On a cold winter morning, we turn to the “stick to your ribs” comfort of a warm bowl of oatmeal. Horses enjoy warm meals too, and the equine equivalent of oatmeal is the bran or beet mash. It has long been a staple in most barns, providing hydration during winter months and after long workouts, masking the taste of medications during illness or injury, and it is highly palatable, which can encourage picky eaters to dig in. Mashes can be easily customized depending on your horse’s needs and flavor preference. Due to the mushy texture, it is easy for senior horses or horses with dental issues to ingest. There are two main ingredients used in mashes, and they have different pros and cons associated with them. Let’s take a close look at wheat bran versus beet pulp, and see how they measure up.
Wheat bran is made from the hulls of grain left over from the milling process. It is light and low in density. Its mild flavor blends well with fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients, making it easy to customize. Because of its ability to retain water, it has been recommended for horses after long workouts, following sickness, and for mares just after foaling to make sure that they are getting the water they need. It contains high amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, such as niacin, thiamin, folates, and riboflavin. However, it is low in calcium, and high in phosphorus, which, when not corrected with supplements, can lead to calcium being leached from and weakening the bones.
In the past, wheat bran was thought to be a laxative, though in recent years this has been proven false. When fed irregularly, such as after a trip, or after a hard workout, wheat bran can lead to intestinal distress and diarrhea. This is caused by an imbalance of gut flora in the hindgut, which can be brought on by sudden changes in diet.
With the addition of proper supplements, bran mash can be wonderful comfort food for ailing or aging horses. Its ability to absorb water ensures that your horse is sufficiently hydrated, especially after a hard workout or in the middle of winter. It is perfect for masking the bitter taste of medications and can be easily customized to meet your horse’s individual needs.
Beet pulp is the fibrous plant material left over from the process of extracting sucrose and sugar from sugar beets. As such, it contains very little sugar (less than 10%) and often has sugar added back into it in the form of molasses. Even with the added molasses, its sugar content is typically less than 15%. Beet pulp is a prebiotic, meaning it is beneficial to the microbes present in your horse’s hindgut. These microbes digest the pulp with minimal glucose or insulin spikes, making it a perfect forage for horses needing a low sugar diet.
Beet pulp is available either shredded or pelleted, and the one you choose will be based on how you are including it in your horse’s diet. You can feed shredded beet pulp dry, as it will not swell in the throat or stomach when fed appropriately. Shredded and pelleted beet pulp should be soaked, as it is very hard, and it does expand quite a bit once it is exposed to moisture.
No matter how you mix it, beet pulp should never consist of more than 45%-55% of your horse’s daily diet, as it does not contain the necessary levels of vitamins and nutrients needed to keep your horse in good health. What it does have is higher quantities of calcium and lower levels of potassium, which makes it better for bone strength and support.
With all of this in mind, which type of mash should you provide your horse with on a cold winter day? The answer: whatever your horse likes. If your horse enjoys a warm bran mash with alfalfa cubes and apples or carrots, then by all means, treat them. If they are more inclined to dig into a bucket of beet pulp mash with molasses that is fine too. As with human diets, everything in moderation.
Mash Recipes from The Cheshire Horse
Marianne’s SpeediBeet Mash
- 1 cup SpeediBeet
- 7 cups water (warm or cold depending on the season)
- 1 cup of Alfalfa Pellets (Marianne recommends Semican Alfalfa Pellets)
Put all ingredients in a bucket, and stir until mixed together. Let stand for 15 minutes and then serve.
Morgan’s Triple Crown Mash
- Handful of rolled oats
- 1 can of carrots
- Molasses (to taste)
- 1 cups Triple Crown Senior
- Handful of peppermints
Heat water in a pail, then add ingredients. Mix, let stand for 5 minutes, then serve.