Horse diet: What should horses eat?

What should horses eat?

The importance of a healthy diet

Horses are non-ruminant herbivores, as well as hindgut fermenters. Compared with its body size, the horse has a relatively small stomach. Normally, the capacity of a horse’s stomach is 5 to 15L. A balanced and healthy diet is the foundation of a horse’s health. A healthy diet is considered to be a combination of all six major classes of nutrients: water, fat, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, and minerals. The amount of nutrients required varies from horse to horse and changes according to the life stage of the horse, its breed, weight, and workload. It is important for a horse to maintain a steady weight. If this increases or decreases too drastically it can badly affect your horse’s health.

It is important to adapt a horse’s diet according to its requirements. This helps to control any harmful effects and aid the horse in maintaining a normal and healthy condition. The nutritional requirements of a horse varies according to age. Young horses, for instance, require a high amount of protein and energy. When pregnant or lactating, mares require an increased amount of nutrients.

As horse owners, we all want our horses to be healthy and high-performing. A balanced diet plays a significant role in this. A balanced and nutritional diet is extremely beneficial to a horse, helping it to maintain a healthy weight. It is also essential to give the animal the proper amount of feed. Various diseases, such as laminitis, can occur in animals which are overweight.

A healthy diet helps to ensure strong bones and teeth. Consuming the correct amount of calcium phosphorus is essential for the maintenance of strong bones and teeth. Giving your horse a balanced and healthy diet with allow it to be more energised and to perform to the best of its ability. Providing clean forage at floor level can also help the animal maintain good respiratory health.

A healthy diet helps with the maintenance of hair, increases muscle mass, increases milk production in lactating mares, maintains electrolytic balances, and prevents dehydration. Horses with a good diet are also likely to have a higher ability to fight off illness and to recover from illness or injuries.

What do horses like to eat?

An adult horse typically requires dry feed amounting to 2- 2.5% of its body weight each day, with the large majority of this made up of roughages. Horses also eat fruits, vegetables, concentrate, supplements, salt, and treats.

Grass: This makes up the significant part of a horse’s diet and is the animal’s natural feed. Horses enjoy the pleasant chewing sensation and the smooth texture of grass. Grasses contribute to the maintenance of a healthy digestive system. You should always make sure to provide clean pasture without anything toxic mixed in. Recommended grasses for horses’ grazing include rhodes grass, crested dog’s tail, cocksfoot, brown-top, prairie grass, and red grass.

Legumes: Legumes contain more digestible energy and crude protein than grasses. Legumes can be planted alongside grasses to increase the nutritional value of forages. Lactating mares and performing horses need more energy than other horses do, it is advisable to provide a mixture of legumes and grasses for these animals. These should be avoided, however, when feeding overweight horses. Alfalfa and clover are commonly grown legumes that are good to include in a horse’s diet.

Hay: Hay is a form of processed forage made by cutting grass and turning it in the ground to dry it out either under sunlight or mechanically. Grass is harvested before it flowers in order to produce hay. Hay is a preservative method of forages; if there is no fresh forage available, for example in cooler months, hay can be used to to fulfil a horse’s nutritional requirements. It is important to make sure your hay is of good quality and that there are no toxic plants mixed in. Hay containing legumes is more nutritious than plain grass hay.

Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are good examples of low-fat treats for horses which improve the moisture content of their feed. It is important to wash, clean, and cut fruits and vegetables before feeding them to your animal. Carrots, apples, bananas, apricots, beetroot, cucumber, celery, blackberries, peaches, and oranges are all suitable for horses. Some fruits and vegetables, however, can be poisonous to horses. Make sure to avoid these toxic fruits and vegetables, which include avocados, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes.

Concentrate: Concentrate is often used to improve the nutritional value of horse feed. This is a hard feed made up of grains and cereals. Concentrates have higher energy than forages. It can useful to feed this to horses who have high energy requirements. Make sure to add the correct amount of ingredients while processing and mixing. Oats, barley, and maize are good examples of concentrate. Crushing and boiling the raw ingredients before feeding helps to improve the digestibility of the concentrate.

