This is a HUGE subject, more feed options are developed every year and to be honest trying to keep up with the research and not be bamboozled by the marketing is tricky. For this blog about feeding we will just look at the basics (as for BHS Stage 1)!
Feeding a well-balanced diet which provides all the necessary nutrients to maintain a healthy horse is essential. Grass (or hay) should always form the basis of their diet, see my blog about hay here.
However, there are reasons for also providing extra feed:
- To maintain body temperature; this is particularly important for horses living out in winter
- Growth; many different nutrients are needed for growth (especially for youngsters)
- Energy; food may be needed to create energy so the horse can perform his work
- To maintain correct weight; an underweight or thin horse will find it difficult to keep warm and to perform their work properly. Obese horses often suffer from health problems.
- Breeding; stallions need energy and condition and mares need to provide food for the foetus and then the foal
Horses bodies (digestive systems) are designed to eat grass. When feeding other types of food a horse can easily develop digestive problems - which can be fatal.
The 10 rules of feeding
- Feed little and oftenA horse's stomach is relatively small (when compared to their size) so food must be given in small amounts at frequent intervals. This also follows their natural lifestyle of 'trickle' feeding. A horse should never go more than 8 hours without food!
- Plenty of bulkHorses need plenty of hay (or an equivalent) or grass to keep their digestive system filled and processes working efficiently.
- Feed the correct amount for the horseFeed according to the horse's size, age, temperament and work.
- Feed good quality foodCheap food is not economical as it may lack nutrients and contain dust.
- Make no sudden changes to the diet Any changes should always be made gradually to allow the horses system to adjust and prevent colic.
- Do not feed directly before exerciseAllow at least an hour after work for the horse to digest their feed before working. Work on a full stomach can cause colic or breathing problems.
- RoutineHorses are creatures of habit and need to be fed at the same time each day!
- CleanlinessAll utensils should be kept clean.
- A succulent a day Apples, carrots and swedes are all succulents. If a horse is not at grass frequently these should be fed to add variety and some essential vitamins.
- Water before feedingAlways offer water to a horse before feed (it it is not freely available)as if they take a deep drink after their feed any undigested food may be washed out of the stomach - thus wasting it.
Things to consider when feeding
There are 3 steps to work through when calculating a horse's feed.
- Calculate the total daily amount of food needed.
- Divide this amount into concentrates (ie: hard food) and roughage (ie: grass, hay or an equivalent)
- Type of food
These will all vary according to the horse's weight, age, breed, temperament, amount and type of work they do, the rider, whether they are stabled or out at grass, time of year and the type of pasture available.
The total daily amount of food needed is calculated from the weight of the horse. This can be discovered in several different ways.
- Using a weigh bridge
- Using a weigh tape
- Using a weight table which gives height, build and approximate body weight in kilograms and pounds.
- Estimation based on height; this is the simplest
but not the most accurate.17hh = 15.5kg/34lbs of food
16hh = 13.5kg/30lbs of food
15hh = 12kg/26lbs of food
14hh = 10kg/22lbs of food
13hh = 8kg/18lbs of food
If a horse or pony is 2" higher then add an extra 2lbs
To calculate the weight from the horse's height:
Multiply height x 2 and deduct as follows
16hh x 2 - 2 = 30lbs
15hh x 2 - 4 = 26ibs
14hh x 2 - 6 = 22lbs
13hh x 2 - 8 = 18lbs
or remember that 12hh = 14lbs and then add 4lbs for every extra hand!
Once the daily amount is worked out you must consider the horse's build and if he is kept at grass! Horses may be the same height but their build may vary, a thoroughbred will be fine and small boned, a hunter will weigh considerably more. Chesney, even if he was the same height as Basil, would weigh considerably more! The amounts above are for a medium built horse, so will need adjusting accordingly. So a hunter of 16hh would get 32lbs but a thoroughbred would get 28lbs.
Horses that live out in the winter will need the same amount of food as a stabled horse to maintain their health and condition.
The daily amount is then divided into roughage and concentrates. This will depend on the type of work the horse is doing. A horse in 'light' work will not need much energy giving food as this would make him too excitable. Basil is only in light work as he is hacked or schooled usually about 5 times a week but does not compete or work hard. A horse in 'hard' work needs concentrates to give him the energy to perform and keep healthy. In basic terms we can calculate the amount of concentrates and roughage according to the hours of work.
Light work = 4-6 hrs a week of hacking and light schooling = 30% concentrates
Medium work = 6-10hrs a week of up to 2 hours schooling a day, dressage, show jumping and hacking = 50% concentrates
Hard work = over 10hrs a week (or hard fast work) of eventing, hunting, racing or endurance = 70% concentrates
The remaining percentage will be roughage!
So, as mentioned above, a 16hh medium built horse doing 10 hours schooling or hacking a week will need 30lbs of food in total. This is then split into 50% concentrates and 50% roughage. Never forget though that horses are individuals and so should be monitored to see if the amount and type of food suits him. If you find a particular horse finds these percentages make him too excitable then you will need to reduce the concentrates and increase the roughage!
The daily concentrate amount must then also be split into 2 or 3 daily feeds, remembering a horse's stomach is relatively small. You can also split the daily roughage amount in the same way.
I will cover the types of feed in another blog next week!
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Until next time!