What Do Horses Eat?
The typical horse will not be very happy with the monotony of eating dry stuff - hay, chaff and oats - every day during the winter. However, avoid an abrupt and radical change of diet.
In addition, since the prices of various feed fluctuate considerably, you may be forced to adujst the feeding from time to time on grounds of economy. But do it gradually.
How much food, how much of any constituent feeding stuffs, should you give your horse?
Chaff... You can feed hay 'long' - as it is, or 'short' - chopped up with a chaff-cutter, which is so named because short hay is called chaff or chop. The quality must be no less good. You can include a certain amount of chopped oat straw if you like, but it is then less nutritious. Chaff is particularly useful when mixed with oats or other concentrated and high-energy feeding stuffs, as it adds bulk and ensures better mastication by slowing down the horse's rate of eating.
Broad bran... is good for the digestion and also gives bulk to the oat ration. It is not so easy to get, and expensive. Its second use, and an important one, is as a mash, which is mildly laxative and is also good for sick horses. To make a bran mash, fill a stable bucket about two-thirds full of bran. Stir in enough freshly boiled water to make it thoroughly wet (but not sloppy) and cover with a sack until cool. A good mash will me 'crumble dry' when touched. A tablespoonful of salt will make it more palatable, and it should be served fresh.
Oats... are the standard high-energy concentrated feed. Suitable for horses doing hard or fast work. They should be fed with great caution and mixed with a bulky feed, as they are over-heating for a horse doing little work. Too little is less dangerous error than too much. Oats should be crushed. Though your horse is capable of crunching them up to tiny digestible morsels if his teeth are all right, he will probably be too impatient. It is a waste of money as well as of nourishment, and deleterious to the digestive system, if they come out at the other end with their goodness not properly absorbed into the body. You will no doubt buy them ready crushed, and it is therefore impossible for you to really judge their quality. But, if you see them first, remember that good oats are very hard, heavy, light in color and comparatively rounded, dry-smelling and free from dust.
Flaked maize... is a good fattening food. It has a high energy value but is low in protein, and so should not be used alone.
Barley... either flaked or boiled before feeding, also helps to put flesh on a horse. Do not use wheat.
Sugar beet... in the form of dry pulp or nuts, is also good for fattening and adding bulk, but is not a suitable for feed for fast work. It must be soaked for at least twelve hours before feeding. It swells up, and it is absolutely essential that this phenomenon should occur outside your horse, unless you want him to burst.
Linseed cake... is dear, but is useful in very small quantities, especially for horses in rather low condition and also to improve the coats. But do not try to experiment with preparing linseed yourself. Unless properly boiled first, it will poison your horse.
Horse cubes... are a useful convenience food which can replace other concentrated feeds. They are very skilfully and scientifically compounded, and the mineral and vitamins additives may lead you to think that they and they only contain the secret of health and a long life. Do not be carried away by this. And check the labels carefully. because there is not much point in feeding a semi-idle cart gelding with a ration specially designed for a pregnant mare.
Hay... according to the sixth principle of feeding, hay is the foundation of good feeding. It is good roughage and a good subsistence diet. Seeds hay is the best. Clover hay is also all right, and a little more laxative. Hay must be of the finest quality you can get, and properly made. When you open the bale it should smell delicious - just like hay! If it is too dry and crumbly, it has little value. If dust flies out, it is moldy. If it has gone a dark color, it was made too quickly and has heated. Badly made hay not only fails as a feeding stuff, but can do a lot of harm - if your horse condescends to eat it. Hay in good condition, but made from coarse rubbish, remains what it was before it was made: rubbish.