Feeding HorsesAs it is with other animals, good nutrition is the key to your horse’s good health. Although feeding a horse is not overly complicated, it isn’t as simple as just giving him a bag of oats or a bale of hay.
Hay and GrassHay and grass supply your horse with one of the most important components of his diet: roughage. Horses have adapted to feed on grasses and other plants that are high in roughage, so these items are naturally good for your pet. He will need an amount of roughage (grasses, hay, and possibly other high-fiber items such as beet pulp) equal to about 1.5 percent of his body weight daily.
Grasses in the pasture can make up a large part of your horse’s diet and will also keep him busy grazing all day. You can plant your pasture with a wide variety of grasses (and legumes) that are good for horses, including timothy, Bermuda grass, brome, fescue, bluegrass, and orchard grass. Alfalfa and clover are legumes that are good for horses as well. However, depending on the climate where you live, your horse may not be able to obtain much of his food from the pasture—for example, if the grass is covered with a thick layer of snow. At these times, a larger portion of your horse’s diet will come from hay.
Several types of hay are available, and all have somewhat different nutritional values. Alfalfa hay (and clover, too) is high in protein, calcium, and calories. Although these attributes make alfalfa a good hay to feed to your horse, be aware that the high protein content can cause digestive problems. Proteins should only make up about 12 percent of your pet’s total diet; alfalfa hay can have almost double that percentage. If you are feeding your horse alfalfa, lower the overall protein content of his diet by also feeding some low-protein items, such as oats. Hays made of other grasses are lower in both calories and protein. There are also mixed hays available for purchase.
When buying hay, make sure that you are buying only the best quality. It should be green in color and is at its best if it has not yet formed seed heads (grasses) or if it is in early bloom (alfalfa and clover). Avoid hay that smells or looks moldy; that has an excessive amount of dirt, weeds, or other undesirable items; that has any signs of insects; or that is really heavy, indicating that it is too moist and prone to spoiling.
GrainsMany horse owners feed some amount of grains to their horses, and this is a fine practice if not overdone. Grains are high in calories and low in fiber, so they can overload a horse’s digestive system and cause problems. Oats are the most widely fed grain because they have a higher fiber content and are better suited to a horse’s digestive system than other grains. Feeding corn, cracked barley, and wheat bran is also acceptable.
Horses do not need a lot of grain in their diet. Depending on the size and condition of your horse and his other food intake, limit the total amount of grain in the diet to 4 to 8 pounds (1.8 to 3.6 kg) per day—spread out, never in one meal.