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Horse Nutrition Basics

Updated on December 3, 2011

Horse nutrition is more than just putting your horse out to graze. Horses that do different jobs have different nutritional needs, just like people do. From draft horses to racehorses, show horses to miniature horses, each need to be fed according to their individual needs.


Hay is for Horses

The most natural way to feed your horse is to allow them to graze. Often though, in winter when pasture lands are covered with snow, they are fed a daily ration of hay. It is important that this hay must be without contaminates or molds to keep the horses healthy. The hay that you feed to a horse should have been cut that year so that it has the most nutrients.

Quality hay will be green in color and have a sweet smell. Hay that is yellow, has a moldy odor or seems damp should never be fed to a horse. This is because their systems are actually quite fragile and the wrong thing can make them quite ill. One reason for this is that horses cannot throw up, so they can develop colic. Unlike colic in small babies where gas causes pain that can be relived with certain over the counter medications, colic in horses can be deadly. It is very painful for a horse to develop this gastrointestinal problem, and it can be fatal.

Horses that work for a living, whether it is driving or riding, need more protein as do pregnant mares or nursing mothers. However, too much protein can make horses difficult to handle, as it gives them more energy than they know what to do with. Major changes in what your horses eats can cause diarrhea, this includes hay that is too rich, pasture that is too rich, or too much grain. Foods high in starch or sugars can also be a cause for concern and could cause colic or laminitis.That is why it is important to use your knowledge of horse nutrition to not only feed your horses, but to protect them from things that can make them ill.

An adult horse will consume approximately two and a half percent of their body weight each and every day. This means if your horse weighs twelve hundred pounds, they will eat about thirty pounds of hay or grass daily. Young horses, under six months of age, are more likely to eat four percent of their body weight daily because they are growing.

Supplements include mineral or salt blocks. In part whether your horse requires these is based on the quality of the hay they are eating. If the pasture is good or the hay is of good quality, that is all they need to eat. But sometimes there is a lack of proper nutrients and a mineral block can help to supplement their diet. Sometimes horse foals can use a supplement that contains calcium. There are mineral blocks that can provide this as well.

Salt blocks can be useful and there are many to choose from. The most basic salt blocks are the white ones. They are simply salt with no additives. This is enough for your horse, but there are some that have minerals added to them – these blocks are usually a dark pink in color. Horse nutrition experts will tell you that only some of these blocks are actually good for your horse. The plain white ones are fine and usually so are the mineral blocks as long as they are made for horses. But the blue ones and the red ones, which contain iodine, are not recommended for horses. Always read the label for ingredients before purchasing one for your horse.

Grain is often fed as a supplement. Oats are the grain usually given. This is, in part, because they are easy to digest. Corn is used sometimes. but it is higher in digestible energy and may cause weight gain. It also gets moldy faster, which can do more damage than good for your horse.

Water is part of the horse nutrition feeding cycle. It is very important that your horse has unlimited access to fresh clean water.

Horses that have owners who provide them with just the right amount of hay or grass, grains, supplements and water will be happy and healthy animals. They'll have a glossy coat, bright eyes and will be ready to work for their owners. Animals that are showing too much rib or appear overweight are not having their nutritional needs met or may be seriously ill, and should have their diet reviewed by a veterinarian who specializes in large animals.


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