How to feed a horse

How to feed a horse

Asked by xnikolex,
December 16, 2011

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How to feed a horse

Cinnamon Lohner 962

Cinnamon Lohner

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Probably a question to ask the creator of the horses. Seeing how popular they are there is probably a user or support group inworld as well that could answer your question. Most of us who hang out here in Answers are too poor to own horses. :matte-motes-crying:

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Before embarking on a feeding programme to help your horse gain weight it’s imperative to establish whether your horse needs to put on weight and if so, the reasons why he’s underweight. Regular body scoring is a useful tool to help you monitor your horse’s weight and taking frequent photos can also be beneficial.

“Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues currently facing equine welfare is obesity, with research showing well over half of horses are overweight, and that’s likely to be higher still in the leisure horse market,” says Kate Hore, head nutritionist at NAF.

Discovering why your horse is underweight can be difficult, but the more you know about your horse’s current diet, his worming programme, dental history and hoof quality, as well as basic information such as his height and age, the more chance you have of identifying the issue.

“It’s important to get to the root cause of the problem so you can obtain accurate advice. Older horses are less efficient at digesting their food, a horse suffering from dental issues may be finding it uncomfortable to chew, while poor hooves and a dull coat can be an indication of gut issues,” says Katie Williams, technical and product development manager at Dengie.

Feeding a horse for weight gain should be based around the feeding principles of little and often; high fibre and forage and low starch. With a high proportion of a horse’s diet consisting of forage, it’s important to ensure the hay you’re feeding is nutritious and palatable. Early cut meadow hay is soft and leafy and more digestible while haylage or wrapped hay is more appetising than grass hay. In the summer maximise grass intake.

“Focus on what you can do. You’re going to be limited in what you can achieve if you only feed two meals a day. Invest in quality food and forage so you make every mouthful count. Digestibility converts to weight gain more readily than indigestible foods,” continues Katie.

Nicola Tyler, nutrition director at TopSpec adds: “Gone are the days when you give your horse big buckets of food, feeding less can achieve more. Horses aren’t like humans; if you feed horses more and more you exceed the capacity of the horse’s gut and then they digest food inefficiently.”

To provide extra calories, include oil in your horse’s diet, but remember to supplement with vitamin E if you’re feeding a high oil diet.

“In terms of energy supplied, different sources of oil are basically the same. It is the types of fatty acids that differentiate oils and determines their quality. Omega 3 have anti-inflammatory properties compared to Omega 6 which are more pro-inflammatory – however, it is important to consider that both omega 3 and omega 6 are essential and so have to be supplied in the diet. Linseed is a great source of omega 3 and is non-marine origin,” says Katie.

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Feeding a horse for weight gain should be done gradually and a horse should have access to fresh water to ensure he is well hydrated and a salt lick at all times.

“It’s impossible to say how long it will take the horse to gain weight as it is dependent on factors such as how far underweight they are, their diet, the time of year and their workload. However, for safe weight gain in the acutely underweight horse think of months rather than weeks,” concludes Kate.

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How to feed a horse

We know horses need to eat either grass or hay. When horses eat grass, you will need to keep on an eye on their condition and make sure that they are not eating too much or too little. Horses can overeat on grass, especially if the pasture is lush, but it is also easy to let a horse get too fat eating hay. And, sometimes too little hay can mean a horse will lose weight. So, what is the right amount of hay for your horse?

Just how much your horse will need will depend on its weight. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, a full-grown horse should eat about 12 to 15 pounds (5.4 to 6.8 kg) of hay a day.   That is 1.5 percent to 3 percent of its body weight, if it weighs about 1,000 pounds (450 kg). This is a very rough average, and horses will require more or less depending on their metabolism, workload, what else they may be eating, and the time of year. Ponies will require considerably less, while large draft breeds can eat 30 pounds (13.6 kg) a day or more.

