What to Feed Your Horse: Factors to Consider

When first designing a feeding program for your horse, the endless options can seem overwhelming.  There are so many choices available, how do you decide?

First things first.  You’ll want to evaluate your horse’s current situation.  Here’s a few factors to consider:

  • Body Weight.  What is your horse’s current approximate weight?  How tall is your horse?  What body type does your horse have?  Believe it or not, when owners “eyeball” or “guesstimate” these measurements, they’re usually way off track!  It would be a better idea to use a horse weight tape or, if possible, a scale.
  • Body Condition Score.  Evaluating your horse’s body condition score is an essential tool in making feed decisions.  This system is a 1 – 9 scale, with 1 being emaciated skin and bone, and 9 being extremely obese.  Ideally, you’ll want your horse to be a score of 5.  Read more about Body Condition Scoring here.
  • Hay & Forage.  Research different types of legume and grass forages available, and how they differ in nutrient content.  As an example, alfalfa is a legume forage that is higher in protein and lower in fiber than timothy grass.  The form of forage is also important.  Does your horse have access to grazing pasture, or are they fed meals?  If your horse is meal fed, you have options like hay, pellets, or cubes.
  • Additional Feeds.  When it comes to supplementing your horse’s diet with additional feeds, there are many different schools of thought.  Do some research, consult with your veterinarian, and be sure to read feed labels.  There are dozens of products on the market, each one differing in ingredients and nutrition.  Take in to account your horse’s lifestage and workload, and choose a feed that meets your horse’s needs.
  • Exercise.  Evaluate how frequently and how vigorously your horse is currently being exercised.  The amount of physical activity your horse engages in regularly will affect their needs nutritionally.

Secondly, identify some goals for you and your horse.  Thinking about where you and your horse are headed together will help guide you in any adjustments you make to your feeding program.  Your goals might include:

  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Building muscle and endurance
  • Transitioning from idle to active
  • Preparing for a competition
  • Maintain current weight and stamina

There may be so many different feed options out there that it gets a bit confusing, but the good thing about having all of those options is that you can create a feeding program that is very well tailored to your horse’s needs.