American Quarter Horse Diet: What do They Eat?

The perfect diet for an American Quarter Horse (AQH) can go a long way in determining its well-being.

As its owner, you should have a complete understanding of what your horse eats.

So, what do American Quarter Horses eat? American Quarter Horses mainly eat fresh grass, hay, and grains like rolled oats, bran, and barley. In order to supplement the required nutrition value, they can also be fed with supplements and concentrates.

American Quarter Horses like treats as well:

They eat carrots and apples as treats.

The main component of the American Quarter Horse’s diet is forage including hay, chaff, and pasture.

Before proceeding, let’s look into the dietary requirements of the magnificent American Quarter horse.

Dietary Requirements of American Quarter Horse

Like any other horse, American Quarter Horses need a healthy diet comprising of:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Fats
  • Minerals and Vitamins
  • Water

Given below is an explanation of each of these components with practical examples of where you can find them in an American Quarter Horse’s diet.


Starches, sugars, and fiber are collectively termed as carbohydrates.

American Quarter Horses get their carbs from pasture, hay, and grains like oats, barley, and barn.


Your American Quarter Horse can acquire the majority of its proteins through pasture, hay, and grains.

If the pasture or hay are protein deficient, then you will be needing a protein supplement in its diet.


American Quarter Horses can fulfill all their dietary requirement of fats through forage.

But if your horse is underweight or forage is unable to meet the dietary requirements of your horse, you might need to add concentrates and supplemental fats to fulfill the needs of your horse.


American Quarter Horses require minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, and chloride.

Horses that are not subject to heavy workload obtain all minerals except sodium from fresh hay or pasture.

Sodium is usually added to an American Quarter Horse’s diet as a block of salt which it can lick at its will.


Vitamins are an important component of your American Quarter Horse’s diet.

Your horse needs vitamins like vitamin A, D, E, K, and vitamin B complex.

Most of these vitamins are present in pasture and hay. Your AQH can also obtain vitamin D through exposure in sunlight.


Water is one of the most important nutrients for your American Quarter Horse. A 1000-pound American Quarter will be requiring 30-45 liters of water per day.

Like all breeds of horses when American Quarters are foals, they also drink milk. Goat’s milk can be used as a substitute if a mare’s milk is not available.

Factors Affecting the Dietary Requirements of American Quarter Horses

The dietary requirements of each quarter horse might differ depending upon its:

  • Age
  • Body weight
  • Workload

Here, I’ll give you a breakdown of how much food is required for every type of American Quarter based on the above-mentioned types.

Age as a factor for the American Quarter’s Diet

The dietary needs of foals, pregnant mares, lactating mares, and senior horses vary depending upon their age and stage of life.

For instance:

During the first 3 months:

All the dietary needs of the foals are fulfilled by the mare’s milk.

Diet for Baby American Quarters

When foals are around 1-3 weeks old, they start chewing hay or grass.

Somewhere around 10-12 weeks after the birth of a foal, mare’s milk is not enough to fulfill its nutritional needs.

At this stage:

A properly formulated feed as per the horse’s age (comprising of the right mix of proteins, carbs, calcium, and phosphorous) is introduced. i.e for a 4-month-old foal, 4 pounds of feed per day is given.

This feed is in addition to the free choice of hay or pasture for your American Quarter Horse.

Diet for Pregnant American Quarter Horses

In the case of pregnant mares, a supplemental feed containing 30% protein, 4% calcium, and 3% phosphorous along with their usual diet is fed.

Diet for Lactating American Quarter Horses

During lactation:

The amount of energy required by mares is twice the amount of energy required by an idle horse.

These energy requirements are fulfilled either by balancer pellets or completely formulated feeds.

I believe the Equinity horse supplement is perfect for horses of all ages. 

Senior American Quarter Horses and Their Diet

For senior American Quarters, the amount of hay for an 800 lb horse is about 4-6 pounds per day.

Dehydrated alfalfa may also be used for older horses as a rich source of protein.

Body weight as a factor for the American Quarter’s Diet

Your horse will need nutrition depending on its weight.

