Warm Mashes for Senior Horses

Gayle's 32 Year Old Arabian, "Radar's Count"

I received an email from one of my clients asking for a recipe for a “Safe Warm Mash” for her senior horse.   She thought a bran mash would be a good choice, but was unsure as to ingredients or cooking instructions.  The particular horse is 23 years old and a body score of a solid 6. He is showing some early signs of Cushing’s disease. His current diet is grass hay and Nutrena’s SafeChoice Senior horse feed, as well as daily pasture turnout.

I have never understood why so many educated consumers, that take the time to transition a horse gradually from one feed to another over 5-7 day period would want to take this chance.  A one meal change in a horse’s diet may not cause colic or founder, but it can cause enough of a change in the microbial balance to cause diarrhea or gas, especially in a senior horse.   The fact that the calcium and phosphorus ratios in bran are also so out of balance for horses makes me uncomfortable, as we strive for a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus, not 1:12 as is in bran.   This is important for proper metabolic function and to maintain bone integrity.

The good news is that there is a safe alternative to making a bran mash!  I contacted my client and told her that she already had the ingredients to make a mash for her horse – his senior horse feed - and the most important nutrient in a horse’s diet – water.  Senior feeds are high in fiber, as well as properly fortified with calcium and phosphorus.  By simply soaking a serving of her horse’s senior feed with warm water for 5-8 minutes until it reaches a consistency her horse will enjoy, she will have a nice warm mash for her senior horse.

This entry was posted in Care and Management, Changing Horse Feed, Feeding Management, Horse Feed, Senior Horses.
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35 Responses to Warm Mashes for Senior Horses

  1. kim moudy says:

    this is good info. I have a senior appy mare (29 yo), and the vet as well as the feed store have helped me in getting correct portions in feeding her. Her weight, body, coat, and spirit have all turned for the better. I do wet her food, just a bit, and also give her free range with loose minerals. I am a big fan of Nutrena Senior.

    • Natalie says:

      Kim that is so cool. I have a senior appy gelding also (29yrs). And I did the exact same thing that you did. Now my senior friend has gained weight, his coat looks fantastic and he is now out playing with the younger horses.

    • Sunny says:

      I also have several seniors… all Arabians; Fairizona will be 34 this coming May… she is on Nutrena Senior and I wet it for her to make a warm mash. All my guys love Nutrena Senior (my dogs love picking up the droppings, too!)

  2. Linda Clark says:

    It tells you on the bag to soak it with warm water. I have a 34 yr. old that has been eating Nutrena Senior for several years. When she started losing condition, I started putting warm water on it and her condition came back.

  3. Roxanne says:

    I add beet pulp shreds and alfalfa cubes to the Nutrena Senior for the evening feeding. I just add warm water and let everything soak while doing the rest of the chores. My old gals just love it.

  4. Mary Watkins says:

    I did just read a report from Kentucky Equine Research this month, about bran mashes. Researchers do agree about the digestive upset, it seems to be quite common. Many scientists agree about the negative effect on the gut microbes, too.

    Regarding calcium/phosphorus levels, the report does state an occasional bran mash will not upset body-wide mineral levels. But, wheat bran offers little in the way of nutrition.

    Roxanne’s use of beet pulp is supported by the report. It is identified as a better source of fiber than wheat bran.
    Roxanne’s use of soaked alfalfa cubes is a better nutritional offering than wheat bran, also.

    Beet pulp is a relatively good source of calcium and calories and is very low on the glycemic index.

    I wonder what is in Nutrena Life Design Senior? (I understand the ingredients vary depending on the region a mill is located. And, I’m not sure if feed mills must list the ingredients in descending order of weight.) Let’s see what I can find, for ingredients…

    First ingredient listed (on one example): Wheat Middlings (Wheat middlings or wheat mill run, stated by AAFCO, is coarse and fine particles of wheat bran and fine particles of wheat shorts, wheat germ, wheat flour and offal from the “tail of the mill”.) Hmmmmmmm.

    • Emily L. says:

      Dear Mary, Thank you for your great questions, and your enthusiasm around this topic!

