Ellen Collinson Equine Iridologist and Herbalist


Oats are classed as both a herb and a food, they are a strength-giving cereal, low in starch but high in minerals. Also rich in Vit. B they are an important source of Vit. E, magnesium, calcium and prebiotic. They are a nerve tonic and bone building and contrary to modern day thinking are an excellent feed for horses that are in work. The best way to feed them is soaked in cold water as explained here.

Soaked whole oats, soaked for approx. 12 to 24 hours in cold water, this makes the oats a living enzyme again, which enables the horse to digest them more easily. (This is why cold water must be used as hot water makes enzymes sluggish at 118 degrees and kills them at 130 degrees.) Because they are now a living enzyme and more easily digested the energy is released into the system quicker and without any build up of lactic acid, so less chance of tying up, and also they do not affect the temperament due to the soaking and no starch build up in the hind gut, which is  what aggravates the digestive processes and system. The other benefits of soaking include the fact that any chemical residue from sprays etc., are washed away, but not the goodness of the oat. The Vit E is in the outer husk of the oat, after soaking it becomes easier to assimilate. The oats soak water should be drained off and discarded, before feeding, and enough can be put up to last 1 to 3 days depending on ambient temperature. All you need is a hessian or woven  sack, or old pillowcase   or large colander and a spare large tub with lid or dustbin. Put the oats in the sack or colander in a tub, cover with water, keep weighted down with a clean brick or stone. After 12hrs to  24 hrs for whole oats, remove from the water and drain.  Discard the water, never re-use the same water, always use fresh. The soaked oats will keep for 1 to 3 days in a lidded bucket and if they sprout they are even more nutritious with more enzymes, excellent for the gut health and good gut flora. Take care  in very hot weather, they do not go sour, rancid, or slimey ; if so they must be discarded .

Quantities fed should depend on work being done, type of horse, weight and condition but as a guide a horse In light work I would suggest approx. 2lbs - 3lbs of soaked oats twice a day with alfalfa chaff or other non molassed (weigh soaked oats not dry) and of course good hay. The amount can then be increased gradually if and when the work increases. A horse in hard work, ie. eventing or racing should be able to eat 12 - 14lbs of soaked oats a day, and for high energy add cooked or soaked Maize, either crushed, kibbled, flaked or whole, Maize is very high energy, and also helps keep weight on as it is fattening as well. 1lb of maize added to a 3-4lb feed of oats should be sufficient, only for horses in hard work.

The best supplement to ensure all other nutrients are present is Seaweed, being high in naturally chelated minerals, trace elements, some vitamins and amino acids. The iodine content, which is a supreme gland builder and conditioner, important for thyroid function, reduces excess fatty tissue and removes toxic elements, along with iron which is of premier importance to the blood, promoting oxygen absorption and building red corpuscles. Carrots are excellent for the liver and digestive system and full of calcium and some amino acids. Alfalfa is classed as a herb and is very deep rooting,  a rich source of calcium and also contains chlorine, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium and sulphur, it is also rich in vitamins. Alfalfa is a natural source of and high in protein;  also a diuretic, and more importantly has 8 digestive enzymes in it which stimulates the digestive system, enabling the proper assimilation of the nutrients provided. It is a very good ‘balancer’ to be fed with oats, along with (calcium /magnesium balance ) although it is a complete feed in its own right.

Where less protein is advisable for a horse or pony, then instead of alfalfa, use a pure Timothy chaff or OAT straw chop, NEVER barley straw or wheat straw. 

Seaweed is the very best addition to a horse or ponies feed, providing a very broad spectrum of nutrients - vitamins, minerals, trace elements and amino acids. Seaweed is a good source of iron; and iodine for the thyroid function - being careful not to feed too much as too much is as bad as too little.

A bran mash once or twice a week with a small handful of Epsom salts, to keep their system clean, this has become unfashionable due to modern day nutritionists, however it is as good for horses nowadays as it was in the past.

Other feeds that can be added where bulk is required, more fibre, or weight gain is soaked beet pulp, preferably un-molassed helps keep condition on. It is also good for keeping the bowels working, and is very good for lactating mares. It is also high in calcium. Beet pulp, along with the correct herbs aids the passage of undigested matter in the gut and psyllium husks can be added in the right consistency, for this purpose. Ideal added into soaked oat 'porridge' food for older horses and ponies with few or no teeth, whom are no longer able to eat hay. Good quality grass nuts soaked are another forage that can be added for those with dental issues.

Cider Vinegar internally, is good for them an egg cupful daily, this is also excellent used externally for any sore or inflamed joints. Corn (Maize) oil is also an additive, only an egg cupful twice weekly, not daily mixed into the feed, do not over feed any oil.  Linseed oil /meal is best not given NO more than once a week maximum as it is toxic in larger doses or when it is given daily, including boiled or micronised.

Salt should also be available, and the best source is Rock Salt, not the man made licks but the rock salt that is pure and dug out of the ground and many feed merchants do sell it. It comes in large chunks, which can be broken down to put in the stable or one large chunk in the field for horses grazing. Table salt is processed and should never be given for consumption.

For those horses that need to put on weight or hold more condition boiled barley and boiled linseed once a week are all good ‘fattening’ foods. Boiled barley can be given once a day in the evening feed, ¼ to a full scoop of boiled barley per horse, to horses in hard work ONLY. Barley is too heating to the blood if only doing light work and is a cause of skin problems.  Linseed oil, meal, or boiled whole, only given once a week  maximum as it can be toxic in larger doses or given daily in feeds / chaffs and overload the liver.

This is a diet I recommend for all horses but especially for horses that are not ‘doing well’ or ‘tying up’ or having ‘problems’ in the kidney area, showing dietary issues like spots or ‘sweet itch’ or just simply being ‘hyper’. It suits most horses and is much more cost effective as well as healthier.

And finally but very important good quality hay. If you have to feed horsehage or haylage for some reason then make sure it is low protein and not too wet and acidic as the acid content can contribute to ulcers, poor nutrient uptake and an gut environment where bad gut bacteria and parasites can thrive. Also the fact that if it is very high protein it can’t be fed in large quantities, therefore the stomach has long periods of being empty, and because the horse is naturally a browser, continually grazing in nature, only stopping for short periods to sleep, this causes an acid build up which again can cause gastric ulcers and other issues, this is why it is helpful to sometimes feed extra chaff or good clean oat straw as non fattening forage bulk.

I realise that this diet is ‘old fashioned’ and that the modern day diets are far easier, 'convenient', however that does not mean they are better and although modern day 'nutritionists' do not agree, it was all that horses were fed in the past, and the horses were far fitter, healthier, less colics, less ulcers, hardly any sweet itch, fewer cases of tying -up, fewer cases of fractures and bursting, far less cases of laminitis, I think the evidence speaks for itself, and I am confident that you will be delighted with the results, and the reduction in your feed bills.

updated 14-03-19

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