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I agree with the idea of letting horses have more than hay and grass. I intentionally leave trees and shrubs within fenced-in areas now, so they can do that. I am always suprised at what they'll eat when given the chance. That said, Rusty also eats our jump poles if we leave them out and he's bored so...
Pony ate the astroturf off one of the jumps where I board. What gets me is not that he tried it, but that after he took one bite he KEPT GOING. So, yeah...
 

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My sheep rancher friend up in Saskatchewan is kind of a radical thinker. She raises about a thousand lambs a year up there, with no shelter except what the ewes can get in the brush around the salt ponds, and very little hay even in winter. There is rarely so much snow cover that the sheep can't paw down to grass. The sheep are never under a roof except at shearing. No one raises sheep around there but her, they all are crop farmers or raise beef, and they think she's crazy. She's been successful though. One of the weird things she thinks is that the sheep know what minerals they need. She puts out tubs of a variety of unmixed minerals and lets them eat whatever they want, which differs depending on the season.

She told me that she's not a sheep rancher, she's a grass rancher. "The soil makes the grass, the grass makes the sheep. I tend the soil."
 

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@Avna there have been multiple equine studies done to determine if a horse will seek out the minerals it was lacking in its diet and they all found that a horse does not seek out what it is missing. I can't find the link but read up about it because a new barefoot farrier near me is all about minerals and addititives and feeds her horses a lot of sea weed and claims they will eat what they need and that is the cure to all foot ailments.

I have mixed feelings on unlimited pasture - my foundered mare will obviously founder on pasture and I manage my pastures well. They get limed when our hay field gets limes and are kept mowed and dragged and we rotate between three different pastures - and as of today my foundered mare is still tender because of the fall change in grasses. So she would be one of the weak ones that would perish in the wild.
 

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[MENTION=186714]

I have mixed feelings on unlimited pasture - my foundered mare will obviously founder on pasture and I manage my pastures well. They get limed when our hay field gets limes and are kept mowed and dragged and we rotate between three different pastures - and as of today my foundered mare is still tender because of the fall change in grasses. So she would be one of the weak ones that would perish in the wild.
Well, that's the thing, though. In the wild, one would think, their access to high-quality forage would be limited, so founder theoretically wouldn't happen so much. If all the horse has access to is grass, and the grass sugar content suddenly spikes, then they might founder. But if they are living in the wild and only have access to a small amount of grass, and the rest of their diet comes from weeds, leaves, trees, etc., maybe they wouldn't.

Semi related:
https://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/blog/post/pigging-out-in-the-forest-the-common-of-mast-in-britain
These "wild" ponies would eat all of the acorns and die if they were allowed to, but people release pigs in the forest to get most of them first. I guess it brings up the question of whether horses really do know what they should be eating.
 

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@Avna I don't think that is too radical, in fact it makes sense to me.

I don't care for comparing animals eating habits between species because ruminants and monogastric animals are different in what they can eat and get away with. That said it is a valid point that living things will seek out what they need if it is available.

Humans are the ones that are always screwing around with diet, ours AND theirs lol. If you think about it though even we naturally eat properly if it is available and all the garbage marketed to us in modern life is not. I don't care what products the beverage companies can come up with, on a hot day after doing physical work nothing is as satisfying as a clean cold glass of water.

On people, there is a very interesting way of eating called the carnivore diet that some people have tried. The idea is that a person eats something like ground beef with salt to taste only and only drinks water for a period of time. What makes it interesting is that in addition to impressive fat loss, people who have tried it are saying all kinds of chronic problems clear up from bad skin, high cholesterol, joint pain and even depression or brain fog. For the people it helps it raises serious questions about everything we have been told about what a healthy diet actually is and at a minimum suggests there are common food allergies with less severe symptoms that go undetected in modern people eating a normal diet.

