Feeding your horse a healthy diet is essential. Unfortunately, many horse owners have little or no education in horse nutrition and make numerous mistakes when feeding their horse. Without a healthy diet, the health of your horse can decline rapidly, and he may suffer from fatigue, digestive disorders, and behavioral issues as a result.
Horses need to eat several times throughout the day to get the most out of their diet. A horse’s stomach is built for grazing – eating small amounts, often. Horses should be offered food at least two or three times each day, and can even be fed more often if desired. The average horse eats between two and four times his body weight each day, but the amount of food required is a guide and not a strict rule. Some horses may require more or less food than other horses of the same size.
The water and fiber found in hay is ideal for the digestive system of horses, and hay should make up the bulk of any horse’s diet. Whenever possible, horses should have free access to hay and be allowed to graze whenever they desire. This same rule does not apply to grains, however. Grains contain too many calories for optimum horse health, and should be limited to treats. A diet too high in grain can lead to bone, joint, and muscle problems, even in otherwise healthy horses.
Salt and mineral blocks are essential to the health of horses, as most diets lack adequate levels of minerals for overall health and optimum performance. Access to salt and mineral blocks should be free, as these things are necessary to stabilize electrolyte and pH levels. There is no risk of a horse taking in too much salt, provided his intake of fresh water is sufficient.
Dietary changes should be made gradually to avoid laminitis and colic. These potentially serious conditions can be triggered by abrupt dietary changes, especially if those changes involve an increase in the amount of food or water offered. Because horses are physically unable to vomit when they have eaten too much, care must be taken to prevent your horse from overeating.
Exercise goes hand in hand with a healthy diet, and stabled horses that do not get enough exercise may have problems eating and digesting food. Stabled horses are also more prone to colic than horses who receive adequate amounts of exercise. Activity should begin an hour or more after eating, and horses should not be fed grains until they are completely cool and at least two hours have passed since activity has ended.
A healthy horse requires a healthy diet and sufficient daily exercise. If you have specific concerns about your horse’s diet, they should be discussed with your veterinarian. Horses with certain medical condition may require specialized diets that should only be altered under the supervision of a veterinary specialist.