Guidelines for Feeding Horses by Activity Level

July 29, 2015

A top-quality, well-fertilized pasture can provide all the nutrients an idle horse needs, while a working horse will require more. To ensure your horses are happy and well fed, follow these feeding tips.

Guidelines for Feeding Horses by Activity Level

Feed your horse a well-balanced diet

  • Provide a horse with around one hectare (two acres) of well-balanced pasture containing both grasses and alfalfa or clovers
  • When pasturage is unavailable, feed 3.5 to 5.5 kilograms (7.7 to 12 pounds) per day of fresh, green, leafy legume hay
  • A working horse used for riding or pulling needs more energy than can be provided by pasturage and hay alone
  • Oats are the best grain supplement to feed. They are high in protein, contain plenty of bulky roughage and when fed whole are unlikely to cake in the horse's stomach
  • Other feeds such as corn and wheat bran may be fed but are best used in a mixture with oats rather than on their own
  • Mix grain with molasses to reduce dustiness, improve flavour and provide extra energy

Adjust feed to need

The exact amount of grain to feed depends upon the size of the horse, strenuousness and duration of work and the quality of pasturage. An underfed horse will lose weight, but overfeeding can cause founder (laminitis), a painful inflammation of the lining of the hoof wall.

  • For light work, a daily supplement of 330 grams (12 ounces) of grain per 100 kilograms (220 pounds) liveweight is sufficient
  • Increase to as high as 1.25 kilograms (three pounds) of grain per 100 kilograms (220 pounds) liveweight during heavy work
  • Feed should be adjusted to meet each horse's individual needs
  • Horses have delicate stomachs and must be fed carefully
  • Do not work them hard immediately after a meal
  • Eating and drinking while overheated from exercise, like overeating, can cause laminitis and colic
  • For best health, feed a horse at the same times each day: morning and evening for light work; morning, noon and night for strenuous work
  • Make changes gradually and avoid turning a horse suddenly into a lush pasture
  • Fresh water — changed twice daily — should be available at all times

Adjusting your horses' feed levels to match their activity levels will keep your animals healthy and satisfied. And happy horses make for happy horse owners, so everybody wins!

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