What is nutrition all about?

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Horse chewing alfalfa


When learning about something, it usually pays off to start at the beginning. It's easy to get waylaid with exciting things or things that give you big promises. But understanding the basics is much more valuable because it means that the more advanced – and often more exciting – things will make a lot more sense to you. 

Basic nutrition is one of the foundations of optimal health, which means health that is as good as it can be. 

Nutrition depends on correct feeding, since it's the feed you give your horse that supplies the essential nutrients their body needs. 

At its most basic level, nutrition is about providing a balanced diet, which means one that supplies all the essential nutrients your horse (or yourself) needs every day. 

A healthy diet for a horse provides the right amount of energy (calories, which is a common term for megajoules of energy in horse feeds), carbohydrates (both enough fibre and appropriate amounts of non-structural carbs including starch, grass fructan and sugar), quality protein, oils/fat, and vitamins and minerals. 

Given the right amount of these nutrients every day, horses and ponies are more likely to stay optimally healthy with lower risk of illness and disease. See Nutrition isn't everything, but there's nothing about it for more information. 

In addition to nutrient supply for a balanced diet, we need to consider how to fulfill a horse's behavioural needs if we are to provide them with good nutrition. The reason for this is that horses spend around 70% of their time eating, if given the choice, so it's a big part of their waking hours (See Nutrition and Normal Behaviour).

Good nutrition = feeding correctly, by supplying a balanced diet with behavioural needs in mind
A balanced diet supplies all the essential nutrients a horse needs daily along with the right amount of energy*
The essential nutrients are carbohydrates (including fibre, starch, grass-fructan and sugar), protein, oil (fat), vitamins and minerals and water**
Good nutrition also fulfills the horse's behavioural needs - ask yourself how long your horse will spend eating your chosen diet?

*Energy isn't classed as a nutrient but is the body's fuel which is extracted from carbs and oil.

**Water isn't strictly a nutrient but is as essential for life as the essential nutrients

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