Horses are majestic creatures that require a proper diet to maintain their health and well-being. Just like any other animal, horses require specific nutrients to function optimally. As an owner, it is your responsibility to ensure that your horse gets the right amount of nutrition to stay healthy.
What do Horses Eat?
Horses are herbivores and require a diet that is primarily composed of fiber. In the wild, horses graze on grass, but as domesticated animals, their diet can vary depending on their workload, age, and overall health.
Grass is the most natural and essential food for horses. Horses can graze on pasture grasses such as Bermuda, Timothy, and Orchard grass. Pasture grasses provide the necessary nutrients for horses and promote healthy digestion. However, it’s essential to ensure that horses graze on healthy, well-maintained pastures, free from weeds and toxic plants.
Hay is the most common source of forage for horses when pasture is not available. Hay is a dried grass or legume that is cut and baled. There are different types of hay, including Timothy, Alfalfa, and Orchard Grass. The type of hay a horse needs depends on its age, weight, and activity level. Hay provides fiber, protein, and energy to horses.
Grains such as oats, corn, and barley are often used as a supplement to a horse’s diet. They are high in energy and can provide horses with the additional calories they need for heavy workloads. However, grains should be fed in moderation and should not make up the majority of a horse’s diet.
Concentrate mixes are specially formulated feeds that provide horses with a combination of grains, protein, and other nutrients. They are designed to supplement a horse’s diet and should not be fed as the sole source of nutrition.
Salt and Minerals
Salt and minerals are essential for a horse’s overall health. They help regulate their body fluids and maintain proper muscle function. A salt block should always be available in a horse’s stall or pasture.
Treats such as apples and carrots are often given to horses as a reward. While they are not harmful in small amounts, they should not make up a significant portion of a horse’s diet.
Water is essential for a horse’s overall health. They should always have access to clean and fresh water. A horse can drink up to 10 gallons of water a day.
How Much do Horses Eat a Day?
The amount of food a horse needs depends on their age, workload, and overall health. As a general rule, a horse should consume 1-2% of their body weight in hay per day. For example, a 1,000-pound horse should consume 10-20 pounds of hay a day.
In addition to hay, horses may also require supplements such as grains or concentrate mixes. The number of supplements a horse needs should be determined by their veterinarian or equine nutritionist.
How Often to Feed Horses?
Horses are grazing animals and are designed to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. In general, horses should be fed at least two to three times a day, with access to hay or forage at all times.
The exact feeding schedule and frequency will depend on the individual horse’s age, workload, and overall health. Horses that are in heavy work or have higher energy requirements may require more frequent feeding or additional supplements to meet their nutritional needs.
Young horses or foals may also require more frequent feeding, as their digestive systems are still developing and they need more nutrition to support their growth.
It’s important to note that sudden changes in a horse’s feeding schedule can cause digestive issues such as colic. If you need to make changes to your horse’s feeding routine, it should be done gradually over a period of several days to allow their digestive system to adjust.
In addition to the regular feeding schedule, horses should also have access to clean and fresh water at all times. Water is essential for proper digestion and overall health, and a lack of water can lead to serious health issues such as impaction colic, and dehydration.
Type of Feeds Horses Shouldn’t Eat
While horses can eat a variety of foods, there are certain types of feeds that they should not consume. These include:
Moldy or spoiled feed: Moldy or spoiled feed can contain toxins that can be harmful or even deadly to horses.
Lawn clippings: Lawn clippings may seem like a convenient source of food, but they can cause colic and other digestive issues in horses.
Sugary treats: Sugary treats such as candy, soda, and cake should be avoided as they can lead to obesity, laminitis, and other health issues.
Avocado: Avocado contains a toxin called persin, which can be harmful to horses.
Onions and garlic: Onions and garlic can cause anemia in horses, so they should be avoided.
Chocolate: Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine, which can be toxic to horses and cause heart problems.
Feeding a horse may seem like a simple task, but it requires attention to detail and knowledge of the horse’s individual nutritional needs. By following these guidelines and working with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist, you can ensure that your horse receives the proper nutrition to support their health and well-being.