Whole Oats, the Perfect Horse Feed?
by Yvonne Welz ©2004-2011
This article was published in The Horse's Hoof Magazine Issue 15, Spring 2004.
*Note: Some horses are grain-intolerant or sensitive to oats. Avoid feeding oats if you suspect EPSM/PSSM, muscle problems, or metabolic disorder, and discontinue oats if you notice any problems with your horse.
Oats Part 1 featured some important
information about oats from a presentation by Dr. Dorothe Meyer of Germany.
Whole oats appear to have characteristics that make them ideal for general
equine nutrition. Here are some more details on the feeding of oats, as well
as testimonials on Strasser Hoofcare Professionals recent experiences
How much whole oats?
Based on Peter Speckmaiers (SHP, Germany) info, here are
some whole oat feeding guidelines for a typical horse, with natural living
conditions, (but not the ideal, varied acreage), and receiving a little bit
of exercise (but could use more):
|Horses weight||Oats per day|
|400 kg/881 lb||1.25 - 1.5 kg per day
or 2.75 - 3.3 lbs per day
|600 kg/1322 lb||1.5 - 2 kg per day
or 3.3 - 4.4 lbs per day
For horses who do no work at all, feed just a little less oats
than the amounts above. For high performance horses, distance horses, etc.,
up to 50% more oats can be fed. The above values are for horses kept on pasture
or paddockadd 10%-20% more for a stall-kept horse (but we dont
have any of those, right?), who expends more energy due to the stress of confinement
and/or the stress of having improper hoof form (still too common). Feed less
oats when horses are on varied, unimproved pasture with a wide variety of
The correct amount could vary with each individual horsethese
are rough guidelines only. Oats should be introduced gradually, of course,
and slowly increased to the appropriate amount. Naturally kept horses will
require less oats than stalled horses do. Feed the oats in as many small meals
as is possible to do. Ideally, if you needed to feed 5 lbs. per day, you should
feed 10 meals of 1/2 lb per meal. Realistically, this is usually not possible.
Try to split the oats into at least 2 to 3 feedings per day.
If it is only possible to feed one time per day, you should
NEVER exceed 5 lbs. per meal for a 1350 lb horse, or 4 lbs per meal for smaller
horses. Feeding more per meal than this can lead to undigested starch passing
though to the large intestine and disrupting the digestive system (gas, colic,
Now by this point, many horseowners jaws have droppedwhat,
feed the pasture potato POUNDS of oats per day? While the feeding of oats
is nothing new, and horsemen throughout the ages have relied on it, this advice
contradicts the modern popular model of feeding, which relies on sweet
feed, if any grain at all is fed. If oats are fed, they are measured
by the cupful rather than pounds! And when the recommendation goes so far
as to say that all horsesespecially foundered onesshould receive
this amount of oats, the eyebrows are really raised.
Peter recommends feeding hay even to horses on pasture, because
grass has too much protein in the spring, which makes horses lazy, and too
little protein in the fall, which makes them retain water. However, wild
pastures (not improved or overgrazed) dont have as much problem with
their protein levels. Wild, unimproved pasture also provides more varied nutrition,
so the amount of oats can be reduced.
Older horses with poor teeth that cant chew whole oats
properly can still reap the benefits if you can cook the oats before feeding.
This can be accomplished simply by pouring boiling water over the bucket and
letting it sit, covered, for a while.
When adding oats, the calcium/phosphorous balance of the overall
diet needs some attention. Many nutritionists recommend the optimum ratio
for a mature horse to be between 1.5-1 and 2-1 calcium to phosphorous. Oats
are higher in phosphorous, and can have an inverted calcium to phosphorous
ratio of 1 to 5 (1 part calcium to 5 parts phosphorous)so if you feed
a lot of oats, you will need to balance this out with the correct amount of
Most grass hays have only a 1-1 or 2-1 ratio, while legume hays
can have very high calcium, with a 5-1 or higher ratio. You can feed a small
amount of alfalfa as a "supplement" to increase calcium. Many people
also feed beet pulp because of its high calcium ratio (6-1). Another solution
is to provide a free choice calcium mineral supplement. Some horsemen offer
calcium carbonate, limestone, or bone meal, but the source and purity should
be evaluated. Any free choice mineral mixes should have a 2-1 calcium to phosphorous
Oat Feeding Testimonials
Still skeptical about adding pounds of oats to your horses
daily diet? (please read note at top of page, and be careful with horses that
could be EPSM) Remember that grain does not cause laminitis or founderpoor
hoof form does. But wont your horse get fat? Or wont he get too
hot and hyper? Thats not what the feedback seems to be from people who
are testing it out. Keep in mind, however, in every testimonial presented,
that the horses have 1) natural living conditions and 2) correct hoof form.
Without these vital conditions, the results may not be so positive.
Tracy Raffaele, SHP, California: I have watched several
portly horses (including my own) lose fat without an increase in exercise
by just adding oats to their diet.
Suzanne Foster, SHP, Wisconsin: I have watched a foundered
Cushings gelding gain muscle mass and lose a huge crest over the course
of four months. He gets about 8 pounds per day, broken into 4 feedings. He
is also ridden (mostly cantering and some trotting) for an hour or so each
day, broken into 2 or 3 rides. He continues to look more healthy each day
eyes, more willingness to move (obviously). Additionally, two skinny horses
that required quite a bit of oats initially, seem to be holding with about
half what they first received. Finally, my personal mare that had fat
bulges above her eyes lost them when I doubled her oats intake. Those
bulges have not returned after 2 months. Im sold.
