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October 2004

Horse Health Care by Cherry Hill
Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage
Horse Housing

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Nutrition Issue

Horse Information Newsletter from Cherry Hill  A Healthy Diet for Your Horse

Horse Information Newsletter from Cherry Hill Free Books!

This newsletter is a personal letter from me to you, a fellow horse owner and enthusiast.
My goal is to answer some of your questions and send you interesting stories and helpful tips for your horse care, training, and riding.

A Healthy Diet for Your Horse

    2006 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

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.

28 year old QH mare - barefoot, retired, turned out on 20 acres of pasture with creek.
See Feeding Plan B.

20 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.

16 year 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.
See Feeding 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.

4 year old QH/akhal Teke gelding - barefoot, in occasional work, lives in large individual pen.
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 creek.

Salt and Mineral - All horses have free choice access to plain white salt blocks and 12% Calcium/12% Phosphorus Trace Mineral Salt Blocks.

Beet Pulp and Supplements - These are individually tailored to fit each horse's needs.

Feeding Plan A

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 grass hay.

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.)

Noon - Each horse receives one half of his daily ration, or 8 pounds per the above example.

(At noon I measure out beet pulp pellets for all 7 horses and soak them in water for the evening feeding.)

Evening - 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.)

Feeding Plan B

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

Evening - 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 weight.

Feeding Plan C

Dawn - 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 beet pulp...

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 where needed:

SU-PER Farrier's Supplement - all horses receive a maintenance portion of this nutrient supplement for healthy hooves (amino acids, vitamins etc.)


Ground 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 of age.

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.

Psyllium - 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.

SU-PER 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.

Carbohydrates include 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.

Fats 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.

Mature 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 safe forage.

For more information on the current research on and the prevention of grass founder in horses, visit


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.

Flax 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.)

Flaxseed 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.

Read all of the nutrition articles at the Horse Information Roundup.


That's it for this month.

Happy Trails!!

Cherry Hill

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