Equine Nutrition

Equine Nutrition

Have you ever wondered what you should be feeding your horse or why? These are a few simple guidelines I like to stick to.

First let’s do a quick overview of the horse’s digestive system (don’t worry I’ll keep it simple). In order for the horse’s GI tract to run smoothly, it needs to operate as similarly as it does in nature. This means almost 24/7 foraging, grazing, eating. The horse in nature produces copious amounts of saliva from chewing all day. This saliva plays an important role in diluting gastric acid in the stomach. The horse in nature is also rarely hungry because they are free to roam all day in search of new food sources. This means the gut is always full, providing the horse with plenty of energy and hydration. When we take the horse out of nature and put it in a stall for half of the day or more, we are upsetting the balance. In order to compensate for this we have to tailor their feed routines delicately.

  • This means small amounts of grain at a time
  • Measured exercise and turnout so they can maintain movement in their routine
  • As much access to hay and forage as possible
  • Added supplements if necessary

When looking at choosing a grain for your horse there are a couple things I like to look for. The first and foremost is the amount of fiber in the feed. Since the domesticated horse is not spending the majority of their day eating, providing a high fiber diet is the next best thing we can do for them. Fiber takes a long time to break down in the horse’s hindgut. While the hindgut is full of fiber, it’s providing a supply for the body to derive energy and hydration from. Unlike feeds with high sugar content, a high fiber diet is more of a ‘slow burn’ digestion which is healthier for the horse. In grains with high sugar content you may notice your horse has bursts (or outbursts) of energy, almost like a ‘sugar high’.

A feed with high fiber content is also likely to keep your horse feeling full longer. A horse that is hungry is more likely to develop boredom behaviors like

  • Cribbing
  • Weaving
  • Chewing on wood, fencing etc.
  • Exhibiting food aggression
  • Behavioral issues

The second thing I look for in a grain is added iron. Excess iron in the horse’s diet is a huge No-No for me. Too much iron in the horse’s system can contribute to immune issues, laminitis, liver problems, insulin resistance and other metabolic issues. There is no substantial way for the horse to excrete excess iron from their system aside from blood loss. Most horses, even domesticated ones, consume all the iron they need naturally. This comes from water, soil, forage etc. There should be no need to supplement added iron to your horse’s diet. Surprisingly though, you will notice that feed companies do this often (why?!).

Thirdly, it is incredibly important to provide your horse with as much forage as possible. If you are able to supply all the nutrition your horse needs from just hay and turnout then this is an ideal situation. Most performance horses require additional nutritional elements so this is not always an option. However, providing hay/forage around the clock is best. Like previously mentioned, keeping the horse’s gut full is the optimum way for it to function.

** Keep in mind theses are very basic guidelines for the horse who has no specific dietary needs or restrictions.