Shaping the future of animal health

Practical feeding hints for horses

All horses must be provided with an adequate supply of energy, proteins, vitamins and minerals, and have access to clean fresh water. Generally, mature adult horses can maintain themselves and perform moderate exercise for up to two hours daily on good quality pasture. For these horses, supplementary feed, usually as good quality hay may only be required when pasture is sparse, short or of poor nutritional quality.

Once horses are worked hard or in training for equestrian or athletic activity, or require body and coat condition to show ring standard, then more control over the diet and feed intake is required.

There are certain "do's" and "don'ts" that should be observed when feeding horses. A degree of common sense applies to the art of feeding horses. However, certain rules for feeding should be strictly followed. Proper feeding management ensures that a horse will maintain vitality and health and receive maximum benefit from its ration.


1. The ration should contain a balance between roughages (hay, cubes, pasture) and concentrates (grains, wheat bran, protein meals, fats etc.) relative to the horse's requirements. Always measure feed by weight, rather than volume to maintain a uniform energy intake. When formulating a ration, start with a roughage base (hay and chaff), and then add grains etc. in direct proportion to exercise needs. Minimum roughage intake is 1kg/100kg bodyweight to maintain digestive function and store water in the large bowel. The product Founderguard will protect against gut acid build up and founder when high grain diets are fed to horses in intense training.
2. The ration should be modified to suit individual horses Feed to maintain bodyweight in a working horse. Feed each horse as an individual. Change the ingredient blend to ensure acceptance. Increase chaff or bulk in a hungry horse. Add molasses or B vitamins (eg Feramo Every Horse) to encourage palatability and appetite.
3. The effects of a ration should be carefully observed. Regularly assess the horse's body size, appetite, condition in relation to its exercise demand or show standard, and adjust the diet. A fizzy horse may benefit from rolled barley and sunflower seeds to replace oats, and a daily supplement of Karma.
4. The ration should be fed at regular times. A horse is a creature of habit and comes to expect to be fed at the same time every day. Stabled horses in work should be fed at approx equal intervals to avoid boredom and ensure a continuous digestion pattern. Horses at pasture graze for 18-20 hours per day, horse in stables eat for 8-10 hours daily.
5. The ration should be fed at least twice daily. Where horses have no access to pasture they should be fed at least twice daily. Slow eaters should be fed little and often, and nervy horses allowed adequate undisturbed time to eat. Space feeding times equally, with most of the bulk overnight, with hay for stabled horses to keep them occupied and relieve boredom.
6. The ration should always be fed at the same place. In grazing horses, locate feed bins in a sheltered place and leave them there. Pick a well drained area with a hard surface, in a sheltered area behind a hill or windbreak.
7. The feed should be regularly assessed for quality. Try to feed the best quality feed available. If you measure feed by the dipper full, then weight new batches of grain occasionally and adjust volume to ensure a more constant intake of energy. Dampen dusty hay or feeds to improve utilisation.
8. The ration should be well mixed. Mix ingredients carefully to prevent horse selecting only the feed it likes, especially in high grain rations. Ensure there are no lumps of minerals, especially salt. Dampen with water or molasses to reduce dust and sifting out of supplements.
9. The ration should be freshly mixed each feed. Dry mixes can be stored for 1-2 days, but do not store dampened feed for more than 12 hours. Remove leftovers before each new feed is given.
10. The ration should be palatable, economical, practical and supply the horse's requirements. Rations need not be complicated mixtures. Substitute ingredients if necessary (see enclosed tables). Lonely, unfed horses are more likely to develop chewing vices, weaving, stall walking etc. All horses should have an opportunity to exercise in a paddock run, or be exercised each day to gain the best benefit from their rations.
11. The ration should also be complemented by good husbandry. Careful attention to general health, teeth care, regular 6-8 week worming, and daily exercise. Check the amount, colour, smell and consistency of the droppings to monitor digestive function, dehydration state. When travelling provide extra electrolytes, such as Recharge in the water, or over the tongue prior to a drink.
12. The ration should include adequate clean water at all times. Horses should have free access to water during hot weather and periods of hard work, or when electrolytes are added to the ration. Check water flow, clean troughs regularly. Check dam water regularly for contamination, taste and smell.
13. Feed supplements to correct deficiencies or meet special needs. A general vitamin/mineral supplement such as Feramo Every Horse will balance up the ration, with extra calcium (eg Cal-Plus Biotin), electrolytes (eg Humidimix or Recharge) and iron (eg Ironcyclen) and for nervy horses, Karma, to meet specific needs.

