Equine Nutrition

The Nutritional Needs of Large Animals

Just like in people, a healthy horse is the recipient of a healthy and balanced diet. The topic of equine nutrition has undergone some changes over the years as studies have shown us what horses really need, leaving some of the old myths behind. Even so, there is still a lot of conversation going on about how a horse's digestive system works, as well as what is best to feed your horse, and why. With this in mind, let’s trot through some of the most important nutritional facts, so you can have some peace of mind.

Equine Nutrition Facts, Myths, and Figures

We all do our best to give our horses what they need. Even so, keeping horses is still rooted in many traditions that no longer hold true. Even the most diligent of horse keepers can fall into the trap of old worldviews that no longer hold up to modern research. Let’s get into some of the facts so you can make a more educated decision around feeding time.

Hay to Grain Ratio

Horses are built to graze. When you look at the grain to grass ratio of natural, untouched pasture, you can begin to see why it is important to keep an adult horse feeding primarily on hay. A balanced diet consists of proper mix ratio of hay and grains, and the grains or concentrates never comprise more than 50% of the feed by weight.

Athletic, hard-working horses, lactating mares, and horses with high energy needs can benefit from the calorie-dense grains. Even though each animal may have slightly different nutritional needs, most horses do well when they eat at least 2% of their body weight in forage per day. Too many grains and concentrates can lead to colic, laminitis, and obesity.

Free-Choice Hay (and salt)

One of the myths around feeding is that you have to feed your horses at the same time every day. If you already feed your animals at the same time of day like clockwork you’ve probably heard them causing a ruckus a few minutes before normal feeding.

This doesn't mean they are starving, however; it just means they are excited to eat. If you choose to feed your horses more like the way they feed in the wild – with free-choice hay throughout the day – they will develop a better relationship with feeding time. Your horses will have a better functioning gut, they will be more patient between meals, and they’ll have less chance of getting colic or laminitis. Also, make sure to have adequate free-salt around. Horses need about ten grams of sodium per day.

Let Your Horse Drink

For many years (and even still to this day) many horse keepers believed that you should never allow a hot horse to drink cold water. This has been shown to be false. If your horse is all worked up from exercise, one of the best things they can do is drink water right away, regardless of temperature.

In fact, if your hot sweaty horse doesn’t get access to water right away, they may end up suffering the consequences of dehydration later on. They may be less likely to drink enough water once they’ve cooled down and this can cause a problem. And don’t worry; this will not cause colic or cramps. Your horse actually appreciates this refreshing interlude.

Supplements Work

Even though you may have access to the best quality, non-GMO, organic hay in the country, it still won’t measure up to the nutritional density a horse would get from an untouched open prairie. Keep one thing in mind, a horse that’s thriving is not the same as a horse that’s just surviving.

Supplementing with essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins can help to make sure that your horse is getting all the vital nutritional support they need to truly thrive. Typically, these can come from high-quality grains, but they can also come from other additives as well.

Final Thoughts

Equine nutrition is a delicate topic that can easily disrupt a dinner table conversation. Shying away from the topic is not serving anyone, however, and being open to a continuing dialog can help shed light on this ever-improving area of focus. If you have any questions and would like to delve into a bit more detail, please give us a call. We would love to make sure you are getting all the support you need when it comes to equine care and nutrition.


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