How should I feed a horse?

Guidance on feeding to get the right nutrition for your horse including how to begin when making changes to their diet.

Guidance on feeding to get the right nutrition for your horse including how to begin when making changes to their diet.

What, when and how to feed is individual for each horse. When considering what is best for our horse, we must consider why an animal requires food, how it feeds in its natural state, and what the basic rules of feeding are.

All animals require food to maintain bodily condition, provide the raw materials for growth, repair damaged tissues and provide energy for work or exercise.

The horse is a grazing animal, designed to eat almost constantly throughout the day. Their natural feed is grasses and other edible shrubs and plants and they have evolved to eat for 18 out of the 24 hours.

Rules of Feeding Horses

Feed little and often:

This imitates the horse’s natural feeding pattern, and achieves satisfactory digestion by ensuring a constant passage of food through the digestive system.

Feed plenty of bulk and roughage such as grass, hay, haylage, etc.

This ensures that the digestive system is always adequately filled, as would be the case in the wild.

Feed according to size of horse and workload

More work requires more energy, and more food. Too much or too little food will result in the animal being over or under weight.

Keep a check on your horse’s condition

By fat scoring regularly you will be able to tell whether your horse needs to gain, lose or maintain weight. This information is vital when working out how much you should be feeding your horse. It is also worth remembering that an overweight horse which is lacking energy is unlikely to benefit from a higher energy feed.

For more information on this, and to learn how to assess your horse’s condition, see our Right Weight page. Remember: ‘feed’ includes grass, hay and haylage as well as concentrate feed.

Do not make sudden changes to the diet

Bacteria in the large intestine break down the feed and they have to adapt to any changes in the diet. Sudden changes can cause some bacteria to die, produce poisons and cause metabolic disorders.

Keep to the same times of feeding each day

Horses are creatures of habit and thrive on a regular routine.

Ensure that both feed and feeding utensils are clean

Horses are fastidious feeders and can be easily deterred from eating.

Feed something succulent each day

Succulents like apples and carrots help to maintain the horse’s interest and adds moisture to the feed.

Do not do fast work immediately after feeding

A full stomach will put pressure on the lungs and affect the horse’s breathing. Fast work results in redistribution of the blood in the body, leading to impaired digestion.

Provide a constant supply of fresh water

If this is not possible, ensure that the horse is watered before feeding so that undigested food is not washed through the digestive system too rapidly.

Finally:

You need to know what to feed in addition to grass or grass products such as hay. Remember that many leisure horses may only need the addition of a vitamin and mineral supplement rather than a concentrate feed.

In the past, considerable knowledge and skill were required to provide the horse with a balanced diet by mixing the raw ingredients oneself. The availability of balanced mixed feeds produced by many reputable feed manufacturers has made this process much more simple today.

They provide a variety of feeds that are suitable for animals of varying ages and states of health as well as being balanced for the type of work or exercise being undertaken.

For advice on the most suitable feed for your particular horse or pony, you can either consult your own veterinary surgeon or one of the helplines provided by the feed manufacturers. You can also call our Advice Line on +44 (0)1953 497 238.

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