The golden rules of feeding are a useful reminder, with essential rules to follow for all horse owners. Following these guidelines helps to ensure your horse stays healthy while preventing unnecessary weight gain, excess energy and reducing the risk of conditions such as colic and tying up.
1) Allow access to fresh, clean water at all times
An average 500kg horse (approx 15hh) will drink between about 25 & 50 litres of water per day. This depends on their diet, workload and the weather.
2) Feed little and often
Horses are natural trickle feeders, designed to graze and roam for approx 18-20 hours a day. They have a small stomach compared with the size of their body, and it’s only about the size of a rugby ball. The Stomach works/digests best at 1/2 – 2/3 full. This is why more, smaller feeds are better than 1 larger one.
3) Feed according to body weight, workload, age, condition, temperament and time of year.
It’s important to consider all factors when planning your horse’s diet. This ensures you’re meeting energy requirements without excess condition or fiziness. Try not to overestimate your horse’s amount of work. Take into account their current condition, so that you can make small changes to the diet as needed.
4) Fibre first – Feed plenty of roughage
Forage (hay or haylage) should not be restricted to less than 1.5% of the horse’s body weight per day. Fibre is essential for maintaining digestive health, for providing energy/calories and to aid the absorption of nutrients.
5) Always weigh feeds
Horses should be fed by weight, not volume, as each type of feed has a different density.
A scoop of chaff weights a lot less than a scoop of nuts. There is also variation between brands of feed.
Horse and pony cubes from one brand may not weight the same as Horse and Pony cubes from another brand.
6) Use high quality feeds
Once opened, feed should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place inside a rodent-proof container to prevent contamination. The quality of feed should be checked on opening – dusty or mouldy feed should never be fed as it can lead to respiratory issues or colic.
7) Make any dietary changes gradually
Your horse’s digestive system needs time to adapt to changes with feed. Changes should be made gradually over a period of 7 – 10 days, slowly adding more of the new feed and less of the old. If changes are made too quickly your horse may suffer from loose droppings at best or colic at worst.
8) Don’t Feed too close to exercise
Horses should not be worked immediately after eating a cereal-based or hard-feed meal. Exercise should be delayed for an hour to allow time for feed to be digested.
Horses can be exercised straight after fibre-based meals (chaff/hay/haylage) – in fact, this is recommended in some cases. Fibre is beneficial for gastric health, reducing the risk of acid splashing up and damaging stomach lining.
Similarly once you’ve worked your horse, give them time to recover before feeding. A light hack will require far less time than after an intensive schooling session for example.
9) Feed at the same times each day
Horses are creatures of habit and thrive on routine. Feeding at regular times each day means the horse knows when to expect its next meal. This can help to prevent stress and gut upset.
10) Feed according to work done
Be honest with yourself about how much work you and your horse are really doing. This ties in very closely with rule 3. If you plan on giving your horse a day, or a few days off, reduce the feed to account for this, as it may help avoid unwanted excitability.