What Do Horses Eat? Horse Nutrition, Diet, Health Tips

What Do Horses Eat? Horse Nutrition, Diet, Health Tips

My daughter loves horses.

This made me decide to get her a horse on her 13th birthday as I knew it would make her ecstatic.

Of course, having a pet horse would also mean taking care of it.

Hence, I began my research on what horses ate and how to keep them healthy and strong.

What do horses eat? The basic food requirements of all horses are fresh grass, forage, pasture, hay, some amount of grains, fruits and vegetable treats, along with some salts and minerals.

If you want to understand what it takes to care for a horse, particularly regarding its diet, read on to discover more. Because in this article, I’ve covered everything there is about horse diet and nutrition.

What do Horses Like to Eat?

All horses are herbivores, which means they love to eat a variety of plants.

From grass to hay, forage to pasture, fruits to vegetables, horses can eat all kinds of plants.

The question you may be wondering about right now is, what exactly is the nutrition that a horse needs for perfect health?

Here is a chart to help you understand that better.

Silica Silica is needed for strong teeth in horses
High Fiber content High fiber aids in creating a powerful body as well as a healthy mind
Vitamins and minerals Vitamins and minerals, when adequate, save the horse from diseases and injuries
Digestible Energy This means instant energy that is acquired on the digestion of food they ingest.
Proteins Are needed for their bone health, as well as dental health
Carbohydrates This is what gives the energy horses need to function

These are a few of the basic nutrients that horses need.

This, of course, does not answer the question on what exactly it is that you should feed your horse.

Horses, as mentioned above, can eat pretty much all types of plant life.

However, there are some foods they prefer over others like grass over hay. But feeding grass all the time isn’t feasible in all weather conditions.

So:

What are the other things that horses can consume that are beneficial for their health?

Horses should be fed fresh grass, forage, pasture grass, hay, some amount of grains, fruits and vegetable treats, along with some salts and minerals.

Now:

What quantity should the horse be given food in?

The answer to this depends on its age, type and work the horse does.

You will also need to keep into consideration the physical activity and overall health condition of the horse when feeding it.

A general rule of the thumb is that for every 100 pound of horse body weight, it needs 2 to 2.2 pounds of feed.

What’s more, a horse is not fed the entire food in one go.

Rather, it needs to be fed small quantities many times a day as that aids its digestion process and helps with the better absorption of food.

Fresh Pasture or Grass?

The most favorite food for a horse is fresh green grass or pasture, also known as foliage. It’s the natural diet of horses, and this is why they can consume it by the truckload.

Fresh pasture contains all the nutrition that a horse needs in order to keep its body and brain active and healthy.

It contains silica which is essential for the dental health of the horse.

Since horses love fresh grass, you’ll need to keep a strict eye on how much of it they consume.

If you are leaving them in a pasture to graze, maintain a vigilant eye and note the amount they intake.

This way, there’ll be no overfeeding. Some horses who are not used to lush pasture could have a hard time digesting it, which is why it needs to be introduced gradually and in smaller amounts.

Hay for Horses

It is simply not possible to provide a horse with fresh green grass or pasture all year round.

This is where hay comes in the picture as it’s a substitute for grass. It is, of course, not the first preference. But most certainly, it’s the next best choice for your horse’s dietary needs.

The one thing you need to pay attention to when getting hay is that it should contain all the right vitamins and minerals.

Yet, there are some horses that have a difficult time digesting hay that is too rich in nutrients.

This is why you will have to keep an eye on how well your horse is consuming hay and whether or not you will need to change the type of hay you are giving them.

Concentrates

Concentrates are basically mixtures of molasses, flax seeds, grains and beat pulp that aid in the fulfillment of energy, vitamins, minerals, and bran.

Mixes are available commercially that you can purchase directly from the stores, or you can come up with your own mixes right at home to suit the specific needs of your horses.

