June Thoroughbred

Nutritional Considerations

Monday, September 19, 2011


Just like a human, meeting a horse’s daily nutritional requirements will keep him healthy. You might not immediately notice what a donut a day does to your body, but a horse who doesn’t receive all necessary nutrients on a daily basis may soon suffer from an array of health concerns. Just like you, a horse without his basic vitamins and minerals may feel grumpy and out of sorts, and you certainly don’t want to ride an ill-tempered animal.


The diet of a horse depends on the horse’s age, weight, health, breed and level of activity. Horse owners can calculate the amount of calories needed for their specific horse by using this feeding calculator.  


Grains and hay provide most of your horse’s nutritional needs. Supplements may be added to a horse’s diet, if necessary; however, check with your veterinarian before adding these to daily feedings.


Buy quality hay

Because the majority of your horse’s diet will be forage, you want to make sure you provide high-quality hay and pasture. Feeding a poor quality hay will only require your horse to eat more to receive the necessary calories and nutrients. Poor quality hay can also predispose your horse to digestive upsets. Look for hay that has:

  • A good green appearance with plenty of leaf matter. Look inside the bale. Outward appearances may be deceiving.
  • A pleasant, sweet smell. Stick your nose into the hay. Don’t just sniff around the perimeter.
  • A soft texture that does not shatter when you touch it (remember, what you feel is what your horse tastes. If the hay feels rough in your hand, it will feel rough in your horse’s mouth).
  • No mold, which appears as a dark discoloration or has an odd odor, or dust.


Although the age of the hay is important, the storage of the hay is equally vital. Buy hay that has been stored in a shed and kept away from the elements and off the ground. After you purchase the hay, follow these same recommendations.


Horse feed

Along with hay and pasture, you may need to offer your horse a basic horse feed mixture. You may buy these pre-mixed. Feeds should be made up of the nutrient sources a horse needs (oats, barley, molasses, oils, beet pulp). Different feed mixes are available for different types of horses (competitive, stallion, senior). Offer your horse the types of food that he will readily eat, but that is also balanced and nutritious. If your horse won't eat,  there may be something wrong with the feed or hay, or the horse may be ill.


Treats for horses may be given but are unnecessary. If you do give your horse treats, consider carrots, apple slices, compressed pellets or special horse cookies. You should never offer chocolate, caffeine, alcohol or other processed human foods unless your veterinarian gives you the OK, as some foods can cause a variety of health issues as well as result in a positive drug test if you are competing.


As you learn more about your horse, you will begin to understand his food preferences. There are still some basic feeding guidelines to follow:

  • Don’t overfeed your horse
  • Don’t ride him before or after a large meal;
  • Don’t attempt to change a horse’s diet quickly. This may cause an array of health and behavioral issues, as horses tend to be animals of habit. It is best to take 10 days to 2 weeks to gradually change your horse's diet.


And you thought the toughest part about owning a horse would be learning to ride it.



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