How Much Feed and What to Feed Your Horse
The Basic Amounts of Food a Horse Needs Everyday
So, to start with let’s take an average horse of around 16.1hh and in light to moderate work they will need to eat 1.5-2% of its bodyweight in food intake each day. At least half of that should be in grass or hay. So our average horse is around 500kg (16.1hh in good condition) and they will need to eat about 10Kg per day to maintain condition, that’s the baseline without allowing for hard work or light condition. Underdone horses or those expected to perform (competitions or breeding) will need closer to 12Kg – 15Kg a day.
Horses will usually eat about 8-10Kgs of pasture in a 24-hour day. (Make an adjustment in that assessment if your horse happens to be stressed in the paddock, e.g., fence walking, or the pasture is really not good quality). Therefore normally very little additional feed will need to be given to our average size horse in light work and good condition on good to average pasture– say a maximum of 1 or 2Kg per day of balanced feed.(see below).
Now there are only a limited number of these perfectly average horses, so we need to make adjustments for others that are either -underweight or hard working or – larger or smaller in size – high energy or quiet laid-back types – young and growing etc.
How do you Know the Weight and Size of the Horse?
Knowing the weight of your horse is important, not just for feeding purposes, but also doses of wormers, medications etc. Ideally take them to a place with a scale – sometimes they are at major shows. Alternatively use a weight tape – it is not so accurate as scales but should be close enough for feed calculations. With such a tape you can keep an eye on weight loss and weight gain. If you use scales, then do the weight tape too and note any difference and then adjust for that when you use the tape alone in future.
There are calculated formulas using a measurement taken right around the girth (about a hands width back from the elbow). Also measure the distance from the point of the shoulder in a straight line to the point of the buttock on that side. Take the girth x2 and add the length – all in centimetres and then divide by 11877 to get an estimate of the weight of the horse in Kgs. This is a guide as it is not as accurate as scales or even the weight tape. So knowing the weight of your horse, you can then work out how much extra feed he needs everyday.
Feeding for Your Horses Weight and Size
Good Condition Relaxed Horses Weight Fair pasture Light Work Performance Horse
Pony 13hh-14.2hh 150kg 0* 0*
Small Horse 15.2hh 450kg 0* 0* 1-2kg
Average Horse 16.1hh 500kg 0* 1-2kg 5k
Tall Horse 17hh 600kg 2kg 2-3kg 5-6kg
Tall Large Build 17hh 700kg 2.5-3kg 3-4kg 6kg
*Every horse will need some supplements (especially minerals), so a small handful of feed is necessary for those not on full feeds and as a reward after a work session.
This is purely a guide to show the relative differences between horse sizes. Knowing your horse is important – are they: a good grazer, are they regularly worked or left out for a period then brought into work for a period, are they in a light condition and not easy to gain weight, are they inclined to gain weight easily, are they stabled at night -or all of the time, is it winter or summer, how good is the pasture?
The decision of how much additional concentrated feed must be based on these individual factors. A thin horse will need building up slowly with additional feed until it reaches a more optimal weight. Overweight horses should not be given extra feed,
This is where the human assesses from the basics to provide an individual intake to compensate for all factors. Making adjustments will be necessary.
It is also important to note that no more than 2kg of concentrated feed should be given at one time, so daily intake above that must be broken down into smaller feeds.
Equine Feed - Balance of Fibre- Fat- Protein and Carbohydrates
When giving additional feed it is really important that it is a balanced mix of fibre, protein, fat and carbohydrates. Many owners are reluctant to feed any carbohydrates thinking they will create too much quick energy and make the horse tricky to ride. There is a tendency to feed Cool or low GI feeds which are expensive, often very high in protein and they don’t actually make a horse calmer.
Carbohydrates are essential for condition, for some energy and for the key conversion of fat to a slow energy release (ketosis). Pasture will provide the carbohydrates for condition, but horses in work (other than light hacking etc) – or underweight will need some additional carbohydrates. Grain is the main source and processed grains such as extruded barley or crushed oats are ideal. Maize should be avoided as the energy level is too high for most horses, difficult to fully digest and can affect attitudes etc. Check out labels on feeds for addition of maize.
