The Stable Secretary Blog

Feeding Horses

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all of the options available regarding what exactly to feed your horse? Today’s choices and varieties of commercial feeds can make choosing your horse’s diet pretty overwhelming.

There used to be hardly any options when it came to deciding what horses should be eating. If a horse was able to maintain their weight on hay and grass alone, then that is what that horse ate. If, however, a horse could not maintain a healthy weight on horse and grass, one of the only choices available was to add oats to their diet. Now, with all the different feed companies, there are many more options for feeding horses that may need more than just grass and hay.

The first thing to keep in mind regarding horse feed is that there is no right way to feed a horse. Horses are like people in the fact that each horse has different needs in terms of energy sources and calories. But unlike people, horses are herbivores and have a unique digestive tract that is very different than ours. Their long digestive system requires specific dietary needs- a high fiber diet consumed in many small amounts throughout the day. In addition, feeding your horse depends on a the horse’s age, activity level, your budget and any medical issues the horse may have. It is recommended that a horse’s diet contain no less than 1% of body weight of roughage (hay, pasture, etc). For example, a 1,100 pound horse requires at least 11 pounds of roughage.

When we think of a horse’s natural diet, we know it should consist of pasture grass and tender plants. Pasture, when well maintained, contains almost all of the nutrition that a horse needs in order to maintain a healthy weight. Pasture also contains silica, which is essential for a horse’s dental health. Unfortunately many people don’t have the ability to let our horses graze on good pasture all year round, so when grass isn’t available, alfalfa hay is the next best option. The color of hay is an important indicator of its quality and nutrient content – good hay is bright green.

If pasture and hay aren’t always available, concentrates are where we turn next. Commercially prepared foods such as small cereal grains such like oats, barley and corn continue to be commercially available, but now many feed companies produce various specialty-feed options that are all nutritionally balanced for different types of horses. These food options are convenient, but keep in mind that they spoil more quickly than a natural whole food grain. It has been found that cereal grains don’t contain a balanced nutrient profile, so they should be paired with additional fortification for the health and longevity of a performance horse. This could be beet pulp, oil or another fat supplement. Additionally, cereal grains are high in starch, and many horses’ digestive systems simply don’t cope well with large starchy meals.

In terms of amount of feed, we have found this chart from Pennsylvania State University to be extremely helpful in deciding the correct amount to feed your particular horse.

Work Hay Grain
No Work 20-25 lbs none
Light (1-2 hrs./day) 15-20 lbs 1-3 lbs (1-1.5 lbs grain/hr. of work)
Medium (2-4 hrs. /day) 15-20 lbs 3-8 lbs (1.5-2 lbs. grain/hr. of work)
Heavy (4 or more hrs/day) 15-20 lbs 5-10 lbs (1.5-2.5 lbs. grain/hr. of work)

Most people like to give their horses treats, such as apples, carrots, handfuls of grain, sugar cubes or candies. Treats are fine, but they do need to be considered as part of the overall feeding plan and kept to a minimum, especially if your horse needs to watch its weight. Also be careful of feeding your horse meat and sugar, as they may cause discomfort to your horse’s stomach.

No matter what you decide is the best feed for your horse, it is important to not overfeed or underfeed your horse. Overfeeding can lead to obesity or digestive issues such as colic, while underfeeding can be detrimental, especially for senior horses or horses with high activity levels. It is also important to remember to provide lots of clean water to your horse, especially to those who eat primarily hay.


Use Stable Secretary to keep track of what your horse is eating. Then, add staff, owners, and health providers as Team Members in your Stable to give them easy access to what Feed and Supplements each horse should receive.

Sources:
www.thespruce.com
www.horsedvm.com
www.humanesociety.org
www.psu.edu
www.thehorse.com
www.chronofhorse.com

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