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Itís all About the Roughage

Grass hay is the food stuff of choice for horse owners whose animals work or exercise hard. High quality bales of this hay reduce problems in the digestive system and even stimulate the retention of fluid within the intestines; thus, these animals will less likely run the chance of becoming dehydrated. Inside the digestive tract, hay acts like a sponge that holds on to water and because of this will move through the gut slower than cheaper versions of this forage.

Scientists researching how dietary fiber inside a horseís gut affected the bodyís fluid levels during strenuous exercise found that dry feed will increase the animalís need for water yet thus far nobody had really checked to see if an overall diet had an adverse effect on the animalís ability to perform. To this end the researchers used two groups of animals which received diets similar in nutritional makeup, yet one group received its nutrients with hay being a larger percentage of the nutritional protocol while the other group had grain as a staple food. To their surprise, the scientists found that the horses with the emphasis on

evening feedings of hay in their diet would drink about 4.3 gallons of water before being exercised the next morning, whereas those who ate hay as well as grain drank only about 2.9 gallons. As the animals were exercised, it was discovered that the animals on the hay diet had more water in their gut from the start and were also able to hold on to the water the ingested since the fiber inside the digestive system slowed the excretion.

While sweating was similar in both groups, the blood of the hay eating group showed more fluid than that of the grain eating group. The conclusion drawn simply pointed to the fact that the animals in the hay group were better hydrated.

While these findings are logical, there are some detractors to this study, especially when it comes to performance horses. Rivaling scientists concede the fact that hay will act like a sponge in the gut and retain liquids, yet in the case of performance animals this added water into the digestive tract is not viewed as an advantage, after all, while 30 pounds of hay turn into 43 pounds of manure, 12 pounds of hay and 12 pounds of oats only turn into about 25 pounds of manure. They hold that temperature has just as much impact on the levels of liquid in the bloodís plasma as liquid in the gut. Additionally, the findings of the hay test are challenged since nobody was able to measure the amount of water that remained in the fibrous content of the gut after having been transported to the blood for the duration of the exercise.

Obviously, the high hay diet is not designed for competitive horses that take part in events during which weight is a concern. On the other hand, during endurance events, these animals shine.

Read the next horse nutrition article on Sugar to Starch Ratio of Your Horse Feed.
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