What to feed horses? – Taking care of domestic animals is not an easy task. One has to take responsibility for their every need-their grooming, shelter, and most importantly- their nutrition!
The equine breeds or horses are no exception to this. With the advent of the summer season, horse owners have to take extra care of their horses and ponies. These animals are sensitive to extreme temperatures and when the heat starts to increase, one has to take a lot of steps to keep them comfortable and cool. What to feed horses is a question that every horse owner has in their minds.
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Feeding your horses the right fodder and food is of utmost importance. Simply allowing your horse to graze on hay and grass in a field is definitely not enough. In order for your horses to remain healthy, they have to be on a very specific diet.
Keep reading to know about what to feed horses to keep them healthy and strong.
What to Feed Horses? – 9 Common Feeds
Whether you own a horse or a mare, a foal or a pregnant mother, every type of horse requires the right type of nutrition for its sustenance.
Irrespective of whether your stallion is of the horse racing breeds or is a common field horse, there are a few feeding options that are common to them all. These horse feeds have all the nutrients necessary for your horse’s dietary requirements and one has to be extremely careful about what to feed horses. One wrong decision about the feed and you can risk the life of the horse.
Here is a list of the 9 most common feeds that contain all the necessary nutrients that a horse should consume on a daily basis:
Good quality hay is one of the most common feeds you can give your horses. The greener and brighter the hay, the better would be its quality. The parameters to know whether your batch of hay is of good quality is to make sure that the hay is of a good texture and leafy and should have a fresh smell to it. Bad quality hay can lead to an increase in the risk of colic problems and gastric ulcers in the horse’s intestine. It can also impact the horse’s teeth hence it is very important to feed your horses good quality and high fibre hay.
Oats are one of the most common and popular types of grains that is fed to horses. It is one of the very grain varieties that can be fed to horses without having to cook them. They are high in fibre and a safe option to feed your horses too. This is because horses can easily digest the large quantity of starch that is present in oats easily in their small intestines. Another alternative to oats would be corn.
However, one has to make sure to feed oats to horses in small quantities.
#3 Pastures or Grass
When you think of what to feed horses, the first thing that comes to mind is grass.
Grass or green pastures are a horse’s natural food group. It is great for their digestion and contains all the nutrients that are required for a horse’s daily dietary needs. Ideally, the horse owner should be feeding a mix of grass and legumes to their horses for grazing.
It is important to keep in mind to not overdo grazing on grass since too much of it can prove to have a detrimental effect on your stallion.
Certain fruits and vegetables are called treats for your horses because of how much they enjoy eating them. When thinking about what to feed horses, be sure to always include a few treats for your horses. Treats include apples, carrots, bananas, beetroots, mangoes, and watermelons to name a few. Fruits contain natural sugar which is very good for a horse’s health. These treats are high on nutrition and on taste at the same time.
Spotting a bag of loose salt or salt cubes in a stable is a common sight, especially during the summer seasons. This is because consuming salt for horses is a good way for them to curb their cravings. At the same time, salt is a great source of minerals. You can feed salt directly to your horse or mix it in their grain feed.
#6 Sugar Cubes
Sugar cubes are one of the most common treats given to horses. Horses love sugar because of its taste. Pregnant mares also benefit from consuming sugar cubes during the birthing process. This is because it helps to calm them down.
You can also feed your horses molasses just like people used to in earlier times.
However, one has to make sure to not overdo it since it can make your horse sick and also have an effect on its dental health.
Legumes like alfalfa are a good source of proteins, calcium and minerals. You can give your horses alfalfa hay or mix it with their grains. These legumes are extremely beneficial for the horse’s bones since they have a high concentration of calcium in them. The fibres in alfalfa provide horses with slow-release energy which helps to keep them active for longer periods of time.
