How we feed our horses has drastically changed over the years. Gone are the days of feeding straights, working it all out for yourselves. We now have complete feeds, supplementary feeds and balancers. Balancers are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. If you don’t already, you should seriously consider a feed balancer for your horse.
What is a Feed Balancer?
A feed balancer is a really concentrated hard feed giving your horse all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need. They were originally designed for horses who were fed a mainly forage diet. We don’t really know how much nutrition is in our hay and grass. So feeding a balancer helps you balance your horse’s diet by making sure they get everything they need.
Is a Feed Balancer good for horses?
While they might not be for every horse, a feed balancer can be a great feed choice for many horses. Especially horses in light work and good doers.
Unfortunately, we have a problem with fat horses. Vets keep saying that equine obesity is linked to so many health problems our horses face, but so many owners are blind to the problem. Most balancers are low calorie. So they are perfect for good doers, youngstock, retired horses or horses in light work. They let you feed your horse a mainly forage based diet, which we all know is best for a happy, healthy horse! But they also make sure your horse is getting everything they need.
If you start your horse’s diet with a balancer, you straight away know they are getting everything they need. You can top up with Chaff, Forage Nuts or even Speedy Beet to add calories when they need them over winter or if their work load increases. Adding forage in their feed also encourages chewing and saliva production which helps digestion.
As our understanding of how horses digest their food has evolved, we know it’s not good to give them big buckets of food. Each meal should weigh less than 1.5-2kg for the average horse. A Stubbs scoop of cubes or mix can easily weigh this. If your horse needs 2 scoops of cubes a day to get the nutrition they need, you need to be giving your horse a minimum of 2 feeds a day. Ideally 3 or 4.
But if you swapped to a balancer for them to get the nutrition they need, you could decrease the weight of their feeds by 1/3! This is much easier on their tummies, even if you cut down to 1 feed a day, you are probably still feeding less weight per feed.
You know your horse is getting everything they need
One of the problems many people have with complete or compound feeds such as condition cubes or mixes is that you have to feed large amounts for your horse to get all the nutrition they need. If you have a good doer or a horse in lighter work, they might not need all the calories of feeding all that food. So many owners end up feeding less than the recommended amount as their horse gets fat or fizzy and they decide their horse doesn’t need it.
Next time you go to buy a bag of your horses feed, check the back of the bag. How much do they recomend feeding your horse? Are you feeding that amount? If you are feeding less than the recommended amount and your horse is well covered, they might benefit more from a feed balancer.
Swapping to a feed balancer might mean you feed less supplements
If your horse isn’t getting everything they need from their feed, they might be having minor problems you are tackling with extra feed supplements. If they have bad feet you might be adding a biotin supplement to their diet. If they have a dull or flaky coat you might be adding something to improve that. But if they are lacking from their current diet, there is a chance that swapping them onto a feed balancer where they are getting everything they need might negate the need for you to add some supplements to their feed! While your horse probably doesn’t care whether you feed a supplement or not, as long as they get what they need, it is probably cheaper to feed a balancer than feed multiple supplements!
Types of Balancer
There are so many different types of feed balancer available on the market that it can be a bit of a minefield to know where to start. If you don’t have a clue, always reach out to the feed company you currently feed or one you would like to try. They will give you plenty advice and will be able to recommend the right product for your horse.
How to choose a balancer
But when you are researching feed balancers yourself, here are two quick questions to help get you started.
How old is your horse?
Horses have different needs depending on how old they are, this is reflected in the different types of feed balancer on the market. If your horse is still young and developing, you should look at Stud Balancers. If your horse is older, you should look at Veteran Balancers.
What work is your horse in?
Horses doing different jobs also have different needs. Horses in light work usually need Light Balancers. Horses in harder levels of work usually need Performance Balancers. Breeding stallions or broodmares usually need Stud Balancers.
What are the different types of feed balancer?
