From your point of view, as the caregiver, it is important to familiarize your horse with being handled-and of course, it is always gratifying to have a horse with a clean and smart appearance. Feeding your horse correctly is a vital element of effective horse care. A horse’s natural grazing pattern is ‘eat a little and eat often.’ Mimicking this, as closely as possible, is a good way of ensuring a healthy, nutritional balance.
Food has the same purpose for horses as it does for humans. It provides energy and warmth. It stimulates growth and the vital strength required by the body to repair itself. For a normal balanced diet, aim for two-thirds carbohydrate, one-sixth protein and one-sixth fat.
Factors that Influence Equine Nutrition
A horse that is able to graze freely during the summer months and is not in hard work probably requires little supplementary feeding. Throughout the winter months, however, when grass provides very little nourishment, horses should be fed supplementary hay on a regular basis. Hard feeds (sometimes referred to as complete feeds, or grain supplements) should be fed to horses that are in hard work, or are particularly young or old. Generally, the following elements affect the amount and type of horse feed:
Time of Year – All horses require more feed in the winter to maintain a suitable body temperature.
Workload – Horses in hard work require more hard food such as oats, grains, barley and pelleted feed.
Temperament – A high-strung horse is best fed cooling mixes, whereas a more sluggish horse may benefit from heating feeds such as oats.
Size – Pay attention to your horse’s weight, rather than size, when determining the amount of feed required. A horse should be fed approximately 2.5% of its body weight daily.
Age – Bear in mind that a horse’s digestive system functions at its best between the ages of eight and twelve years. Younger horses require more protein for growth, whereas older horses require food that is easily digested.
Quality of Grazing – A horse will graze continually, given the chance! It is necessary, therefore, to take into account the amount of time that your horse spends out in the field and the quality of the pasture or grass.
Hay is the main bulk food given to horses. It acts as a grass supplement for stabled horses or for horses on poor grazing land. Hay contains essential minerals and proteins and aids digestion.
Compound Feeds (complete feeds) in the form of either pelleted feed or mixes contain the correct balance of all essential nutrients. Several mixtures are available for horses engaged in different levels of work, or at different stages of life. This type of feed is particularly suitable for one-horse owners or inexperienced owners.
Oats are an excellent horse feed as they contain the correct balance of nutrients. However, care is required, as some horses tend to become over-excited on this type of feed.
Barley adds flesh to horses and can often tempt a horse that is not, for whatever reason, eating sufficient bulk.
Maize/Corn is a very fattening, high calorie feed and should be fed with caution.
Sugar Beet pulp should be soaked for 24 hours and is an excellent feed for adding weight or for improving a horse’s condition. However, it is not suitable for horses in hard work.
Above all, apply common sense when deciding upon the mix that is most appropriate to your particular horse’s temperament, lifestyle and workload. Introduce any dietary changes gradually. If you are uncertain about what your horse should be eating, talk with your veterinarian or ask to be referred to a reputable equine nutritionist.
The Essential Nutrients
Golden Rules for Equine Nutrition
- Clean water should be available at all times.
- Feed small amounts as often as possible and stick to regular feeding times.
- Feed the correct proportion of bulk and concentrates, depending on your horse’s workload.
- Leave four hours between feedings.
- Always provide salt ‘free choice,’ particularly during the summer and especially for horses in hard work.
- Leave at least an hour between feeding and exercise.
- Feed a fruit or vegetable, such as apples and carrots, every day.
- Never interrupt a horse while it is eating.