#8 Mixed Concentrates
There are many variants of packaged concentrates available in the market which can be directly fed to horses. They are a mix of grains, vitamins and minerals, and forage readily available in the market. One of the most common mixes of grains would be oats, corns and barley. You can also get the feeds customised as per what would be best for your horse.
It is important for horses to consume at least 12 gallons of water each day, making it a part of their dietary intake. Given the fact that horses indulge in a lot of exercises every single day, ample consumption of water is very important to keep them going. Even though one might think that horses do not eat water, water is an important contributor and constituent to a horse’s diet.
Just like for us humans, water is important for these equine animals too for their hydration and health.
How to Feed a Horse?
If you own only one horse or two, chances are you would be doing most of its work on your own. Even if you have hired professional help to take care of your horses, it is always a good thing to know what to feed horses since you are the owner yourself. Merely knowing what to feed your horse is not enough. You have to know exactly how to feed one too.
Here is a step by step guide on everything you need to keep in mind when deciding how to feed horses-
The dietary requirement of your house is calculated on the basis of its weight. It is important to use the correct weighing scale for it. It is ideal to use a scale specifically made for horses for this purpose for accuracy. Also, measure your horses once every 2 weeks so that their diet charts are aligned with their weights.
The next step is to calculate the exact daily dietary requirement of your house. You can only decide what to feed horses once you know exactly how much to feed them each day.
This is done on the basis of the horse’s weight. The average dietary requirement is 2.5% of a horse’s total body weight. You can calculate the exact requirements by using this formula-
TOTAL DAILY DIETARY REQUIREMENT= BODY WEIGHT/2.5*10
The next step is to set a diet objective. This means to decide what is the exact goal you have in your mind for your horse’s body and its health. Whether the goal is to get your horse fitter by making it lose a few pounds or increasing the weight of your underweight foal. Another parameter could also be to treat your sick horse that requires proper nourishment.
On the basis of your diet objective, you next have to decide what forage you want to feed your horse on a daily basis. This would mean deciding how much pasture time you would allow your horse, how much of its dietary need would be fulfilled by grains, supplements or treats.
You can also take the help of a professional to decide what exactly you wish to feed your horse. Many times what is best for an average horse would differ from what is best for yours. This would depend upon a lot of factors like your geographic location, breed of the horse, whether it is used for recreational riding or belongs to a professional polo player. Going to a vet who gives you professional guidance is something that you should ideally seek out.
The last step would be to fix a schedule for your horse’s feeding. Unlike domestic animals like cows and buffalos, a horse cannot eat large quantities of food at once. You need to feed your horses small quantities of food at regular intervals for is proper nourishment. Including enough time at the water tubs are also equally important when fixing the schedule
10 Rules to Follow while Feeding a Horse
Horses are majestic creatures and require a lot of care. Acquiring a horse is an expensive affair and one has to keep a lot of things in mind for it to lead a healthy and long life. More often than not, horse owners spend the majority of their attention on the grooming of the horses. Taking care of their shiny manes and their hooves is important but one cannot ignore the importance of the right equine nutrition in the process. One wrong decision when it comes to their diet and the horse pays a major price in terms of its health.
Simply knowing what to feed horses and how to feed them is not enough. There are a few tricks and tips that can make your life as a horse owner easy. Treat these tips as unbreakable rules to follow when deciding what to feed horses.
A few of these rules that you should follow while feeding a horse are mentioned below-
#1 Hydration is the key
This rule applies to almost all living beings and horses are no exception to it. Always make sure that your horse has ample and clean water to drink in its shelter. Horses are fast runners and this has an impact on their lungs. Making sure that they always have enough water near them is very important. A horse requires an average of 12 gallons of water every day for its survival.
#2 Balance feeding the grains
Horses are naturally used to mainly feeding on green pastures. Yes, grains do provide them with that added nourishment but only when given in moderation. The starch present in grains can prove to be harmful to your horse’s gut if given in large quantities and affect their entire digestive system.
Also, stay away from grains like bran for your horse. Stick to grains like oats and corn instead.
