Horses need to be fed as closely as possible to the natural diet they evolved to eat. This is a high fiber, low sugar diet with the chance to graze on different grasses, herbs, non-toxic hedgerows, and trees.
This type of diet will give your horse the nutrition they need and will also satisfy their instinct for foraging, keeping them happy, and reducing boredom. Following a more natural diet may also help to prevent illnesses like stomach ulcers and colic.
Horses need to have, as much as possible, a continuous supply of fiber, as well as a constant source of fresh water.
Is grass or hay enough?
Most horses doing light or medium work, like hacking and schooling, just need good pasture or hay, made up of a variety of different grasses.
Only horses in really hard and fast work, breeding stock, or very underweight horses will need high energy concentrate feeds. It’s best to get the advice of a qualified equine nutritionist for these types of horses.
Will my horse need anything else in their diet?
Unless you are sure your horse’s grazing, hay, and feed regime give the correct micronutrient balance, vitamin and mineral supplement will need to be fed. You can get these as:
- salt licks and mineral lick – though don’t feed one that contains molasses
- vitamin and mineral powder or pellets
- feed balancer – this is great for dieting horses when their food is being restricted because they are the most at risk of being short of micronutrients
Supplementary feeding your horse
Supplementary feeding only needs to be considered if your horse is underweight, in hard or fast work, or is of breeding stock. Be sure to speak to your equine nutritionist before choosing any supplementary feeds.
When feeding a horse, consideration must first be given to the type and quantity of grazing to which the horse has access. The grass is often overlooked when considering a horse’s ration but it is the sole (or predominant) diet for most horses. Whether fresh (grazed pasture) or fed as conserved forage (hay or haylage), the grass is a horse’s most important energy, nutrient and fiber provider.
Fiber and roughage (long feed)
Fiber is essential to maintain good digestive function. The primary source of fiber roughage is grass. The fiber content increases during the grazing season and is higher in the more ‘stalky’, mature grass. Mature grass is also used for conserving as haylage or hay, providing high-fiber feed for the winter months or when the horse does not have access to grazing.
If managed correctly, grass can provide a balanced diet from spring through to autumn. During the winter months the energy content of the grass falls, this is why it is sometimes necessary to supplement a horse’s diet with hay, haylage, grass pellets, chaff, or oat straw. Most horses in rest or light work will not require any supplement to their diet.
Concentrates (hard/short feed)
These are foods with proportionately high (concentrated) levels of nutrients and energy. When fed they should not normally account for more than half of the horse’s total dietary provision. Usually, concentrates makeup only a small percentage of the horse’s diet, with roughage making up the majority.
These come in two forms – nuts (cubes or pellets) and mixes. Generally, compound feeds have been specifically prepared to suit the needs of particular types of horses and ponies, ranging from high-fiber maintenance (nuts) to high-energy competition (mixes). An analysis of the nutrient components should be available on the packet and feeding advice available from the manufacturer.
It’s important that you carefully monitor your horse’s weight and body score regularly because a lot of the grassland that horses are kept on no longer has the natural meadow grass they’ve evolved to eat.
Instead, there is far too much ryegrass, which is high in sugar and is one of the reasons that native ponies can become overweight. This can lead to malnourishment and puts them at a higher risk of diseases like laminitis.
By keeping an eye on their weight, you can adjust any feed or grazing to help your horse lose or gain weight before they are at risk. Horses on a restricted diet need to have their hay and grass ration spread, as evenly as possible, over 24 hours to keep the gut working properly and prevent ulcers forming.
Common feeding-related problems
Always dampen down any dry food with water before feeding. Feed your horse from a large shallow bowl that can be placed on the floor and will be difficult to tip over. It should be made of plastic or rubber to avoid causing any injury to the horse. Mangers that attach to the stable door or the fence are also acceptable means of feeding a horse, although it is more natural for horses to feed on the ground level.
In the stable, hay and haylage is best fed from a net tied to a ring on the wall, as it is more economical and the hay does not get trodden into the bed as it would if placed on the floor. When using a hay net, ensure that it is tied high enough using a quick release or slipknot to prevent the horse from getting a foot caught in it. When feeding hay in the field, scatter it in small piles so that horses can walk from pile to pile as if they were grazing. If horses are sharing a field, make sure there are more piles of hay than horses. This will help minimize any fighting over food.
Horses drink approximately 25 to 55 liters of water per day depending on the weather, their diet, and the level of work they are doing. Water is essential to maintain a horse’s health and it is vital that horses should have access to fresh clean water at all times, in the stable and the field.
Water in the stable
Water buckets in the stable should be made from plastic, rubber, or polythene. The water should be changed frequently and the buckets kept clean. Where possible, the water buckets should be placed in the corner of the stable to prevent them from being knocked over. Automatic drinking bowls are a good alternative to water buckets, although they can cause problems because some horses do not take to them and it is difficult to tell how much has been drunk. Buckets and automatic watering devices must be kept clean so that the water remains fresh.
Water in the field
It is important that a horse has a constant supply of fresh clean water while out on the grass. The best way of providing this is via a self-filling trough that should be made from galvanized iron or reinforced plastic. Troughs filled from the tap are not recommended if the tap is protruding as the horse could be injured.
Seasonal care of water troughs needs to be carried out. In the summer, the trough should be scrubbed out and any algae removed and, in the winter, ice should be removed twice per day.
Care needs to be taken with natural water sources such as streams and ponds as these may be contaminated or difficult for your horse to access safely. The ideal natural source is a running stream with a gravel base. If the base is sandy, horses may get sand-colic or, if the base is clay the area can quickly become muddy and the water dirty or difficult to access. It is advisable not to rely on natural water sources and it is wise to fence off those which pose a potential risk.
Golden rules of feeding and watering
- Feed a fiber-based diet and only supplement it with hard feed if absolutely necessary
- Always offer water before feeding
- Feed at the same time every day
- Make any changes to the horse’s diet or routine gradually
- Always feed good quality, clean food
- Feed according to type, temperament and amount of work being done by the horse
- Always leave at least an hour between feeding and riding
- Feed little and often, subdividing the ration into several smaller feeds throughout the day
- Feed chaff mixed with the hard food so that the horse has to chew every mouthful
- Feed something succulent
Please contact with us if any questions, our sales team will always be happy to provide you with the most professional info.