Friday, 17 April 2015

Special Feeding

Earlier this year I posted a blog about Feeding which included the rules of feeding and how to calculate the amount of food a horse needs.  I also posted a blog about the types of feed available.

Today (as would be needed for BHS Stage 2) I wanted to cover feeding for specific situations!

Feeding a horse living at grass

As we know a horse's (or pony's) natural environment and natural food is grass.  This provides the bulk and roughage for a horse's diet.  In the winter months when the grass does not grow it also has little nutritional value.  In the wild, as I mentioned in my Obesity blog last week, horse's often lose weight in the winter and then regain it when the spring grass comes through.  However, we put more demands on our horses as they are still expected to work during the winter.  In addition, to this we limit the area they have to graze.

To supplement the diet hay and haylage are the best options as these will replace the bulk as well as the nutritional value of grass.  When putting the hay (or haylage) into the field you should space the piles so that the horses cannot reach each other and fight.  It is also a good idea to put an extra pile for the individual that is bullied the most! Of course, this is not so easy if you have one large hay container - but bear in mind that the bullied individual may not get any hay - this would certainly be true of Fidget (sometimes) in my field.

Some horses will also need extra food (not all) and this is best fed little and often eg: 2 feeds a day.  If you are only feeding one of the horses in the field extra concentrate feed you will need to catch and bring him out of the field to feed him.  Otherwise the horses will fight and could injure themselves or you.
When the spring grass arrives the horses will leave the hay that you put out in preference of the grass - so you will know they no longer need the extra hay.  However, remember to keep an eye on your horse's weight and keep an eye out for Laminitis.  If the summer is very dry, with little rain, the grass may stop growing so supplementary hay may be needed again.   

Autumn often brings a flush of new grass too, so it is again important to keep an eye out for Laminitis.  

Feeding Older Horses

As horses get older they aren't able to utilise their food as efficiently and certain nutrients are particularly difficult to absorb.  This includes Fibre, Protein and Phosphorus.  Sometimes they become fussy feeders and this can lead to them becoming 'poor doers'  This certainly seems to have happened to Chesney in the last 18 months. Older horses may have problems with biting and chewing their food (this is not Chesney's problem his teeth are great). 

This means that feeding them foods that are soft and palatable will encourage them to eat more.  Older horses often prefer meadow hay as it is softer and sweeter.  It is also sometimes a good idea to give them more smaller feeds than before.  This is when the quality and nutrition content of food is even more important as they need to get vitamins and minerals easily into their systems perhaps without eating quite so much.  It may also be worth having a look at supplements and/or balancers to boost the nutrients going into a horses feed.


  • Boiled Barley 
  • Sugarbeet 
  • Specialist feed for the older horse

Feeding Sick Horses

Sick horses often don't want to eat - Chesney quickly loses his appetite if he is feeling slightly unwell.  It is often necessary to administer medicine in the feed too.  To encourage the horse to eat, the food needs to be highly palatable and easy to digest.  Basil is particularly fussy when medicines are added to his food.  I have found that I need to start with a small amount the first day and gradually increase it so that the taste change is less noticeable.  However, I have read that if you regularly feed garlic then a horse will be less likely to notice the medicine!  As with the older horse, small frequent feeds are better and ensure you remove any uneaten food.  

Try hand feeding grated apples and carrots as these may encourage a sick horse to eat.  Feeding bran can be helpful as this is easy to mix medicine into but it has little nutritional value.  Alfalfa is nutritious and highly palatable.  Remember - it is important to keep a horses digestive system working whilst they are sick to prevent colic.

  • Alfalfa 
  • Sugarbeet 
  • Boiled Barley

Of course there are other situations which will call for specific feeding which include youngsters, breeding mares and horses in hard work.  These I will talk more about in the future.

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Until next time!

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