Jane Kempton, SHP, United Kingdom: I have a 24 year old
who suddenly lost weight about six years ago, and I couldnt get it back
on him. De-shoeing helped a bit, but he has always dropped off in the winter.
Bareback riding was painful, for both of us, I should think. He isnt
looking thin anymore (after feeding oats)! I rode him today for the first
time in months and was really surprised at how much muscle he has rebuilt
along his back. My friend usually rides him about twice a month and that is
all he gets. (I know, bad SHP that I am. Not enough exercise.) I could really
notice the increase in muscle tone. As you say, the truth will come out in
the long term, but so far, they are all doing fantastically. Eight months
into feeding whole oats now.
Frances Guthrie, SHP, British Columbia: The horses are
doing well. My Pillsbury Doughboy gelding has definitely changed
from pudgy-soft fat to firm, round horsewith no change other than the
Brio, a 24 yr old quarter horse mare, has always had a
huge hay belly. With the addition of oats to her diet, her figure
is now what I would consider average for an old, out-of-shape brood mare.
I am curious to see how she responds to the continued feed change. I will
be removing all other grain and replacing with oats and minerals only this
spring. I think her digestion is better, as she doesnt seem to be eating
huge quantities of hay as she did in the past.
Blaze, my 31 yr old mare, has been very interesting to
observe, and I believe the extruded feed was causing fluid retention. I had
been feeding 1/2 oats, 1/2 extruded, and when I noticed she was too fat, I
reduced the extruded feed and continued with the same amount of oats. She
looked different in just a few days. Then I had reason to think she was losing
weight, so I increased the extruded, and in about a week she seemed puffy.
A rehab gelding arrived here quite underweight with considerable
muscle loss along his topline. He is a picky eater and never seems to eat
as much as I think he should, even leaving grains. I started him on oats very
conservatively, slowly increasing the quantityhis weight gain was slow
and steady, but not what I was hoping for. I recently increased his ration
and am noticing a nice improvement in him.
My sister recently fed her gelding a small ration of sweet
feedhe promptly rubbed out his tail hair. For years she was convinced
he was sensitive to mosquitoesbut this was the middle of winter when
we have no bugs! As soon as she went back to oats, he quit rubbing and scratching.
A new client has started her gelding on oatshe looked
overdue to foal twins. I dont know if Ive ever seen a gelding
with a belly that big, and she is certain he is slimming.
Christina Kusznir, SHP, New York City: One of my clients,
whose horse has been barefoot for 18 months with another trim, and tender
on gravel the whole while, has recently reported that he is now much sounder
on gravel after only a week or two of switching to whole oats. He has been
Strasser trimmed twice to date. Of course, the trim may have something
to do with it, but last issue Erica Lynall wrote that her mare Moose was no
longer sore on stones after increasing the oats. Christina said that she actually
got the idea to make the oats suggestion to this client after reading about
Bob Creel, SHP, Florida: I switched my horses to whole
oats over a year ago, and they seem to be healthier. With the same amount
of exercise, they lost excess fat and gained muscle.
Christina Martin, SHP, British Columbia: I for one will
continue to feed oats, but then, I always didI just increased the amounts.
I havent found my horses to get hot with the whole oats,
but then I dont feed that much, as my horses roam a lot of unimproved
acreage. This, according to both Peter (Speckmaier) and Marijke (van de Water),
supplies them with a lot of varied amino acids from wild plants.
Erica Lynall, SHP, United Kingdom: My mare on oats is
just an awesome ride! Every horse/pony Ive put on oats looks fabulous,
and those with fluid retention/fat deposits have gotten better. There are
one or two owners who were skeptical, and their horses are still fat, plus
the hooves havent changed enough.
Over the last winter, Ive requested owners use oats
for 9 laminitis prone ponies and horses. Obviously, they arent
laminitis prone now! They are all getting better. One of them
has definite Cushings, and she is shedding out buckets of hair at the
moment. She is also on specific homeopathics, but the addition of the oats
caused it all to work better.
Julie Leitl, SHP, Australia: I, too, have upped the oats.
My QH 16yo mare has come off pasture and is now at home on some grass (not
much), pasture hay and now oatsmore oats than I have ever fed before,
although it is a feed that I have used for years. I have actually ridden this
horse a couple of times in the last week, and she felt wonderful and not at
all hot. In fact, she has never felt better.
I am also feeding oats to a clients horse that I
am caring for (coffin bone protrusion), and she seems to be doing really well,
too. Im trying to hold the weight onto this horse, and it seems to be
working. She also seems much keener to eatin fact she is eating me out
of house and home, unlike when she first arrived.
Ross Neder, SHP, Arizona, just started his herd on oats: Well,
here are a few observations from the ultimate skeptic. After a week and still
not up to full ration, my horses are eating less free- fed grass and moving
more on their own.
The most amazing occurrence is that one of my long-term
rehabs actually played with the lead mare. This guy almost always stands off
by himself; hes the lowest of low in the pecking order. If any of the
other horses get active, hes outta-there. He was even mixing with the
herd while grazing.
Either my trimming has improved this week or oats are
the effective agent.
Click here for Oats part 1.
©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
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