Health Care

Score4 (4 Votes)

Complete Feed for Horses

A nutrient-rich feed improves all-round health and behaviour in horses. Find the best feed for your horse’s needs.

The number and range of “complete” feeds for horses is overwhelming for any horse owner. There are “cool” feeds, high fat feeds, muesli-based rations, pelleted formulations, extruded and micronized mixes, balancer pellets and feeds for specific ailments such as tying-up and metabolic disease. This article will help you to decipher which feed and product is best suited to your horse’s needs.

Processing horse feed – how is horse feed made?

Feed manufacturers use a range of processing methods for the production of their feeds. Common examples are pellets, grain muesli mixes (often called “sweet feeds”), extruded and micronized feeds.

  • Pelleted formulations - Through the use of heat, moisture and pressure, pelleting turns fine, (sometimes dusty) materials into larger more palatable particles or “pellets”. Pelleting prevents the segregation of ingredients in mixing, handling or feeding process and also prevents waste. Pelleted formulations are created under low pressure and are a particularly useful method of supplementing protein meals, vitamins and minerals.
  • Muesli mixes or sweet feeds – these usually contain a combination of milled products, such as grains and protein sources and may be combined with a vitamin and mineral premix or a pelleted formulation. They are often combined with molasses for a “sweet” flavour. Muesli mixes are useful for horses in heavy work, or for finicky eaters.
  • Extruded feeds – Extrusion is a process under which the ingredients (often grain-based) are cooked under pressure with high temperature steam for a short period of time. The feed is then pushed through a die which gives it a unique shape. Extruded feeds tend to be more digestible and may be useful for nervy horses in work or for those requiring extra body conditioning.
  • Micronized feeds – Micronizing is a “short-term high pressure” process where heat is used for the cooking of starch causing changes in the starch structure. The grain is then flaked which results in a more digestible feed.

The effect of processing on nutrient content of feeds

“Complete” feeds contain a mixture of feed ingredients and added vitamins and minerals. “Complete” feeds can be very good sources of dietary energy, protein and fat, however the stability or strength of the vitamins that processed “complete” feeds claim to contain is often questionable. We all know that vitamins are essential for most body cell functions. Many feedstuffs are low in vitamins and it’s common practice to add vitamin and mineral supplements to the feed each day to make up for the shortfall. However, vitamins are very sensitive molecules that are easily damaged by physical and chemical factors in their environment, losing their potency (strength) or metabolic activity (effectiveness) and their overall benefit to the animal.

So, how can vitamins be damaged?

Environmental factors that may damage vitamins include:

  • Heat
  • Water
  • Acidity or alkalinity
  • Oxygen
  • Incompatibility between vitamins
  • Light
  • Humidity
  • Physical damage
  • Storage
  • Trace Minerals

The effect of heat on vitamin stability

In both pelleting and extruding, the feed is subjected to temperatures of 60 to 110°C for pelleting and up to 38°C higher for extruded feeds depending on the degree of expansion. At fairly high processing temperatures and conditioning times, the activity of different vitamins needed by the horse may be reduced from 5 – 40% in a processed feed.

The effect of storage time on vitamin stability

The longer feed is stored, the greater the loss of potency or strength of the vitamins. The average stability of a range of vitamins in feeds manufactured, processed and stored is shown in the chart below.

vitamins in horse feed

This chart shows that many vitamins do not withstand the rigours of processing and storage in feed. How old is your complete feed?

What to feed horses – selecting an appropriate complete feed

Each manufactured “complete feed” will be based on different ingredients and will be formulated for a specific type of horse. Each feed will also have varying levels of minerals and vitamins and will be formulated based on an expected feed intake. Feeds designed for growing and breeding horses may be higher in protein meals (such as soyabean meal, canola meal and lupins) to support growth and development. They may also be higher in critical minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, copper and zinc to minimise the risk of skeletal defects.

Selection of an appropriate feed for adult horses can be difficult and will depend on numerous factors such as the size of the horse, what type of horse it is, the horse’s temperament, how much work the horse is doing, whether the horse can tolerate grains, and whether the horse needs to increase, maintain or lose body condition. Table 1 will help you to select an appropriate “complete” feed.

