Horse Feed

The quality of your horse”s feed and hays is imperative to his health and well being. Negligence in this area can be lethal to a horse and, therefore, devastating to a horse owner.


When looking for hay, be sure that it”s leafy, green, and soft. If hay smells fresh, sweet, and clean, it”s usually good hay. Lift the bale to check that the hay isn”t moldy. If it”s heavier than normal, it probably has more moisture than usual, and will be moldy. Mold can kill a horse.

Store Bought Mixed Horse Feed

When shopping for feed, look for open-formula feeds. These give the exact amounts of each ingredient and can be helpful if you”re looking to start your own feeding regimen. Also, when buying feed for your horses, you”ll need to look out for a few additives:

  • urea
  • organic iodine
  • monensin sodium.

These additives stimulate growth, but in doses that are too large, they can be lethal to horses.

Feed Quantity and Rationing

Most owners feed their horses by the “guess and by golly” method, which can work well if the horse is watched with a keen eye.

For those with horses who require special feedings, balancing rations may be a necessity. To do so, you need to know the nutritional content of the food and classify what your horse is used for.

With the different number of systems available, your best bet is to experiment with a few. Your final decision should be based on which one works well for both you and your horse.

If your horse is pastured, it”s usually unnecessary to ration or add supplements. If you”re really concerned about it, you can get your pasture grass analyzed and supplement the horse”s diet with nutrients missing from the grasses.

An Example of Base Rationing

An average, healthy, 1,100-pound gelding who is currently restricted to his corral with little to no activity needs to be fed about 1.2 to 1.5% of his body weight daily, which comes out to 13 to 16.5 pounds of feed. This will keep him at a state where he is neither gaining nor losing weight. Be aware that if he starts working, or even becomes a pleasure riding horse, he will need to be fed more.

A Rationed Diet for Your Horse

A rationed diet includes the following dietary elements and in these suggested quantities:

  • Water: Eight to twelve gallons per day should be available to the horse as needed.
  • Fat: Ten to fifteen percent of the total diet, by weight, is ideal.
  • Roughage: One percent of the horse”s body weight each day is recommended.
  • Vitamin E: Should be added to the diet of horses that are fed fat.
  • Grazing: Horses evolved as grazers, so they do best on a high forage (grass and hay) diet.
  • Feeds: Bulky feeds (grains) are a necessary part of the diet, as they aid in digestion.

Horse Supplements

Horse diets of grain and roughage are usually adequate for those horses at rest in a corral or pasture. However, horses that are used for working, competition, or even pleasure riding, may need supplements with their diets. Two common supplements for horses are soybean oil meal and molasses.

Soybean Oil Meal: Soybean oil meal is one of the more popular protein supplements. It is also an excellent source of phosphorous. It has the added benefit of being rather tasty (to the horses). Good quality soybean oil is clean, light-colored and fine. It should be mixed thoroughly into their rations of food.

Molasses: Molasses is exceptionally tasty and it is used as a food conditioner or appetizer during feeding. It is high in calcium and is used to mask unappealing foods. Molasses should be used with caution in the summer because it hinders digestibility.

Other Horse Supplements: Added salt should always be given to horses as it encourages them to drink water. Electrolytes also encourage horses to consume more water. However, electrolytes are used only when the horses are under extreme physical stress and need water that they don”t think they need. Other supplements include:

  • linseed oil meal
  • cottonseed oil meal (contains a toxic compound, so be careful to abide by the recommended amount)
  • sunflower oil meal
  • corn oil
  • apple cider
  • vinegar
  • commercial vitamin and mineral supplements.

Seasonal Feeding Concerns

In the winter, horses need more calories to keep themselves warm. Rice bran is an excellent choice for supplementing your horse”s winter diet. Most horses get the extra calories they need with just one pound per day.

In the summer heat, horses may have difficulty digesting certain foods. If you notice changes in your horse, especially his eating habits, consult your vet.