Hint: As a guideline, for an equivalent amount of energy and to reduce the bulk of the ration, every 1kg (volume 2 litres) of oats removed can be replaced by either 900g (volume 1.4 litres) of rolled barley, 850g (volume 1.1 litres) of cracked corn or lupins (each maximum 1½ kg daily), or alternatively 350mL (volume 1½ cups) of vegetable oil.


There are certain precautions that should be observed when feeding horses, especially those on supplementary hard feeds.

1. Do not make sudden changes in ration proportions or ingredients. Introduce new feeds over 4-5 days, or major changes over 7-10 days or longer. Do not change feeds within a few days of an important competition or show.
2. Avoid sudden increases in grain content, or too rapid introduction to highly concentrated rations. Always keep the work level ahead of the feed. Increase grain gradually in proportion to the amount of work performed, rather than planned for each day. A daily dose of Founderguard will protect against digestive upsets, sore feet and founder on high grain diets.
3. Do not feed dusty, mouldy or contaminated ingredients. Dusty feeds can cause respiratory problems - dampen pollard before feeding. Dampen brittle or dusty hay by wrapping in a wet chaff bag for 8 hours - no longer. Do not feed mouldy feeds, feed containing mice or rat droppings, or hard feed mixes made for other animals with growth regulators (eg Monensin)
4. Do not feed spoiled "left over" feed. Clean out any damp feed a horse does not eat each day. Always empty and overturn paddock feeders when shifting horses to other pastures.
5. Do not feed poor quality feeds. Poor quality roughage (hay) will be wasted, and lead to digestive bulking (hay belly) or upset. Do not disguise poor feed with sweeteners, such as molasses etc.
6. Do not feed the full grain ration on planned rest or other idle days. Reduce grain or concentrate feeds to one-third on the night before planned rest days - replace with hay or extra chaff. If a horse is not worked on a day due to lameness, sickness or wet weather etc - reduce grain in the next feed. Re-introduce grain gradually - one day off work - take two days to return to full grain intake so as to avoid "tying up" in working horses.
7. Do not allow horses to gorge concentrate feeds. Greedy horses are likely to choke or develop digestive upsets. Carefully mix extra grains in chaff, base pellets or stud mix. Avoid free access to concentrates during cold weather. Protect against laminitis, sore feet, or founder in spring pastured ponies and grain fed horses with a daily supplement of Founderguard.
8. Do not feed lawn cuttings. Although green feed sharpens the appetite, relieves boredom and aids digestion - avoid chopped green food that requires little chewing. Lawn clippings heat up and may contain spray residues, leaves from poisonous plants (eg Oleander, Poinsettia etc.) glass or stones.
9. Do not feed from dirty feeders or waterers. Regularly clean out feeders to avoid caking of residues - separate water troughs and feed bins to reduce grain build up in troughs and eat-drink feeding habits.
10. Do not feed concentrates or hay on the ground. Feed on the ground is wasted, and often contaminated with sand, parasite eggs and larvae. Provide an adequate sized feed bin with safe edges.
11. Do not feed large amounts of hay just prior to working the horse, and avoid working a horse on a full stomach. A large feed just prior to working can cause discomfort due to an extended gut. A small feed containing 60% grain and 40% chaff or hay, or a stud mix is less bulky. Feed most of the hay overnight. A dampened feed after work helps encourage appetite and provides moisture - alternatively turn out to graze on pasture.
12. Do not allow access to large volumes of cold water after work. It is unwise to allow hot, sweaty horses to drink large quantities of cold water immediately after exercise. Allow a few swallows of water initially, then more water in 10 minutes. Take the chill off very cold water by mixing in hot water before offering it to a hot horse
13. Do not mix calcium supplements into wet bran mashes Wet bran binds calcium and reduces its absorption from the small bowel. Feed calcium in another part of the feed. Small amounts of bran and calcium added dry and mixed well into the feed prior to dampening are not affected. Feed extra calcium to young horses (eg Calatron Co-feed) or Cal-Plus to working horses grazing lush, fertilised Kikuyu grass as oxalate chemicals in Kikuyu can bind up calcium.

Hint: Monitor the horse’s condition and vitality on a regular weekly basis, its acceptance of the diet and relative appetite during its training or exercising program. Be prepared to make adjustment in feed bulk and blend of ingredients as needs change.


Share on Google Share on Facebook Print current page