      When you get down to it, horses do not have ingredient requirements, but rather need certain levels and combinations of nutrients (carbohydrates (starch/fiber), fat, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, water). Nutrena uses different ingredient combinations to meet the specific nutrient requirements of the animal. For example, horses don’t have a requirement for corn or oats, instead what their body needs and recognizes is the levels of fat, fiber, starch, etc that those ingredients provide. So, it’s not really a change in ingredients that causes upset, it’s a change in the level of nutrients provided by the ingredients used. Sudden changes in nutrient levels such as fiber and starch can result in gastrointestinal upset which manifests itself as mild diarrhea to gas colic, neither of which are desirable. Feeding horses with consistent, balanced nutrients in mind can go a long way in supporting our horses (gut) health, and overall well being.

      In regards to your comment about Life Design Senior, that product has a balanced formula designed to meet the nutrient requirements of horses, specifically the unique requirements of our older equine companions. The use of wheat midds in our Life Design Senior formula is only one ingredient of many that provides complete and balanced nutrition to the animal if recommended feeding directions are followed. The nutrient content and balance of the total diet must be considered. Just focusing on one particular ingredient does not tell us the whole story. Sure, wheat bran/midds/flour/shorts alone do not contain balanced nutrient profile for horses, and it would not be recommended to feed this single ingredient alone to meet the nutritional requirements of horses. But, when you consider the nutrient contribution of wheat bran/midds/flour along with all of the other ingredients in that formula, you will find that it adds up to a high quality balanced ration.

      To answer your question on ingredients changing by plant, the reason that ingredient profiles may shift a little is to provide flexibility in achieving the proper nutrient levels, with the understanding that nutrients within individual ingredients can vary quite a bit and certain ingredients may be more readily available in a particular region as compared to another. If a fixed or locked ingredient formula were used, this would take away the ability to account for nutrient variation within individual ingredients. For example, the protein content in alfalfa or oats can vary significantly from one batch to another, and if the formula ingredients are locked, this can compromise the consistency of nutrition the horse experiences, even though the ingredients are the same.

      For Roxanne, her use of soaked hay cubes and beet pulp provide good sources of fiber in the diet and compliment the nutrient content of Life Design Senior.

      I hope this is helpful to you. Please let us know if we can answer any other questions!
      Thank you ~ Emily L.

      • Soraya says:

        I have to disagree with the statement “So, it’s not really a change in ingredients that causes upset, it’s a change in the level of nutrients provided by the ingredients used.” One thing that the Nutrena spokesperson has not mentioned is that different ingredients have different digestibilities, so unless the two ingredients that are exchanged for one another have *identical* digestibility, a change in ingredients does indeed change nutrient availability to the horse, something that is not always reflected in the label. Reading a label that only states crude protein or crude fiber %s is useless – that is just the result of an analysis that tells you what is present, not what will be absorbed.

        Another important factor that is not always fully disclosed in labels is the type of carbohydrates in the feed: cellulose and hemicellulose are structural carbohydrates located in the plant’s cell walls) versus sugars and starches, carbohydrates found inside the cells, also known as non-structural carbohydrates. Grasses, legumes and hays made from these have low starch + sugar %s, with total NSCs in the low teens. Wheat middlings average starch % in the mid 20s, with total NSCs in the low 30s. Taking a cue from nature, keeping NSCs closer to what horses used to eat before domestication promotes healthier hindgut bacterial populations and less GI problems. There is an association between high NSC feeds and colic & laminitis in horses that are overweight.
        “If a fixed or locked ingredient formula were used, this would take away the ability to account for nutrient variation within individual ingredients.” Not so; you could either bring ingredients from elsewhere – Canadian & Western hay is shipped all over the place just so you can feed alfalfa or timothy hay if you wish to do so. It *does* increase the price, and that is a far heavier consideration for people who mill or feed a ration where ingredients can change from batch to batch without any indication of the changes made evident in the label.
        Talk to your extension agent about feed analysis – they do not have an interest in representing one feed brand over another – they’ll just give you facts or refer you to someone else who can that is without bias.