Light Balancers are some of the most common. They are used for good doers and horses on restricted diets to make sure they are getting everything they need. They are suitable for horses in light work or out of work. But they can have lower levels of good quality protein than other options. So a horse returning to work after an injury might benefit from an option with more protein.
Performance balancers typically just contain higher levels of protein and nutrients a horse needs with a higher work load. They are great for competition horses either as the only hard feed or to top up a higher calorie compound feed.
Veteran or senior balancers are usually very similar to the light or performance balancers, but they often have added benefits aimed at the older horse. These could include things to improve digestion or help with stiffness or mobility.
Stud balancers usually contain higher levels of good quality protein to support the needs of breeding stallions, broodmares and youngstock.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplement
If you are very happy with your horse’s current diet or if they have been really sensitive to feed changes in the past, it can be difficult to change their feed. But there are alternatives! You can get Vitamin and Mineral supplements, usually powders, you can add to your horse’s current feed. These work really well for horses on a purely forage diet as it can be added to chaff.
But they can have less quality protein than other options. So they might not be suitable for horses in harder work or older and younger horses.
Some common misconceptions of Balancers
They are high in Starch & Sugar
If you have a horse where you look at the starch and sugar content, then you might be a bit alarmed when you look at the composition of many balancers. They do look to be higher in starch and/or sugar. But remember you feed much less balancer than you would a compound feed. This can actually make them more suitable for horses who need to have less starch and sugar.
I’ve heard they send some horses crazy
I too have heard of horses getting fizzy and silly on low calorie balancers. Now there is always a chance that there is an ingredient in a specific balancer what might affect a small number of horses. But when we had a nutritionist out recently, she thought it could be something else. She suggested that when you suddenly give a balancer to a horse who has been lacking certain vitamins and minerals, they suddenly feel really well which can make them come across as naughty or silly. It’s not unlike if you eat badly for a week you feel a bit sluggish and off. After a few days of eating properly you have more energy and feel better.
She recommended introducing a balancer very slowly to try and prevent the sudden influx of good nutrition. She even knows of some horses who went crazy the first time they tried a balancer. But after coming off and being reintroduced slowly, settled right down.
You shouldn’t feed them if you don’t know what you are balancing
As we already mentioned, balancers were designed to balance a forage diet. But you don’t actually need to know what your horse is lacking in the forage they get when choosing a feed balancer. Think of them instead as a multivitamin. They will absorb and digest what they need and get rid of the rest.
My Experience with Scottie on a Feed Balancer
When I first got Scottie, I assumed he wouldn’t be a great doer. I had him on Conditioning Cubes and quickly realised he was actually quite a good doer. After about a year I actually sat back and looked at how I was feeding him. He was having about 1/2 – 1 Stubbs scoop a day of cubes when he should have been having 1 1/2 – 2 scoops a day. He was in great condition, if anything he was a bit fat! So I decided to make the change to a Performance Balancer.
It was a bit more expensive than what I had been feeding. But it was cheaper than feeding the Conditioning Cubes at the correct level. Over the next few years I saw a lot of improvements. He got stronger, he lost less shoes and all his sarcoids cleared up! Yes, there are other factors for all these things, but I do feel that good nutrition played a role in all these things.
After a few more years, I felt that Scottie didn’t need the higher levels of protein in the performance balancer. He had muscled up nicely from racehorse to riding horse, but he was still in light work. I found his wee to be particularly smelly and after a bit of research found that not needing all the protein he was eating could be a factor in his smelly wee. So I decided to swap him to a Light Balancer. He was been on a Light Balancer for probably about 4 years now, maybe even longer. He has always looked great on it.
But this winter, partly due to being out of work and partly due to his arthritis diagnosis, he has dropped a fair bit of muscle. After our recent visit from the nutritionist, we will be switching back to a performance balancer because now he needs that extra protein to help build himself back up.
I have always fed Baileys Balancers and they are my Go To balancers.
Last Updated on 22/04/2022