Common Sense Feeding Of Horses

It will first be helpful to know a little about the horse’s digestive system. The horse is a roughage eater – a grazer. His digestive system has evolved to be continually working; therefore he needs free choice hay or pasture grass to keep his digestive system working naturally. The horse’s stomach is very small, so he cannot eat large quantities all at once. He is meant to eat small amounts continually all day long. If he needs nutrients in addition to hay or pasture, it needs to be split into small amounts (such as two or more feedings per day).

Here are some simple rules for feeding your horse:

  • Keep water and hay in front of your horse at all times.
  • Feed small amounts often, never one big feed of grain or supplements.
  • Feed your horse on a regular schedule, they are creatures of habit.
  • Make no sudden changes in the amount and kind of feed.
  • Feed plenty of bulk (pasture grass and hay). This should make up the majority of your horse’s diet.
  • Water before hay, hay before grain (water, hay, grain). Allows digestive system to begin working, avoiding problems, such as colic.
  • Feed (amount of food) according to amount of exercise and condition of horse.
  • Feed only good quality, clean feed, in clean containers.
  • Do not feed moldy, dusty, or very green (uncured) hay.
  • Do not work a horse immediately after feeding; wait at least one hour.
  • Do not feed a horse immediately after riding, let horse rest about one hour.
  • Observe your horse continually to make sure you are feeding him properly – is he too fat? Too thin? Are there performance problems associated with his feeding program? Such as not enough energy or far to much energy.

Now comes the next question - What do I feed my horse? Basic nutrition requirements will vary according to age, metabolism, and level of exercise. You will want to discuss the specific requirements of your horse with your veterinarian.

Here are some basic things to know:

  • There are five basic components to a horse’s nutrition.
    • Water – a horse can drink up to 10-18 gallons a day.
    • Energy – your horse will need carbohydrates (such as oats)
    • Protein – horses get their protein from grains, pasture grass and hay. Protein is the number one requirement for horses and it should come mainly from GOOD pasture and/or hay!
    •  Minerals – most important for the horse are calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium chloride (Salt), and potassium. Also needed are iron, zinc, copper, iodine, cobalt and selenium.
    • Vitamins – will usually receive sufficient amounts through good quality forage and concentrates. Needed are Vitamins A, D E and B12. Also thiamine, riboflavin, etc.
  • Forages (pasture or hay) should be the foundation of the diet.The two types are:
    • Legumes (alfalfa, clover) are higher in protein, calcium and potassium than grasses. Necessary for young growing horses, bred mares and lactating mares. Also high performance horses, breeding stallions and horses needing to gain weight. Alfalfa is preferred over clover as certain clovers can cause severe problems with some horses.
    • Grasses (timothy, orchard grass, brome, fescue, etc. are lower in nutrients than legumes, but still a good source of nutrition. They are best for mature horses that are not worked hard and over- weight horses. Fescue should never be fed to bred mares.
    • Discuss with your vet which type of hay to feed according to exercise, your pasture, your horse’s age, etc.
  • Additional concentrates (such as grains) will provide needed nutrients when forage is not enough.
    • There are many commercial feeds (concentrates) available, such as oats, pellets, sweet feed, corn etc.
    • Discuss with your veterinarian which type is appropriate for your horse.
  • Provide salt (loose or block), if you are not providing a commercial feed containing the "correct" amount of salt.

DO NOT attempt to feed horses according to exact amounts written in some articles. All horses are not created equal. Thin horses need more feed and fat horses need less feed. Feed according to what each particular horse needs, not what you read or are told by other persons who do not know your horse and its personal requirements.

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