Skip to content
Home » How to Feed a Horse

How to Feed a Horse

What is the best way to feed your horse? With so many different feed choices for supplementation, hay and feed available, many are left wondering what their horse requires for optimal health and nutrition. Numerous horse-feeding myths and opinions make choosing which feed to feed your horse more complicated. The law obliges commercial horse feed producers to include information about their product on the form of a “feed tag” or a tag that can be placed on or directly onto the bag. This tag is essential to know regarding the food the horse is eating. But, the majority of horse owners don’t know or don’t have the time to go through the information. This book explains your horse’s requirements for nutrition, the most common rules to follow in feeding your horse, as well as how to assess the nutritional needs of your horse are met.

Essential Nutrients

In feeding your horse, it’s crucial to remember that there exist six primary nutrients to be satisfied including protein, carbohydrate, minerals, fats, vitamins and water. In most cases, feed companies make sure that the first five nutrients are balanced for us, but it is important not to neglect water. A healthy, normal horse consumes five to fifteen (or more) gallon of water per day, based on the temperature, humidity and the level of activity. Clean water must be available every day, and, ideally, should be readily available throughout the day for horses to drink water when it’s thirsty. If this isn’t possible horses should be hydrated at least twice a day and given a few minutes to drink every time. Horses who don’t get enough fluids are prone to diarrhea, intestinal impacts and various kinds of colic.

The rest of the horse’s diet must be planned in accordance with the needs of each of the five nutrients. These requirements differ from one in each individual. They are affected by the horse’s body mass as well as age, workload, and metabolism. It is an extremely useful ability to read an ingredient label and figure out whether the feed is going satisfy your horse’s needs. Let’s examine each type of nutrients that you’ll encounter in evaluating your feed program.


Carbohydrates are most likely to constitute the major component of the horse’s diet. They can be classified into two categories that are structure (fiber) in addition to other non-structural (sugars as well as starches). These are the carbohydrates found in the greatest quantities in the roughage horses eat (e.g. the in hay, grass) and can be digested due to the structure of the horse’s intestinal tract. After digestion within the stomach and small intestine, horse’s digestible material is absorbed into in the large intestine (hindgut) that is made up of the colon and cecum. The colon and cecum are home to microorganisms capable of breaking the structural carbohydrates into an energy source that horses can take in. This is the reason why horses gain an abundance of nutrients from hay and grass.

It is essential to feed high-quality hay which is clean of dust and mold and cut to the right length and at the right maturity stage. Hay that is an excessively rough stem or is too fine may cause digestive problems , like impacts. Hay that is too mature when cut is of no nutritional value for horses due to the increase in a substance called lignin. This substance is not digestible by horses or bacteria that live in the gut.

Horses are able to easily digest nonstructural carbohydrates, primarily within the small intestinal. These starches and sugars are found primarily in the grains (e.g. corn, oats or barley), oats or oats) and are an even more concentrated source that can provide energy than the structural carbs (thus”concentrates”) “concentrates” is commonly employed when talking about grains and grain blends). It is crucial to understand that the digestive system of horses evolved to handle roughage-based food; thus concentrated foods should be used in conjunction with the forage diet and satisfy the nutritional requirements that can’t be fulfilled by forage on its own. The horse should be fed at least 1 percent of body weight when foraging (on an empty matter basis) and the ideal figure would be 1.5 or 2 percent body weight. If you feed less than this, it could cause health issues like ulcers and colic.

There is a variety of “safe” food products that are sold for the use of horses. They are made with ingredients that are rich in digestible fiber, and are low in starches and sugars. For instance, “safe” feeds often contain ingredients like soybean hulls and beet pulp with an extremely high proportion of digestible fiberand with a low amount of starch and do not contain ingredients like corn, which is a high starch source. Most feed labels will provide an average percentage of starch on their analysis guarantee to permit owners of horses that have special requirements (e.g., Cushings, metabolic syndrome, chronic laminitis colic that is recurring or ulcers) to choose a feed that has a lower starch content.


Protein, essential to maintain and grow your body is a nutrient that isn’t well-known by most owners of horses. Proteins break down by the small digestive tract into amino acids, which are then combined to form proteins within the body, which comprise hair, muscle and hoof. It is crucial to understand that proteins are comprised of amino acids and the proteins are produced by the body have distinct sequences of amino acids. The quantity of protein the body is able to synthesize is restricted due to the amino acid that will run out first. For horses, this is usually the case with lysine. Thus, on many baggies of horse food, where the protein content is mentioned in addition to “added Lysine” and provide an additional percentage of level of lysine. This basically improves the quality of protein without increasing the quantity of protein contained in the feed.

There are benefits for improving the quality of protein, without increasing the amount of total protein. It is a widely held myth in the world of horses that higher levels of protein are associated with more energy. Actually protein is the most difficult fuel source for horses to process and transform into usable energy. Protein requirements for maintenance and growth depend on the age of the horse and the workload. In general, horses that are growing require a greater amount of proteins than older horses. A horse that is growing generally requires between 12-18 percent of crude protein in its diet to support the proper development and growth. Horses require more protein as tissues are laid down to support growth (i.e. young horses that are in fast growth stages and gestating mares in their final trimester, as well as lactating mares who need to produce large amounts of milk). Older horses will likely perform well with less protein (8 between 12 and 12 percent) dependent on their work load. Horses in intensive training require more protein than a maintenance horse due to the fact that they are forming muscle tissue. However, the majority of them will be fine with the 12 percent protein diet. Feeding horses with higher amounts of protein than they require implies that the horse will break down the protein excess and excretes it in urine. This is quickly converted into ammonia. This isn’t a good idea because excess ammonia could cause respiratory problems for stabled horses.

