What Do Horses Eat?

horse posingA lot of people think that horses just need a field with some grass in it to be happy and thrive. This isn’t quite true. Horses like a big field with some grass in it to run around in and to enjoy a good grazing session in. That is very true. It is also true that horses will need more than just a field of grass to be well nourished.

Good grazing material, or forage, needs to grow on fertile ground with just the right amounts of nutrients for it to thrive. For a healthy, happy horse, the forage should be a mix of legumes like clover or alfalfa and grasses like timothy or Kentucky bluegrass. Of course, being in Texas, it’s Texas bluegrass down here. This natural blend provides the optimal mixture of nutrients and minerals. Most horses will also need a salt lick or mineral block to round out their daily munch.

Good hay will be just like what is found in a good pasture. It will be green and have young tender grasses and baby seed heads full of nutrients. It will be a concoction of plants to provide all the necessary nutrition. Straw is different from good hay. It will be tougher, older grasses and doesn’t provide much nutrition. Sometimes straw is fed just to provide fiber with grains. It is mostly just for bedding down my horses on the farm.

Grains are denser calories for horses. Oats are the most popular grain for horses. They are high in fiber and easy for a horse to digest. Corn is the second best grain to feed a horse. It provides up to two times as much energy to the horse as oats but is low in fiber. It is easy to overfeed corn and make a horse fat. Barley, wheat and beet pulp are other things that are sometimes fed to horses along with forages to round out a meal.

Mixes are popular on the farm. COB, or corn, oats and barley, is often fed to mothers and growing horses to keep them in condition. Sweet feed, in particular, is a favorite treat. This is a mix of grains and molasses that is like a healthy cookie for horses. Speaking of, my horses enjoy a treat from time to time. I like to give carrots and apples and other healthy snacks in moderation.

An adult horse can eat nearly 3% of her body weight daily in dry food each day. A foal eats even more, up to 4% of his weight a day. Food is not something my horses like to skimp on! The horses need to have at least 50% of that food from forages. They never get any less than 1% of their body weight in food from forages, no matter what. A hard working horse will also get grains or horse pellets to help them keep up their good condition. Growing horses and pregnant mares will need more calories and special attention to their nutrition, just like human children and mothers.