Oats belongs to the best and most popular grain feeds for horses. The feeding value of oats is fairly rich because it contains 7% to 9.5% digestible protein and sixty starch units (100 oats units). It is also fairly rich in fat (4.5% oil, from among the grains, second only to corn). Its individual nutrients are very easy to digest, does not cause digestive disorders and contain many other positive values in feeding horses. In nursing mares the oats supports the milk production, by the stallion enhances the breeding instinct (sex drive).
Some authors claim that the positive effect of oats is caused by the alkaloid avenin, while others claim that oats does not contain any avenin. Some authors attribute the specific feeding values of oats to the glucoside coniferin, which by crimping (rolling) is partially oxidized and converts to vanillin, which does not contain such quality as coniferin and it does not vaporize as the “desultory” coniferin during the crimping process. Some authors explain specific characteristics of the oats in the mechanical stimulation of the nerves through the digestive system. The walls of the digestive system are stimulated which then spreads on the whole nervous system of the horse. During the increased peristalsis of the digestive system the secretion of digestive fluids significantly increases, which cause the oats to swell, making it thus easier to digest. For the same reason some authors claim that it is better to feed whole oats rather than the crimped (rolled) oats. It is fair to say, that in many cases it is better to feed the crimped (rolled) oats, because it becomes easier to digest and the horse gets more nutrients from such prepared oats, however, the steamed rolled oats is preferred because the crimped oats loses some of its values during the crimping process. Other authors attribute some of the positive effects of the oats to phosphoric acid, which also supports the function of the nervous system.
Oats was always the number one choice of grain in feeding horses, especially in the northern hemisphere where it grows better. In the south the barley does better and in the old days it was the choice of grains there. In these days there exists a variety of publications often criticizing the oats. First of all, one should remember that oats is an energy supplement and produces a lot of it. The nutritional information is often misrepresented and for most part is incomplete. The equine diet is not just about proteins, fiber and carbohydrates.
The oats has many other values (as mentioned above), which are not either presented or we simply do not know them all. In people’s diets the oats is highly recommended (cardiovascular benefits), yet in the last few decades it has been somewhat down played by the veterinary science. One should remember, that the research in the equine industry has been and still is one of the most neglected and least financed. The veterinarians are the last people that one should listen to when it come to feeding, since most of them derive to feeding formulas from paper work rather than from personal experiences. During my travels and my forty years experience I have had the chance to take care of and look after well over one thousand horses. (Experience is of no value unless the person genuinely cares about horses and observes each individual.) In all these years I have noticed that oats is for most part the first choice of grain in most reputable stables. However, I have also noticed that it is not suitable for all horses and breeds as well as for some of their modern days uses.
It became obvious to me, that horses tend to get more high when fed oats (when not sufficiently worked) and for the back yard horseman it’s not often the right choice. It seems that the senses of horses, like hearing and sight, become stronger as the oats obviously effect (sharpens) the horse’s nervous system. Horses tend to be more alert, which of course may not be what one wants from a trail horse, or the “dead quiet” horse that one has purchased which somehow came to life after only several feeding of oats. Some breeds like the Arabians, Tennessee Walkers, Morgans and others seem to be somewhat harder to control, by the less experienced people, when on oats. On the other hand, the oats is an essential part of the thoroughbreds diet for racing and breeding purposes alike, specifically the whole oats in the diet of a breeding stallion.
Whether the oats is crimped (steam rolled) or whether is fed whole makes in some cases a great difference. This was always known and it is obvious in the reproduction by the stallions, which are very much effected by it. The stallion on whole oats has much greater desire to breed than the one on crimped oats. This is again not proven by the science, yet to any experience horseman it was always obvious, which of course points at the fact, just how far behind and how confused the equine science and research still is.
Whole Oats – The digestive chemistry changes once when it is crimped or rolled. Not scientifically proven, but the difference is quite noticeable by experience horsemen, especially by the stallion during breeding season.
Rolled Oats – Better than crimped oats, because it retain more of its nutritional value that is often lost by the crimping process, but still different from the whole oats.
Notes: The whole oats keeps much longer than the crimped or rolled oats, which could get bad in relatively short time during the summer months. The crimped oats is a better choice for the working horse. It will lose some of its potency in making the horse hard to handle. If your horse works hard and needs more pep, then the whole oats (triple cleaned) is a better choice. The rolled (crimped) oats is better for the mash, since it will absorb the water quicker. Once when a stallion ended his breeding season, especially in his older age, it is best to go back to the crimped (rolled) oats and reduce the intake by one half. The amount we feed is mainly determined by the amount of work that the horse performs e.g. average racehorse in training gets about 10 – 12 quarts of crimped (rolled), high quality racehorse oats per day. The triple clean oats has more value per quart and more suitable for racehorses. The local oats is just fine for most other horses and also less expensive. Weigh the oats before you calculate the quarts measurements.
Nutritional Value: 8 – 13% crude protein, 7 – 9.5 dig. protein, t.d.n 71.5%, calcium 0.09%, phosphorus 0.33%, 11 – 14 MJ DE/kg, 10 – 12% fiber, 4.5% oil, nut. ration 1:6.6. Low in calcium, B complex vitamins, vitamin A and lysine.