The topic of horse feed and feeding tips is very extensive. Various horse feed manufacturers bring new products at regular intervals incl. feeding tips on the market, which are supposed to revolutionize horse nutrition. There are muesli mixes, pelleted feed, supplemental feed, horse feed supplements and hay substitutes. With such diversity, the question arises, what and how much feed a horse should get.
With today’s feed supply, it may be said that special feed is available for almost every problem and mood of the horse. All the more, this confronts horse owners with difficult decisions; after all, the nutrition factor is crucial for the horse’s health and willingness to perform.
In the following, some important information on the subject of feed is presented.
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Hay and straw (roughage)
The base of the diet is roughage. For horses in a paddock hay and straw are usually sufficient. However, it should be noted, the increasingly hot and prolonged dry periods in the summer sometimes make it necessary to provide additional feed for the horses.
For an active horse, a diet based on roughage is often not enough, it loses weight. Feeding tip: In this case, the horses should be fed with concentrated feed, such as different types of cereals, pellets and muesli. In the opposite case, when the horse has too much weight, diet feed can be used. The focus is on the complete nutrition of the horse.
If a horse is exposed to great stress, the addition of mineral feed should be considered. This also applies to unbalanced diets. Basically, proper nutrition for the horse is based on whether the horse may be too fat or too thin. Malnutrition can result in deficiency symptoms. The health of the horse is at stake. After all, constantly hungry horses are often tired, sluggish or irritable.
Proper nutrition should be paid attention to in any case. Excess weight not only stresses the horse’s bones and joints. It also affects internal organs such as the heart, lungs and liver. A horse that is fed too much often seems hyper because it doesn’t know what to do with its energy.
However, sometimes exactly the opposite happens, the horses become sluggish and lazy. They don’t move enough, it’s no longer fun. In this respect, the statement that a sluggish horse gets too little feed is not always true. The same symptoms occur with the wrong feed and/or overfeeding. Finally, there are horses that are naturally sluggish.
Feeding tip: The very most important feed is clean, clear water. The horse should be given the opportunity to drink as much as it wants throughout the day, for example with a self-watering trough. Lack of water can quickly lead to serious diseases!
Every horse needs hay. This feed, consisting of dried grass, is virtually the bread for horses. As a rule of thumb, 1 kg of hay per day per 100 kg of body weight (exception: diets). Hay has a dual function, so to speak. On the one hand, hay is rich in rough fiber and therefore offers the horse many nutrients in addition to activity. Depending on the use of the horse, hay is often sufficient feed. The hay fiber provides fiber, which is very important for digestion in horses.
Hay is a natural product, all the more attention should be paid to proper processing and storage. If hay is baled too wet, there is a risk of mold growth. Similarly, hay should not be fed too fresh. In this case, there is a risk that the bacteria in the hay bales cause a kind of fermentation before they die. Hay that has been stored longer is easier for the horse to digest and is loaded with fewer bacteria. Here, too, there is a rule of thumb: The hay should be stored for at least three months before it is fed.
If a bale of hay is infested with mold, the entire bale should be discarded. If the hay of a bale is very dusty or black, moldy spots are visible, these are signs of mold contamination. Good hay is soft, slightly strawy and only moderately dusty. The typical spicy hay smell develops only after storage and is also a sign of good hay.
In case of allergies or chronic cough, it has been proven to wash the hay and feed it wet before feeding. This reduces exposure to hay dust.
Straw provides hardly any nutrients and contains a lot of fiber. Straw is important in digestion due to its long fibers and many fibers. If a horse is given too much easily digestible energy, for example concentrated feed, and too little fiber, the bacterial colonization in the horse’s large intestine becomes unbalanced. Colic and indigestion are the result.
Feeding tip: A horse that is on sawdust or hemp should still get between three and four pounds of straw daily. At the same time, the horse is busy because straw is slow to eat.
For centuries, oats have been the classic feed for horses. The nutrients they contain can be broken down particularly well in the horse’s intestine. Thus, oats provide a lot of energy for the horse. The low proportion of gluten proteins makes this feed very well tolerated. Wheat, on the other hand, contains a lot of gluten protein and is therefore a burden on the digestive process. Therefore, wheat should be fed only in small quantities.
Oats provide the horse with a boost of energy, making it lively and ready to perform. Nevertheless, attention should be paid to the correct dose. If the dosage is too high, many horses get overexcited and somehow try to get rid of their excess energy. Too much oats, however, again causes the opposite, the horse becomes sluggish.
The nature of the feed (crushed, ground, etc.) plays a role with regard to the chewing process. Feeding tip: Coarser feed must be chewed longer and more thoroughly and is digested more slowly. The horse is kept more busy while eating and the energy supply happens more slowly. It is important that the horse has no dental problems, because coarse-grained feed is more difficult to grind.
If a horse is not ridden much, a mixture with other feeds (barley, pellets) should be considered. Too much concentrated feed and oats messes up the horse’s metabolism. The result is sluggishness and rapid sweating.
Barley has been increasingly used in recent years for a variety of reasons. This feed is not as easily digestible as oats and also provides less energy. As a result, the horse also does not become as sprightly. Feeding tip: The proportion of gluten proteins in barley is higher than in oats, so one-sided feeding with it should be avoided. Supplementation of the feed is recommended, for example, pellets could be considered.
The tolerance of corn is very different. Due to the relatively high fat content, the tolerance is limited in some horses, and the horse also quickly becomes fat. A known consequence of corn as a feed in horses is thick, swollen legs. In these cases, corn should be discontinued quickly.
Corn is mostly converted to stored energy rather than direct energy in horses. As a result, stored energy is converted into fat. This feed is not necessarily suitable for the daily diet, but rather as a supplementary feed to regulate the weight of the horse. The recommendation is that a maximum of one quarter of the daily concentrate should be corn.
Feeding tip: Feeding corn is recommended in the form of broken corn, i.e. non grounded corn. The hard husk makes corn difficult to chew and digest, so whole kernels of corn should not be given. For horses that are too thin and those that tend to lose weight, corn is excellent.
These are small, hard sausages. They usually consist of a mixture of ground grain and crushed hay. In addition, these mixtures are enriched with minerals and vitamins. Pellets end up in almost every feed trough today. Pellets initially serve as a basic feed. The horse’s hunger is satisfied and the horse is supplied with all important nutrients.
On the market there are very many types of pellets, which differ essentially in nutrient and energy content. Before buying should be weighed accordingly, what is intended with the feed. Pellets can certainly be used as a complete feed. However, in practice it is observed that the pellets are supplemented with oats, barley and corn.
Feeding tip: Especially for horses with dental problems (e.g. old horses) pellets should be soaked so that the horses can eat them better.
Muesli has become more popular in recent years. Many mueslis consist of a mixture of different cereals, some of which are crushed or puffed. Likewise, mueslis with herbal additives are also available on the market. A small amount of molasses is added to some mueslis. This makes the muesli sweet and is eaten more willingly.
In principle, the same applies to muesli as to pellets: the composition is important. For example, there are oat-free blends for leisure horses as well as very high-energy blends specifically for racehorses. When buying muesli should pay attention to how much energy it provides. Here’s a rule of thumb: the more protein a cereal contains, the more energy it provides.
Feeding tip: For herbal mueslis, variety in the feed is particularly important. If herbal muesli is fed permanently, the organism gets used to it and the effect of the herbs is lost.