basic dietary requirements for a horse are divided into 6 major categories
which we will deal with here.
Water - it is the most overlooked nutrients. Average consumption is
43-65litres per day, and the horse requires this amount to maintain it's
metabolic rate as an average 500kg mature horse's body contains between
325-375 litres of water - working horses or pregnant or lactating
mares will use and require up to 130litres per day. Long distance
endurance horses should be allowed to drink where ever and whenever there
is water available, and should be allowed as much as they want after they
have cooled down to rehydrate.
Bulk (roughage) - all horses require bulk in the form of roughage
in the forms of hays (either legume, cereal or grass) to maintain gut fill
and to obtain their supply of digestible energy in order to maintain
metabolic rates. Remember, horses are designed as continual grazers of
roughage, and eat small amount on a continual basis. If they don't get an
adequate amount of bulk on a continual basis, their digestive system will
not function properly, and the horse will not be able to function
properly. The preferred method of providing this bulk to horses is in the
form of 24 hr/day grazing, however in some instances this is not possible,
and their feed requirement will need to be supplemented. It must be
supplemented by -
quality roughage free of poisons or poisonous weeds or other plant matter,
moulds or other contaminants.
the roughage or pasture at a minimum rate of 1.5% of the horse's
bodyweight - for an idle horse. Working, pregnant or lactating mares and
stallions in stud season have a greater requirement according to the level
of work being performed.
work (15-20minutes walking, jogging/trotting) the level will rise to
work, or stallions in stud season(30-40mins per day loping/cantering) have
a requirement of 2% bodyweight, and
or intense workout (45-60+ mins/day loping/cantering, galloping, jumping
etc.) require 3% bodyweight in roughage.
Roughly this requirement for an average mature horse of 500kg is-
moderate wk/10kg; &
Intense work/15kg of roughage per day.
remember all horses have a different requirement and should be fed as
individuals, but it vital to maintain good health that they get their
roughage requirement, and feed daily at the rate they will be worked, not
simply kept on one ration because it is easy. Somewhere along the line,
you will find you'll turn the horse out for a spell for a couple of days,
and if it is a high level eventing or performance horse and still on the
same ration as when it is performing, then you will find behavioural
problems start to rear their ugly little heads.
Energy - the requirement for digestible energy in the horse is
fairly easy to establish simply by looking at the horse. If it is fat or
obese, then it will require less megajoules per day, if it is poor and
thin, then the energy requirement will soar dramatically. Remember, it is
easy to keep a horse in good condition once a weight level has been
established. If the horse has been in energy deficit for a prolonged
period of time, then it will be a costly and long experience to bring it
back up to the required condition for it to be able to perform or function
at optimum levels.
Australia we refer to the energy content in terms of Megajoules (Mj.) in
the USA it is referred to as Megacalories (Mcal). If you need to convert
Mcal. To Mj. Simply multiply the Mcals by 4.185 and this will give the
same amount in Mj. The requirement for energy in the working, pregnant or
lactating horse is also greater than for the idle horse.
formula to work out the required amount of energy is - 1.4 + (0.03*
average idle 500kg horse will look like this - 1.4+(0.03*500)*4.185=
requirement advances as the work load or intensity increases.
Protein (amino acids) - Protein requirements for horses are as not
as critical as feed manufacturers would have us believe, horses do have a
requirement for good quality protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. A
horse requires 22 amino acids. It synthesises all but 10 of these, and
they are provided in good quality protein meals such as soybean meal, rice
bran, etc. Protein IS however a major consideration for pregnant and
lactating mares and young growing horses. Amino acids such as Lysine and
Threonine are what is known as 'limiting amino acids', and without these
products, the young growing horse will simply not develop into the horse
you'd imagined due to stunted growth and the limbs and bones not
developing properly. Protein is important in that it is the ingredient
that repairs and maintains muscle mass that is either growing due to
exercise, or has been damaged and need repair of replacement due to
exercise etc. excess protein has also been associated with the syndrome
known as 'tying up', as has the feeding of greater than average amounts of
grains that contain high levels of starches.
An average mature horse will have a protein requirement of about 8%
of its feed, whereas the working horse and pregnant or lactating mare has
a requirement of about 10%, and the growing horse (yearling) has about a
14% requirement. (these figures are on a dry matter kg. base, or
80grams/kg; 100grams/kg; and 140grams/kg).
is also important NOT to overfeed young growing horses on protein or over
feed DE as it can cause DOD's (developmental orthopaedic diseases) bent
and angular limbs, osteochondrosis dissecans etc.
mention founder etc.
