Feeding Your Horse for the First-Time Horse Owner

Feeding Your Horse for the First-Time Horse Owner

Water- A Vital Nutrient for Your Horse

Your horse should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. It is an essential nutrient needed for digestion, thermoregulation, and overall bodily functions. The average horse at maintenance consumes 5 to 10 gallons of water a day. Like humans, however, individual horses can vary greatly consumption of water, so water should be checked and changed often.

Factors that affect your horse's water consumption

  • Temperature: Increase water intake with temperatures above 85 F; Decreased water intake with temperatures below 45F
  • Hay vs grass: Horses on hay consume less water as compared to lush green pasture because grass is 60-80% water meeting their water requirement without them needing to drink as much
  • Protein intake: Horses on a high protein diet, such as alfalfa hay or large amounts of high protein grains, urinate more and therefore their water requirement increases
  • Sodium intake: Salt or electrolytes increase water requirements
  • Exercise level: As a horse's exercise level increases, water requirements increase
  • Stool: A horse with diarrhea will lose water and therefore require more water to compensate

Hay/Forage for Your Horse

After water, hay or grass should make up most of your horse's diet. The average horse consumes 1-2% of their body weight in hay. So, a 1,000 pound horse would consume approximately 20 pounds of hay a day. Horses are naturally grazing animals. Their bodies have developed to consume forage continuously throughout the day. Therefore, you should feed your horse at least twice a day, and consider investing in a slow-feeder so that your horse can nibble on feed throughout the day. A horse that is only allowed to eat a few meals a day will gorge themselves and once the contents have emptied from the stomach, the acid will continue to secrete into an empty stomach. This can lead to ulcers. Choose a type of hay that best suits your horse. A horse that wants to stay a little heavy doesn't need alfalfa hay, or to be turned out on lush, green grass. Forages like this for an easy-keeper will only increase the chance of your horse developing insulin resistance. You are better to choose lower energy hay, such as Bermuda or Teff, for an easy-keeper so they can consume more without getting too many calories. On the other hand, if have a horse that stays on the thin side consider feeding alfalfa to increase their caloric intake.

Concentrates/ Grains are Needed for Some Horses

Concentrates are energy-dense feeds, like grains. Most horses don't need to be fed concentrates. When fed high-quality forage their energy requirements are typically met unless they are getting a large workload. However, some hard-keepers need a few extra calories. Concentrates are energy-dense, allowing you to pack a lot of extra calories into a small amount of feed. When graining your horse, a good rule of thumb is to not feed more than 5 pounds of grain in a feeding. Grains are high in rapidly-fermentable carbohydrates. If fed in high levels, excessive starch will pass through the stomach and wreak havoc on the hind gut. 


Vitamin/Mineral Supplement for Your Horse

Hay can be lacking in many vitamins and minerals. When hay is put up many of the vitamins, like Vitamin A and E, oxidize which renders them useless to the horse. In addition, certain areas of the United States are low in minerals, such as selenium in the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes and Eastern Seaboard. To fill the nutritional gaps in your hay, provide your horse a vitamin/mineral supplement. By providing a great vitamin/mineral supplement you will ensure the optimal nutritional health of your horse.  


Salt for Your Horse

When feeding your horse high quality hay, and a vitamin/mineral supplement, you should also provide a free-choice plain white salt block. This will allow your horse to monitor his salt intake. Salt is the only mineral that horses will actively seek to meet their nutritional requirement. There is no need to provide a mineral salt block as they provide small of amount the nutrients and all your horses trace mineral and vitamin needs are being met with the vitamin-mineral supplement. Along with great nutrition, a deworming program, and routine veterinary and farrier care are key to a happy, healthy horse. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian and use to professionals to gain knowledge. When choosing a vitamin/mineral supplement, choose the best. 
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