How to Feed Hay

Having small amounts of hay available fed frequently mimics the natural grazing instincts and is healthiest for your horse’s mind and body. So try not to feed your horse a full day’s worth in one meal. It will probably gorge on the best parts of the meal, leaving the least tasty, then trample what’s left into the ground. For the healthiest digestive system and the happiest horse, it is best to have hay available all the times. Most horses are self-regulating, but there are many that are not. These horses will need their hay diet restricted to prevent obesity. Feeding these horses means small, more frequent portions. For many horses, hay is all they need, and they won’t need concentrates such as oats or sweet feed, or particularly rich hay that contains legumes like clover and alfalfa.

Small Square Bales

The next question, however, is: how much of a small square bale is that? What you will have to do is weigh an average bale of hay. It should weigh approximately 60 lbs or 23 kg. The exact weight will depend on how dry the hay is, how long the bales are, and how tightly packed the have been baled. Next, count how many flakes are in the bale. The flakes are the easily divided sections that form when a square bale is picked up by the baler. There are usually about 12. Now divide the weight of the bale by the number of flakes in it. You’ll now be able to calculate the approximate number of flakes you should feed your horse daily. So if a flake weighs about four pounds, you’ll need to feed your 1000 lb. horse five flakes every day. Remember to feed in as many small portions as possible.

Ponies and Draft Breeds

Because ponies have a slower metabolism than horses, they’ll need a lower percentage of their body weight of hay, unless they are working very hard, which few ponies do anymore.   Small ponies may only need a couple of flakes every day to keep them in good condition. But, conversely, some draft horses, especially ones that work hard, will need rather more than the normal ratio of hay. This is why it is so important to regularly monitor your horse’s condition, and make adjustments depending on the how hot or cold it is, how hard they are working, how old they are, the richness of the hay, and the horse’s overall health.

Feeding the Miniature Horse (E3068)

October 19, 2015 – Author: Karen Waite

Feeding the Miniature Horse

How to feed a horse

Assessing body condition score

Evaluating your miniature horse’s body condition is necessary before you can determine how much hay and grain he needs. Is he too fat, too skinny or pretty close to proper weight? A horse should have a moderate body condition score of 5 to 6, which means the back is level, the ribs can’t be seen but can easily be felt, and there are no obvious fat deposits on the crest (top) of the neck, around the withers and at the base of the tail. If a horse has a heavy hair coat, it is important to feel underneath the hair, especially in the winter, to get an accurate assessment of his weight. If you can easily feel ribs beneath the hair, more energy in the diet is required. (For more information on body condition scoring, please visit www. extension.org/horse.)

Hay or forage

Hay or forage is the most important ingredient in a horse’s diet. Every horse needs at least 1 percent of its body weight or 50 percent of total intake in good quality forage. Use a weight tape to estimate your horse’s weight or weigh the animal on a livestock scale. Buy enough bales of green, alfalfa-grass mixed hay or good quality grass hay to last the season. Second-cutting hay typically provides an optimum level of nutrients for horses, but quality is very dependent on when and how the hay is harvested. An average miniature horse weighs 200 pounds and should receive at least 2 to 4 pounds of forage a day. Look for a fine, soft, leafy hay rather than a coarse, mature hay. Feed at least one-third to one-half of a flake of a good quality grass or alfalfa grass mixed hay twice a day. Flakes of hay can vary greatly by thickness; a normal flake should be 1½ to 2 inches thick. When dividing the flake of hay, put it over the horse’s feed pan so that any chaff will fall into the feed pan. This chaff is high in protein and is desirable in the feeding program. Finally, when feeding miniature horses, avoid placing the feed directly on the ground — excessive intake of sand or dirt may cause colic.

If your miniature horse has access to pasture and is overweight, make sure he/ she wears a grazing muzzle to decrease the chance of overeating grass. Also, most horses, including miniatures, should have limited access to early spring pastures to avoid laminitis.

