If you’re new to horse ownership, you’re probably wondering how to take care of your new companion. It’s important to make sure you know everything you need to know about caring for your horse to ensure you’re providing them with the best husbandry possible.
In this article, we’ll show you some basic information you need to know about what to feed your horse. Although some horses’ needs are different than others, this information can give you a good guideline to help you get started as you learn more about taking care of your horse.
Your horse has an absolute need for forage (hay or pasture) to make up the bulk of their diet. Horses are hindgut fermenters relying on their large colon, filled with helpful microbes to digest high-fiber forage diets of grass and hay to obtain the bulk of the nutrients they need. They should be fed at least 1-2% of their body weight of good quality forage per day (on a dry matter basis). So for an average 1,000 lb horse they should be fed 10-20 lb of dry hay daily.
Your horse needs plenty of hay to make up the bulk of their diet. The hay you give your horse should be high-quality and fresh, and you should aim to give them hay that is still green in color and has its leaves attached. It can come from a variety of grass sources, and no one type of hay is inherently better than the next for your horse.
You should, however, only feed hay that is still in good condition. Don’t feed moldy or rotting hay to your horse, and refrain from feeding hay that is very dusty if at all possible. Some horses may not eat dusty hay at all.
Quality Horse Feed Blend
You may be able to find a high-quality horse feed blend that contains hay as well as other forms of nutrition. They are often made up of grass hay that comes from a variety of sources, and they may also contain alfalfa as the main ingredient as well.
These blends provide plenty of roughage for your horse. This makes it easier for your horse to digest appropriately while providing him with all the nutrition he needs. They come in pellets, cubes, or bales most of the time.
Grain concentrates are made from oats, corn, barley, soy, and other grain by-products. They do not contain as much fiber as a hay or grass based diet does. However, they should be fed to horses that are growing, work, race, or are lactating because they provide extra energy for these tasks.
Grains can sometimes be dangerous for horses if they’re ground too finely before feeding or if they are fed at too high of a rate. Another risk is the feeding of high starch “sweet feeds” to horses with certain metabolic disorders or ones that are already overweight. There are many commercially available feeds on the market that are lower in starch or formulated for horses with special dietary needs.
You can supplement your horse’s diet with high-quality pasture grass if you’re capable of keeping up with the pasture’s needs as well. If you can’t take care of the pasture, however, the grass will not survive and will no longer provide the nutrition your horse needs. This method can be cost-effective over time but may be expensive to start up if you don’t already have a pasture available. An adult, 1,000 lb horse, eats about 3.5 lb of grass per hour. To get 1% of their body weight as dry matter on an average pasture (grass is approximately 30% dry matter) they need to graze for about 8 hours daily.
Your pasture should include a variety of plants for your horse to eat other than just grass, and it should also be completely fenced in. It should also contain shelter for times when the weather turns foul.
Often times it is best to provide natural sources of dietary supplements for your horse rather than feeding medication-style supplements. For example, if your horse needs more protein in their diet, you can supplement what you feed them with alfalfa hay, soybean or sunflower seed meal. However, at other times it is easier to purchase a commercial product.
Depending on where you live, your horse may not get enough calcium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, salt, or selenium in his diet. If this is true of your location, you’ll need to add other nutritious sources of these minerals to ensure your horse gets the right dietary requirements. There are several good quality, “hay balancer” grain supplements on the market that can be fed with a high forage diet to provide all the vitamins and minerals your horse will need.
Commercial Blends with Supplements
Commercial blends are made up of hay as well as other grains that can contribute to the dietary needs of a horse. They are designed to contain everything your horse needs, so you don’t have to supplement your horse’s diet with anything else if you choose a quality commercial supplement blend.
Be sure to read the feeding requirements on the back of any blend you purchase for your horse. The amount you feed per day will depend on how much your horse works and how old they are, so keep this in mind too as you work to figure out how much to feed your horse.
As always with any pet and animal concerns and questions, it’s important to talk with an experienced veterinarian for more information. Make sure you work with a large animal doctor who understands horses specifically and can make house calls if possible. This way, you’ll be sure the care you’re providing your horse is backed by quality vet help.
Caring for a horse is different from caring for a pet, so it’s important to make sure you know what is required for your horse’s care now and throughout the rest of his life, too.