These commercial feed formulations offer unique benefits to horse owners. See if one might be beneficial for your horse.
Ration balancers—everyone’s heard of them, but have you fully considered whether one might be the right option for your horse? They’re a different kind of commercial feed, useful in ways that standard formulations can’t match, especially for horses that tend to gain too much weight or get “hot” on regular feeds.
Let’s take a look.
Ration Balancers Demystified
First, let’s consider what ration balancers aren’t. They aren’t complete feeds, which contain high levels of crude fiber (because they’re intended to be fed in place of hay or other forage, thus why they’re called “complete”—nothing else is needed).
Ration balancers also aren’t so-called performance feeds, which are designed to satisfy the extra calorie needs of heavily exercising horses.
No, ration balancers are meant to provide nutritional balance to a horse’s normal feed ration, that being typically hay or pasture. They “balance out” the forage by providing the high-quality protein and vitamins/minerals that may be lacking in a horse’s forage-only diet.
Complete feeds typically contain up to 15% to 20% or more crude fiber and about 14% crude protein. Compare that to ration balancers, with typically about 4% fiber and up to 30% protein.
That’s a significant difference! It means the balancer is more like a supplement—a heavily fortified formulation you feed in small amounts. With a balancer, you can fulfill your horse’s requirement for high-quality protein and vitamins/minerals without having to give him pounds and pounds of feed.
Let’s see what that all this can mean in terms of satisfying your horse’s specific nutrition needs.
Problems Balancers Can Solve
• Easy keepers. An easy keeper is at risk of getting fat on traditional feeds in the amounts recommended to provide a full complement of vitamins and minerals. And you can’t always depend on your hay or pasture to provide those essential nutrients (see “The Vital Extra?” at left). A ration balancer makes sure your horse gets the nutrition he needs without the extra calories.
• Metabolic issues. Ration balancers can meet the nutritional needs of horses with metabolic conditions (such as insulin resistance and laminitis risk) while minimizing the nonstructural carbohydrates that these horses should avoid. (Always check labels to be sure the product you choose is safe for your horse.)
• ‘Hot’ horses. Horses that need more than hay/pasture but get hot when fed traditional commercial feeds can benefit from a ration balancer. If you simply cut back on the amount of complete or performance feed you give your horse, you’re cheating him of the vitamin/mineral and protein content of the feed. With a balancer, you give him a full complement of nutrition without the extra energy that he really doesn’t need.
• Breeding stock. Young, growing horses can benefit from a feed that provides concentrated nutrition with fewer calories, all of which supports a slower, healthier growth rate. Stallions and newly pregnant mares can also benefit from this concentrated feed choice.
The Vital Extra?
Hay and pasture provide your horse with protein, minerals, and vitamins, but it’s hard to know exactly in what proportions. Hay fields and grass pastures can have inconsistent nutrient values, varying significantly from one geographic area to another. Providing a ration balancer makes sure your horse has the nutrients he needs to thrive. Ask your equine nutritionist or veterinarian if a ration balancer might be a good choice for your horse.