Healthy Diet for Your Horse
© 2006 Cherry Hill ©
I am often
asked what I feed my horses because they are healthy, good looking, have long
tails and manes, and mellow dispositions. Part of that comes from genetics, training,
and management, but nutrition also plays a big role. I'd like to describe how
I feed my horses but won't discuss amounts as they vary so much according to age,
activity level, quality of feed and more. This is designed to be more of the "art
of horse feeding" - for the science aspect, refer to a nutrition book.
I have seven horses - here are their current ages, housing, and activity level.
All horses are housed and fed individually.
29 year old
QH mare - shod, in light work, lives in a deluxe individual sheltered pen
complex off one end of the hay barn (called the "senior center").
See Feeding Plan A.
old QH mare - barefoot, retired, turned out on 20 acres of pasture with creek.
See Feeding Plan B.
year old QH gelding - barefoot (for the first time since he was 2) and turned
out for a few months, maybe the winter, on 18 acres of pasture with creek.
See Feeding Plan B.
old QH/Selle Francais gelding - shod, in light work, lives in individual sheltered
pen off main barn.
See Feeding Plan A. (hardest
keeper of the 7)
10 year old QH/Trakehner mare - barefoot,
time off, lives in individual sheltered pen off main barn.
Plan A. (easiest keeper of the 7)
10 year old
QH/Trakehner mare - shod, in moderate work, lives in individual sheltered
pen off main barn.
See Feeding Plan A.
year old QH/akhal Teke gelding - barefoot, in occasional work, lives in large
See Feeding Plan C.
Hay - Generally I feed grass hay or
a grass alfalfa mix with no more than 20% alfalfa in it. Any exception to this
will be noted.
Water - Horses in pens all have free
choice well water in 50 gallon water barrels. Horses on pasture drink out of a
Salt and Mineral - All horses have free choice
access to plain white salt blocks and 12% Calcium/12% Phosphorus Trace Mineral
Beet Pulp and Supplements - These are individually
tailored to fit each horse's needs.
In this group is the hardest keeper and the
easiest keeper. The hard keeper receives a proportionately larger amount of the
grass alfalfa mix hay and the easy keeper receives a smaller amount of the straight
Dawn - Each horse on this plan receives one
fourth of his daily hay ration. If a horse gets 16 pounds a day, he would get
4 pounds in the morning.
(I work the horses in the morning
so the light feeding lets me get started earlier.)
- Each horse receives one half of his daily ration, or 8 pounds per the above
(At noon I measure out beet pulp pellets for all 7
horses and soak them in water for the evening feeding.)
- Each horse in this group receives the last one fourth of his daily hay ration
and his individual beet pulp ration.
(Additives to soaked beet
pulp will be discussed later.)
Dawn - These two horses are on pasture
with plenty of grass so at this time, they do not receive hay in the morning.
(Pastures are evaluated each day on my morning walk and rides.)
Noon - Ditto
- These two horses receive their individual beet pulp rations. In addition, the
senior retired broodmare receives 3-4 pounds of alfalfa to help her keep the proper
Feeding Plan C
- This horse receives one fourth of his daily hay ration.
Noon - This horse receives either one half of his daily
hay ration or one fourth of his daily hay ration and then is turned out on pasture
for 4-5 hours.
Evening - This horse
receives his individual beet pulp ration and one fourth of his daily hay ration.
Things I add to the soaked
First off all,
I use beet pulp pellets (not shreds) in a ratio of one part pellets to 5 parts
water. You will have to experiment with the pellets available in your area to
get a consistency that you and your horses like. I find that a moist but fluffy
consistency works best. I add the following
Farrier's Supplement - all horses receive a maintenance portion of this nutrient
supplement for healthy hooves (amino acids, vitamins etc.)
