For years I have been making a Christmas mash for the horses. I enjoy preparing the mashes and watching the horses dive in, some of whom end up wearing a bit of the mash on their muzzles.
Mashes used to be fed much more frequently, sometimes once a week. Mashes have fallen out of favor because wheat bran, which is the most common bran used for mashes, is low in calcium and very high in phosphorus which can upset the cal/phos ratio. Plus wheat bran is very high on the glycemic index, making it a poor choice for metabolic horses.
A better bran choice is oat bran. Oat bran is low on the glycemic index and provides a special type of fiber called beta- glucan. In laboratory studies, beta glucan enhanced the human immune system’s response to bacterial infection. Beta-Glucan not only helps neutrophils navigate to the site of the infection more quickly, it also enhances their ability to eliminate the bacteria they find there (reference: Tsiktis VL, Albina JE, Reichner JS. Beta-Glucan affects leukocyte navigation in a complex chemotactic gradient. Surgery. 2004 Aug; 136 (2): 384-9) Studies also show that beta-glucan has a beneficial effect on blood sugar in humans, unlike wheat or rice, oats and oat bran actually can help stabilize blood sugar.
Since oat bran also contains more phosphorus than calcium, it’s a good idea to add some alfalfa cubes or alfalfa hay when giving an oat bran or wheat bran mash. Oat bran can be difficult to find at some feed stores, but is easy to find both organic and non organic in health food stores.
Since pomegranates are in season now, I like to add chopped pomegranate to the mash. Just cut a whole pomegranate in quarters, and process in a food processor. The pomegranate rind is another good source of fiber, while the seeds are rich in anthocyanins with 3 to 7 times as much antioxidant value as green tea. Pomegranates provide vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin E and folic acid. I generally add 1/4 to 1 full cup of chopped pomegranates per mash.
Apples are always a good choice in a mash for horses, not simply because equines love them, but because apples are an excellent source of quercetin, a bioflavonoid that provide anti-allergic, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory modification in the body. I don’t add molasses, or any sugar to my mashes, letting the fruits provide the sweetness.
You can also make some peppermint tea, and add several Tablespoons or 1/2 cup to the mash. Peppermint has a long history of supporting good digestion.
Carrots are always popular in mashes, and if the horse is not metabolic, I will use the carrots with the tops on them, grind carrot and tops in the food processor. Carrot tops are a good source of vitamin K.
Here in Virginia it’s rare that the temperature at Christmas is balmy and warm, so I always make the mashes with hot water, then let the mash stand for five minutes or so to give the bran time to soak and “stew” with the fruits. If you are feeding multiple horses, you can make a big batch of Christmas mash, and just add smaller servings to the regular feed. Just make sure whether you feed a generous amount of mash, or a little bit of mash, to add some alfalfa cubes or some alfalfa hay with it. Happy and healthy holidays to you and your horses.