        • Roy J. says:

          Thank you for your comments and observations. In an ideal management system, the horse owner would have access to a very consistent forage source which did not have significant variation and the concentrate portion of the diet would also not have any variation as horses do indeed like consistent nutrient flow.

          Unfortunately, the significant variation in forage from field to field and from cutting to cutting makes that quite difficult. This is even more difficult for the owner who buys limited quantities each time and does not have each purchase tested.

          As you are very aware, the nutrient content of fairly uniform grains such as oats, barley and corn also varies greatly from location to location and even within a field. The database at http://www.Equi-Analytical.com, one of the better public data bases, certainly shows that variation.

          A supplier that uses a fixed formula could indeed reduce nutrient variation if they sourced ingredients from different areas and had the ingredients tested before they were delivered to the plant so that they could use very similar ingredients all the time. Unfortunately that is not a common practice in the industry due to the logistics and cost involved and would increase the cost of the feed substantially and would probably not be considered very environmentally friendly. If you are making a breakfast cereal and selling it for $3-4,000 per ton retail, this is feasible and is quite common in the food industry. This may explain why a box of breakfast cereal costs what it does in a grocery store?

          We understand and agree completely that different ingredients have different digestibility coefficients for different nutrient fractions. The digestibility is also different for each species. We (and we trust other feed companies)have a very detailed proprietary set of equations in our formulation system to adjust ingredient use based in part of the species digestibility measurements for major nutrient fractions in each ingredient. There are also quite a number of nutrients that have minimums and maximums in feed formulation beyond what is conveyed on the tag, including but not limited to NDF and ADF, to manage some of the carbohydrate fractions. We are continually working to improve our accuracy in this area as we believe it is key to providing consistent nutrient flow.

          The feed and nutrition industry has made substantial progress in the last few years in adjusting energy sourcing and nutrient content for the intended use of the horse. When we look at how horses are managed in confinement and for specific performance demands, we appreciate that this is not the same as the horse roaming in a natural environment. Many horse owners would also probably not find the body condition changes that take place under range conditions and the productive life span of horses on the range to be completely acceptable.

          Cool season grasses under specific growing conditions are the highest source of fructans and perhaps the most variable source due to the impact of growing conditions. Fortunately, these are not commonly used in feed formulation as they are not commonly harvested for ingredient use in the same manner as say alfalfa or beet pulp.

          Utilizing extension agents expertise in feed analysis, particularly forage, is something we routinely and strongly encourage horse owners to do to help them manage their animals. A very good survey conducted by Dr. Noah Cohen suggested that sudden changes in forage was closely associated with the incidence of colic. Most horse owners will try to make concentrate changes gradually, but may change forage in one day if they have to change sources.

          Sincerely,
          Roy A. Johnson

          • alisa bernhard says:

            Is this the Roy A Johnson from Wisconsin? We feed beet pulp and would like to add the equine sr. also.

          • Roy J. says:

            Hello Alisa, I am from Minnesota, so close, but not quite a Wisconsinite! We’d love to have you try our SafeChoice Senior feed for your horses, and let us know what you think of it!
            Thank you ~ Roy J.

  5. stephanie says:

    I have a 25 yr old diagnosed cushing mare. I found senior feed to be too high in sugars for her as a cushings horse. I had her teeth done they are fine, I added beet pulp as now a days it is so low in sugars that all it is is fat and fiber, I also went to a low carb low sugar complete feed for senior cushings horses, I did not change her hay rations, just added the grains mentioned and also some rice bran and her peroglide to her evening meal. I have recently reduced her grain rations down to no beet pulp, no rice bran, and just keep her on the complete low sugar low carb feed in her evening meal with her meds and a joint supplement. she looks great for 25 yrs and is still sound for trail riding.

