Wheat bran or rice bran? Which should I feed my horse?

Horse eating hay - a good source of fibre and energyQuestion: Which bran has a better laxative quality – wheat or rice? I was told that rice bran is a better choice for horses. Which has the higher fibre? Can I feed it for additional fibre?

Answer from April Reeves with excerpts from Marijke van de Water: I hate to burst your bubble, but neither wheat nor rice bran is a laxative to the horse. I am curious why you need a laxative product? If your horse is having problems with constipation, adding any bran to the equation will have little to no effect. It’s important to understand the cause of your horse’s problem and solve that first.

While both brans have great fibre content, feeding hay will also get you the fibre your horse needs. There is no need to feed bran for fibre. Bran has many more advantages than just fibre.

I will give you a few excerpts from Marijke van de Water’s book, “Healing Horses Their Way” so that you may make an educated decision on which is the right one for your horse.

Wheat Bran

  • High in insoluble fibre – 10%.
  • Protein – 15%
  • Fat – 4%
  • Moderate glycemic index, low glycemic load (when not fed in enough quantities)
  • Prevents constipation
  • Ensures healthy intestinal transit time
  • High levels of B-vitamins
  • Folic acid, trace minerals (zinc, selenium, magnesium, potassium, copper, phosphorus.
  • High phosphors/low calcium ration could cause skeletal problems if overfed (calcium will be taken from the bones to accommodate the natural balance of calcium to phosphorus ratio)
  • Can be fed 1-2 cups daily safely
  • Not a laxative, as horses are well able to ferment the fibre
  • It is not an energy feed – no need to overfeed
  • Good complement to beet pulp

Rice Bran

  • High in fibre
  • 18-20% fat
  • 14% protein
  • Excellent source of natural vitamin E
  • Can be used to slow down the intestinal transit time in stubborn cases of diarrhea
  • Processing (so the fats don’t go rancid) has taken out most of the nutritional benefits

It appears that rice bran is not a feed for young horses, or for any horse owner who is not aware of the calcium to phosphorus ratio (1.5-2Parts/Calcium to 1Part/Phosphorus). The calcium – phosphorus ratio in horses is a delicate balance. Horses can exist with higher levels of calcium over phosphorus, but not the other way around. Excess phosphorus will bind and prevent the absorption of calcium. When horses lack the levels of calcium they require, their bodies will ‘steal’ that needed calcium from their bones to compensate for the imbalance. This is why it is so important to understand these ratios when feeding young horses.

Adding other feeds such as corn when feeding rice bran also changes the ratio of these two, and often increases the phosphorus to dangerous levels. You need to be educated and do your homework when mixing feeds and trying to balance them.

Another thing that strikes me odd is the occasional feeding of bran products. Owners like to give their horses a big helping of warm bran once a week as a treat or heath additive. While it may sound like a nice thing to do, horses have always had systems that did not do well when fed erratically. This ‘occasional’ feeding program of bran may actually cause your horse cramping and intestinal discomfort, up to more serious conditions such as laminitis. Any new feed introduced must be gradual (over the course of several weeks). Marijke suggests that if you feed wheat bran to do it daily (5-7% of total daily ration). That sounds like good, logical advice to me.

We need to learn more about feeds and their effects on our horses. Too many owners look at trends first before doing their homework, and the horse suffers. We have obesity, heart disease and problems in our horses that we face in ourselves. We feed our horses things that we consider to be treats, or good for us, when all along, all our horses wanted or needed was a natural, simpler diet that kept the inside of the horse moving and functioning as nature intended.

The book “Healing Horses Their Way” is finally available! “Marijke van de Water has an extraordinary understanding of physical, emotional and spiritual health with the talent and the tools to alter dis-ease and to restore balance. Her extensive knowledge of therapeutic nutrition, body/organ systems as well as hoof health care makes her second to none in the holistic health community. Her work is nothing short of remarkable – any animal or human under her care is very fortunate indeed!” L. Maddock

Marijke van de Water, B.Sc., DHMS

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