Horse Feeding: Best Feed & Grain for Horses
Authored by Tractor Supply Company
Authored by Tractor Supply Company
Horses need a balanced diet of high-quality hay, alfalfa, oats or grains, and vitamins and minerals. Whether you have a high-performance horse, a pregnant mare, foals or a breeding stallion, tailoring a horse’s diet to their purpose will keep them performing at their top level.
Horses are herbivores, and their natural diet is pasture grass and tender plants. The best horse feeds provide them with the protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals they need. Some feeds are designed to be the primary food of a horse’s diet, while other feeds are designed to provide horses eating hay, grass or different types of forage with the extra protein and energy they need to round out their nutrition.
A healthy horse diet is augmented with supplements. Supplements provide animals with the extra minerals, vitamins and other compounds they may require.
What do horses eat?
The elements of a basic horse diet typically consist of:
Hay and pasture for bulk and roughage
Horse’s eating habits start with grazing, where they eat small amounts of roughage regularly and continually. Twenty-four-hour access to pasture or hay is preferred, but if this isn’t practical, supply a minimum of 1% equivalent of the horse’s body weight in good quality roughage. Horses should be fed as often as possible and no less than two or three times per day. Knowing the protein level of your roughage source can also help you properly balance your horse’s diet.
Grains for energy
Grains are sometimes needed to boost the energy and protein in a horse’s diet. Balance the protein content of your horse’s grain mix with the protein level of the selected roughage to ensure their protein-to-calorie ratio is maintained within acceptable limits.
To know a horse’s grain needs, assess their body condition. Horses eating a healthy diet have ribs covered with a layer of fat but can be easily felt, and their topline—the span from the back of the neck to the rear—should appear fairly flat when viewed from the side.
Protein, fat and fiber from horse food
The daily amount of protein and amino acids a horse’s diet requires depends on their age, weight, growth rate, breed, health, metabolic rate and environmental conditions. The best horse feeds are designed to have the right amount of protein, fat and fiber for a particular animal. High-quality horse food specifically formulated for your horse’s life stage and activity level is the best option.
Alfalfa hay has more protein than regular hay. A horse eating alfalfa hay as bulk likely needs a grain mix with a lower protein content. Avoid feeding young, growing horses an excess amount of protein, as it’s associated with certain types of developmental orthopedic disease.
Minerals from fortified horse food
Do not haphazardly supplement individual minerals to a horse’s diet, since many minerals can cause more harm than good. A fortified horse food fed according to the label’s directions is a good way to ensure you’re meeting your horse’s mineral requirements.
Vitamins from a micro-nutrient
A mature, healthy horse eating feedstuffs can often meet their vitamin requirements via intestinal synthesis or metabolic synthesis. Young horses, performance horses, or horses under significant stress due to disease, environment or temperament may require vitamin supplements.
If you provide vitamin supplements, your horse will also require mineral supplements. The best solution is often a micronutrient supplement that contains both minerals and vitamins.
What do horses like to eat? Treats! Apple slices and carrots are traditional favorites, but celery, bananas, and pumpkin are also popular. Commercially made horse treats are another good option, especially when traveling. Remember to consider a treat’s place in a horse’s diet—too many can pack on unwanted weight.
Make fresh water available at all times. A horse’s average water consumption is approximately 10 to 15 gallons per day, and working horses or lactating mares may consume as much as 30 gallons or more within 24 hours. Water deficiency will get a horse into serious trouble faster than any other dietary problem.
Horses competing in long-distance events need access to drink when they are on the move. When the ride is completed, let them cool off before giving them free access to water.
Horse food comes in three forms (or a combination of the forms):
Equine minerals come in two forms:
Ask yourself the following questions when determining what type of feed your horse needs:
Question: My horse has trouble gaining and keeping on weight. What can I do?
Answer: A "hard keeper" requires high-energy horse food to gain and keep on weight. Also, be sure the horse is on a sound deworming program and have a vet check its teeth. Parasites and/or poor teeth greatly reduce the nutrition a horse gets from its feed.
Question: Is there one feed I can use for both my horses and my cattle?
Answer: Producer's Pride All Grain can be fed to both horses and cattle. However, other products specifically designed for horses and for cattle will do a much better job at ensuring the animals get proper nutrition. Note: We do not advocate feeding corn to horses. Corn is very high in soluble starch and energy, and it's very easy to founder or colic a horse using straight corn.
Question: At what age should I consider my horse an older or senior horse?
Answer: A horse is considered older or senior when it is 16 years or older, though this varies from animal to animal. Horse food for seniors is specifically designed for the needs and conditions of older animals. A horse with a history of poor nutrition, high parasite loads, overwork, or abuse will be a senior horse much earlier than a horse that has been properly cared for.
Question: Do horses eat meat?
Answer: Horses do not eat meat. In fact, horses have delicate digestive systems that meat can disrupt.