Learning how to craft the perfect diet for your horse can be challenging, but feeding your horse starts with 2 basic barn rules…
1. Horses must be fed to their individual needs
2. Break down the major components of a horse diet to ensure you have met all nutritional requirements
However, providing a properly balanced diet for your horse is the most important steps of horse ownership, yet the complexity can lead many well-intended horse owners astray.
Oh too frequently is information either misunderstood, overlooked or flat out wrong! Whether you feed your horse, or you rely on the boarding facility staff to feed, you should have a basic understanding of proper feeding management.
Now, nutrition goes many layers deep, but the extent of this post is to cover the basics. A great place to start if you are a beginner to start with a solid foundation!
Feed Based on the Individual Horse
I believe the very first step is to evaluate the horse. There is no one-size-fits-all diet or feed that can offer optimal nutrition and lead to optimal health for each and every horse. You must consider the specific horse you are feeding!
Many factors play a role in designing the correct diet for a horse, and all should be considered.
- Body Condition Score
- Weight (Current & Ideal)
- Energy level needed; how much activity does the horse do?
- Life stage; growing, reproduction, working adult or senior
- Environment (temperature, air quality, water access)
- Disease and illness or specific nutritional requirements/limitations like an allergy
Evaluating Body Condition
A major step to take in evaluating the horse is their Body Condition Score and weight. I have a detailed post on how to evaluate Body Condition and a download worksheet for calculating weight.
In other words, Body Condition Score was designed to measure the horse’s overall health, based on the physical appearance and amount of body fat present. This skill will aid you in determining if the feed is adequate when it comes to assessing ideal weight.
Above all, what is so powerful about this simple evaluation is that it forces you to truly look at the horse! and I recommend touching the horse too! Feel where the fat is or isn’t, is it squishy? or hard? What does this tell you? Starting the habit of truly assessing your horse is a crucial step in becoming an excellent horse owner.
Remember to document for your records!
The Major Components of a Horse Diet
These are the feeding fundamentals, basically the building blocks of good nutrition. Therefore, you should take the time to look at each individual component and ask if your horse’s diet is or is not sufficient. In other words, if a building block is missing or insufficient to your individual horse’s needs, then that can be a red flag in the overall optimal health of the horse.
- Keep the horse’s system working with the right fiber (forage/roughage): hay and grazing
- Importance of water in digestion and overall wellbeing of the horse
- Energy; carbohydrates, protein, and fat
- Understand the value of vitamins and minerals
PRO TIP: Always keep in the back of your mind the terms “balance” and “in moderateion”
Many ingredients are important and serve a vital role in providing your horse with a healthy source of a nutrient; whether it be fat, protein, fiber, calcium etc. However, you should alsways ask: “Is this nutrient balanced? by adding xyz, does that possibly cause an excess?”
I have many clients ask; “Is flax seed good to feed?” My answer is simple, “yes, in moderation.” Not every ingredient should be fed all the time, nor should it be fed in large quantities like the example above. 🙂
Start with Forage/Roughage
Forage should never be overlooked nor undervalued.
Horses are fiber digesters. Fiber comes from the forage and roughage (same thing) which are the grasses the horse eats. Horses eat grasses either fresh grass by grazing or in a dried/preserved form such as hay or legumes. Therefore, this should be the majority of their diet. In some cases, this is the entirety of the diet!
For example, a horse should consume 1.5% – 2% of their body weight A DAY in forage. In contrast, if you have a low weight horse, this can be even higher because you are increasing the amount of energy (calories) they consume by increasing the amount of forage.
Alright, that is a lot and I know it’s not everything but I never want to overwhelm you. My goal is always to inform and empower you with useful actionable to go out into the world and ask questions, and look closely at what your horse is eating (or not eating).
The first step is to download my Fear Not! Horse Feeding Blueprint.
Hope this was helpful! Please share with your friends, and if you haven’t already joined my FREE Facebook Group The Horse Academy and “like” the Hoofbeat Collective FB Page to stay up-to-date on new happenings 🙂