For example:

If you have a racehorse, he will need a different level of energy and endurance as compared to a horse that performs in shows or one that works on a farm.

The reason why concentrate mixes are so important is that they help in making up for any kind of shortfall in the horse’s diet 

Try Purina Race Ready if you’re looking for a high-quality horse concentrate that professional racehorses use. It’s one of the best in the market and provides a great amount of energy for horses of all types.

These concentrates also provide a quick burst of energy that might perk up your horse for an upcoming race or any other form of exertion.

Nursing mares, working horses, performance horses or mares, all benefit from the consumption of concrete mixes along with hay or grass.

What Minerals and Salts Do Horses Need?

Yes, horses also need minerals and salts in order to fulfill their nutritional needs.

Loose salt that is combined in their pasture or salt blocks can be given to the horse in order to curb their cravings.

You will, of course, have to keep in consideration that you do not overdose them on these salts, as salts could be dangerous to a horse’s health if ingested in huge amounts.

Just keep an eye on the concentrate that the horses are consuming as to check the ingredients present in them.

As for minerals, there are certain horse food salts that already contain minerals in them.

If you’re looking for one, try out Redmond Rock’s Crushed Mineral Salt. (Seriously, I was amazed to find it at such a great price on Amazon.)

You can either get these or offer free-choice minerals to your horses, mixed in their concentrate meal.

Some horse owners believe that more salt is needed by the horses during the summer season as compared to the winters.

Grains

If you’re wondering, “do horses eat oats”, then they sure do. Oats are the traditional grains that are fed to horses, and boy, do they love them!

You will need to be a little careful about how much of these grains your horses consume because too much can hurt their digestive system.

Some other grains the horses can eat are corn and seed head of grasses, which is what they eat in the wild. Wheat isn’t well-adjusted to a horse’s diet which is why you should avoid giving it at any point in time.

Remember:

The modern procedure of growing grains makes them unsafe for horses to consume. Hence, it’s best to avoid grains. Even if you decide to go ahead with them, keep a strict eye on the amount of grains consumed. 

The reason is that grains don’t really require a lot of chewing, nor do they contain silica which improves a horse’s health.

Since grains are digested easily and quickly too, they do not benefit the digestive tract either.

What do Horses Eat For Treats

As mentioned above, horses can safely consume almost all kinds of plant life, including most fruits and vegetables.

What you as the horse guardian need to understand though is that horses aren’t fed fruits and veggies as their routine diet, but rather as treats.

If you have ever been around pets, you would know that they love getting special treats from their owners and trainers.

This encourages them to perform their tasks and work better and also keeps them happy.

Hence, fruits and veggies are the perfect treats that you can give to your horse.

Some favorite fruits of horses are apples and carrots.

If you don’t want to feed apples to your horse, you can buy a quality apple treat for horses. My personal favorite is Manna Pro’s Apple-Flavored Nuggets.

Horses also love to have sugar cubes as treats, but these should be given in very limited quantities, particularly if the horse is overweight and you’re trying to help it shed some pounds.

How Much Water Do Horses Drink?

According to Pensylvania State University, horses can drink 5-10 gallons of water in 24 hours. Horses need to have fresh and clean water as much as possible throughout the day.

If you have a show horse or a horse that has some errands to run or work to do, then make sure that you give water at least 2-3 times a day.

Water must never be given immediately after a meal as that could lead to blockage due to undigested food quickly moving through the digestive tract.

If you live in a cold region, you will need to ensure that your horse’s water does not freeze.

Water is also a source of relief for horses that sweat too much or those that are tired.

What to Never feed a Horse?

There are certain things that you must never feed your horse as they could be hazardous for its health.

Bran items like wheat and rice bran are foods not recommended for horses. 

Why?

This is because bran can lead to a mineral imbalance among horses.

Lawn clippings, compostable and garden refuse may also contain plants toxic to horses, so make sure you never feed that either.

