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Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Learn How to Feed Your Horse for a Balanced Diet

Horses are sensitive souls and their stomachs will let you know quickly when their diet is no good (don't ask me how I know this).  A lot of people may think that turning a horse out into a field is how they get all the nutrients they need.  Unfortunately, no grass will give the horse all of what they need.  In the wild, horses travel constantly and graze along the way which varies the types of forage.  This means over time they get what they need, unlike domestic horses.

You will really be able to see if your horse is really healthy!

1.  Tests

First of all, we need to test the forage that our horses eat.  If your horse is turned out we test the grass in that field, if he is partly stabled we need to test they grass in his field and the hay he eats in his stable and a fully stabled horse needs his hay tested.

There are plenty of companies that offer forage testing which you can send samples to them.  I like Forage Plus as they offer lots of tests from forage to soil to water tests.  They will send you a Mineral analysis and a nutritional analysis so you know what you need to change in your horse's diet.

Two horses standing infront of a large hay feeder with a house and barn in the background

2.  Digestible Energy

To work out how much (roughly) digestible energy your horse needs follow this link and find the 'energy requirements of work for light horses' table.  For example, a 500kg horse at rest will need 16.7 Mcal of digestible energy a day.  If that same horse goes into light work he will need 19.8 Mcal a day.

Look at your grasses analysis to see how much extra DE your horse will need.  So if your horse eats 9kg of grass a day that has been tested to equal 4.7 Mcal of DE you will need to supplement with hard feed to give your horse the amount he needs.  As an example, using the horse feed I like, Allen & Page's fast fibre contains 8MJ which converts to around 1.9Mcal of DE per KG.  If we look at Allen & Page's Power Performance, it contains 3 Mcal of DE per KG as it is meant for horses who need more energy.

3.  Protein

Moving on to protein, we can see in this article how much protein in grams our horses need a day.  For example, a 500KG horse who consumes 20.5lb of dry matter per day and it in medium work needs 984g of crude protein a day.  So, now we look at your tested grass results.  If your grass is 23% dry matter and the horse consumes 20lb of grass, the dry matter is around  4.6lb.
Now we know this we can work out the protein.  Say your grass is 12.8% crude protein, we times the dry matter amount with the protein percentage then divide by 100 (4.6 X 12.8 / 100).  This equals 0.588lb or 266.7g converted.  Now you know how much you need to supplement protein.

White horse close to the camera in a field with another white horse grazing in the background

4.  Crude Fibre

Everyone knows that horses need fibre to keep everything moving.  Grass + hay are both high in fibre which usually means they are lower in DE.  We already have enough fibre in the grass and hay (assuming you have a healthy horse who eats forage) so we don't need as much fibre in hard feed.  The lower the fibre in hard feed usually means higher DE.  This means the forage provides the fibre and added hard feed and supplements provide the DE.

5.  Starch + Sugars

Starch and sugar are very important to watch for in overweight or laminitis prone horses.  If your grass test has shown higher levels of starch and sugar you should limit turn out in laminitis seasons.  While looking at your feed bags, you may see starch and sugar percentages.  For sensitive horses, you are looking for the lowest percentages possible.  Allen & Page's fast fibre has 5% starch and 2.5% total sugar which makes it ideal.

A close up of an appaloosa horse's eye

 6.  Crude fat

Crude oil/fats are actually not as bad as it would be in other animals.  If your horse is at rest, it's best to keep the crude fats at around 2-4%.  If your horse is in hard work and needs a high DE level, you will find that suitable feeds have crude fat of 5% or over.  This is because fat is a great source of DE.

7.  Vitamins & Minerals

I'm not going to go into to much detail as you will use the same system of looking at your horses forage tests to see which vitamins and minerals he need to be supplemented.  You can find a table here to find out how much of every nutrient your horse needs and match that with the forage tests and hard feed.

A coloured cob close up in a field with bay horse's grazing underneath trees in the background.


I am not a horse trainer or any other equestrian professional.  I only give advice on horsey topics that I have experience as a horse owner in.  Please don't follow my advice without contacting a relevant equestrian professional.  



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