Why is horse nutrition important?
Horse nutrition is important since they are living beings. Therefore they have to eat to fuel their bodies and get the vital nutrients they need to be healthy. There are a lot of things that they CAN eat, but are they all going to help your horse in the long run? Probably not. It can be difficult weeding through all the various information, but the more effort you put in, the better it will be for your horse. That’s why it’s important to have a plan for providing the best nutrition to your horse.
What does a horse eat?
Horses are vegetarians. They eat plant fiber that’s digested in their stomach and intestines. Their digestive systems are extremely sensitive. You need to feed quality foods that are free of mold and contaminates. Horses can’t vomit so they need to get clean, high quality feed to keep that sensitive system working its best.
What are the basics of horse nutrition?
- Water: probably the most important single ingredient. Most horses need 5-10 gallons of water a day, depending on level of activity, weather, etc.
- Carbohydrates: the main source of energy. On average, a horse needs 3% of its body weight in hay and other feed. In other terms, it should take at least 1 1/2 to 2 hours for your horse to finish eating.
- Fats: a highly concentrated source of calories that help horses gain weight. They also help the body absorb fat soluble vitamins and supply essential fatty acids that the horse needs to be healthy. Usually feeds which contain less than 2-10% fats are enough.
- Protein: found in hay and grains, helps build muscle. Most horses require around 8-10% of their diet to be protein. Too much protein can lead to kidney difficulties, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Inadequate horse nutrition can result in poor coat and hoof quality, and low energy levels.
- Vitamins and minerals: necessary for the various functions of the body. Most feeds are usually formulated to provide necessary nutrients.
Hay and grain, a major part of horse nutrition
Hay should make up well over half of your horse’s meal. You can feed grass hay, legume hay (usually alfalfa) or a mix of both. Opinions vary on exactly which to feed and why. In general, grass hay is lower in protein and energy than legume hay. This means it takes more grass hay to meet calorie and nutrient needs. Since horses are built to graze most of the time, eating more grass helps them keep their digestive system active without extra nutrients.
Legume hay may provide the added energy needed by hard working or lactating horses, but should not be feed to extreme. The higher protein can be hard on the kidneys and too much for many horses.
Grain is a standard for many horse owners. It has fats, vitamins and minerals that are helpful to your horse. But it should be fed within limits. According to some sources, even horses that are very active shouldn’t have more than 5 pounds per meal. If your horse has lower energy demands, feeding less grain is better.
Is there one correct way to feed?
You can talk to all the horse “experts” and get a different opinion on horse nutrition from each one. And they probably all have some good points. But how do you decide what YOU are going to feed YOUR horse?
Balanced nutrition for your horse means feeding appropriate amounts of each component. You’ll want to do research on the hay and feed your horse is getting to make sure they’re getting everything in the right amounts for their needs. Talk to your vet for expert advice and observe your horse for signs of wellness or lack. Then adjust your routine as needed so you can keep your horse healthy.
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