You can weigh your horse using a livestock scale and then decide the appropriate combination of feed required.

As a rule of thumb:

A horse should be fed at least 1% of its body weight.


You should be feeding your American Quarter Horse 1.5%-2% of its body weight.

That is:

A 1000 pound American Quarter Horse should be fed 15-20 pounds of forage per day.

Workload as a Factor For the American Quarter’s Diet

The third important factor in the dietary requirement of your horse is its workload.

Dietary needs will be different for a heavy workload horse from a maintenance horse.

We may explain workload of horses as:

Light Workload Horses

In light workload, an American Quarter horse works 1-3 hours per week comprising of 40% walk, 50% trot, and 10% canter.

The activities in this type of workload can be recreational riding, beginning of a training program or occasional show horses.

Moderate Workload Horses

An American Quarter Horse with a moderate workload has a 3-5 hour work week, comprising 30% walk, 55% trot, 10% canter, 5% gallop, jumping, and other skill work.

A moderate workload might include activities like recreational riding, school horses, beginning of training/breaking, frequent show horses, polo, and ranch work.

Heavy Workload Horses

If your horse is working 4-5 hour per week, which includes 20%walk, 50%trot, 15%canter, 15% gallop, jumping, and other skill work, then the workload of your horse is heavy.

The events under heavy workload are: ranch work, frequent & strenuous show horses, polo, and race training.

Extra Heavy Workload Horses

This workload varies from 1 hour per week speed work to 6-12 hour per week slow work.

Very heavy workload events are like racing and elite three day events.

As a general rule:

The harder the workload, the higher would be the dietary requirements of your horse.                                                                                     

How to Decide Appropriate Diet Keeping in View the Age, Weight, and Workload?


You should consult a vet and he will be in the best position to guide you about the dietary requirements of your horse in accordance with its age, weight, workload, and other specific needs, if any.

Ideal Eating Conditions For American Quarter Horses

Horses fulfill the majority of their dietary requirements with pasture or hay.

You must also remember that American Quarter Horses have relatively small stomachs with only one compartment.


Firstly, they cannot eat large amount of food at once.

Secondly, they aren’t ruminants therefore they can’t re-chew already eaten food.


The American Quarter Horse should have access to:

  • Good quality, clean hay or pasture that is free of weeds and dust
  • Water to drink at all times.

If you have good quality pasture or hay available, then you will be needing less concentrates and supplements for your American Quarter Horse.

Do You Need to Get Hay Tested for Your American Quarter Horse?

You might be thinking:

If your Quarter Horse is eating from a lush pasture or hay, then the majority of its dietary requirements should be fulfilled.

It’s not that simple, my friend. (I can see you rolling your eyes…)

Different kinds of hays have a different composition of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

The hay composition depends on the type of hay, soil quality, moisture and amount of sunlight available.


You need to get hay professionally tested to ensure adequate nutrition intake for your horse.

Knowing the components of hay will let you form a balanced diet for your American Quarter Horse.

You can get a list of  NFTA certified labs for hay testing , through the following link:

List of Certified Labs for Hay Testing

If you test your hay, you’ll know:

  • Its nutritional value
  • How to adjust your American Quarter Horse’s feed with relevance to its dietary needs

There is another important factor to the equation.

You need to know whether your horse is adequately fed or not?

But how would you know that?

Let’s find out:

Signs of Inadequately Fed American Quarter Horse

If your American Quarter Horse looks healthy, has a good amount of energy, has a steady temperament, and is maintaining a healthy weight, it means that its food intake is good.

Your Quarter Horse’s food could be a likely culprit if it is:

  • Overweight
  • Underweight
  • Hyperactive
  • Sick
  • Low on energy

Overweight American Quarter Horses

The average weight of a mature American Quarter Horse is between 431 to 544kg.

If you see a loss or gain in its weight, then it can be a big sign that your horse is inadequately fed.

Underweight American Quarter Horses

If your AQH is visibly week or you can count its ribs by looking at them, it means that your horse is not gaining enough weight.