#3 Do not feed your horses immediately before or after exercising
Just like for us humans, for horses too, it is a bad idea to feed right before or right after exercising. Ideally, you should go riding on your horses an hour after it is done feeding. A fully fed horse should not be indulging in any type of strenuous activity as it creates pressure on their lungs.
#4 Do not follow the same dietary routine for all types of horses
It is very important to understand that the diet needs of a mare and a stallion will differ. Similarly, you cannot feed what you are feeding to a foal to a pregnant mare. Old and sickly horses also shall have different dietary needs. Consult your horse vet as frequently as required.
#5 Take good care of your horse’s dental hygiene
A horse requires its teeth to be floated at least once a year.
Horses are herbivores. This makes them mainly chew the food that they eat. Hence, it is very important to keep a close check on the health of their teeth and to take good care of their dental health and hygiene.
#6 Make sure that the forage intake of your horse is maximum
When planning your horse’s diet charts, make sure that the majority of its diet includes forage. A horse is naturally used to feed on forage and hence it is important for horse owners to make sure their horses get enough forage for feeding.
#7 Include vitamin and minerals supplements in your horse’s diet
To keep them healthy, regularly provide your horses with vitamin and mineral-based supplements.
#8 Plan a diet by balancing all nutrients
It is important to make sure that your horse’s diet includes proteins, energy, vitamins and minerals in the right quantities for their health.
#9 Maintain proper hygiene
Make sure that you keep the feeding bowls of the horses clean and wash them regularly. They can become an easy source of infection and disease for your horse.
#10 Keep a check on the Sugar
Do not overfeed sugar to your horse. Too much sugar can prove to be extremely harmful to your horse and can make it majorly sick. Too much sugar in the horse’s diet has a direct impact on its metabolism. It can also lead to metabolism-related disorders, and unwanted weight gain as well. This further increases the risk of medical complications.
Also, always remember when answering what to feed horses that processed or artificial sugar should be avoided at all costs. Especially sugar-containing food items like chocolate.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. How many times in a day should you feed your horse?
Ideally, it is important to feed your horses a minimum of twice a day. However, at least three to four times is better depending upon how much work your horse does daily. A horse that labours all day requires to be fed properly to keep it strong and healthy.
Q2. How many treats can give you a give your horse at a go?
You should not give more than treats to your horse on a daily basis. This is because your horse’s daily dietary requirements need to be monitored very strictly. Giving them more than the stipulated amount of treat shall offset its diet plans. This can also cause your horse to fall sick, especially if you’re treating it to sweets.
Q3. What are the few things you should never feed your horse?
There are a few food items that you should never feed your horse. These include chocolates, potatoes, bread, avocados, or dairy products of any kind. They can even turn out to be poisonous for them.
Q4. What should a horse eat daily?
When planning out what to feed horses, it is very important to set a roughage-rich diet plan for them. Make sure to include a lot of roughage in a horse’s diet. A horse should ideally eat 2% of its body weight in roughage daily for its overall health.
Q5. How long can a horse go without feeding?
A horse can do without food for a period of 8 hours. This is the maximum duration till which a horse can sustain itself without any type of complications. After that, the feeling of hunger starts to grow and get stronger. Ideally, you should not keep such a long interval after a meal for your horse. It would not just have a detrimental effect on their health but also on their mood.
Taking care of another living being is not an easy task, especially when the creature cannot speak for itself, and is an animal like a horse. One has to take exceptional care of these beauties for them to lead a healthy and long life.
Apart from professional uses, very few people own horses for their recreation. This makes them a little stuck when it comes to taking their right care. Simply hiring a stable boy for their grooming and upkeep is not enough. You need to take utmost care about what to feed horses.
Now that you know everything that one has to know about feeding horses, you are in a more informed and better position to take care of them. You are what you eat is a theory that is not just applicable to human beings. It is applicable to other living creatures too, including the equine varieties!