Managing your horse’s weight
Good nutrition is essential in helping to maintain optimum health and well-being of your horse or pony.
The amount of water your horse needs will depend on their diet, workload and sweating rate, as well as the environmental temperature. You should allow access to fresh clean water at all times as between 50 and 70% of the horse’s bodyweight consists of water. Stabled horses need more water because they are eating dry feed. Fresh water should be supplied in clean buckets or via clean automatic drinkers.
Buckets should be refilled at least twice a day and should be secured to prevent them from falling over. The average daily water requirement of a horse is 20–40 litres or 5–10 gallons.
Horses naturally graze and browse on fibre-containing feeds for approximately 16–18 hours per day. Feeding adequate fibre helps maintain healthy gut function and reduce abnormal behaviours. Fibre can be found in forages such as grass, hay, haylage and high-fibre compound feeds. If possible, feed forage off a clean floor, as this is a more natural grazing position. Hay/forage is safest fed on a swept floor as there is no risk of injury and the head is lowered to the normal grazing position. Racks and nets all have the potential to cause injury. If hay nets are used they should be securely fixed at head height so that your horse or pony has less risk of getting its legs caught in the net.
The horse has a delicate balance of gut microflora and this population needs time to adapt to the new diet. Feed cereal-based compound feeds in at least two feeds a day for horses in light work and 3 to 4 times a day for horses in heavier work. Keep to a routine by feeding at the same times each day, allow at least 2 hours after feeding before working your horse or pony and do not feed for at least an hour after work. If your horse or pony has a day off, decrease feed from the evening before until the evening after the rest day.
Keep concentrate feeds to a maximum of 2.0–2.5kg for horses over 400kg and less for ponies. It is advisable to not rapidly reduce feed intake, especially of overweight ponies or pregnant animals. Seek veterinary advice if a horse loses weight significantly or rapidly. It is important to weigh scoops of different feedstuffs as a guide to how much you are actually feeding. Feed good quality feeds and never use feeds that are mouldy or past their best-before date, or that haven’t been stored correctly. A horse can only consume 2.5% of its body weight per day. Each horse or pony is an individual and adjustments must be made for each horse.
Do not feed items such as lawn clippings, large amounts of rapidly fermentable feeds such as apples, or feeds designed for other types of animals. For more information on feeding and nutrition, please see the BEVA website.