  6. Marlene says:

    I need help and information please:
    I have three horses, a 11yr old, 18yr old and a 30yrs old. They are in NC right now and will be transfering to ILL. in April, I have lived in NC for many years, the barn that they are at have fed them round balls during the winter, and a 12% grain, senior for the older ones. and pasture grass during the summer.. Here is my question, now that I am in Ill. waiting for my horses to arrive, I have found out that the hey is no where to be found (shortage) I have never had to transition horses before from one state to another, so I am needing some input on how to do it without hurting my horses and ending up with a huge vet bill due to lack of information. I am new to all of this and not sure as to how long each day can they go out on the pasture grass, is there something I need to do as far as the change of water here then what their use to in NC…. Please help, I’m getting nervous, not a lot of resourse here in this little town we moved to…
    Thank you for any information.

    • Gayle R. says:

      Hi Marlene:
      You have some good questions and I am glad to hear you are thinking ahead about your horses making the transition to their new home.

      If possible it would be helpful to bring  a few bales of hay with them, for the trip to their new home.  This will help ease the transition, and not upset the digestive system.  I know you mentioned hay is difficult to find in your new area, so you may want to consider a complete feed.  Triumph Complete provide the necessary fiber for the diet, when hay is not available, or a problem for the horse to consume. 

      You can also use senior feed as a complete feed for the two older horses.  The instructions will be on the feed tag or bag.

      In regard to your question about water.  I have often found it helpful to add an electrolyte product to my horses water, a few days prior to a trip.  Many of the commercial products are flavored, such as apple.  The smell of the apple, as well as the flavoring in the electrolyte helps to make the transition to new water easier.  After a few days in their new home you can discontinue the electrolyte. 

      Good luck to you and your horses in your new home!

      Kind regards,
      Gayle M. Reveron

      • Marlene says:

        Thank you Gail,
        Your information is helpful and I am thankful, another question I do need some help on is since the pasture grass is different here in IL. then in NC, when they arrive how long each day can they spend on that pasture verses keeping them in the stalls until their system adjust to the grass here in IL. ?

  7. Katie says:

    this is great thanks, I have a 38yr old mare and have been looking for a way to help get her to eat her senior food I mixed it with some oats and she loved it!

  8. alex says:

    I just purchased an 18 year old quaterhorse mare from the horse sale, she just had a foal taken off her this week, she is quite thin. She get all the hay she wants, but I am having a tough time in getting her to eat a ration, she will not eat treats, rolled oats. Is there a suggestion on to get her to like her ration(grain) I don’t think she has ever been exposed to a grain ration.

    • Gayle R. says:

      Hi Alex!
      Congratulations on your new horse. I would try placing a small amount of Safe Choice Senior in her feed tub. I would start with 1/2 pound and see if she eats it over a three to four hour period. It is a high fat, high fiber, controlled starch feed, and works well to help put weight on horses.

      You can increase her feed rate by ½ (one half) pound per day. I would space this out over 3 or 4 feedings. So if the mare is given 1/ 2 pound the first day. The next day she would be on ½ pound a.m. and ½ pound p.m. You would then add a third feeding on day three, so she would get 1/2/ pound a.m. ½ pound p.m. , and ½ half pound late night or lunch—whatever fits your schedule and allows you to space the meals.

      On day four you can increase the a.m. feeding to 1 pound, day five increase the p.m. feeding to one pound, and continue at this rate until she is at the recommended feeding rate for her weight as directed on the feeding instructions of the Safe Choice Senior.

      Thanks ~ Gayle R.

  9. Sanda says:

    My 38 yr. old, 35, 34, and now 32 yr. old have done excellent on the Nutrena feeds. I always gave wet mashes all year and feed two times a day. In the winter I use fine alfalfa hay to munch. But I also use wet hay pellets as part of the daily feed. I also use soaked hay cubes when the pasture is closed in the winter. I soak some ahead of time and keep them in small plastic wastebaskets in a large cooler. I can pull out what is needed and add more warm water. I also can add electrolytes as needed to the feed.
    Be sure to offer a heated water bucket and a cold water for the older horses. My older horses have inside stalls in the winter.
    I also blanket my last older horse (32) at night or all day in cold weather. It helps them adjust their temperature. I use pergolide and powdered chastetree berry powder which is a big plus. I order it from http://www.horsenherb.com. 2 tbs. two times a day. If my horse seems to be loosing weight I adjust the amount of Nutrena feed. I use Senior, Safe Choice Original and Triumph Complete. My younger horses get Safe Choice Original and Triumph Complete. Feeding for 50 yrs. and I switched once and really had problems. Nutrena is dependable on the ingredients and I use it daily.