Table 1. Properties of individual ingredients commonly used in horse feeds
Feed type Description
Barley Good conditioning feed, suitable for horses in work and for those horses able to tolerate grain requiring extra body condition
Corn Very energy dense feed, should only be fed to horses in work and best fed processed (extruded/micronised)
Wheat Sometimes included in extruded formulations, also very high in energy and best fed to horses with high energy requirements such as those in work
Soyabean meal A very high-quality protein source, ideal for horses in work and growing or for older horses having trouble maintaining muscle condition
Sunflower seeds High in fat and a cool energy source
Lupins Also a good protein source, useful for growing and working horses
Wheat bran Lower in energy and protein compared to other feeds, may be useful as a cool feed but should be fed more as a supplement than a “complete” feed
Rice bran High in fat, has excellent conditioning properties and good for horses unable to tolerate grain
Soyabean hulls Very high in fibre and low in starch and sugar, a good ingredient for horses unable to tolerate grain


The level of “non-structural carbohydrates” (NSC) (sugars/starch) in a feed can influence how the horse responds to that feed in terms of that horse’s energy levels and behaviour. Like humans, some horses also have metabolic issues and these horses may benefit from feeds low in NSC. Generally speaking, feeds which are higher in fat and fibre have a lower level of NSC. Table 2 outlines the NSC level of some commercially available feeds.

Table 2. Non-structural carbohydrate level of some commercially available feeds (Richards, 2008)
Feed name NSC
Stance CoolStance 10.3
Omega Weight Gain 16.2
Stance GoStance 23.4
Barastoc Calm Performer 30.7
Mitavite Economix 31.5
Mitavite Xtra Cool 33.0
Mitavite Gumnuts 33.0
Horsepower Equestrian 33.4
Nutririce Show and Competition 35.4
Weightlifter Calm 40.0
Mitavite Formula 3 42.2
Pryde’s Easiresult 42.6
Barastoc Cool Command 43.4
Mi-Feed Easirider Cool Mix 46.0


It has been suggested that feeds with an NSC content of less than 10 – 12% are suitable for horses with metabolic disease and those unable to tolerate grain.

Is a complete feed enough for your horse?

The level of nutrients supplied by each “complete” feed will be dependent on the amount of each feed offered. The graph below outlines the calculated nutrient content of a ration based on 2kg of a commonly used “cool, complete” feed plus free access to grassy hay and pasture relative to the recommended requirements of a 500 kg horse in light work. The line at 100% represents the recommended level of each nutrient.

horse feed chart

As you can see, this ration provides adequate levels of energy, protein, and most major minerals but is low in iodine and Vitamins E, B1, and B2.

Adding a high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement is the best way of ensuring your horse gets the nutrition it needs.

Virbac’s FERAMO® with CHROMIUM is a great all-rounder and supplies essential trace minerals, vitamins, and amino acids.

Vitamin E is an important antioxidant in muscle and tissue cells and is essential to help ensure efficient aerobic energy use and the protection of fats metabolized in the muscle cells during exercise. A daily intake of at least 1000 IU of Vitamin E protects cell membranes against oxidation and the risk of harmful compounds interfering with muscle activity. Most competitive horses benefit from 1000-1500 IU of Vitamin E daily. Natural Vitamin E, as in WHITE-E® powder, is a fat-soluble stored form of Vitamin E that maintains higher levels in muscle, blood, and tissue.

The graph below outlines the nutrient composition of the same ration (2 kg of a “cool, complete” feed plus grassy hay and pasture) PLUS a scoop of FERAMO EVERY HORSE and half a scoop of WHITE-E. As you can see, additional supplementation ensures an adequate supply of essential nutrients, promoting optimal health and performance of the horse.

horse feed chart

In a study conducted by Dr Caroline Foote (Equine Consulting Services), it was found that over 80% of analysed diets were low in at least one nutrient, and that diets based on “complete” feeds were just as likely to have a nutrient deficiency as those based on individually mixed ingredients.

Additional supplementation using a high-quality mineral, trace mineral and vitamin supplement will help to ensure your horse’s diet is properly balanced and will minimise the risk of ill-health and behavioural problems associated with nutritional deficiencies. For further nutritional advice, please contact us or a qualified nutritionist.


  • BASF, 1994. Vitamin Stability in Premixes and Feeds: A Practical Approach. KC 9138
  • Feedtech. International Feed Production and Applied Nutrition 1:1, May 1997
  • Foote, C.E. Pers. Comm.
  • Richards, 2008. Proceedings of the Australian Equine Science Symposium p25.

Vote for this content: 5 4 3 2 1

Related products