A Quick Guide To Feeding Your Horse
When it comes to feeding your horse, keep it simple.
Horses have an incredibly efficient digestive system that allows them to break down tough, fibrous foods into usable energy. All it takes is plenty of hay or forage and maybe a little grain to keep your horse strong and healthy.
How Much Does Your Horse Need To Eat?
Your horse will need to eat around 1.5 to 2.5 percent of their body weight. They should consume at least 1 percent of their body weight in forage and no more than 1 percent of their body weight in grain.
Forage, Your Horse’s Main Meal
Your horse’s stomach is relatively small for their size, with the average 1000-pound horse only able to hold 2-4 gallons of stomach contents at one time.
For this reason, horses are not suited to large meals like us. Instead, they thrive when they’re able to graze for most of the day, their digestive system constantly breaking down fibrous foods.
Ideally, your horse can graze up to 24 hours per day. If you’re not able to turn your horse out to graze all day, or when you don’t have access to good pasture, you can replace some or all of their roughage with hay.
Hay is generally categorized into two types: grass hay and legume hay. Grass hay, such as timothy, orchard, and brome, are low in protein and high in fiber. Legume hay, like alfalfa and clover, are higher in protein and lower in fiber than grass hay, and it’s typically more expensive. An easy keeper may be sustained on grass hay, while a growing foal or an athletic horse may need more legume hay. Many horse owners feed a blend of both grass and legume hay.
Also, keep in mind that early spring pasture grass has high sugar content, which can cause laminitis. If your horse has been eating hay over the winter, a sudden change to pasture grass can upset their digestive system. Limit your horse’s access to spring grass and transition slowly, starting with just 15 minutes of turnout a day.
Does My Horse Need Grain?
Not all horses need grain, as they may get all of the nutrients and energy they need from their hay or from the pasture. However, your horse may need grain if they compete in sports, if they’re nursing a foal, or just aren’t sustaining their weight on forage alone.
Split your horse’s daily grain ration into 2-4 small meals per day for optimal digestibility. Less is more when it comes to grain, and too much can contribute to colic or laminitis.
Naturally, every horse is unique. To make sure you’re meeting your horse’s specific needs, talk to your veterinarian or work with an equine nutritionist to come up with a diet plan that works best for them.