  10. Carol says:

    We have a 37 yr old apply gelding that was given to my daughter when he was 25 & she was 7. He was sound & able to be ridden until he was 34yrs old. He has moments where he forgets where he is & what he was doing in the pasture (don’t we all?), but is happy and healthy with just the right amount of weight. He seems content and we’re happy he’s still around. We soak every meal – he gets 4 lbs of alfalfa pellets twice a day. We put enough water in the bucket to barely cover the pellets (we discovered the cubes don’t ever soften up enough) and let them soak all day, then do the same over night. We store the soaking pellet bucket in the feed bin away from pests / rodents. We top dress it with 4 lbs of senior feed right before he gets it. While he likes the senior feed, he missed hay so the pellets (which are cheaper anyway) made him happier at feed time. I think soaking his feed also helps to keep him from any colic type episodes. We live in a cold climate so we also heat the water tank on a timer from October to April which helps him want to stay hydrated. He has almost no teeth left, but this feeding & water arrangement has kept him healthy.

  11. patricia says:

    I feed all my horses warm-water, soaked feed on cold days – they love it! If you don’t have hot water in the barn, take a pail to the house and fill up before going out to your barn or pasture……All their food gets eaten and it gets more water into them which we have to watch on chilly days.

  12. Sharon says:

    I have a horse that is 17 years old, doesn’t get much exercise other than grazing/wandering around a 10 acre pasture and is too heavy. My farrier thinks he is a candidate for Cushings. I currently feed in the morning 1 cup soaked beet pulp with 1/2 lb. (recommended ration) of Empower Balance supplement. In the evenings, he gets about a 1/2 lb. Trot Away pellets. He also gets a flake of hay AM and PM. Any suggestions of a better diet? Maybe make him lose a little weight? He has a very thick coat already (I live in northern Florida). Never really got down to a thin coat during the summer and was sweating all the time.

    • Gayle R. says:

      Hi Sharon! I agree with your farrier. Before we make any dietary changes I would consult with your veterinarian, and get blood work done to confirm presence of Cushings. Once you have the results, feel free to contact us about a diet, either here on the blog, or at our website: http://www.nutrenaworld.com/contact-us/horse-inquiry/index.jsp.

      Kind Regards,
      Gayle M. Reveron, PAS

      • Carol says:

        We have some horses that tend to be on the “under tall” side too. We use t-posts & stock panels to make a pen where they can be kept off the field to reduce overfeeding and weight issues. The pens are quick to go up and give us a place to put them when they aren’t having their turnout time. Sounds like he definitely needs a vet visit.

  13. Trish Hug says:

    I have a 30-year-old gelding with Cushings. His teeth are not great and are loose so can’t really be floated. He’s bright, alert, his almost-black coat is blindingly shiny, but he doesn’t eat. I alternate between Safe Choice Senior, Equine Senior, Ultium, and Amplify pellets in order to find something he will eat. He no longer likes the soaked beet pulp and hay pellets, and tries his best to eat the hay we shred up in a leaf shredder. He gets 2mg Prascend every morning, dissolved in water and syringed into his mouth. He won’t eat if he detects the medication in his food. Guess I’ll soak the Safe Choice in warm water and see if he goes for that. My vet is up to date on all this and I’m at my wits end.

