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How To Create The Best Diet For Your Horse.

Updated on April 22, 2014

The Basics

In this article you will learn how to create a diet that's easy to follow, cost efficient, and most importantly healthy. I will also touch on a few of the major issues we see in horses that happen because of a not so healthy and natural diet.

So first thing is first you have to know horses are naturally grazing animals. In the wild horses can spend up to 20 hours a day grazing. A good quality, well maintained pasture that is not overcrowded can provide the average horse with all the nutrients it needs.

Humans have done a lot to horses to take them away from nature. This is where we get our issues. For most horses that are stalled or on a medium to high workload pasture is just simply not enough. For these horses their diet needs to consist of two to three different parts. Those parts are quality pasture time, hay, and good feed.

So Exactly What Kind Of Diet Is Right For My Horse?

To correctly answer the question of what type of diet is best for your horse you need to answer some basic questions about your horse.

What is your horses job, how many hours a week do you ride/work them, how often do they travel?

Basic riding- no more than 3 hours a week, no travel

Everyday trail horse- 4-10 hours a week, travel 1-2 times a month

Basic local show and trail horse- 5-13 hours a week, travel 2-5 times a month

Performance horse- 7-15+ hours a week, travel 5-10 times a month

Basic Riding Horse-

The basic riding horse tends to be a pretty easy keeper. Most times horses with little amount of workload can be kept up to ideal weight on strictly quality pasture. If you bring the horse into a stall on a daily basis you are taking away their ability to graze therefor you need to supplement their diet with hay. If the horse does not have access to quality pasture at least 7 hours out of the day hay is probably not going to be enough to give the horse all they need. The solution to that issue is to supplement the horse with a small amount of feed. If the horse is getting some quality pasture but less than 7 hours a day you should feed about 1.5-2 pounds of feed a day. If the horse is getting no pasture and only hay you should be feeding about 2.5-3 pounds of feed a day.

Everyday Trail Horse-

The everyday trail horse takes a little bit more work and consideration than a basic riding horse but not much. If the horse lives out in a good pasture there is no need for any hay but there is probably a need for some feed. If the horse is living in pasture I would recommend feeding about 2.5-3 pounds of feed a day. If the horse is brought into a stall at night but spends at least 8 hours a day in a good pasture they will still need the same amount of feed (2.5-3 pounds a day) but will also need hay while they are in their stall. If the horse is never on pasture or on it for less than 8 hours a day they will need about 4-4.5 pounds of feed a day as well as hay whenever they are not on pasture.

Basic Local Show And Trail Horse-

A horse at this level has to be looked at as an athlete. You have to feed their body correctly in order for them to be healthy and perform as you want them to. If the horse is living in a pasture full time they have no need for hay but will require feed. For a horse living full time in a pasture I would recommend 5-5.5 pounds of feed a day. If you bring the horse into a stall at night but they are on pasture for at least 9 hours a day you will need to give them hay when they are not on pasture and about 5.5-6 pounds of feed a day. If the horse is never on pasture or on pasture for less than 9 hours a day they are going to need about 6-6.5 pounds of feed a day.

Performance Horse -

The performance horse is a true example of an equine athlete at it's finest. They have a very heavy weekly workload and they travel a lot. This is not a bad thing as long as you know how to feed for the horses needs. If this horse is living in a pasture full time they will not need any hay but will absolutely need feed. I would say 6-6.5 pounds of feed a day for a full time pasture horse. If they don't live in the pasture full time but are on the pasture for at least 9 hours a day then they will need hay when not on pasture and need about 6.5 pounds of feed a day. If they are not on pasture at all or are not on it for 9 hours a day you will need to give hay when they are not on pasture. With the hay they will need 6-6.5 pounds of feed a day, and it is possible that they will also need a supplement. Personally I don't like feeding more than 6.5 pounds of feed in a day. I think it is too much for a horse (especially a stressed horse) belly to deal with. You can feed more feed and break it up into 3+ feedings a day or you can use a supplement to add calories.

What Kind Of Feed Is Right For My Horse?