Flax (Linseed) Meal - all horses receive an appropriate amount (according
to their weight, condition, and work) of flax meal. Many of today's products don't
as much oil as the linseed oil meal of yesteryear because the oil has been washed
out with solvents. Look for a flax meal or pellet product that contains more than
5% oil and add it to the ration last, so it doesn't soak up too much moisture
before it gets inside the horse..
Vegetable oil - I
use 1/4 - 1/2 cup of corn oil as a top dressing for the 3 horses over 20 years
Anti-oxidant supplement - All horses over 20
receive and anti-oxidant, as their ability to produce some of these vitamins is
reduced with age.
Large complete feed wafers - I add
from a few wafers to a several cups as needed. Horses that gobble are slowed down
with the addition of these large treat-sized wafers. They are hard and could be
difficult for seniors to chew, so I don't add wafers to the senior's ration, instead
I add senior pellets.
- Once a month for five days, I add psyllium husks to the ration of all horses.
I add all other additives on top of the beet pulp, then put the psyllium on top.
I mix the psyllium in in just before I feed the ration to the horse so that the
psyllium doesn't absorb too much water before it gets inside the horse.
Meta-Balance - I feed this nutritional supplement to two of my part-Warmblood
mares that began showing signs of EMS (Equine Metabolic Disorder).
Lo Carb Diet for Horses???
But Cherry, NO GRAIN???
A horse can't go on a
lo carb diet because carbohydrates are a large part of his necessary diet. However,
many horses benefit from a low glycemic diet - one without sugar, molasses, refined
grains, or sweet young pasture.
Horses get energy from fats
and carbohydrates. Excess fats and carbohydrates lead to excess energy, obesity,
and other health problems. Although carbohydrates are a natural and necessary
part of a horse's diet, just like with people, complex carbohydrates are often
healthier than simple carbohydrates.
To state it simply, it
is healthier for a horse to eat oats than sugar; but better that he eat beet pulp
than oats; better that he eats grass hay than third cutting alfalfa hay; safer
for him to be turned on mature pasture than new vigorous growth; and there might
be a place in your horse's ration for oil.
simple sugars, starches and cellulose. Grains, grass and hay all contain sugars
and starches and fiber.
Grains such as corn, oats and barley
are lower in fiber and higher in energy than roughages. But of the grains, oats
are the safest to feed with hay because they are high in fiber and low in energy,
and higher in protein than corn. Corn has the highest energy content of any grain
and can put weight on a horse quickly. Barley is an intermediate source of energy
and protein content.
Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate -
the fiber or roughage portion of grass and hay. A horse digests cellulose in the
cecum where small microbes break it down over a period of time.
are found in grains and roughages at a low level (2-4%) but horses benefit and
can tolerate a ration that contains as high as 10% fat. A ration higher in fat
than that can cause runny stools. Fats are necessary for metabolic functions and
are associated with healthy sleek haircoats. Fats produce 2.25 times the amount
of energy as an equal weight of carbohydrate and they produce less heat.
pasture. I am never in a hurry to turn my horses out on spring pasture. First
of all, dryland mountain pasture is fragile, so I like the plants to get a good
head start before the horses start eagerly grazing. But mainly, I find that I
sleep better at night knowing that if my horses are on pasture, they are eating
For more information on the current research
on and the prevention of grass founder in horses, visit www.safergrass.org
Flax (linseed) has a high concentration of
Omega 3 fatty acids. A horse cannot produce these fats so they are called essential
fats and need to be part of his diet.
also is a good source of soluble fiber (rich in lignins) which gels when it contacts
water (similar to psyllium) so is thought to help prevent impaction and sand colic.
(That's why I add it last to the beet pulp mash.)
or linseed shouldn't be fed whole to horses because the small, hard
seeds would pass through the horse unchewed and undigested. You can freshly grind
flaxseed daily for your horses or cook or soak the seeds or buy freshly ground
meal. Meal will need to be stored in an air-tight container in a very cool place
(like a refrigerator). Seeds can be stored longer.
of the nutrition articles at the Horse
it for this month.