Back to horses I've seen enough good examples of horses who mostly live on pasture that are fat and shiny and look fantastic. Like the sheep farmer example you gave if the pasture is good quality to begin with that is a completely reasonable way for horses to live. I know not everyone can do that, and some only have the option to stable a horse and the horse eats what the barn buys. That is more complicated unfortunately, so I don't find fault with an owner who wants to supplement the quality of feed and available turnout time which in my opinion horses need to be healthy.
 

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We are lucky/unlucky in my country in that we don't have access to supplements and industrially prepared feed, nor do we have huge tracts of hay producing land. Our horse eat hay which we source four or five hundred bales a go from various parts of the country. They also get various grains, also from different suppliers. We also feed whatever appropriate fruit and vegetables are in season.

So far I haven't noticed any ill effects in that diet. Granted, our horses are recreational horses, not supreme athletes.

A few people bought supplements abroad and I haven't noticed any changes in their horses body condition or performance.

Generally, I approach it the same way most doctors approach supplements for healthy people - they don't make any difference and give you expensive pee.
 

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@Avna there have been multiple equine studies done to determine if a horse will seek out the minerals it was lacking in its diet and they all found that a horse does not seek out what it is missing. I can't find the link but read up about it because a new barefoot farrier near me is all about minerals and addititives and feeds her horses a lot of sea weed and claims they will eat what they need and that is the cure to all foot ailments.

I have mixed feelings on unlimited pasture - my foundered mare will obviously founder on pasture and I manage my pastures well. They get limed when our hay field gets limes and are kept mowed and dragged and we rotate between three different pastures - and as of today my foundered mare is still tender because of the fall change in grasses. So she would be one of the weak ones that would perish in the wild.
Maybe it's just sheep then. She's been at it for more than a decade at this point. My guess is goats would as well, they are very selective as to food.
 

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Interesting topic.
I have seen my mare eating things I know are poisonous in large quantities such as bracken fern, tansy and others even with nice grass available so I don't trust horses to eat what they need.

Good posts from @dogpatch, and I agree with @Avna that we need to think about what kind of environment horses do best in naturally.

For example, horses browsing over many acres of arid land do pretty well. But how many different kinds of plants are they eating? Versus a planted field or one that has been stressed and overgrazed for years.

And how can feeding hay made of one or two grass types provide the same nutrition? Around here, we have tons of rain. I buy my hay from a drier climate. When I've fed local hay, the horses have shown signs of nutritional problems.

Someone here brought some cows from a drier climate and put them on pasture with hay. Many of the cows died because they ate the green grass instead of the hay, because it tasted good, but the nutrients had been washed out.

Considering horses as individuals seems important to me. If horses do adapt quickly, then what have TBs adapted to? Being fed a lot of rich food? They do seem to handle sugars better than many breeds.

Most horses have adapted to lack of vitamin E in stored hay, but if you have one that does not store enough in the muscles you will have serious problems.

It's really helpful to know how your climate and local hays/grasses affect horses. Often vets know this, and will share if asked.

It can't be wrong to start with a basic diet of quality forage and watch for signs of deficiencies.
That being said, I won't risk vitamin E deficiency again because it comes on slowly and insidiously, so I feed E knowing hay does not provide enough without good pasture.

If I lived in the high desert in my state, I would probably feed just hay. Every backyard horse over there is blooming and thriving. In this wetter part of the state many backyard horses you see driving around have bad skin and hooves from vitamin deficiencies.

My last barn switched to local hay because it was cheaper, and my hooves started having issues so I had to add hoof minerals and play catch up. The amount of dental care horses need also can be much reduced if they regularly eat off gritty soil, pulling hardy, dry weather plants with their teeth versus eating wet, soft grasses off soft clay with no grit.

I believe the diet should consider climate, the horse's issues based on genetics, and any known diseases or health conditions. This means to me that I won't feed each horse the same. My TB gets extra magnesium, but he has had known musculoskeletal issues from bad breeding. My Arab does not need it.

People can take too many supplements too. But the same considerations apply. I know that every person in this rainy area who gets tested for vitamin D at the hospital shows deficiency. So it makes sense to take it here. I also take magnesium after athletic endeavors and the muscle soreness time is cut in half.
 
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