about the energy output that a horse has as a result of what goes in their mouth. If you feed your horse a hot feed because you need them to have enough energy to clear that double or ace that passage, then you can expect them to be nicely full of beans. Conversely, if you have your horse on a cool diet because you’re doing some pretty chill activities, then they should be as cool as a bean.
However, if you are finding your horse has too much energy for you, how do you go about adjusting their feed to a cooler option in the most efficient and safest way? Equine Nutrition Assistant for Hygain, Holly Mills, explains that finding the perfect balance of energy for your horse comes down to several factors, not least of which is that each horse is different. “At the end of the day, every horse is an individual,” says Holly, “and every horse will react differently to different types of feeds. It can be hard to actually label a feed ‘cool’ because you might have that one-off chance that the horse will not necessarily be cool on it. And potentially, that is just that horse’s nature and not the feed at all.”
WHAT MAKES A FEED ‘COOL’
When getting into the nitty-gritty of what makes a feed cool or hot, it comes down to what goes into the bag and what each type of ingredient will do for your horse. When it comes to finding a cool feed, anything with low levels of sugar and starch is a good place to start.
“Generally, anything that’s higher in sugar and starch will give a horse excess energy, which can result in that hot, fizzy behaviour,” explains Holly. “I always compare it to feeding your kids a lot of red lollies and then experiencing the aftermath!
“If you’re looking for cooler options, I’d been looking at something with a higher fibre content or high fat content,” continues Holly. “Fibre and fat can give you an indication of the starch content in that feed. So if they’ve got a higher fibre content and higher fat content, you know that most of that energy is coming from those two sources rather than starch. Pretty much anything that contains a cereal grain can be on the hotter scale, but that does depend on the amount of cereal grain that is actually added. That doesn’t mean that some foods that do contain cereal grains won’t be considered cool, that’s just a place where you would start.”
For many horses, hard feed may only make up a small part of their diet or none at all. The majority of a healthy horse’s diet should be comprised of fibre such as grass or hay. Naturally, horses will graze between 16 to 18 hours a day if they can, however, not everyone will be able to access enough healthy pasture to fulfil that dietary requirement. Luckily, hand-feeding grass or hay is relatively easy provided it’s available in your area. But with so many different types of forage on the market, it can be hard to know which type will best suit your horse.
“Remember we’re always thinking about sugars and starches,” says Holly. “If you know how to feed a laminitic horse, that kind of starts your scale off where we’d been looking at things like Rhodes grass or Teff hay as quite low-sugar. Then you’d be looking at legume hays such as lucerne. It’s generally quite low in sugar and should be considered cool. And then from there you’d be looking at a grass hay. Grass hay can be quite unpredictable because you can’t be 100% sure exactly what’s in it (although if it has been tested to determine its sugar content, that can give you a good idea).
“From there, we’re now looking at the next ‘hottest’ hays on the scale, which would be any sort of hays that come from cereal grains such as barley, oaten, or wheaten. If you do have a horse that tends to be a little hotter, you could stay away from those hays that will be a little bit higher in sugar because although they are all fibre sources, they still do differ in the amount of sugar that they are going to be providing that horse.”