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Horse nutrition

Getting your horse’s feed right is key to keeping them in tip-top shape and form. How, when and what to feed is different based on a horse’s individual needs, with a few things to consider before scooping a portion of hard feed.

What is a healthy diet for a horse?

A horse should always have access to fresh clean water and be provided with the opportunity to graze as much as possible. Without grazing, an equine can develop several health conditions including stomach ulcers, colic and other disorders of the gut.

Feeding a horse a high-fibre, low-sugar diet with a chance for them to graze will closely match the natural diet they’ve evolved to eat, provide the nutrition they need and satisfy their instinct for foraging.

Sometimes a vitamin and mineral supplement will need to be fed to horses whose grazing, hay and feed might not be reaching their nutritional needs. This is usually fed to underweight horses or equines used in hard or fast work.

Forage should form the basis of a horse’s diet, as they are an ideal source of energy, but if you are ever confused as to what to feed your equine, it’s best to speak to a nutritionist or your veterinarian for advice.

Why is forage so important to horses?

Forage feed (grass or hay) should be provided, or at least the horse should have access to feed through much of the day and night. Horses have a natural drive to chew therefore if these needs aren’t met, it can cause some distress and lead to undesirable chewing and behaviours.

Horses also produce saliva in response to chewing, which helps equines achieve optimal digestion again preventing possible health conditions. This is because, unlike humans, a horse constantly produces stomach acid, even when they’re not eating or their stomach is empty. Constantly having something to chew on helps produce a consistent amount of saliva which buffers the stomach acid.

Other things to consider when feeding a horse

If your horse feeds from pasture, it’s important to make sure that it’s free from poisonous plants like ragwort and foxglove.

Grass cuttings and garden waste should not be fed to horses as it increases the risk of a horse choking, make them incredibly ill and even has the potential to cause death. Poisonous plants could also be mowed up along with the other vegetation, which could cause additional harm.

Never make any sudden changes to a horse’s diet, this should be done gradually to avoid causing any stomach problems.

Always wait for your horse’s food to settle for about an hour before working fast like riding.

Feeding your horse little and often will ensure hindgut function and fermentation as it ensures the stomach is never empty.

If you are unsure of your horse’s nutritional requirements according to their weight, body condition score and work then speak to a veterinary professional or horse nutritionist who will be able to advise you. This way, you’ll be able to make sure that your equine is getting all it needs from its diet.

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