Adeptus
Indiana Horse Racing Commission

The Essential Rules of Feeding Horses

Feeding your horse or pony can sometimes be confusing and getting the balance right can be tricky! In this article, we are going to explain the essential rules of feeding that are designed to enable the horse to digest feed efficiently and promote good gut health.

Feed Little And Often
The horse’s stomach is only the size of a rugby ball and so can’t accommodate large meals. As fibre takes longer to eat than cereal mixes and cubes there is no need to restrict the amount fed whereas cereal-based feeds should only be fed in small quantities at any one time.

Regular Dental Checks
If a horse can’t chew their feed properly then it can compromise the rest of the digestive process. As horses are living longer they are more likely to suffer with dental problems, including losing teeth. Ensuring that horses with poor dentition have access to fibre they can chew easily is vital for their health and condition. Research has shown that high fibre horse feed is better for dental health than mixes or pelleted feeds.

Use Digestible Feed Ingredients
The small intestine is the site of absorption for protein, fats, oils and some starch. The amount of starch absorbed in the small intestine can be increased by cooking – just as you wouldn’t eat raw potatoes, the horse shouldn’t be eating raw cereals. The exception is traditional oats as they are difficult to cook due to their high fibre content. Excess starch can pass into the hindgut, where it can cause problems such as colic and laminitis.

Feed Plenty Of Fibre
Fibre has many functions throughout the horse’s digestive system but it is in the hindgut where it is utilised by microorganisms such as bacteria to produce energy and nutrients such as B vitamins. Fibre digesting bacteria have important functions in the horse’s gut, including keeping harmful species of bacteria at bay. Heat is also produced as a by-product of fibre digestion and so high fibre diets help to keep your horse warm.

Feed According To Your Horse’s Weight And Workload
The amount and type of horse feed you give your horse are both factors that can affect their behaviour and weight management. Feed according to your horse’s individual temperament, condition and workload. You don’t want to end up with a fat, lethargic horse or one that is too fizzy and excitable. Horse feeds high in sugar and starch provide horses with quick release energy whereas fibre and oil-based feeds are slow release energy sources.

Provide A Balanced Diet
Whilst UK pasture and forage can supply horses with plenty of energy and calories, typically it lacks certain trace minerals including copper, selenium and zinc and conserved forage e.g hay and haylage also lacks vitamin E. Ensuring your horse has a balanced diet is important for their long-term health and longevity. When you are not feeding a fortified feed or are feeding less than the recommended amount top-up with a vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer to ensure your horse receives a balanced diet.

Avoid Making Sudden Changes to Your Horses Diet
The bacteria in the horse’s digestive system like to live in a stable environment. Sudden changes to your horse’s diet can cause bacteria to die off as their environment becomes less hospitable. This can result in the production of toxins, which may result in problems such as digestive disturbance.

Ensure Your Horse Has Access To Water
Around two thirds of a horse’s bodyweight is water so it is no surprise that dehydration can compromise their health and performance. Ironically, horses often don’t like clean water, much preferring the water from tanks in their field. When competing away from home it is a good idea to take your own water or use flavourings to mask the change.

Implement Good Hygiene
Washing out feed buckets and scoops helps to avoid digestive upsets as well as putting your horse off eating. Where horses are competing under rules it is important to ensure that no contamination has occurred with medications that are being used for other horses. Good stock management is also important to ensure that older product is used first.

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