What Every Horse Needs Every Day…
The Right Kind and Amount of Food to Maintain Body Weight
A well-fed horse is not overfed or underfed. Its ribs should be easily felt but not visible. How much and what kind of food a horse needs will depend on its size, its health and how active it is.
The average mature horse should consume
1.5-2% of its body weight in feed daily
to maintain maintenance needs.
When a horse eats with other animals, sufficient space between feeding sites, such as troughs or buckets, should be provided between horses to reduce aggression. Each horse should have 1m (3.3 ft) of feeding space. Providing an extra feeding point (one more than the total number of horses) ensures that all horses have access to food.
In summer, one horse needs 1.2 to 2 hectares of good pasture.
Diets for Energy & Health
Horses need an adequate diet to stay healthy and active. A healthy diet includes things like carbohydrates, fats, protein, calcium, minerals, vitamins and water. A horse’s body burns carbohydrates and fats as fuel to stay healthy and to do the work people want it to do, such as carrying loads, pulling machines or racing down a track.
Free-ranging horses consume grasses or forage (i.e. hay or roughage feeds) on average for 12 hours per day. The majority of the horse’s diet should consist of forage material, in order for the digestive tract to function normally. Horses without free-choice forage should be fed at least twice per day. Periods of fasting or time between meals is associated with gastric ulcers and stereotypic behaviours, such as cribbing (see section 6.1 in the Equine Code of Practice for more information). Ideally, horses should also be fed in a head-down position, which reduces risk of respiratory conditions.
The energy needs of horses will vary according to weight, age, activity level, and reproductive status.
Hay that is used for feed should be good quality and free of dust and mold, which can cause respiratory problems. Concentrates or grains, should only be provided if energy requirements cannot be met by forage alone. Any changes in the horse’s diet should be performed over a period of 7-10 days to prevent digestive upset.
A horse needs access to a source of salt and minerals in its diet.
A well-maintained pasture can provide most of the nutrients a horse needs in summer months. The change in diet from winter feed to fresh pastures may cause digestive problems for some horses, so it is best to gradually introduce them to pasture, especially in spring.
Horses that consume too much grain or eat from too much lush pasture grasses may develop laminitis. Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae inside the hoof. It can lead to a rotation of the pedal or coffin bone in the foot, which results in a serious, non-curable condition called founder.
What does the Code of Practice Say about Nutrition?
- Horses should receive a daily diet that is adequate for maintaining health. Horses should be fed on a regular schedule.
- Diets for all horses should be formulated in accordance with the current recommendations of the National Research Council’s (NRC) Nutrient Requirements of Horses.
- Commercial feeds must comply with the Feed Regulations as provided by the Feeds Act of Canada.
- If horses must be fed concentrates (high-energy) diets attention should be paid to avoid nutrition-related health problems such as grain overload, laminitis or obesity. Abrupt or sudden changes in diet should be avoided.
- All feed components used in the diet should be free of spoilage. Dusts and molds are harmful to horses.
- When horses are fed in groups, enough manger space or feeding points should be available to minimize competition for feed. All horses should have simultaneous access to feeders so that all can eat at one time, unless self-feeding is being practiced. Providing an extra feeding point ensures all horses have access to feed.
- Horses should have access to a source of salt and appropriate minerals. These may be incorporated in their diet or fed free-choice.
- All feeds and supplements should be properly labelled to avoid misuse. Feeds designed for other species, particularly medicated feeds and those containing urea, are not suitable for horses.
- Feed troughs and buckets should be cleaned regularly.
- To prevent digestive and health problems, horses should be gradually introduced to pasture, especially in springtime.