Miniature horses are some of the most adorable family pets and companions that one could ask for. The tiny size and gentle nature make them excellent for children, and their strength makes them useful with some chores. They have even been noticed for their support of those struggling with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities.
As they can play such an important role in your family, being concerned about their health and diet is completely understandable.
At some point, you have probably heard that corn is not good for miniature horses, and you are now wondering whether it should be part of your mini’s diet. Well, have no fear!
We’re here to provide the answer to this question so you can make an educated decision.
Feeding horses corn brings the potential risk of overfeeding, digestive troubles, and disease-causing bacteria. The best preventive measure is to avoid corn. If you choose to use corn for your mini’s diet, a lot of care and consideration is required.
Feeding horses corn has been a common practice for a very long time because corn is cheap, has a high-calorie content, and is readily available. There is now, though, a lot of concern revolving around the safety of providing corn to miniature horses. The question is whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
Benefits of Corn for Miniature Horses
In theory, corn seems to provide excellent benefits for miniature horses. It is a food source that is full of carotene, which produces Vitamin A. Vitamin A, in turn, is important for eyesight and building body tissue.
Corn is also a high energy food, which can give miniature horses extra fuel to run and play, which helps them naturally maintain their weight. Additionally, it is very effective at putting weight on horses.
This is one of the biggest reasons owners have been using corn in feed for so long. They use it to put weight on their miniature horses before winter strikes.
Many people believe that as it has seemed safe for all of this time, it is still safe. However, there are several factors to consider when determining how safe it is to feed your miniature horse corn, including the risks mentioned below.
Risks of Feeding Your Miniature Horses Corn
Everything has ups and downs, so it should be no surprise that corn does, too. The following are some very serious potential risks that you should carefully consider.
Corn has a tough outer shell, which is difficult for horses to digest. This typically results in one of the two following events:
- The undigested corn travels from the small intestine to the large intestine, causing pain and trouble in the digestive tract.
- The corn passes directly through the digestive system without soaking up any nutrition and preventing the mini from gaining any weight from it. If your purpose for the corn was to help your mini put on weight, this result kind of makes your efforts counterproductive.
The corn can be processed to make it more digestible. However, ground corn can cause colic and other issues. Neither are encouraging options.
Overfeeding is a very common issue with minis. While overfeeding, in general, brings its own set of problems, overfeeding your mini with corn can lead to entirely different issues, such as inflammation in the hooves.
Being overweight with sensitive, inflamed hooves can cause a misery you do not want for your four-legged friend.
Corn is often covered with bacteria produced by mold, known as mycotoxin fumonisin. The effects of this bacteria are devastating.
Feeding corn infected with fumonisin to your miniature horses puts them at risk of developing equine leukoencephalomalacia (ELEM). This is a serious issue that is also referred to as mycotoxin encephalomalacia or moldy corn poisoning.
Corn is often found to be infected with the bacteria after a long dry summer, which is then followed by a lot of rain during harvest. This means that most ELEM outbreaks occur between the end of fall and the beginning of spring.
Unfortunately, the bacteria are invisible, so owners are unaware that they are providing moldy corn to their horses. It is also tasteless, so horses eat the infected corn without any indication that something is wrong.
ELEM can cause serious health issues in your miniature horse thanks to its effects on the central nervous system and the degradation of brain matter. Some common symptoms include:
- Facial paralysis and blindness
- Coordination issues, such as difficulty backing up, inconsistent gait, and staggering
- Disinterest in Eating
- Hypersensitivity and hyperexcitability
- Trouble swallowing
- And death
Most owners do not realize that their miniature horse is sick until these physical symptoms present themselves, and by then, it is often too late for any sort of treatment to work. In fact, death typically occurs within 72 hours of the time, the neurological signs present.
There are also times that no symptoms show at all. Instead, the horse dies without an obvious cause. Those who happen to survive experience lasting neurological issues, including a loss of intelligence.
Due to the possibility of developing ELEM and other potential problems, the best course of action is to avoid feeding your miniature horse corn.
If you are insistent upon feeding your mini horse corn, be sure that you look for feed that has been tested for fumonisin contamination to prevent the risk of ELEM.
Best Practices for Feeding Your Mini Horse
Know How Much to Feed
Overfeeding is a common issue with horses, whether it is corn or another food source. More often than not, the cause of overfeeding is a lack of knowledge on how much a mini horse should be fed.
The typical miniature horse needs to eat about 1.5 to 2 percent of their body weight. For those used to pull carts or those that are lactating, they will need to eat 3 to 3.5 percent of their body weight in food. Corn should not make up more than 20 percent of the total weight in food- the lower, the safer.
As minis gain weight so easily, it is imperative to their health that you monitor their weight consistently. If you have any questions or concerns about your mini’s weight, reach out to your vet for guidance.
Know What to Look For In Feed
Your horse feed should contain less than five parts per million (ppm) of fumonisin, according to the FDA, to help prevent bacterial ingestion.
Use Cracked Corn
While staying away from corn is best, using cracked corn is better for digestion than whole corn but does not hold the same risk of colic as ground corn.
And it should not be fed to minis alone but rather in a mix. Also, be sure that you follow weight guidelines and FDA guidelines to provide the healthiest option.
Use Corn Oil
Though there are risks associated with feeding miniature horses corn, it does not mean that you cannot take advantage of the benefits. Adding corn oil to your mini horse’s diet will provide the increase in fat content without the digestive troubles or potential exposure to bacteria.
Provide Free Choice Forage
One of the best choices that you can make for your mini is to provide them with free choice forage and letting them graze. This allows them to self-regulate the amount they take in, which is typically much more effective than owners trying to determine how much the mini needs.
As mentioned previously, be sure to monitor your mini’s weight. If negative changes occur to the weight, you might need to tweak the availability of the forage. Your vet can always help make important decisions in this area.