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25 oktober 2023 Reading time 3 minutes

Johan Hamminga on changes in horse nutrition

Over the years, quite a lot has changed in the field of horse nutrition. Especially if you look at the last 20 years, the changes are big. Johan Hamminga knows all about it. He gives us a glimpse into how things used to be and the science we use to feed our horses today.  

"The development of horse feed has not stood still, that is logical. Not only do we know more, the way we keep our horses is also very different," Hamminga says. He is a horseman at heart and has seen things change in recent years. "The most important change is actually the way we use our horses. In the past, the horses had to work all day on the land. At weekends, the children were allowed to ride those horses and go to the clubs. Those horses had to work really hard. Nowadays, there are few horses that work so hard. Yes, we still see them in eventing. These are also horses that really have to work in training and especially during competitions.  However, there are a lot of people who think their horse works hard, but in reality it's often not that bad." 

The consequence of this, according to Hamminga, is that many people may overfeed their horses. As a result, there are currently many more overweight horses to be seen than in the past. "That certainly doesn't benefit their horse's athleticism. They give their horse far too much concentrate which is too high in energy. And in addition, such a horse also gets a hand of this and a hand of that. One horse is too 'crazy' so gets something to calm him down and the other is given something for more zest.” 

Roughage as a basis 

According to Hamminga, it is good to start with the basics first. "Start feeding your horse good roughage. That's the basics. If the roughage is good, then most horses do not need large amounts of concentrates. I always have my roughage tested, so I know exactly what is in it. I also always try to buy from the same supplier, then I already know a little better what I get. But even then, I always have it tested to make sure I know what's in it. Then I can also supplement the feed in a very targeted way." 

It is important to take a good look at the energy needs of your horse. Some horses need only a balancer with vitamins and minerals in addition to their roughage. Other horses that work a bit harder need more energy and protein-rich concentrates.  

"What has also changed in the field of roughage is the time of feeding. We used to start the day with a scoop of kibble in the feeder, now we know that it is better to start with roughage. We now also give smaller portions more often in a day, so that the stomach is always filled and the intestines continue to work." 

Sand colic 

Hamminga indicates that, in addition to the purpose of the horses, many things have also changed in the management. Some benefit the horses but there are also changes that can cause problems that horses used to hardly ever suffer from. "Take sand colic, for example. In the past, that didn't actually happen at all. The horses worked during the day and stood at night in a full meadow with enough grass. Today, that is no longer the case. The horses spend a lot of time in the stable and in a meadow of 20 by 100 meters, if they are lucky. But they are also often in a sand paddock. Then, although they are outdoors and have more room to move than in the stable, if there is a blade of grass to be found, the horses also get a lot of sand. That also happens when they are in a meadow with very short grass." 

More research 

"Because more research is being done these days, we just know a lot more. Take, for example, horses with a stomach ulcer. In the past we did not know about the existence of ulcers. However, we now know that not only does this occur in horses but that you can also do something about it. We know a lot more about how the whole horse food feeding system works." The dental condition is also an element that, according to Hamminga, used to receive little attention. "The horses now go to the dentist regularly. We keep a much closer eye on the dental condition of our horses." 

Higher level 

In any case, one thing has got much better. "That's the level of sport. If you compare that to the past, there’s quite a difference. This is also a result of the fact that we have much more knowledge of both nutrition and training. It is true that, in terms of interaction, we used to have more horse people and now there are many more people with horses. By that I mean, in the past people grew up more with horses so basically got a lot of their knowledge that way ." 

Hamminga himself does not make it very exciting in terms of feed policy. "I have been feeding my horses Pavo sports pellets for over fifty years. They do well with this, in combination with good roughage. For me, Pavo stands for quality and just good food. I remember that Pavo used to be in blue bags but the pink color certainly doesn't make the horses enjoy it any less," Hamminga concludes.