Minerals - mineral requirements are very complex and quite often
misunderstood in their requirement or added to with 'natural' feeding
regimes without the person knowing what or why they are feeding the
particular minerals which seem to come to the surface whenever people get
on websites and take advice from people who don't know what they are
talking about. This is a dangerous practice and should be avoided as a
balance between minerals is vital to a horses health, such as
calcium:phosphorous ratio, VitaminE & selenium correlation Copper and zinc
etc. once the balance becomes upset, so does the horse and can begin
behaving in irrational or erratic ways along with the onset of ill health
The relationship between Ca. & P is critical, and the correct ratio
is 1.1 : 1, and research trials up to 5:1 have been conducted with
non-favourable results. It is also important if the horse is being fed
largely on high quality prime lucerne or clover hays, to ensure extra
phosphorous is added to the ration to balance the Ca:P ratio. Another trap
people fall into is thinking that a large majority of natural grasses and
pastures are Calcium 'deficient' - they are not. They contain as much and
sometimes more calcium than legume feeds, however, they also contain an
additional calcium oxylate, which attaches, or binds to the calcium and
will not allow for its uptake in the digestive system. When this happens,
we end up with things like NSH (nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism)
or 'bighead' in the horse. these people are also responsible for adding
calcium to the ration without recognising the need to balance it with the
Phosphorous, and too much calcium, as with too much P may give a similar
result as 'bighead' in the form of P deficiencies. So as you can see, the
balance of minerals is critical. Optimum performance can not be reached
and is linked closely with the Ca. : P ratio.
relationship also occurs with zinc and copper. But the acceptable ratios
are wider with a greater than 2.4mg :1 mg but less than 5mg :1mg
muscle disease has been linked with the inappropriate intakes of Selenium
and Vitamin E as well.
Vitamins- most healthy mature horses will over the course of a day
either obtain through sunlight, feeds or synthesis, obtain most of their
vitamin requirements. A lot of them are obtained in vitamin precursors in
feed (eg. Vit A by eating pastures with high levels of carotene), but
young growing horses, performance horses, or horses under more than normal
stress factors (disease, travel, weaning, etc.) may not be able to
synthesise or obtain adequate levels, and should be supplemented
performance horses will require greater levels of Vitamin E along with
selenium to prevent the onset of 'tying up'. They also require higher
levels of niacin, choline, and folic acid than do pleasure horses. also,
rehabilitating horse may benefit from supplementation of Vit B complex,
and vitamin A. if you however think your horse is in need of a micro
mineral or a vitamin, then don't simply feed one without the other. Make
sure you get hold of a supplement that contains a balance of both.
The horse must have access to clean fresh
water at all times. Exception being a hot horse, which should only be
allowed small intakes over a period of time until it has a chance to cool
itself down and then allowed to drink freely to rehydrate.
During transportation over long
distances, it is also important to stop and allow the horse to drink.
Base you feeding program on good quality
roughage (hays and pastures) and only feed grain when they are needed to
maintain adequate levels of energy and/or protein.
Feed as often as possible - 2 or 3 times
daily if possible.
Feed an absolute minimum of 1.5% of the
horse's bodyweight in roughage on a daily basis.
Do NOT feed more than 0.5% of the horses
bodyweight in grain or concentrate daily.
NEVER feed more grain or concentrate than
roughage on a kg/kg of dry matter basis.
When evaluating rations, do not use %
(other than to evaluate per kg/bodyweight), but use grams or milligrams
per kilo for digestible energy, protein etc.
Don't overfeed or use excessive levels of
protein to performance horses or growing horses - too many feed companies
place a huge importance on protein % of the feed. A horse is not a protein
digester, he maintains life through the use of digestion of energy feeds
in the form of roughages - if they had a huge requirement for protein we'd
feed them on steak and eggs! Protein is made up of amino acids that the
horse utilises in the daily repair and maintenance of muscle structure,
that is why it is important to use good quality protein such as soybean or
rice pollard meals, to ensure the horse gets the 10 of 22 amino acids he
can't synthesise himself.
When mixing rations, keep evaluating the
protein content of the grain mix with the protein levels contained in the
roughage source you are using.
Make sure the mineral and vitamin
requirements are being met and are well balanced. This can be achieved
through feeding a properly fortified mineral mix from the feed store
rather than messing about with individual products - you will hardly get
it right most of the time anyway.
Provide salt as free choice all the time.
If you are feeding high levels of prime
lucerne, you will need to balance the calcium:phosphorous ratio - once
again, mineral mix.
Keep your horse in a good moderate body
condition. Obesity brings on physical, digestive and behavioural