Grain

Good quality forage is the mainstay of a horse’s diet, but horses may also need a grain mix (concentrate) to supplement their energy requirements as well as help balance for other nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals. When selecting a concentrate, make sure it is designed for your horse’s age, workload and production status. An adult horse needs no more than 12 percent protein in the total diet (forage and grain); weanlings and yearlings will benefit from 12 to14 percent protein. It is easy to overfeed grain to any horse but especially a miniature horse. Excessive grain feeding or too much grain per feeding may increase the likelihood of colic due to gas fermentation or carbohydrate overload. If grain is needed, it should be fed in small amounts during several feedings daily. Grain should be fed by weight, not volume, so weigh your grain on a scale and know how much grain you are feeding. One pound of grain divided into two feedings would be enough for your average miniature horse, although some may need slightly more on the basis of their body condition score. If your horse tends to get fat, try a supplement that is designed to balance nutrients for the forage you are feeding, and one that can be fed in very small amounts.

Water

Miniature horses also need access to clean, fresh water daily. Water should range in temperature from 45 to 65 degrees F — neither very hot nor very cold water is desirable. At least 5 gallons of fresh water should be offered daily. Consumption may increase or decrease with weather conditions and reproductive status.

Supplemental fat

Flax seed is a great supplement to put a shine in your horse’s coat. Buy a package of ground flax seed at the health food store and feed 1 level teaspoon mixed into the grain at one of the feedings every day. Do not give any other type of oil, such as corn oil, while giving flax seed. Some feeds include flax seed oil. Always read the label to find out what you are truly feeding your horse. Corn oil may be used in place of flax seed. Feed any supplemental fat with caution, and cut back on grain when feeding to prevent the horse from becoming overweight and more prone to laminitis.

Trace mineral salt

Providing a trace mineral salt block will encourage your horse to drink and will replace electrolytes lost through sweating. Trace mineral salt will also provide the macro- and microminerals required to keep your horse healthy.

Dental health

Regardless of what or how you feed your miniature horse, attention to dental health is critical. Dental problems are fairly common in miniatures because their teeth are very large for their small jaws — nearly the same size as a full sized horse’s teeth! Like larger horses, miniature horses should have their teeth examined by a veterinarian or equine dentist at least once a year. This should be done even more frequently in horses that are under 5 years of age or over 12 years when teeth change rapidly. Horses may develop sharp points on their teeth, abscesses or other problems that will make it difficult to properly grind their feed, and that may lead to colic. Head tossing, bit discomfort, weight loss, and “quidding” or dropping feed out of the mouth while eating are all signs that a horse’s teeth should be examined.

Parasite control

To keep them in good health, miniature horses will also require regular deworming with parasite control products available at your local feed or tack store. When a horse is carrying a large parasite load, it may appear “unthrifty” with a rough hair coat, a potbelly and visible ribs. Deworm your horse every 6 to 8 weeks using an appropriate rotation program as suggested by your equine veterinarian. It is also a good idea to have your veterinarian do a fecal flotation test yearly about 2 weeks after deworming to be sure your deworming program is working effectively, and to stay up-to-date with AAEP recommendations on parasite control.

How to feed a horse

Things to remember

Good nutrition is an important part of keeping your miniature horse healthy and happy.

  • Be sure to feel your horse’s body on a weekly basis, especially in the winter, to be sure he is not getting too fat or too thin.
  • Provide your mini with good quality, soft hay at least twice a day.
  • Include a grain or pellet feed (12 percent protein for adults, 14 percent for growing horses) as necessary to help your horse maintain good body condition.
  • Trace mineral salt is important all year round to give your mini the minerals he needs and keep him drinking to prevent colic.
  • Check those teeth! Dental care is vitally important to the welfare of your miniature horse.
  • Design a parasite control program with your vet so the feed you put in your mini benefits him, not his unwanted guests!

With these guidelines and the help of your vet, your mini can be a healthy partner and friend for many years.

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Hay or Cubes? That is the Question
With Richard Winters Horsemanship

I travel extensively throughout the United States, with my horses, conducting horsemanship clinic’s and seminars. It’s not unusual for us to load up two or three horses and be gone for two months at a time. Keeping my horses on a consistent diet and feed regiment can be a challenge. I load up as many bales of hay as I can before leaving home. However, after a couple weeks I’m running low and need to find a new source of feed and I’m thousands of miles away from my original hay source. With that in mind, I’ve done some research and have made a decision to share this information with you.

