In this episode of “Nutrition Nuggets,” Dr. Nettie Lambert, senior Equine nutrition manager for Mars Horse Care US and Buckeye Nutrition, discusses the topic of bran mashes for horses. She addresses common myths surrounding bran mashes, such as their supposed laxative effect, and clarifies that this is not true. Dr. Lambert goes on to explain that loose stools may occur if bran mash is not a regular part of a horse’s diet, causing digestive disruption rather than any beneficial effect. She advises horse owners to be cautious about feeding bran regularly, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the proper calcium to phosphorus ratio in a horse’s diet and suggesting the inclusion of other calcium-rich foods such as alfalfa to ensure balance. Dr. Lambert concludes by offering assistance and support through their customer care line, encouraging horse owners to reach out with any questions or concerns they may have. So, stay tuned for more nutrition nuggets to come and happy riding!

Are bran mashes beneficial for your horse? In this episode of “Nutrition Nuggets,” Dr. Nettie Lambert explains that bran mashes do not have a laxative effect on horses and addresses common misconceptions regarding their benefits. While bran mashes can be included in a horse’s diet, Dr. Lambert emphasizes the importance of maintaining the right calcium to phosphorus ratio in order to prevent conditions like nutritional secondary hyperthyroidism or big head syndrome. She advises horse owners to include other calcium-rich foods like alfalfa to ensure proper balance. If you have any questions or need assistance in balancing your horse’s ration, feel free to call their customer care line for support. Stay tuned for more nutrition nuggets and happy riding!

Understanding Horse Nutrition

The role of nutrition in horse health

Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining the health and well-being of horses. As herbivores, horses require a diet that is high in fiber and low in sugars and starches. The right balance of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and proteins, is crucial for their growth, development, and overall performance. Good nutrition supports a strong immune system, healthy hooves, shiny coats, and a well-functioning digestive system.

Common feeds and horse gotchas

When it comes to feeding horses, it is important to choose the right feed based on their age, breed, activity level, and any health conditions they may have. Common feeds for horses include hay, alfalfa, oats, barley, and specialized horse feeds. However, it is important to be aware of potential pitfalls such as feeding too much grain, which can lead to weight gain and metabolic issues. Additionally, some feeds may contain additives or substances that are harmful to horses, so it is important to read labels and consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist.

What is Bran Mash

Formulae of Bran Mash

Bran mash is a popular feed for horses and is made by mixing bran, typically wheat or rice bran, with hot water. It is often supplemented with other ingredients such as apples, carrots, molasses, or even medication. Bran itself is a byproduct of grain processing and is rich in carbohydrates, fiber, and certain minerals.

Different types of Bran Mash

There are several variations of bran mash recipes, and each can be tailored to suit the individual horse’s needs. Some common additions to bran mash include flaxseed, salt, vegetable oil, or supplemental vitamins and minerals. It is important to note that bran mash should not be the sole source of nutrition for horses and should be fed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

The Tradition of Feeding Horses Bran Mashes

Historical roots of bran mashes

Feeding bran mashes to horses has a long history and is rooted in tradition. In the past, bran mash was considered a treat or a special meal for horses. It was often fed during cold winter months to provide warmth and comfort. The warming effect of the mash was believed to promote digestion and relieve constipation.

Reasons for the popularity of bran mashes among horse keepers

While the tradition of feeding bran mashes may have started with good intentions, it is important to separate fact from fiction. Many horse owners continue to feed bran mash because they believe it has a laxative effect and promotes digestive health. However, scientific evidence does not support this claim, and the effects of bran mash on a horse’s digestive system can be more disruptive than beneficial.

Bran Mashes and Laxative Effects

Misconceptions about bran mashes having laxative effects

One of the most common myths surrounding bran mashes is that they have a laxative effect on horses. However, this is not true. Horses would need to consume a large amount of bran, far beyond what is physically possible, for it to have a noticeable laxative effect. The loose stool observed by some horse owners after feeding bran mash is more likely due to the disruption caused by introducing an unfamiliar feed into the horse’s diet.

