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6 Things to Consider when choosing your horse's feed

At this time of year you may need to change what you’re feeding your horse, however there are a number of factors to consider when selecting a feed or making any changes to their diet.

1. Age

Different ages of horses will have different nutritional requirements. Younger horses are growing and developing and as a result will need a higher level of calcium in their diets. Older horses may struggle to keep weight on and can find it harder to eat if they have lost teeth. In this case it may be better to find a feed which is soaked to make it easier for them to eat or switch to a feed like sugar beet or a specially formulated senior feed to help them meet their energy needs.

2. Size

A bigger horse will need more feed than a smaller horse. As a rough guide a horse should be eating 2% of their body weight each day. As an example a 15.2hh horse weighs around 500kg. So their total feed needed per day is 10kg. This will change depending on the horse’s current weight. If they need to lose weight they might eat 1.5% or if they need to gain weight they might need 2.5-3%.

3. Workload

As a horse’s workload increases they will need food to help them meet this additional energy requirement. How you change this will depend on what activity your horse is doing. If they are doing endurance type activities they will need slow release energy such as oils. If they are doing a shorter, high intensity activity they may need cereals. However, it’s important to note that a horse’s feed should always remain fibre based wherever possible and their diet should be a minimum of 55% fibre at all times. Equally if your horse has a sudden decrease in workload, maybe due to injury, it’s important to cut the feed down immediately so that they don’t have too much excess energy.

4. Temperament

A bit like people, different horses have different temperaments and personalities and this can impact your choice of feed for them. Some horses are naturally more energetic and may need lower energy feed compared to a horse with lower natural energy who may need more from their feed. If you’re changing your horse’s feed, this may be the quantity or the type, it’s important to keep a record of any behaviour changes as this may indicate if they have any intolerances or the change was suitable for that particular horse.

5. Any health conditions

Many horses have health conditions which need careful management and this can be done through the contents of their feed. Some examples include brittle hooves, laminitis, ulcers, equine metabolic syndrome. All of these conditions require consideration to the feed your horse is receiving, which could also be in the form of medication or supplements. If your horse does have a health condition which is being managed, make sure you work with a vet and a nutritionist to work out the best management strategies for that individual horse.

6. Time of year

This can have a big impact on what you feed your horse for a number of reasons. The grass grows from April to September generally, however this is dependant on the temperature of the ground. If we have a warm winter then the grass may keep growing throughout the year. When the grass grows it has a higher nutritional and energy value, which means that horses need less additional feed. In the winter the weather is colder and horses will need more energy to keep themselves warm. The best thing to keep them warm is fibre, this is usually fed in the form of hay. If you’re feeding the hay in the field, make sure to put out plenty of different piles and if the weather is particularly bad then try and place them somewhere sheltered.

At the end of October, BETA will be running their yearly Feed Fact Fortnight campaign. As part of this campaign I am running a webinar in collaboration with Dr Katie Williams, Lead Nutritionist at Dengie Horse Feeds. Katie has recently completed a PhD where she looked at ulcers as part of her research. Katie will cover what ulcers are, why they occur and what owners can do to prevent them; including some of the latest research.

Want to learn more about feeding, check out my self study online course on feeding


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