Day 3 activities for slt champ camp

A proper feeding program is the foundation on which a healthy horse is built. There are a few basic principles that apply to all horses and programs, which we will outline below.

Start your third day of camp with a detailed review of feed weights from University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program.

Feeding a Horse 101

  • 1. Horses are grazing animals.

    Why is this important? Because horses' digestive tracts are designed for a near constant intake of forage. To digest this forage, the horse's stomach produces a steady stream of stomach acid - almost 9 gallons per day! - unlike other species that only produce acid when they consume a meal. In a natural, high-fiber diet, this acid is buffered by both forage and the horse's saliva. A horse should consume 1 to 2 percent of its body weight in hay or grass daily.

    This is the main reason it is important to feed your horse as near free choice hay as possible. Free choice hay means allowing your horse unlimited feeding of hay. When feeding free choice hay, small hole hay nets can be a useful tool - they not only slow the horse's consumption, making the hay last longer, but they also contain hay so that there is less waste.

    If you cannot feed free choice hay, still consider using a small hole hay net to extend the life of their hay - and feed multiple meals throughout the day so that your horse's sensitive gut is not exposed to unbuffered acid too long or often.

  • 2. If you have to feed grain, do so in small amounts.

    Not all horses need grain - in fact, many horses do well on hay or grass alone. However, if your horse is a hard keeper, or has a demanding workload as a performance horse, hay alone may not suffice.

    If you determine that your horse needs more calories, feed as high a quality grain as possible. While they may be more expensive initially, the higher quality protein, vitamins and minerals in a premium feed usually mean you can feed less, saving money in the long run.

    When feeding any grain, do so in as many smaller meals as possible - since horses are grazing animals, their stomachs and hindguts are not designed for intake of large meals. A general guide is that you shouldn't feed more than 4 to 5 pounds of grain per serving. If your horse requires more feed than that, feed at minimum twice a day, and if possible, add a third meal. Feeding large grain meals, or more than 11 pounds of grain daily, can increase a horse's chance of colic by as much as 6 times!

  • 3. Change feeds gradually, if necessary.

    If you need to make a change to your horse's feed type or volume, do so slowly. A sudden change in feed type or quantity can lead to colic or founder.

    Much like dogs, if you are changing the type of feed, it's a good idea to replace a quarter of the old food with the new food every two days. This means that in a week your horse will be eating his ration entirely of the new feed, and you minimize the chance of digestive issues or health complications.

  • 4. Feed by weight, not by volume.

    We've all heard the "he gets one scoop of feed and two flakes of hay." This feeding by volume isn't the best practice - you should really weigh your horse's meals.

    With the understanding that a horse should eat 1 to 2 percent of its body weight in hay daily, that means your average 1200-pound horse should eat 12 to 24 pounds of hay per day. Now, once you know how much that feels like, or how much your average bale weighs, you can feed by the flake, or by portion of the bale. But until then, you should weigh the hay you are feeding to make sure your horse is receiving adequate forage. There are specialty hanging feed scale hooks, or you can use a bathroom scale.

    Grain should also be weighed. The amount of grain fed varies greatly by type of feed - ration balancers are fed in small amounts because they are concentrated, while complete feeds can be safely fed in large amounts. Consulting the bag for a starting point is wise, but always adjust by the condition of your horse. Take their ration and use a kitchen scale to weigh it. Then you can dump that feed into your chosen scoop and know that your horse is getting fed the same amount at each feeding.

  • 5. Stick to a routine - your horse knows what time it is!

    Many horses thrive on routine - that's why successful professional barns have a schedule. It's not only that it is easier to have a routine, it's that the horses do better and are easier to manage when their lives are consistent. Have you gotten to the barn around feeding time and found your horse looking at you expectantly? We like to think it's because they're happy to see us, but in reality it's more likely that they have a really accurate internal clock!

    The majority of horses will not be harmed by a change in schedule, but it can make a difference to easily stressed horses or ones prone to colic. And it's better to be safe than sorry!

  • 6. Try not to feed before work, or immediately after.

    Much like your mom telling you to wait an hour after eating to swim, horses shouldn't be exercised immediately after a grain meal, if possible - especially if the work will be strenuous. A full digestive system takes up space in their body, giving their lungs less room to work. Also, during exercise, blood flow is diverted from the digestive tract to the muscles and other organs. Decreased blood flow in the gut can slow its movement, which can increase the chance of colic.

    When feeding after work, your horse should be cool and dry, with normal respiration rates.

activity: feeding a horse 101 quiz

Take a quiz! Find out what you learned about feeding a horse from today's camp activity.


activity: easy jet no-bake horse cookies

Bonus activity! Make a fun horse treat that you can eat too, no baking required!

Get the recipe now.


Learn about the different types of hay from Learn Now

Watch hay harvesting and baling at Rush & Waltz Farms in Missouri: Watch Now

Read a detailed explanation on horse nutrition from Rutgers University: Read Now

Learn how to prepare a space for fresh hay delivery from Equus Magazine: Learn Now

Learn more about why water is so important for horses from American Academy of Equine Practitioners: Discover Now

Watch a video about the horse's digestive system from Hy Gain Feeds: Watch Now

Learn how balanced nutrition helps a horses coat from American Quarter Horse Association Journal: Learn Now

Find out about feeding horse treats from Kentucky Equine Research: Find out more Now

Bonus! Get outside and check out the different types of grasses growing near you. Bring a piece of paper and draw a picture of the grass or take some grass and trace it on your paper. Bring some markers or crayons and add your dream horse into the picture!

Plus spend some time curled up with a great horse book! Check out our reading list ideas here

Have you visited our Kids Corner yet? Check out additional fun activities here

  • Published:
  • Updated: 7/15/2020: 10:44:28 AM ET
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