A good diet can be important to a horse's health. Horses require many of the same basic nutrients that humans do, including carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Many of these nutrients can be given to them by following their natural dietary patterns of forage. The timing of feeding, and the amount of food made available to them, can also impact their nutritional health. They also need an adequate amount of water. Read on to learn more about feeding horses and keeping them healthy.
Generally speaking, a horses daily diet should consist of approximately 1.5-2.5% of their body weight in hay or pasture roughage. This the amount of roughage a horse would eat, if they were in the wild. This principle is the same for horses that are kept for pleasure and trail-riding. Grains can be added to a horse's diet, but considered supplementary nutrition, as equine health can depend on the adequate consumption of roughage. In fact, most of a horse's diet should consist of roughage, since they are more likely to have trouble digesting grain. If grain must be incorporated into the diet, the least amount for adequate nutrition should be used.
If your horse spends a lot of their time in a stable, consider always having some hay in front of them. This will allow the horse to eat when they want to, and will provide a scenario that closely mimics their natural feeding habits. Horses that have access to pastures all day will typically not need you to provide much hay, while those who are restricted will need to have hay placed into their stalls and regularly replenished. All horses will need you to place hay in their stalls during the dry or cold months, as pastures may not be as hospitable as they were during spring or summer.
When feeding your horse, you have to be sure to feed them the same amount and kind of food every day. This consistency helps support horse nutrition because sudden changes in the diet can lead to serious health problems. One way to make sure that your horse is getting the same amount of food every day is to weigh it before giving it to him. You can use scales found around the home, such as those found in kitchens, to ensure the accuracy of the weight. If you must change your horse's diet, you should do so slowly. For example, if you need to incorporate a set ratio of grain into a diet, gradually add a small amount of grain to your horse's feed every few days until you reach the predetermined amount. This process should span the course of a few weeks to help your horse's digestive organs become accustomed to the change.
The best feeding system for equine health requires that you feed your horse small meals multiple times a day, instead one or two large ones. Three daily feedings better replicate your horse's natural feeding habits and allow for better digestion. This is especially true if you have incorporated grain into your horse's diet, as grain can be harder to digest than roughage. Typically, you should wait until your horse has been at rest for at least one hour before feeding them, and you should allow them at least another hour to properly digest their food. If your horse has been expending a lot of energy, waiting at least three hours before a meal can guard against digestive issues and related health problems. Try to make sure your horse eats at the same time every day too, as changes in feeding times can bring on colic episodes.
Salt can also be something that your horse needs, as it helps provide electrolytes. If you take care of more than one horse, it can be a good idea to place small blocks of salt in their stalls to make sure that they always have access to it. It should be separated from main food sources, because horses don't require salt all of the time or even every day.
You should always have fresh and clean water available for your horse to drink, too. It's not uncommon for horses to require up to 15 gallons of water per day. This water should always be readily accessible to them. If clean sources are not readily available, a horse should be given water at least twice a day and allowed to drink their fill each time.
Above all, treat your horse like the unique individual that they are. While many horses may require up to 20 pounds of hay per day, your horse's weight will factor into how much they needs. Likewise, their workload and energy expenditure will inform how much food they have to eat. Age and metabolic health can also give you and your horse's veterinarian clues about food quantities. When your horse works hard, you will have to provide more food. Even leisure horses, however, should be fed-quality food. Vitamin and mineral supplements should be considered carefully, especially if such options do not occur within the horse's natural diet.
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Written by Sharon Rogers