Feeding your Horse - the basics of Horse Nutrition

ortant photo of horse grazing - grass is important for horse nutrition Good Horse Nutrition and feeding are fundamental to your horses health.

Traditionally horses and ponies were fed on grass, hay, oats, bran, flaked maize,and chaff, with perhaps the addition of boiled linseed, sugar beet or even Guinness for extra nutrition!

Today there are many choices of Horse Feed with specialised mixes for every type of horse from foals to veterans.

In addition to the basic horse feeds there is a bewildering choice of equine supplements and nutrition for horses which claim to cure every problem from calming excitable horses to increasing your horse or pony's joint flexibilty.

When feeding horses and ponies it is important to remember that they have delicate digestive systems, and the most natural food for a horse is good quality pasture. Horses are grazing animals with small stomachs designed to process small amounts of food almost continuously.

Forage feed (grass and hay) is necessary for the proper functioning of their digestive system as it is the horse's most natural diet.

A horse or pony usually consumes about 2% or more of their body weight in horse feed each day although amount of food your horse needs varies according to activity, age, breed, weather, quality of feed, quality of shelter, condition of teeth, etc.

Horses also need lots of drinking water and an adequate amount of salt and minerals.

When feeding ponies follow the same rules as for feeding horses.

Feeding horses - traditional horse feeds

  • Forage feed - This includes grass and hay and is necessary for the horse's digestion. Forage feed should make up at least half of a horse's daily intake of food, preferably more.
  • Oats - are nutritious and easily digested if fed in crushed, rolled or cooked form. Oats are a high energy, or "heating", food and the feeding of oats can cause excitability in some horses and ponies.
  • Bran - is easily digested and provides bulk. It can be fed as a bran mash.
  • Chaff - adds bulk to food and prevents the horse from bolting down its food too fast.
  • Molichaff or Mollichop - is a mixture of chaff and molasses, the molasses makes it the chaff more appetising.
  • Barley - If fed whole it should be boiled or soaked for at least 2 hours before feeding as it swells when wet. This is done to prevent it swelling once in the horse's stomach, causing problems. It is better fed dry if rolled and crushed first. Highly nutritious it is good for a horse or pony in poor condition or during winter.
  • Linseed - Is poisonous raw and must be cooked first making a Linseed Jelly. It is a food high in protein and only a handful should be fed with a feed. It is useful for horses or ponies over the winter as it helps maintain condition and can aid fattening. It also promotes a shiny coat.
  • Flaked Maize - should be flaked and cooked to make it easier to digest. It is useful for fattening a horse or pony but should not be fed to horses doing strenuous exercise as it stays in the stomach for a long time. It is also a high energy food.
  • Root Vegetables - carrots, turnips, swedes, beetroot and parsnips can be fed in small quantities. These should be cut into strips, rather than round pieces as these can become lodged in the throat.

    A swede can be hung in the stable to keep the horse amused.
  • Apples - Most horses love apples. These should be fresh and cut into strips to avoid choking
  • Garlic

apples for horses add extra nutrition to a horse's feed

Horse and Pony Nuts, Cubes or Mixes

These are specially prepared mixes comprising many of the basic feeds and there are different types designed to meet the nutritional needs of a varied selection of horses and ponies with differing exercising routines.

They are extremely useful as they are convenient, ensure a good balance of all foods and nutrients are provided and avoid the need to store several different types of feed.

Feed Supplements for Horses

Many specialised equine feed supplements are available to enhance the regular feeding regime, and it is common practice to add 'extras' in the form of minerals and vitamins to the diet.

Under normal circumstances, if your horse is fed recommended levels of a concentrate applicable to his current work level, he will not require any supplements.

Most modern mixes contain a balanced level of minerals and supplements.

There are, however, certain times when a supplement is recommended:

  • When the horse is on a diet and fed only small amounts.
  • When the horse is grazing on poor quality grass and receives no concentrates.
  • When a horse is working hard yet due to excitablilty is receiving a lower energy concentrate than recommended.
  • When the horse is on box rest and recuperating from an illness.
  • For problems such as poor hoof quality.
  • For joint problems.
  • As an anti-inflammatory - eg Devil's Claw.
  • As a calming agent for excitable horses or moody mares!
  • Where there are low levels of (for instance) selenium or copper in the soil,
  • When electrolytes are required due to high level of work.

All minerals and vitamins are inter-linked in the way they work and the addition of one mineral may well affect the absorption rate of another.

An example would be high levels of phosphorus will adversely affect calcium absorption, even if the rate of calcium intake is at the recommended level.

So care must be taken when deciding to introduce a feed supplement

More Horse Nutrition articles

Omega 3 Oils
Seaweed supplements
Equine Joint Supplements
Electrolytes for horses
Feeding Probiotics to horses

UK Horse feed suppliers

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Article: Equine nutrition - advice on feeding horse and ponies