Health & Care

What Do Horses Eat?: How to Feed Your Horse

All horses (equines) are herbivores, and they need a specific diet to keep healthy. Their food must contain high amounts of fiber for their long digestive tract to keep functioning effectively. They need to eat often, but little per time. In basic terms, horses eat hay and grass. However, concentrates, vegetables, salt, or fruits can enhance their diets, and these are contingent on the available horse feed and required work.

Below, you’ll find a list of the essential horse foods that an average adult horse needs to stay healthy. If you notice your horse is adding or losing weight, or a change in its feeding habits, consult your vet immediately for professional advice.

It’s also essential to note that a rapid change in a horse’s feed can lead to sickness, such as colic. If there’s a need to change the horse’s diet, ensure to do this gradually over two to three weeks. You can consult an equine nutritionist for help in the dietary change plan.

What Horses Eat

Horses typically love to graze often but shouldn’t overeat each time. Here are the basic kinds of feed for your horse:

Water

Horses need clean, fresh water at least two times daily. If the horse doesn’t drink frequently, make sure it doesn’t take water immediately after feeding to avoid blockage. Blockages happen when undigested food moves down the digestive tract too quickly. Also, ensure to prevent your horse’s water from freezing in winter.

Grass

Horses are grass lovers. It’s a natural food for horses, and it keeps their digestive system healthy. However, make sure your horse doesn’t consume excess lush grass during spring to prevent laminitis. You may also need to weed off any plants that can cause harm to your horse, such as ragwort (mostly common in the United Kingdom).

Vegetables and Fruits

Fruits and vegetables usually add moisture to your horse’s feed. However, there are some vegetables and fruits you shouldn’t feed them. You’ll find out more about this as you read on.

Haylage or Hay

Hays keep your horse’s belly full and its digestive system functioning effectively, especially when pasture is scarce in autumn and early spring.

Concentrates

For young, pregnant, nursing, or old horses, your veterinarian can recommend feeding them with concentrates (grains like corn, barley, and oats). These boost the energy of horses. Note that mixing the wrong combination or quantity can be risky, leading to mineral imbalances.

Salt

Many horse owners discover that horses love to eat salt a lot, particularly in summer and after long exercises. They need about one to two ounces of salt each day to meet their sodium and chloride requirements.

feeding horse apple

How to Feed Your Horse

Feeding your horse two or three times a day comes recommended because their gastrointestinal tract always digests small amounts of food as they graze. They can only take a little food per meal because their stomach is small and can’t take much per time. Don’t leave the horse for more than eight hours straight without eating. Also, ensure that its troughs are neat, else your horse may refuse to drink or eat.

How Much Food Can I Give My Horse?

An adult horse consumes dry matter (the remains of a feed after evaporation of the water) that weighs about two to three percent of its entire body weight. But it depends on the food quality and the activity of the horse.

Regarding the quantity of hay for horses, let the hay or pasture grass be at least 50 percent of their diet. If you ride your horse or use it for work, you should feed it more often during the day to avoid losing weight. Also, avoid working your horse immediately after a large meal, as it can affect digestion and make it uncomfortable.

lone horse feeding

What Horses Love Eating

Horses typically love hay, grass, snacks, and treats. But don’t overdo it.

What Wild Horses Love to Eat

A wild horse typically loves grass, edible shrubs, grass seed heads, and other plants. They mostly live close to freshwater. Wild horses are estimated to graze for about 15 to 17 hours each day.

feed a horse

Feeds Your Horse Should Not Eat

The food your horse consumes will affect its health (positively or negatively). So as you monitor the quantity of food your horse takes in, also ensure to avoid giving the following to your horse:

Chocolate and Sugary Foods

Foods that contain high sugar aren’t recommendable. Your horse may love eating them, but it could result in obesity or other health problems.

Excess Fruits or Treats

Giving these to your horse can result in obesity, colic, and other serious health issues, including laminitis (painful foot issue). Do not feed the horse with more than one fruit wedge, such as one carrot or apple per day. Also, ensure your horse does not graze close to a fruit or orchard tree that is fruiting. Place signs around the fences, informing the public not to give treats to your horse.

Garden Waste

Garden wastes, such as weeds, plants, and garden spray toxins, can be poisonous and dangerous to your horse’s health. Although feeding your horse with fresh grass from your garden might not be a bad idea, it could contain other undetectable harmful wastes that could lead to colic.

Stone Fruits

Offering stone fruits, such as mangos and apricots to your horse (without pitting them first), can cause choking.

Vegetables (Cabbage Family)

Feeding your horse with broccoli, cabbage, kale, and so on will make your horse feel uncomfortable and gassy.

Cakes and Bread

These can result in a blockage in the digestive tract of your horse.

Brans

You should avoid feeding your horse with brans unless it needs them for a prescribed diet.

Meat

Nutritionally, this isn’t necessary and poses a risk to the horse after some time.

Tomatoes and Potatoes

Make sure to prevent your horse from eating these, as they’re toxic.

Dusty or Moldy Hay

Eating dusty or moldy hay can destroy the horse’s lungs.

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