Scientific evidence of lack of laxative effect

Numerous studies and research have shown that bran mash does not have the expected laxative effect on horses. The fiber content in bran is not sufficient to stimulate bowel movements significantly. Horses have a unique digestive system designed to efficiently process fibrous feeds, and sudden changes in their diet can lead to digestive upset rather than improved bowel movements.

Impact of Bran Mashes on a Horse’s Digestive System

Effects of sudden diet changes on horses

Horses are creatures of habit and have sensitive digestive systems. Sudden changes in their diet, such as introducing bran mash irregularly, can disrupt the delicate balance of their gut flora. This disruption can lead to digestive issues such as colic, diarrhea, or even more severe conditions like laminitis. Therefore, it is crucial to introduce new feeds gradually and monitor the horse’s response closely.

Digestive disruption caused by feeding bran mashes irregularly

Feeding bran mash irregularly or in excessive amounts can lead to digestive disturbances in horses. The high carbohydrate content in bran can upset the balance of bacteria in the hindgut, leading to fermentation and the production of gas. This can result in discomfort for the horse and potentially more serious conditions if left unaddressed. It is important to establish a regular feeding routine and carefully monitor the horse’s overall health and digestion.

The Nutritional Content of Bran

The high phosphorus content in bran

Bran is rich in phosphorus, an essential mineral for horses. However, the phosphorus content in bran is significantly higher than the calcium content. While phosphorus is necessary for bone and tissue development, it must be balanced with calcium to maintain optimal health.

Calcium to phosphorus ratio in horse diet

To ensure proper nutrition for horses, it is crucial to maintain the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio in their diet. For adult horses, the ideal ratio is approximately one and a half to two parts calcium to one part phosphorus. Feeding excessive amounts of bran can disrupt this ratio and lead to nutritional imbalances.

Risks of Overfeeding Bran

Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism explained

Overfeeding bran can lead to a condition known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, which affects the balance of calcium and phosphorus in the horse’s body. When there is an imbalance, the parathyroid glands release excessive parathyroid hormone, leading to bone disorders and other health issues.

Bone deformities caused by incorrect calcium to phosphorus ratio

When the calcium to phosphorus ratio is reversed, as can happen when horses are fed excessive amounts of bran, it can result in bone deformities. This condition, known as big head syndrome or nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, can cause pain, lameness, and a decrease in overall performance.

Feeding Bran Mashes Correctly

Making bran mashes a regular part of a horse’s diet

If you choose to feed bran mash to your horses, it is important to make it a regular part of their diet rather than an occasional treat. Regular feeding helps horses become accustomed to the feed and reduces the likelihood of digestive upset.

Balancing bran with feeds high in calcium

To maintain the proper calcium to phosphorus ratio, it is crucial to balance bran with feeds high in calcium. Adding sources of calcium, such as alfalfa, to the horse’s diet can help counteract the potential phosphorus imbalance caused by feeding bran mash. Commercial feeds, specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of horses, can also be a valuable addition to the diet to maintain a balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio.

Recommendations from Experts on Bran Mashes

Expert opinions on feeding bran mashes

Many equine nutrition experts and veterinarians recommend against feeding bran mashes to horses due to the potential for nutritional imbalances and digestive disruption. They emphasize the importance of sticking to a well-balanced diet that meets the specific needs of each horse. Consulting with a professional equine nutritionist can provide valuable guidance on how to meet the nutritional requirements of your horses effectively.

Suggestions for troubleshooting and balancing horse rations

If you have concerns about your horse’s diet or are experiencing difficulties in achieving the right balance, it is advisable to seek advice from a professional equine nutritionist or consult with your veterinarian. They can help assess your horse’s specific needs, evaluate the current diet, and provide recommendations for balancing the ration effectively. Balancing the diet correctly is essential for the overall health and well-being of your horse.


In conclusion, bran mashes are not necessary or beneficial for horses when fed in excessive amounts or irregularly. While tradition and misconceptions may have led to the popularity of bran mashes, scientific evidence does not support the perceived benefits. Instead, a well-balanced diet that meets the individual nutritional needs of each horse is essential for their health and performance. Feeding bran in moderation, balancing it with feeds high in calcium, and seeking guidance from equine nutrition experts can ensure your horse receives the proper nutrition it needs to thrive.