There are lots of different kinds of feed available. They all offer different things. I'm NOT going to endorse any specific brand of feed. I'm going to teach you how to look at labels and understand truly what you are feeding your horse and what benefits it has for your horse. First I want to go over a few terms so you know exactly the benefits of each of them as you read through this article.

  • Fiber- Research shows that horses must consume 1% of their body weight in fiber in order to maintain a healthy gut. Horses get fiber from grass and hay but it is very important in order to maintain a healthy belly that horses get fiber from their feed as well. Fiber is also a source of energy (calories) for horses. When the bacteria in the horse's hid gut breaks down the fiber it provides the horse with energy.
  • Fat- Fat Is just pure calories for the horse. This is helpful for keeping the horse at a healthy weight, giving the horse energy, and the overall health of the horse. Fat is a good thing when kept in a correct balance with other nutrients such as protein,lysine, and other minerals. Another thing to keep in mind about fat is, it is calories going in there is no process of digesting or working to turn it into calories.
  • Protein- Proteins are important building blocks for body cells. Growth,physical activity, endurance, overall body condition can all be impaired if protein intake is inadequate. It is important to note that horses consume protein not just from feed but a lot of their protein comes for the grass or hay they eat. An adult horse should be consuming about 11-13% protein a day.

The only one of the listed ingredients that fall under the saying you can never have to much is fiber. Fat and protein are very important to a horse's overall diet but they have to be given in a balanced way. If you give to much fat or protein you can run into problems. Fiber is always a good thing as long as it doesn't bring to much fat or protein with it.

Ok, So on to how to read a feed tag. I'm going to list some feed tag examples below. There is more on the feed tags than the above listed ingredients, but those are the ones that i'm going to focus on in this article.

P-Protein Fa-Fat F-Fiber

1) P-11.7% Fa-12.40% F-18.50%

2) P-14.0% Fa-6.0% F-12.50

3) P-12.50% Fa-8.0% F-18.0%

4) P-14.0% Fa-5.50% F-18.0%

5) P-14.0% Fa-2.00% F-25.0%

So a good diet is all about each individual horse's needs,activity and stress level. I'm going to give a short summary of each of the above listed feeds to hopefully give you some insight on what these ingredients mean and why they are so important to your horse's health and performance.

Feed #1- This is a great feed for a performance horse. With it's high fat and fiber percentage it meets the needs of a hard working equine athlete. The protein level is a little below average, most feeds are either 12% or 14%. To make up for the slightly low protein level the fat level is quite high. This will help keep weight on a hard working horse that burns a lot of calories and requires a high energy level. The high fiber percentage will help with energy as well but the biggest thing the fiber will help with is keeping a very stressed belly full,calm, and healthy.

Feed #2- This is a pretty basic feed and would be a good match for pretty much any horse that has plenty of access to other fiber sources such as hay or grass.

Feed #3- This would be a good feed for the everyday trail horse or the local show and trail horse. It has balanced fat and protein with a fairly high fiber percentage. This feed would give horses under medium workload the energy (calories) they need with the fiber to fill them up and keep a happy belly.

Feed #4-In my opinion this is an unbalanced feed because of the high protein and low fat percentage.

Feed #5- This feed is also imbalanced when it comes to fat and protein percentage, but overall it would be a good feed for a horse that has a small workload that is on limited or no pasture. It would give the horse some extra protein and fat in their diet and help a little with energy. The biggest thing to see here that would help the horse that is on little to no pasture is the very high fiber level.

Important Points To Remember

After reading this hopefully you have a little bit better of an understanding of how to create the best diet for your horse. Here is a few more points to remember when you are thinking about your horses diet.

  1. Horses are grazing animals and need to have pasture or hay in front of them at all times that they are not being worked.
  2. A healthy diet is about each horse's individual needs.
  3. A good diet is a balanced diet
  4. Always do your research when it comes to feed never rely on the advertisements to tell you if the feed is a good fit for your horse.
  5. When in doubt... ask your vet!
  6. A horse that lives in pasture 24/7 is going to be happier and healthier!

If you enjoyed reading this article be on the look out for more on the subject, I have a few more hubs on the subject in the works, this is just the first most basic one.


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