Over the years, I have literally fed hundreds of tons of baled hay. Starting this month, I’m switching over to hay cubes. Hay cubes are simply regular hay that has been chopped and compressed into small bite-size pieces. Hay cubes can be purchased by the bag or in bulk. They are often available with straight alfalfa or a blend of alfalfa and oat or grass hay. The minimum protein level is printed on each bag allowing the consumer to decide what forage mix is appropriate for the horses they feed.

When I’m on the road, finding hay that is consistent with what my horses have been eating is always a challenge. Now, when I am three states away from home, and out of feed, I can go into almost any feed or Tractor Supply store and purchase hay cubes that are very similar to what my horses have been eating. Even at home, it is often difficult to consistently purchase the same type and quality of hay throughout the year. Hay cubes will give me the consistency that I’m looking for.

I was first introduced to feeding large numbers of horses hay cubes during my ten years at The Thacher School. Over 100 horses were fed hay cubes twice daily where each young person was responsible for feeding their own horse. A huge benefit of feeding cubes was the ability for each horse to get a consistent amount of feed each time. As you know, baled hay is fed in flakes that vary in size and weight. Feeding two flakes from one bale might mean ten pounds. Two flakes tomorrow might equal fifteen pounds. With inexperienced young people the hay cubes filled to a certain level in a bucket insured consistency for each feeding.

My daughter and son-in-law are professional reined cow horse trainers who also feed hay cubes. Horses are constantly coming and going at their facility. With over forty head of horses, they have had no problem with horses transitioning and doing well with the cubes. Traveling to horse shows throughout the year, they also like the availability of cubes, no matter where the need arises.

Cost-effectiveness is important. I’ve been concerned that hay cubes are generally a little more expensive per pound then baled hay. However, when I realistically look at all the wasted hay around my haystack, in the stalls, and ultimately in my maneuver bin, I think I’ll be money ahead. Even if my horses are good about cleaning up all of their hay, just moving baled hay around for transport and feeding leaves a lot
of waste on the ground that gets raked up and ultimately discarded.

No matter how careful I am it seems there’s always a portion of my baled hay that gets wet and moldy, especially in the winter months. That’s money down the drain. Not only is it costly, it is also dangerous should my horses eat hay that has gotten rain damaged and moldy. Hay cubes are processed in a manner where the moisture level is constantly monitored. Mold is not a problem. There’s also little to no dust with the cubes, which is a big plus with my horses.

Hay purchased at the feed store is generally sold by the bale. However, bales vary greatly by weight. I might buy a bale of hay for $18 that weighs 125 pounds. The feed store down the road advertises hay at $15 a bale. That sounds like a better deal. However their hay bales only weigh 100 pounds. This is something you have to watch closely if you’re trying to get the best deal. Hay cubes are always purchased by the pound so you know exactly how much you are getting for your money, that’s important to me.

People are often concerned about the possibility of choke or colic with horses that are fed processed feeds such as cubes. In my own experience, I observed approximately one hundred horses being fed cubes over multiple years. I’m not aware of ever seeing a choking episode. Colic was also rare. I also looked for research that indicated increased physical problems with feeding cubes. I was unable to come up with any information to validate that assumption.

Now you know my plan of attack moving forward. You might have a feeding regiment that works very well for you. If you’re happy with your feeding program, and its results, then there’s probably no need to change. If you can relate to some of my experiences, than switching to this alternate feed source might be an option for you as well. This is a major change for us. I would be curious to know your experience. If you’d like more information, I found a great article from the Kentucky Equine Research Inc. The article was titled “Nutrition and Convenience in Cube Form.” Shoot me an email with your thoughts to [email protected] and I’ll tell you how it’s going with us, straight from the horse’s mouth!

Cheryl and Richard Winters
Richard Winters Horsemanship
115 Columbia Hill Court
Reno, NV 89508
(805) 504-5480
WintersRanch.com

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How to feed a horse

Learn the horse hay pro’s and con’s of alfalfa, oat and grass hays. Which ones are best for your horses and how much hay you should be feeding them.