It is essential to realize that forage can also be an important food source for protein. Choose hay that can help satisfy the horse’s protein needs. Hays are classified as grass-based hays (e.g. Bermudagrass and Timothy) as well as the legume type hays (e.g. alfalfa, bermudagrass or peanut, clover,). In general it is true that legume hays are greater on protein levels than grass hays. The best quality legume hays can contain between 18 and 22 percent of crude protein while grass hay of good quality may have between 10 and 16 percent protein in crude form. Quality and the stage of growth at the time of harvest determine the digestibility of the hay and determine how much protein the horse gets from it.


The feeding of high-fat diets is a relatively recent trend within the horse industry. It has been established that horse can survive a high amount that they consume fat. Fat is a great and easy to digest food source for energy. Commercial feeds that aren’t supplemented by additional fats have around two to four percent of fat. A lot of commercial feeds are supplemented with fat in the form an oil that is stabilized. The feeds could contain anything from 6 to 12 percent of fat. Since adding fat to feed will increase its energy density, and the horse will need less feed so it is crucial to make sure that the autres nutrients (i.e. proteins, vitamins minerals) are sufficient to satisfy your horse’s needs. Commercial feeds will be nutritiously balanced, when adding fat to your horse’s diet by applying a certain kind of oil or fat supplementation on your feed, you need to make sure you’re meeting all of his needs for nutrients, and not only the energy requirements.


Vitamins are crucial organic chemical compounds. They must be present within the body in order for important reactions to take place to allow animals to live. Vitamins are classified into two groups that are water-soluble and comprise of vitamin B complex (e.g. B1 and B2) and the fat-soluble category comprises Vitamins A, E, D and K. Certain vitamins come with names that are associated with them (for instance, B1 is also called Thiamine). It is essential to realize that horses synthesize a lot of the nutrients it needs and does not usually require supplementation from food sources for all vitamin. This includes B-vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K. As a result you won’t notice these vitamins listed in feed tags that are sold to commercial horses. It is crucial to review your feed and ensure that all your horse’s nutritional requirements are satisfied since deficiencies in vitamin levels can cause a variety of health issues. However, it’s essential to be aware that extreme amounts of these vitamins is not recommended also, especially with regard to fat-soluble vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins that are excessively high in concentrations are typically excreted through urine. However, fat-soluble vitamins are found to be stored easily in animals’ fat tissue, which means they may build up to very excessive levels when consumed in high amounts. Because high levels of vitamins may cause toxic effects, it is essential to exercise caution while feeding nutrition supplements rich in specific vitamins. Most times the right forage regimen paired with a properly-formulated concentrate will supply enough nutrients to meet your horse’s needs.


Minerals are vital inorganic components that must be in sufficient quantities for your body’s functioning effectively. Minerals are another ingredient you can find in feed supplements and the shelves of tack stores. It is essential to know that the mineral requirements will change according to your horse’s age and condition (i.e. depending on whether your horse is in the process of in lactation, or is working). Commercial feed companies typically adjust their feeds to meet the needs of minerals for different classes of horses. Forage can also supply minerals. In some instances, the mineral supplementation may yield desired outcomes. For instance, biotin copper, and zinc that are supplemented beyond the required levels have been proven to increase the strength of hoofs. But care must be taken since the excessive amount of minerals can also cause toxicities, contribute to health issues that are serious or hinder the absorption of other minerals.

If your horse doesn’t get commercial concentrates or eats a small amount in it, it could be necessary to add additional minerals and vitamins to his diet with a supplement known as an balanced ration. Ration balancers are produced by a variety of feed manufacturers and are intended to feed at a lower amount (approximately 1 one pound daily) which contains the required minerals, vitamins and proteins. Also, it is possible to satisfy the requirements for vitamins and minerals by offering a no-cost loose salt-vitamin and mineral mix. Horses aren’t efficient at licking and loose mixes tend to be more effective over salt block. Additionally, mineral blocks typically contain smaller than 5 percent minerals, and over 95 percent salt. As such, they are not a great source the horse with the vitamin and mineral requirements. A loose vitamin/mineral mix or an ration balancer is an ideal alternative for horses kept in pastures and who are adapted to eating a diet that is all forage. If you are providing a loose mix the general guideline is to allow the horses’ consumption to be 1.5 to 3 ounces. per day.

A common mineral ratio that you’ll see at a feed bag is the ratio of calcium to phosphorus. It is essential to verify whether commercial feeds as well as mineral premixes with a calcium:phosphorus ratio of 1:1 or 2:1. If the levels of phosphorus are elevated in comparison to calcium levels, calcium will be taken from the bone and absorbed into the bloodstream to help balance the calcium/phosphorus ratio. This isn’t a typical problem for animals that are grazing because phosphorus levels are abundant in grasses, however grains are rich in phosphorus. Commercial feeds are usually supplemented with a kind of calcium. Feeding a single grain such as oats could result in an inverse calcium/phosphorus ratio, if calcium isn’t supplemented in any form. Another vital mineral to consider is your horse’s sweat loss. Horses who are engaged in moderate or intense activity and sweating heavily, lose electrolytes from sweat. For these horses it might be necessary to add salt as well as other electrolytes (such as potassium). A balanced electrolyte mix may be added into the horse’s diet mix according to the needs.