Important tips on horse nutrition and health

Every animal needs love and care from humans, especially one of the world’s loveliest creatures—horses. These rare, unique and beautiful animals are a sight to behold whether owned for sports, companionship, transportation, or other productive activities. Providing horses with solid health care therefore comes with good sense of responsibility, first, because it keeps the animals free of diseases, and secondly, extends their life span thereby improving horse owners’ joy, self-fulfilment, and pride. This is more so because good equine husbandry is a sine qua non for healthier animal life, and this highlights the importance of preventive care. “Prevention is better than cure,” they always say. This article contains a brief summary of nutrition and healthcare tips every horse owner should know:

Quality food and good health

Horses need adequate rations of water, protein, vitamins, minerals, and energy to maintain optimal performance for a long time. Their overall health status is determined – to a large extent — by how they are fed. For example, findings show that improper feeding can cause health issues such as impaired freedom of movement marked by soreness and stiffness, exposure to contagious diseases, and indigestion or abdominal pain whereas excessive, deficiency, or imbalance in nutrient rations also affect equine health and performance. Proper quantities of food nutrients and water are essential for horses to live healthier lives.

What you should know about feeding horses:

Fact 1: Horses are forage eaters.

Fact 2: Horses spend around 18 hours every day grazing across long distances.

Fact 3: Their intestines can contain up to 5 gallons of water and this reduces the quantity of food they can consume at a time.

Fact 4. Horses feed better when allowed to gnaw continuously because their digestive system functions better when processing food in small quantities.

Feeding the horses

A horse’s most natural food is pasture (i.e. grass). The animals, particularly those performing less strenuous jobs, derive pleasure from feeding alone if they have ample time to graze quality forage in the pasture.

However, hay (such as fescue, timothy or orchard grass) or a mixture of grass and hay provide more options for nutritious food when pasture is less sufficient.

Where grass hay is the only available food, a horse weighing up to 100 pounds will consume about 2 pounds of food to stay healthy, strong and active. This quantity of food is better split into two or four per feeding time to maintain a good body weight. But horses may feed more than the specified quantity and over a longer period if hay quality is more mature and contains less nutrients or offered as a supplement to standard pasture meals.

Horse owners therefore need to acquire experience in food and time management to ensure the animals are constantly in good health condition.

Measuring good health and quality food

A horse’s health condition is easily ascertained by a close examination of the ribs which, if seen or easily felt by the hands, indicates malnutrition. Use of an equine height tape also provides reliable information on the horse’s weight. In addition, top measuring scales are useful in measuring hay weight and quality. Grass is considered “good quality” if leafy but the grade of hay is rated low if it contains excessive dust, musty smell or mold.

Tips on taking care of horses

  • Horses feed on grass, hay, or a mixture of both—with good doses of salt—to maintain a balanced diet. However, you should consider the animal’s age, quality of forage, and energy consumption to know what rations of protein supplements or minerals/vitamins they need. There are lots of forage-based supplements available from feed manufacturers. A mature horse usually feeds between 1 to 2 pounds every day.
  • Horses may consume less than the required quantities of food if they are pregnant, overworked, or raising young ones. Their limitation on food intake capacity is controlled with supplementary diets made from grain and concentrate. This should be served strictly on recommendations (based on body condition) from the manufacturer. Diet should be served slowly and in small amounts. To enhance performance of the horse’s digestive system when there is limitation on food consumption, forage servings per day should maintain about 2 pounds for animals weighing 100 pounds.