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Horse Feeding Explained

A Visual Guide to Feeding Horses & Ponies

Learn About Horse Feed & Basic Feeding Rules

Review some basics about horse food, take the horse feed quiz, Make Your Own Stall Card with Your Pony’s Feed Schedule, and Play the Horse feed Memory Game

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Horse Treats

Horses enjoy treats, but should not be fed refined sugar. Better choices for treats are horse cookies, carrots or apples. To
avoid choking, carrots and apples should be cut into pieces. Hand feeding can bring on mouthy behaviors so it is generally
best to give treats in the horse’s feed tub.

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Check for Leftovers

Before dumping new grain into the horse’s feed bucket, check to make sure the horse ate his previous meal. You should never put new food on top of old food. It is important to know why a horse did not eat all of his feed. It could be because he does not like the taste of a medication or supplement, but could also be a symptom of a dental or health problem.

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Bucket Height

A horse’s feed bucket should be hung at shoulder height to keep the horse from getting a leg caught in it if he paws.

Hay in the Pasture

When you place hay in a pasture or paddock that contains more than one horse, put out one more hay pile than the number of horses. This was each horse gets some hay even if a horse is chased away from a pile.

Place hay along the long side of a paddock or pasture. This ensures a horse does not get pinned into a corner by another horse and potentially get hurt.

Grazing

Walk, Graze, Repeat.

Horses can’t easily digest large, infrequent meals. A horse’s digestive system is designed to digest small amounts of food eaten frequently which mimics how horses live in the wild. Feeding large amounts of food at once can lead to colic.

horse Feed Size

Customize Feedings

Feed horses according to their size, condition, workload, and temperament.

You don’t feed a small pony the same amount as a Clydesdale, and a racehorse does not eat the same amount as a pleasure horse.

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Feed On a Regular Schedule

Horse should be fed on a regular schedule and at the same times every day.

If their food doesn’t come on time it could make them anxious, and when their food does come, they may rush to eat it which could lead to colic.

 

Create Your Own Stall Card

Create your own printable Stall Card with Your Pony’s Feeding Schedule and Amounts.

Changing a Horse’s Feed

All changes to feed must be made gradually so the horse’s digestive system can get used to the new kind.

To change a horse’s feed, gradually mix some of the new feed in with the old feed, and slowly increase the ratio of new feed to the old feed each day until the horse has been weaned onto the new feed.

A Horse Requires Five Types of Nutrients

Each nutrient has an important role in keeping horse healthy.

 

Energy Nutrients

Carbohydrates & Fats

Proteins

Vitamins

Minerals

Water

Types of Horse Feed

Most of the food a horse eats should come from roughage.

Roughage

Horses require fiber in their diet for the gut to function normally

Horses have evolved over thousands of years as grazing animals. They are meant to eat roughage, and their digestive system is designed to eat small amounts frequently and to use the nutrients found in grass and hay. A horse should eat one to two percent of their body weight in roughage every day.

Grass

Grass is the most natural food choice for horses. Pastures can reduce horse feed costs and provide energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Never feed horses grass clippings.

Hay

Hay is dried grass and the most common source of roughage. Horses eat many kinds of hay including alfalfa, bermuda, clover, oat-hay, and timothy. Alfalfa is the richest kind of hay.

Other

Range cubes, hay pellets, and beet pulp are other examples of roughage that is fed to horses.

Concentrates

Foods that have more food value ‘concentrated’ in a smaller amount such as:

  • Grain – Oats, corn, barley, & bran.
  • Mixed Feed & Pellets – Including mixing different types of grains. Some are ground up and pressed into pellets. Sweet feed is a type of mixed horse feed.
  • Supplements – Vitamins & mineral supplements (powder or pellets) may be added to a horse’s feed for extra nutrition.

Water

Clean, fresh water must be available at all times. Horses need water for health and digestion. The only time to not give water is when a horse is overheated.

A horse needs 8 to 12 gallons of water a day.

Succulents

Succulents are juicy foods including apples and carrots.

Fresh green grass is both a roughage & succulent.

Minerals

Horses need a salt block in their stalls or large block in their pasture. Horses lose salt when they sweat, and can’t get enough of it from their normal diet.

Horse Digestion

A Horse’s Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract

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Did you know it takes up to two to three days for food to completely pass through a horse's digestive tract?

The GI Tract of a Horse

Consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestines, cecum, large colon, small colon, and rectum.

Horse Digestion

Mouth

Digestion begins in the mouth. The horse’s teeth chew the food and they produce saliva which starts digestion.

Esophagus

The horse’s esophagus transports food from his mouth to his stomach.

Horses cannot throw up, and their stomachs are very small compared to their large bodies. If a horse eats too much feed at once, he can colic or even rupture his stomach.

Cecum

Roughage is fermented (digested) by microbes In the cecum. Horses have a very large cecum because they eat high fiber diets. The horse’s cecum is about 4 times as big as his stomach.

Stomach

The stomach secretes a strong acid that begins digestion and also kills bacteria. Some stomach cells secrete a protective mucous to keep the stomach acid from harming the cells lining the stomach.  Food material does not stay in the horse’s stomach very long because the stomach is so small (it is only about 2 gallons in a 1,000-pound horse).

Large Intestines

Some fermentation occurs by microbes that live in the first part of the large intestine. As material passes through the rest of the large intestine, water is absorbed back into the horse’s body.

Small Intestines

The small intestine is where most digestion occurs due to the enzymes the horse secretes. These enzymes can digest (break down) starches, proteins, and fats.

The small intestine is where almost all of the nutrients are absorbed into the horse’s bloodstream. Any nutrients that are not absorbed into the bloodstream are lost in the manure.

Rectum

Undigested food is expelled through the rectum.

Take the Feeding Horses Quiz

Type your name in the box below and submit your answers to get a free certificate of accomplishment and get on the quiz leaderboards!

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Welcome to the Horse Feeding Quiz!

Name
True or False: A horse's feed bucket should be hung at knee height.
Where is the best place to give a horse a treat?
What types of horse treats should you give a horse?
True or False: You should you always check a feed bucket before you dump in new grain.
If there are two horses in a pasture, how many hay piles should they be given?
Feeding large amounts of food to horses at one time can lead to...
How should you introduce new feed to a horse?
Most of the food a horse eats should come from what?

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Play the Types of Horse Feed Memory Game

Turn over the cards and match the name of the type of horse feed to the correct picture.

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