A word of advice from someone who has lost a horse to emphysema. regardless of what type of hay you choose to feed your horse. buy the best quality hay you can afford. Use only quality hay for horses. By doing the one simple thing, you greatly increase the health and life span of your horse.

How Much Hay Should I Feed My Horse?

Well, that all depends on the horse’s size, age and work load. A mature horse can eat 3% of its body weight daily. That’s 30 lbs of hay per day for a 1000 lb horse. This is only a rough guide. Your horse may need more or less feed depending on whether he’s an ‘easy keeper’ or a ‘ hard keeper’.

A good rule of thumb is to feed your horse the amount of hay she can clean up in about 1ВЅ – 2 hours. The roughage in horse hay requires a good bit of chewing. If your horse is cleaning it all up in less than an hour, chances are he’s not getting enough. If it takes more than 2 hours she’s more than likely trampling and wasting the excess hay.

A horse eats 2.5-3% of it’s body weight daily

A 1000 pound horse = 25-30 pounds of feed a day

Determine Feed Rations

Multiply your horse’s weight by .03 to find how many pounds of feed (hay and grain) your horse will need per day.

Unlike the predatory wolf, a horse’s gut is not designed to handle single large meals. As grazers, the horse is designed to eat small amounts all day long. Ideally a horse should eat several times a day, but this is not very practical for the horse owner! You should feed your horse a minimum of twice a day.

If your horse is getting too heavy, cut back on the feed…including grain rations. If your horse is loosing weight, increase the rations. A note about weight loss, be sure it is not due to parasites or the need for dental work. And pardon me while I sate the obvious:

Always feed your the amount needed to maintain a healthy body weight and condition!

There are Only 3 Types of Horse Hay

Legume (leafy) Hay

  • Alfalfa
  • Clover
  • Timothy
  • Orchard
  • Brome
  • Blue grass

Cereal Grain Hay

  • Oat hay
  • Barely
  • Wheat
  • Rye

How to feed a horse

Pound for pound, alfalfa and clover hay have the highest energy and nutritional value of all the hay types. They contain twice as much protein, three times the calcium and have the highest vitamin content.

These legumes make a good feed choice for growing foals, pregnant and lactating mares, as they have higher nutritional needs during this period in their lives. If grasses or cereal grain hays are fed, the additional nutrients can be made up for by adding grain rations.

The down side of clover and alfalfa hay is that the high protein content can be too much for some horses. That is, horses with laminitis or horses with allergies. High protein hay for horses can also contribute to heat exhaustion and excessive sweating for hard working horses in very hot areas.

Grass type horse hays have a lower nutritional value than legumes, but are considered ‘safe’ hays, because it is harder for a horse to over eat or have a reaction to grass hay. An additional benefit to grass hay is that is easier on the kidney’s due to it’s lower protein content and it tends to have finer stems, making it easier to chew and digest…..nice for senior horses.

Cereal grain hay, is hay that has not had the grain harvested. These hays have about the same nutritional value of grass hays. But be aware, if cereal grain hay is harvested in such a way as to loose the seed heads, the remaining straw is of poor nutritional value and only suitable for bedding. Cereal grain hays have a higher concentration of nitrates. Not good for horses with laminitis.

Quality Hay for Horses is King

See the Difference?

Notice the difference in these two cuts of alfalfa hay. One cut has a much finer stem than the other.

How to feed a horse

The quality of horse hay varies greatly depending on a variety of factors. When it is harvested, how it is harvested and whether the cut is made late or early in the season. Geography and soil quality play a role as well. Many parts of the U.S. are low in selenium and produce low selenium content hay. See selenium deficiency to learn more.

Look for hay that is bright green in color, soft and pliable, fine stemmed and harvested before the plant reaches full maturity. The longer the hay is stored and the more yellow it becomes, the more it looses its nutritional value, especially essential minerals for horses.

