Horses - Diet and Nutrition/2yr old performance gelding, what to feed?
I have a 2yr old cutting horse who is being ridden frequently and I want to find the best feed program to promote healthy growth and healthy weight. Are grains good, or oats better? Is a good hay enough? Thanks in advance!
Thank you for your question, and my apologies for not getting to it sooner. 2 year old horses are still in the growth phase of life and require a more nutrient dense diet, needing more protein, a little more energy and more mineral and vitamin than its aged counterpart. A 2 year old in heavy work needs a diet that both ensures he has the nutrients required for maturation AND for work. Otherwise, the nutrients he eats will be diverted to supporting the work he's doing, and he will not mature correctly. The end result would be stunted growth and joint disorders that show up later in life.
So the first step in creating a good diet, is to get an idea of the quality of your hay because hay makes up the largest amount and most important part of the diet. Legume hays like alfalfa and clover will bring more energy, protein and mineral to the diet where grass hay like timothy, bromegrass and the like will bring more fiber and less protein, energy and mineral. Having your hay analyzed is always a good idea and your local feed store or extension agency can help you with that.
Once you know what your hay is missing to support your young horse's work, find a feed that compliments what your horse requires. So, if your hay has plenty of energy and protein, you may only need to feed a mineral/vitamin supplement. If your hay is low in energy and protein you will want to consider a complete feed. If a complete feed is what you need I would suggest choosing one designed for growing horses. The better quality juvenile feeds should derive their energy from fat and quality fiber sources (beet pulp)and protein from soybean meal and isolated amino acids. I would avoid feeding cereal grains like corn and barley to growing horses. I'm not a huge fan of feeding non-structural carbohydrate sources (grains) to horses unless their is a real need to do so (which there only seldom is). Most juvenile rations will have higher levels of copper and zinc to support joint health and more calcium and phosphorous (with a 2:1 calcium-phosphorous ratio).
If you have your hay tested, I could certainly help with some more specific recommendations. I would also need to know your horse's body weight and workload (hours/day or hours/week). If you would like more detailed help, simply send me the information.