Overfeeding your horse can have serious consequences. It can cause digestive system diseases and obesity-related conditions; those, in turn, can lead to colic and death.
Regardless of whether you feed only one horse or a whole herd, you should have the basic knowledge of horse nutrition. Read our tips and tricks on feeding horses and your animal will become happier and healthier.
How to feed a horse?
- Easy access to hay and forage – to keep your horse from being hungry and then gobbling up its food, you should give it free access to hay or other forage feed. Horses that don’t have good access to forage feed often develop stomach ulcers.
- Feed at regular times – monotony and a regular schedule are one of the most important rules in proper horse feeding. If you want to avoid stomach ulcers and health problems, then feed your horse at regular times every day.
- Limit food intake for obese horses – if your horse is obese and you need to lower its food intake, consider getting a grazing muzzle, which will limit the amount of grass or hay a horse can eat but still allow it to be out in a pasture.
- Adjust to seasons – as mentioned above, during winter and transitional periods when there’s no access to fresh grass, you should feed your horse higher amounts of hay to supplement the lost calories.
- Feeding changes should be made gradually – to avoid any stomach problems and other conditions, you should gradually change your horse’s diet. That way your horse’s digestive system will have time to adjust to the new feed.
- Often and in small amounts – in the wild, horses graze thought the whole day so you should take it into account to give your horses the best living conditions possible.
- Avoid feeding right before and after training – horses should not be ridden with a full stomach, because it can lead to colic or stomachache. The same applies to feeding and giving horse water right after a training session – give the horse some time to cool down before that.
- Add a concentrate feed – horses need energy and essential nutrients to perform well during training. To supplement the diet of your horse, it is worth giving it a meal consisting of seeds, grains, vitamins, etc. 2-4 times a day to supplement any deficiencies.
The principle that determines the proper hay feeding is the basic conversion that recommends 7-9 kg of hay per 450 kg of horse weight. However, these values depend on several factors:
- Horse weight
Horse weight differs among breeds, so that’s why some horses weigh only 350kg while others even 900kg. Because of that variation in weight, each horse can have different caloric needs and in consequence, they need different amounts of hay.
To calculate the amount of hay your horse needs, you can assume conversion of 1,8kg of hay per 100kg of horse weight.
- Type of training
Horses that are in regular, intense training have higher caloric needs than those that are not ridden. It’s important to not overfeed a horse that is not in training because it can lead to laminitis or other serious conditions.
During winter, when pastures lack fresh grass, horses should be fed higher amounts of hay to sustain their weight. Horses require constant food intake, so they should also be given hay in the pasture to have something to nibble on. During the spring and summer season, you can lower the amount of hay fed, because horses replenish calories and vitamins with fresh pasture grass.
- Horse breed
Draft horses should be given more hay than other smaller horses like Arabians or ponies. Consider the breed differences when feeding your horses, so all are given adequate amounts of hay.
Additionally, ponies and other small horses tend to gain weight fast, so if you want them to be healthy, make sure not to overfeed them.
Horse metabolism, just like a human one, can slow down or speed up. Keep an eye on your horse’s weight and, if you notice any weight loss, give it higher amounts of hay and feed to keep your horse at its correct weight.
According to the general calculations, it is worth providing a horse with an average of 8kg of hay per 450kg of horse weight, but this value may change depending on the horse’s breed, type of training, or season of the year.