Avoid horse hay that shows any sign of mold or musty smell. These have been known to cause coughing, heaves and emphysema. Avoid dusty or dirty hay. This can happen with hay that has been cut too low. The dirt piles from gofer holes and uneven ground can literally get processed right up into the hay bales. Not good.

Try to limit sand ingestion by not feeding your horse directly off the ground. Rubber mats or even carpeting placed on the ground can act as a sand barrier. Horses tend to throw their hay around as they rummage for the good bits, so you’ll need a good 8’ by 8’ of ground cover for your horses feeding area.

A high quality cereal grain hay, like oat hay, is preferable to a poor quality alfalfa. Use your good judgment when purchasing hay for horses. You may find that the quality of hay available at your local feed store changes during the seasons. Choose the best you can.

If you find yourself buying a different kind of hay than your horses are currently eating, be sure and introduce the new feed slowly over the course of a week or two. This will reduce the chances of horse colic or founder.

Most horse owners enjoy feeding their horses. It’s fun to see your horse enjoy its meals and come running to you when it sees you with the feed bucket. But it’s easy to make a mistake when planning your horse’s dietary needs. Avoid these 10 common feeding mistakes.

Overfeeding

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As horse owners, we usually enjoy looking after our companions and that often means providing them with the best feeds possible. However, it’s easy to go overboard on the feed. Overfeeding can lead to problems of obesity including equine metabolic syndrome and can lead to laminitis. If you find yourself becoming a master chef for a horse that doesn’t have any unusual or specific feeding requirements, you could be in danger of overfeeding your horse. Most horses need a very simple diet of good pasture or hay and only need supplements or concentrates if there is a shortfall in nutrition. There’s no need to be mixing and cooking bran mashes, slicing carrots, and serving up elaborate meals. Having hay tested is a good idea, as it indicates what types of supplements you might add to your horse’s diet.

Overfeeding is a particular problem in young horses. While it’s tempting to keep your weanling or yearling pleasingly plump, too rapid growth can cause joint malformations. Your youngster will benefit from slow steady growth, regular parasite control medications and ample exercise that keep it lean and fit.

Underfeeding

How to feed a horse

Underfeeding can be a problem with senior horses and horses that are working hard. While hard-working horses can be expected to look lean, they shouldn’t look gaunt. If hay or pasture won’t keep your working horse in good condition, look to concentrates to make up the shortfall. However, keep in mind that the bulk of your horse’s diet should be made up of grass or hay. Underfeeding hay or pasture and overfeeding grains and concentrates can lead to colic.

Senior horses lose the ability to digest food efficiently and may need a little extra help in the form of supplements and concentrates. Look for feeds specially developed for senior horses.​

Inadequate Pasture Grass

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Moment Open /Getty Images

It’s easy to look at a pasture from the distance and think it’s lush and green. But closer inspection may reveal that your pasture is being overtaken by undesirable weeds. This means horses have to work harder to find enough food and may start eating the less nutritional and sometimes toxic weeds. Look after your pastures so they can provide good grazing for your horses.

Poor Hay

How to feed a horse

Buying hay can be difficult, but it really is worth it to be particular because poor hay can cause all types of problems. Hay may be nutritionally deficient. Some hays are not suitable for horses and can cause colic. Dusty, moldy hay can be bad for your horse’s lungs.

Calculating by Volume Not Weight

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Bob Langrish/Getty Images

It’s important to feed both hay and concentrates by weight not by volume. Although it will be difficult to determine the weight of the hay your horse eats if it is eating free choice from a round bale, you can estimate the weight of the hay your horse is eating if you’re using small square bales. Why is this important? Generally, owners throw their horses a ‘few flakes’ of hay for each meal. But not all small squares are of equal weight.

Weighing grain concentrates is important too. Most caretakers use the scoop method. But horse feed companies recommend feeding by weight and calculate recommended portions by body weight. If you just go by eye, you may be under or over-feeding your horse. At least weigh the portions to calculate the amount, and then mark your scoop so you’re feeding the same amount each time.

Over-Supplementing

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LM Photos/Getty Images

At best, over-supplementing is throwing your money away. At worst, over-supplementing can cause mineral or vitamin imbalances.

