How to Schedule Feeding for a Horse
PROVIDE PLENTY OF ROUGHAGE
Many horses don’t require concentrates. Good-quality hay and/or pasture is often sufficient. If hay isn’t enough, concentrates can be added to the diet, but the bulk of a horse’s calories should always come from roughage.
Horses housed indoors or outdoors in dry lots may have limited access to grazing, but their natural feeding patterns can be replicated by keeping hay in front of them for most of the day. This can be simulated by feeding hay in a slow-feeding bag, hay net, or tickle feeder, which prolongs the rate of feed consumption and reduces hay wastage.
FEED GRAIN IN SMALL AMOUNTS & OFTEN
If you feed a horse concentrates, provide the concentrates in small amounts throughout the day. Small, frequent meals promote better digestion. When a horse is fed too much at once, the food isn’t digested as effectively and this can increase the risk of colic or gastric upset.
FEED ACCORDING TO THE HORSE’S NEEDS
- Each horse is an individual and has different needs. Consult with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist to develop a feeding plan and diet appropriate for your horse. Important factors to consider are body condition, age, activity level and reproductive status, health conditions (e.g. metabolic disorders) and breed.
- The majority of the horse’s diet should be comprised of good quality forage, free from dust or mold. Concentrates should only be provided to meet energy demands unmet by forage.
- Having a sample of your horse’s hay analyzed is a good idea to determine if the hay is deficient in nutrients. Based on the hay analyses, your horse’s diet may need to be supplemented.
- During winter or drought, supplement pasture grazing with hay. When the grass is of good quality, you can reduce or eliminate hay rations, depending on how much pasture is available.
- If the horse’s activity level or reproductive status changes, the horse’s diet should be adjusted accordingly.
CHANGE FEED & FEED SCHEDULES GRADUALLY
Whenever a change is made to a horse’s diet, whether increasing or decreasing the amount or changing to a new kind of feed, the change should be made incrementally. Sudden differences in the amount or type of feed can lead to digestive upsets, colic or founder.
If the amount of feed is changed, increase or decrease each meal a little at a time, over several weeks if possible. Consult with a veterinarian for recommendations of how to adjust your horse’s diet.
STICK TO A ROUTINE
Horses should be kept on a consistent feeding schedule, with meals arriving at the same time each day. Most horses aren’t harmed by an abrupt change in schedule, but for horses who are prone to colic, this could increase their risk of having a colic episode.
Information adapted with permission from "The Rules of Feeding Your Horse: A Guide to What, When and How to Feed" by The Humane Society of the United States.