There are three main parts of equine nutrition – roughage, concentrates and supplements. Roughages, your hays and grass pellets, are broken down by your horse’s large intestine. Concentrates are typically higher in caloric value, such as grains and oats, and are broken down and absorbed in the stomach and small intestine. The third tier of equine nutrition is supplements. These are used to replace missing nutrients and minerals in your horse’s diet and may or may not be necessary. While most supplements are not harmful to your horse, especially in small quantities, some can be toxic. This is why it is important to understand what your horse may be lacking before starting him or her on supplements of any kind.
Your typical horse will maintain an ideal body weight on 95-100% roughage. If the horse is worked most days of the week, or is a hard keeper – meaning he is having a difficult time keeping weight on, adding concentrates will increase calories and help the horse gain weight and energy. Supplements are very important as well and can play an important part in your horse’s health, but they are not necessary for every horse. As a rule of thumb, to maintain your horse’s body weight, you should be feeding him or her 1.5-2% of his or her body weight per day, which can be split up into 2-3 feedings. It is always recommended to physically weigh out the food to be sure you’re giving your horse exactly what they need. A fish scale works great for this purpose. Exercise also plays an important role in the amount of feed that is appropriate for your horse. Just like in people, the more exercise your horse is getting, the more calories he or she will need to maintain an ideal body weight.
Many people will offer you advice on what you should be feeding your horse, but remember it’s always important to consult your veterinarian when making nutrition decisions. We, along with equine nutritionists, are the most qualified sources to answer your nutrition questions. Equine nutrition is not a one size fits all solution, but we hope that with this article and the help of your veterinarian, you will find a solution that best fits your horse.