Fat can be fed in the form of rice bran, copra meal or oil.,. It provides condition and a slow release of energy. Copra meal will need the addition of Lysine.
Fibre comes from the pasture and the addition of chaff… At least 50% of the diet should be fibre (forage – grass – hay – chaff- haylage).
Protein should be between 8 to 11% of the diet. Main sources are lucerne chaff, pasture, soybean meal. When looking at labels – crude protein indicates the total amount of protein in a feed . Digestible protein is the actual amount used by the horse. Most natural protein is 75% digestible, so if a feed contains 10% crude protein it will actually have about 7.5% digestible protein.
A typical diet for a horse in light condition and some work, needing to gain weight and allowed 24 hour access to average pasture and/or hay will need two additional feeds a day providing an additional total 4-5Kgs, and made up of fibre, fat, protein and carbohydrates. Each feed can be for example:
1 Kg of fibre such as chaff (Lucerne or oat chaff) or fibre-mix, 1 Kg of fat meal (soybean, copra, rice bran), 500gms grain suggested processed (boiled or micronized or extruded) barley. Supplement with a good full formula mineral mix and electrolytes. Oil can be added as part of the fat but keep to a maximum of 200 ml a day and make sure it has been stored in a cool place for no longer than 30 days or it may be rancid.
How to Feed Your Horse Economically
Horses are expensive animals to keep, and it is important that they are fed correctly with enough nutrition for good health and the ability to do the level of work that is being asked of them. It is convenient and easy to use a premix feed and there is a large selection to choose from. It is advisable to talk to premix manufacturers to get advice on the ideal feed for your particular horse- their condition and required workload need to be taken into account. If those factors change (eg they are turned out) then the feed selected should be changed. There is an old saying that is very appropriate: “Feed according to work done”.
Always read the label and the suggested feed weights, check for additives like maize, also unnecessary selenium. Assess, based on the information above, as to how much to feed, many premix feeds suggest high volumes (5-7Kgs per day) and that may not be accurate for your horse. Stick to one premix that is the right mix and don’t add a dipper of this and that or other premixes. Just add chaff or other forage source. It is expensive to over feed.
There is a current demand for low GI or Cool feeds, mainly from owners who are worried about containing the energy of their horse. Often this relates to the skill of the rider, an intermittent work pattern ( eg weekends only) , the type of horse ( maybe too sensitive ), a lack of some supplements. Often these horses just don’t need feeding, filling them up with low nutrition bulk or high protein additives like lupins, is a waste of money. Protein is the most expensive part of the diet and being high is very negative to the health of the horse. If the pasture is insufficient then supplement with hay and other forage. A small handful of a mix of a fat meal with necessary supplements will suffice and save a lot of money. Fat is a good safe slow release energy and copra meal or rice bran etc is very economic.
For the horse needing to have additional intake there is no doubt premix feeds are the more expensive way to go and are used because many owners don’t have the knowledge, or the time to create a feed from basics. However, when budgets are tight this is the solution. It has been so for the hundreds of years before premix feeds were invented.
As discussed above a correct mix can be put together with a source of fibre, fat, protein and carbohydrates, it can easily be adjusted as conditions change. For example, work level changes so reduce the carbohydrates, horse gains too much condition reduce the fat, loses condition increase the fat – maybe add another source. Issue such as tying up will need all grain to be removed from the mix. Always maintain a high level of fibre both in a feed but also on a 24 hour basis with pasture and or hay/ haylage.
Even if a premix can be afforded then use that as a base and when necessary adjust by just adding the appropriate ingredient to provide for a particular need.
Finally, to do the best for your horse and your budget – take the time to learn and research about feed. Read the labels. talk to experienced professionals and decide if your horse really does need all the stuff in the feed bucket. Keep it simple and that will keep it economic.