Supplements: supplements are used to add extra vitamins and minerals to a horse’s diet. If your horse eats hay, it can be very beneficial to add a supplement to ensure its nutritional requirements are met. An excessively high dose of supplements can cause the development of toxic conditions, so it is important to measure an exact amount of these. Good supplements can improve the quality of a horse’s skin, hooves, bones and muscles, can strengthen the immune system, the function of the nervous system, and can help maintain and repair cells.

Salt: A horse’s average salt requirement is 1-2 tablespoons per day. Horses love to eat salt in the summer months, and consume this either from a salt lick block or from loose salt in a bucket. If your horse is not consuming the correct amount of salt using these methods, you should add salt into their diet.

Treats: Horses love treats. Plenty of horse treats are readily available at your local supermarket, in particular fruits and vegetables which are great treats for horses! Apples and carrots tend to be a favourite. Before choosing commercial treats, carefully consider the ingredients as some contain high sugar content and can be full of additives which are not beneficial to a horse’s health.

Water: A horse requires an adequate amount of freshwater in addition to its feed. Water is one of the most important requirements to keep a horse in good health. If your horse does not consume a sufficient amount of water, it will show signs of dehydration, decreased feed intake, reduced physical activities, and dry mucous membranes. It is therefore important to supply easily reachable water sources to the horse throughout the day. The water level should always be kept high as horses do not like to drink water from sources where the levels are low. Horses also do not like to drink water that is too hot or too cold. They prefer to drink water at 25 0C. There is therefore a huge responsibility for those in charge of farm management to maintain a comfortable and controlled zone for horses to live in.

Essential tips for horse health

*Supply plenty of fresh, clean water throughout the day.

*Horses should be fed with plenty of forage, and stabled horses should be provided with higher amounts of forage than concentrate.

*Give the horse a balanced diet. This will help to prevent laminitis and other conditions caused by the horse becoming overweight.

*Make sure not to include any toxic plants, vegetables, and fruits in your horse’s diet.

*Rapid changes in diet can be harmful and should be avoided. If you need to change your horse’s diet, this should be done gradually.

*Take into consideration any special requirements your horse may have, particularly pregnant and lactating mares and ageing horses.

*B Vitamins can help to reduce a horse’s stress.

*Vitamin E helps horses to recover from diseases.

*Ensuring a horse’s food has a pleasant odour and a soft texture can help increase the palatability of feed and increase a horse’s feed intake.

How should a horse be fed?

First, calculate the horse’s nutrient requirements according to its special needs. It can be very helpful to check this with a veterinarian. First and foremost, ensure that you give the horse fresh, clean water before feeding. Then provide the horse with an adequate amount of roughages (good quality forages and hay). These are a horse’s primary source of feed, and horses will eat a large amount of these.
Give a measured portion of concentrate (according to the horse’s specific requirements) throughout the day. The amount of concentrate consumed by the animal per day should be significantly lower than the amount of roughages it consumes. Make sure to supply the correct amount of supplement alongside feed. Giving the horse special treats will help to build the bond between you and your horse. Avoid feeding your horse immediately before or after exercises.

If the feed you provide is unpleasant to the horse, or if it is provided in an insufficient amount, the horse may refuse to eat.  Ultimately this will result in malnutrition and weight loss. Animals prefer to eat highly palatable, tasty feed. Providing an excess of feed, on the other hand, can result in a horse becoming overweight.

Concurrent infections are more common in horses suffering from malnutrition as this can result in reduced immunity. Overweight animals, on the other hand, cannot bear their own weight. Extra force is exerted on their joints, which, with time, will likely lead to osteoarthritis. This can result in severe pain to the horse while walking and riding. Laminitis is another condition that occurs in overweight horses. For all these reasons, it is essential to manage a horse’s nutrition well.

Avoiding horse poisoning.

Some foods are toxic to horses and can be harmful even in small portions. Keep your horse from toxic feed such as chocolate, caffeine, tomatoes, avocados, garlic, onions, potatoes, meat, bread products, cabbage, broccoli, dairy products, ragwort, acorns, and lawn clippings

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