Some other plants that can cause harm to your horses include wild blue flax, oleander, water hemlock, yew, milkweed, elderberry, and foxglove.

Azaleas, horse chestnut, and laurel can lead to diarrhea and colic among horses.

Make sure you inform your younger kids handling horses never to feed them anything other than the horse diet that you have already explained to them.

It is ideal that an adult supervises the feedings at all times so the horse is fed all the right things.

How Much and When Should Your Horse Eat?

As mentioned above, a horse needs to feed in smaller portions throughout the day, instead of having one large meal twice a day.

This means they can have a variety of food in one day.

Remember:

Every horse has different needs.

Some need more food than others because of their physical exertion.

The size of the horse also warrants the amount of food he has.

An average thousand-pound horse needs roughly 15-20 pounds of hay per day.

Make sure that you never feed your horse immediately after work.

Once they have cooled down completely, only then should you give them their food.

Also:

Ensure that horses are not made to work out immediately after eating.

This can damage the digestive system.

Therefore, ensure that a horse is fed 4-5 times a day in small quantities in order to keep their body healthy. Make sure you don’t feed them when they’ve just returned from strenuous work.

Some Dietary Tips For Horses

Here are some tips that will help to ensure that your horse remains healthy and active.

  • Most horses these days are becoming obese or facing health concerns because they eat more than they are burning off (just like us humans!) It is best to give them food in limited quantities and make sure that they work off what they eat.
  • 70% of the horse’s daily calories should come from hay or pasture. Avoid giving it cereal grains like barley, oats, and corn if your horse is gaining weight.
  • Daily exercise is a must for losing and maintaining weight.
  • Limit the amount of pasture that the horse is consuming to less than 4 hours a day.
  • Keep the amount of hay that your horse intakes to 1-1.5% of the targeted body weight.
  • Give your horse grass forage and hay when it is on a diet instead of legumes, grains or even concentrate mixes.

Now, you know everything needed for horse care in terms of their diet and health.

Consider the reason why and what type of horse you need to look after and then give them their feed accordingly.

Keep in mind, the healthier your horse is, the better they will be able to perform, be it as a farm aid, show horse or for racing purposes.

If, like me, you are looking to keep it as a pet and use it to train youngster how to ride, you need a horse who is friendly and easy to manage.

This kind of horse will not give you any kind of difficulty when you or your younger loved one feeds him.

Related Questions

What are the things that horses naturally eat?

Since horses are herbivores, the natural horse diet includes plants and grass.

Horses love to eat pasture grass, as well as tender plants.

Pasture that is flourishing and healthy contains all the nutrition a horse needs to remain fit and strong.

Good pasture contains silica which is important for the dental health of horses.

They also have a long digestive system which needs a fiber-rich diet, which is to be ingested over a long period of time in smaller quantities.

Therefore, grass and plants are the perfect food for them.

What exactly is the best feed for horses?

Horses need food that is rich in fiber and silica.

The best food for a horse’s health is good-quality forage.

It contains all the nutritional elements a horse needs for a strong body and brain.

They have a long digestive system which is why they need smaller quantities of food throughout the day.

In simple words, horses need to feed frequently in order to maintain gastrointestinal health.

What do horses eat when they live in the wild?

Whether they live in captivity or in the wilderness, horses love to eat forage, grass and tender plants.

This is because these food items are rich in all the nutrition the horses need for a healthy body and brain.

Wild horses consume grass and other plants, along with water from streams and lakes.

Adult horses eat somewhere around 5-6 pounds of plant food every day.

What is the list of foods horses consume?

Horses prefer fresh grass, hay, and other types of pasture.

They also eat fruits and vegetables, but prefer some more over the other.

Some of the best treats for horses are carrots and apples as they love to munch on these vegetable/fruits.

It is also safe to give strawberries, raisins, pumpkin, melons, grapes, bananas, cantaloupe, snow peas and celery to horses.

But the perfect food for horses is one that is rich in fiber like grass and other types of forage.

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