Taking care of a horse can be a difficult task. Such a large animal needs a lot of specialized care and attention that it’s really important to attend to in order to keep them in a healthy condition. One of these things is how, and what, you feed them. This can be a little daunting, so we have put together these 7 tips that cover everything you need to keep in mind when feeding your horse.
1. Routine is Everything
If you are making a change to what you are feeding them, the amounts, or the time of day, make sure that this happens gradually over time.
Horses get used to the time of day that they are fed at, as well as what they are fed. Sudden changes in feed can lead to colic or founder. If you are moving to a new type of feed, mix it in with the old over a period of a week, gradually building the amount of the new feed, and lessening the old.
Try and keep the feeding time the same every day, as this is the way that horses thrive. Many won’t be too disrupted by a sudden change in time, but some sensitive horses can, and routine is calming to many.
2. Exercise Around Feeding Times
You need to leave it at least an hour after feeding your horse before riding them. If you are going for a particularly strenuous ride, this should be longer, particularly if they’re not used to it. This is because blood will be diverted away from the digestive system – making exercise more difficult and leaving them prone to colic.
After exercise, a horse should be completely cooled down before it is fed. It should be breathing easily and not be hot or sweaty.
3. Get the Amount Right
It is easy to both over and underfeed a horse, and so getting the amount right is crucial. Underfeeding is usually due to not enough hay, and too much concentrate. Horses’ needs change as they age, and so their diet will also need to change as they get older.
With overfeeding, this is most common with young horses and can lead to joint malformations. Your horse should grow at a steady rate, and not be too plump. A simple diet is best for most horses, so don’t add anything extra unless you know it’s necessary
4. Forage is Best
Horses are built to forage, and so with good quality forage and pasture, all their nutritional needs should be met. Of course, many horses also need to be supplemented some vital vitamins and minerals that their forage is lacking, but with forage of a high quality, nutritional needs can be met, which is much better for your horse’s health.
Particular horses, such as lactating mares, will need concentrate in their diet, however, 70% of their feed should come from forage or pasture as this is what is best for their gastrointestinal health.
Having a good supply of water available at all times is also something that should never be forgotten. Horses need to drink regularly and in large amounts.
5. Hay Quality
The quality of the hay that you provide for your horse determines the nutrients that they receive from it. Anything that is moldy or dusty is likely to make your horse sick and won’t give him the energy that he requires. Fresh hay that’s free of weeds is what you are looking for.
The best hay has been harvested young when the grass is at its most nutritious. It also happens to taste the best, so your horse is going to love it. In the case of legumes, this is just before the plant starts to bloom. For grasses, it will be the time right after the seed heads emerge.
6. Maintain Your Pasture
This is a big one. If your horses’ pasture is poor, then they’re not going to get the nutrients that they need. Overgrazing can leave your field muddy, and the grass unable to recover. There are however certain things that you can do to keep it in tip-top condition.
Dividing a large field into smaller areas means that they are only grazing in one section at any one time. This allows time for regrowth, and you can also keep your horse out of a section that is particularly wet.
Having many horses on the one pasture can lead to soil compaction, meaning that there will be bare patches on the soil due to the multiple hooves. Even when horses are well supplemented with hay and feed, their natural grazing instinct will still mean that they can easily eat grass down to the roots.
The best way to protect your grass is by keeping horses off of it while it regrows. Having a ‘sacrifice area’ to move your horses onto while the grass is re-seeded elsewhere is a good idea to protect the majority of your pasture. Remember that over time, the nutrients in the soil may become depleted and need to be replaced. This will ensure that you get the best type of grazing for your horse’s needs
It’s important to keep an eye on the weed situation of your pasture, as many weeds are poisonous to horses. Weeds grow when pasture has been over-grazed, so preventing this is the best way to keep the situation in check. When weeds do appear, mow them before they go to seed. If your pasture has a significant problem, you may have to resort to herbicide and re-seeding the ground.
7. Be Careful What Concentrates You Use
Concentrates are usually a mixture of things to keep your horse in top condition. These include flax, molasses, beet pulp, and bran, as well as added vitamins and minerals. You should avoid feeding your horse grains such as oats, corn, and barley, as these don’t provide the nutritional goodness that a horse needs, as much as they may like them.
When feeding concentrates, it’s best to start with small amounts and build it up if needed. It is possible to overfeed your horse on this, and they should be getting what they require and no more. Concentrate should be given in small amounts, but more often throughout the day, not just in one batch. This helps your horse to digest it the best way as they are used to grazing, not having a large meal all at once.