  14. Carol A. Winfield says:

    Everybody calm down! If horses were as delicate as some people seem to think, they would be extinct! An Equus article a few years back very sensibly said that although bran mashes aren’t a source of beneficial nutrients, they also have not been shown to cause any problems when fed as an occasional treat. (anyone here ever eat a snickers bar, or a McBurger?) Many of us have been doing that for the almost 50 yrs I have been horse-keeping, and never had a problem. Just use moderation and common sense! As for the sudden change, the quantity most of us give is insufficient to cause a healthy normal horse any harm. In fact, many vets still recommend a soupy bran mash for a horse who may seem a little off, as it moves the digestive tract along.
    As for nutrientsnin hay, this is not, sadly, the best of all possible worlds. First cut last year was in August due to flooding throughout our entire region, and most of us cannot afford the time and energy and money to test every load off every field every week! And we do fill out around the edges with low dose supplements, and soak all our Senior Feed & hay pellet mashes twice a day. My herd is now 40, 36, 30, and three younger ones. My last losses were 27, 30, and 35+. Most have been and are rescues.
    For those who like to and have the luxury of micro-managing, especially for performance horses, more power to you! But an awful lot of us backyard keepers go on instinct and do just fine. “The master’s eye fatteneth his stock” is a great old saying!

    • Gayle R. says:

      Hi Carol! Thank you for response. It sounds like you have done a great job managing your horses. I agree with you about micro managing and keeping things simple. That is why I encourage people to make a mash with a balanced senior feed, instead of buying additional ingredients. You are also correct about the diminished quality of forage in some areas. It is so important for owners to look at the big picture.

      Thank you again for contacting us ~ Gayle

  15. Lisa LeVally says:

    Trish,
    Try Pergolide apple flavored (available as a compound or through Smartpak. Go for the liquid & just squirt it into his mouth. Easy! My gelding is 32, still goes out on trails, and has been on pergolide for 3+ years.
    Good luck! PS–the Hydrahay is good, too–you just soak it & add some cracked corn (or not).

  16. patricia c f says:

    I soak for all my horses in the winter – we have hot water at the barn so I soak for the yearling thru the senior horse. Anyway to get more water into them!
    We feed Nutrena Safe Choice Original, Nutrena Senior, rice bran powder (helps to thicken wet food so I can get a bit more water in there), and then add some higher 25% – 32% for the yearling – they’re all doing well!
    I don’t use wheat bran as it seems to give them stomach aches – the rice bran seems safe and results good.

  17. Judy coldren says:

    I need a textured feed for my senior horse. No hot water available to soak pellets and he chokes on straight pellets. Has done extremely well on omelene 100 but seeing signs of IR I am looking for a lower sugar feed. Is you senior feed textured? Thanks.

    • Gina T. says:

      Hi Judy, Thanks for the question. SafeChoice Senior is a pelleted product, although it is coated in oil, so is a bit ‘wetter’ than a traditional dry pellet.
      Thanks! Gina T.

  18. Jim says:

    My mare is “39 and doing fine” on beet pulp and Nutrena Safe Choice senior at a 2:1 mix and soaked in plenty of water to make a soupy mash. She continues to amaze me since she has no back teeth.

  19. Sue says:

    I have a 28 year old Saddlebred mare that was doing poorly last fall so I switched her to Nutrena Senior and within two weeks the difference was amazing. She came through this hard winter in Ky very well and actually has picked back up to a good weight. I would highly recommend this product to any and all senior horses.

  20. Glenda says:

    I have a 29 year old and use SafeChoice Senior with warm water. I also add a little alfalfa pellets, rice bran and wheat bran to the mash. She has done very well on this diet and maintained her weight through a very cold winter. I use the rice bran based on the recommendation of an equine nutritionist who said it was good to get and keep weight on. Main ingredient, though, is the Senior.

  21. Linda Swan says:

    I have had my 28 year old gelding 0n Equine senior for a while now. Just started adding some of the boost supplement. Because he has lost a couple of teeth, he has had a problem of dropping a lot of grain (of which the goats enjoyed LOL). I contactedd the experts at nutrenia and they recommened the mash as stated above.. It works GREAT! Skippy is not dropping near as much food and the consistency change doesn’t seem to bother him in the least. (he would probably eat a tree if his teeth would let him lol);;. anyway, I feed him 6 pounds of senior a day with 1-2 pounds of boost and soak it in warm water for about 8 minutes. It’s a little heavier toting to the feed bin, and I do stir it with a big heavy spoon, but Skippy has taken me on many a fun ride…..well worth it for us!

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