Horses

Protein: What It Is, What It Isn’t

Let’s clear up some of the misunderstandings about the role of protein in the equine diet


While a crucial part of any equine diet, protein has to be viewed in the proper perspective as just one part of a total nutritional package. It provides essential amino acids for the growth and repair of bones, muscles and soft tissues.

Of all the components of nutrition, protein is probably the most misunderstood.

Protein’s role in the diet is to provide amino acids (the building blocks of bones, muscles and soft tissues) for growth and repair. So it’s easy to see why, for many generations, we assumed that the more protein in the diet, the better a horse could perform. But somewhere along the way, many people made the leap from “growth and repair” to “energy source.” But protein, and its component amino acids, is not all that good for providing energy.

Amino Acid Benefits

What are amino acids good for? A vast array of the horse’s vital processes, including:

  • The synthesis and the release of hormones.
  • The synthesis of neurotransmitters and enzymes.
  • The regulation of sleep, appetite and blood pressure.
  • Most importantly, amino acids are needed for the formation and repair of muscle tissue and other soft tissues throughout the body. On a fat-free, moisture-free basis, they account for approximately 80% of a horse’s total structure.

That said, the requirement for protein is highest in young growing horses, which are building new tissues as they mature, and in horses being used for breeding. Mature horses being used for pleasure or performance, and those who are essentially pasture potatoes…

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Karen Briggs

As an equine nutritionist, Karen Briggs researched, designed and marketed a line of premium quality feeds for performance, pleasure and breeding horses. She’s also offered nutritional and ration balancing information to horse owners throughout Ontario. Located in Puslinch, Ontario, the award-winning equine writer is also a Canadian Equestrian Federal certified-riding instructor and has managed several Canadian farms and riding schools.

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