Hyperactive American Quarter Horses


American Quarter Horses are very calm, gentle and steady tempered.

If you suspect that your Quarter Horse is suddenly being hot or hyper, you must look into some possible causes. Food could be one of them.

Sick American Quarter Horses

Food could be a major cause of any sickness in your horse.

Inappropriate food can even cause dental problems for your American Quarter.

American Quarter Horses Which are Low on Energy


Quarter Horses have good energy even on less food intake, but if yours visibly low on energy, you must look into its food composition

There can be other factors behind the aforementioned signs but you must look into the food and eating conditions of your horse as a first step.

You must be wondering:

What should you do if after evaluating the behavior, health, energy, and food of your American Quarter Horse, you find out that its food is inadequate in terms of nutrition?

 Improve the diet, obviously, but how?

You may fulfill the deficient dietary requirements by adding concentrates and supplements in the diet your quarter horse.

Concentrates Used For American Quarter Horse’s Diet

A concentrate is a mixture of grains, cereals, and minerals used to supplement the diet of your quarter horse.

Different concentrates are used for American Quarter Horses, depending on the desired end result like weight gain, energy gain, or enhancing overall health.

Some of the popular natural concentrates are:

  • Rolled oats
  • Barley
  • Beet pulp
  • Sweet Feed Mix
  • Pelleted concentrates
  • Hay cubes

Supplements Used For American Quarter Horse’s Diet

Technically speaking:

Anything additional to a forage diet is a supplement for your Quarter Horse.

But in horse feed, we call a mineral/vitamin mix which is added to their usual diet as a supplement.

If your horse suffers from cracked and damaged hooves, you should certainly try this supplement. It is known to heal them fast and provide hoof strength.

Similarly, vitamin deficiencies can also be eradicated with the use of supplements.

Some of the popular supplements for horses are:

  • Joint care Supplements
  • Weight Loss Supplements
  • Magnesium Supplements
  • Digestive Support Supplements

How To Choose A Concentrate or Supplement For American Quarter Horses?

You might be wondering:

Does my Quarter Horse need a supplement in its diet?

Self-supplementing is never advised and we very well know that ‘excess of anything is bad’, right?


The best approach would be to choose a concentrate or supplement after consultation with your vet or an equine nutritionist.

Tell all the necessary details to the professional and make an informed decision for your beloved American Quarter Horse.

Unusual Eating Habits of American Quarter Horses      

Like all other horses, your American Quarter Horse might develop unusual eating habits like eating:

  • Manure
  • Dirt

Usually these habits are due to some vitamin or mineral deficiencies and is a sign that you do in fact need to add supplements to your horse’s diet.

If your Quarter Horse develops an unusual eating habit, then a consultation with the vet is necessary.

Related Questions

How much does an American Quarter Horse eat per day? An adult Quarter Horse eats 1.5-2% of its body weight per day.

An average 1000-pound Quarter Horse that relies on hay for all its forage approximately eats 15-20 pounds hay per day.

All the decisions regarding the dietary requirements of the American Quarter Horses should be made considering their age, body weight, and workload.

Can you overfeed an American Quarter Horse? Yes, it is quite possible that you overfeed your horse.

This can result in excess weight gain, indigestion,  colic, bowel obstruction, and even death if not corrected well within time.

If horses are left without food for long intervals of time, they can very easily overfeed themselves once the food is provided.

Small portions of food in accordance with the dietary needs throughout the day is the key to a well-fed horse.

Are American Quarter Horses good for beginners? Yes, due to their even temper, balanced gait, desire to please their master, ability to learn quickly, and cooperative nature, they are excellent for beginners.

Once trained, American Quarter Horses need little guidance from their riders.

Is it okay to feed horses once a day? No, horses have comparatively tiny stomachs with only one compartment. In order to be fully fed, they need a small amount of food several times a day.


Clean and nutritious pasture or hay, and water should be available to the horses throughout the day.

Other Sources

Photo credits:

Evelyn Belgium CC BY-SA 4.0, via Flickr.

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