Warning

Some vitamins and minerals are toxic when consumed in large quantities.

Have your hay tested and check the ingredients of your concentrates before adding vitamin or mineral supplements.

Ignoring Parasite Control

How to feed a horse

Some internal parasites compete with your horse for the food they eat. A regular deworming program can clear out harmful parasites that steal nutrition and can damage your horse’s internal organs.

Ignoring Dental Issues

How to feed a horse

While equine dental problems aren’t really a feeding problem, your horse will not be able to get all of the nutrition it needs if it can’t chew properly. This is especially common in older horses that may have missing or loose teeth. Mature horses can develop hooks and sharp edges on their teeth that make chewing painful. Regular dental care is a must.

Not Providing Adequate Water

How to feed a horse

Providing clean plentiful water is essential to your horse’s health. Impaction colic can occur if your horse, especially one who has access to only hay, doesn’t stay well hydrated. Very cold water can dissuade horses from drinking in the winter—and not surprisingly, that’s when impaction colic is most common. A trough heater or half bucket of hot water mixed with the cold is a good way to make sure your horse doesn’t have to drink icy cold water.

Not Providing Salt

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Moment Open /Getty Images

Salt is important to maintain your horse’s electrolyte balance. Some people put loose salt on their horse’s feed. Be careful not to ‘over-salt’. Most horses can self-regulate with a salt block in their stall or pasture.

Before embarking on a feeding programme to help your horse gain weight it’s imperative to establish whether your horse needs to put on weight and if so, the reasons why he’s underweight. Regular body scoring is a useful tool to help you monitor your horse’s weight and taking frequent photos can also be beneficial.

“Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues currently facing equine welfare is obesity, with research showing well over half of horses are overweight, and that’s likely to be higher still in the leisure horse market,” says Kate Hore, head nutritionist at NAF.

Discovering why your horse is underweight can be difficult, but the more you know about your horse’s current diet, his worming programme, dental history and hoof quality, as well as basic information such as his height and age, the more chance you have of identifying the issue.

“It’s important to get to the root cause of the problem so you can obtain accurate advice. Older horses are less efficient at digesting their food, a horse suffering from dental issues may be finding it uncomfortable to chew, while poor hooves and a dull coat can be an indication of gut issues,” says Katie Williams, technical and product development manager at Dengie.

Feeding a horse for weight gain should be based around the feeding principles of little and often; high fibre and forage and low starch. With a high proportion of a horse’s diet consisting of forage, it’s important to ensure the hay you’re feeding is nutritious and palatable. Early cut meadow hay is soft and leafy and more digestible while haylage or wrapped hay is more appetising than grass hay. In the summer maximise grass intake.

“Focus on what you can do. You’re going to be limited in what you can achieve if you only feed two meals a day. Invest in quality food and forage so you make every mouthful count. Digestibility converts to weight gain more readily than indigestible foods,” continues Katie.

Nicola Tyler, nutrition director at TopSpec adds: “Gone are the days when you give your horse big buckets of food, feeding less can achieve more. Horses aren’t like humans; if you feed horses more and more you exceed the capacity of the horse’s gut and then they digest food inefficiently.”

To provide extra calories, include oil in your horse’s diet, but remember to supplement with vitamin E if you’re feeding a high oil diet.

“In terms of energy supplied, different sources of oil are basically the same. It is the types of fatty acids that differentiate oils and determines their quality. Omega 3 have anti-inflammatory properties compared to Omega 6 which are more pro-inflammatory – however, it is important to consider that both omega 3 and omega 6 are essential and so have to be supplied in the diet. Linseed is a great source of omega 3 and is non-marine origin,” says Katie.

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Feeding a horse for weight gain should be done gradually and a horse should have access to fresh water to ensure he is well hydrated and a salt lick at all times.

“It’s impossible to say how long it will take the horse to gain weight as it is dependent on factors such as how far underweight they are, their diet, the time of year and their workload. However, for safe weight gain in the acutely underweight horse think of months rather than weeks,” concludes Kate.

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