What makes you happy? Aside from doing the things you love and getting enough rest, food has a certain kind of magic that can turn a frown upside down. Just like you, your riding companion also finds happiness from the diet it consumes. From feasting on the right amount of carbohydrates and proteins to munching on special treats–your four-legged friend not only benefits from proper nutrition, it also fuels him for training and leisure rides.
How often should you feed your horse and how much food is enough? As much as you would like to keep your equine happy, you should be wary of what you feed your horse, maintaining an ideal weight, and making sure they get the right nutrients. Don’t worry as we’re here to help you keep your riding pal healthy and in high spirits.
In this article, we will talk about:
- Signs that your horse is healthy
- The basic nutritional requirements of your horse
- Nutritional problems you need to take note of
- The best and worst feed for your horse
- Common horse nutrition mistakes you need to avoid
- Easy recipes you can prepare for your equine
Is your horse healthy?
Just because your four-legged friend can go through your riding routine without a hitch doesn’t mean he is healthy. While horses differ–taking into consideration their age and breed–there are signs of good health you can take note of when assessing your equine. Make sure you evaluate the following:
- Body condition - Using the Henneke Body Condition nine-level scoring system, you can assess the neck, withers, shoulder, ribs, back, and tailhead area of your equine. Score your riding pal based on the descriptions on the chart – keeping in mind that a score of 4 to 5 is ideal.
- Hair coat - A glowing coat indicates that your riding partner is getting good nutrition and grooming from you. If he or she has a dull coat, it’s either your horse has poor health or you need to revisit and work on proper grooming practices.
- Eyes and nose - The eyes should be clear and not cloudy or discolored, while the nostrils should be clean and free of excess mucus.
- Behavior - Is your riding pal alert, easy to lead, and interested to interact with other horses? If the answer is yes, then you have nothing to worry about. Being attuned to your equine’s behaviors is vital so you can easily spot if something is amiss. Understanding common horse behaviors goes a long way.
- Legs and feet - Its weight should be evenly distributed on the feet and there should be no bumps, swelling, cuts, or hair loss on the legs.
- Vital signs - Taking note of your horse’s vitals will help you detect if something isn’t normal. Depending on the size of your equine, the heart rate should be at 28-44 beats per minute and they should take 10-24 breaths within the same time. Note that these numbers can increase if it’s hot or humid. Meanwhile, the gums should be moist and pink, with the color returning to the gums in two seconds if you press it firmly. Lastly, do check for intestinal sounds as gurgling and occasional roars are normal.
If you’re unsure about vitals or you notice that your horse is acting different, consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.
What does your horse need to stay healthy?
To meet the basic nutritional requirements of your riding partner, you need six nutrients:
- Water - On average, a horse drinks between five to 10 gallons of water per day. It’s important to have a clean supply of water within their reach. Remember that your four-legged companion also needs two quarts of water per pound of hay they eat.
- Carbohydrates - As the main source of energy, carbohydrates are used in most feeds. Make sure your horse gets enough soluble carbohydrates in the form of corn, barley, and oats, as these are easily absorbed.
- Protein - Essential for developing muscles, protein can be incorporated into the diet in the form of soybean and alfalfa.
- Fat - Often found in premixed feeds, fat helps increase the energy density of your horse’s diet.
- Vitamins - According to an equine specialist, horses that receive fresh green forage already get an adequate amount of vitamins such as Vitamins D and E. On the other hand, equines who are fed a high-grain diet or low-quality hay can benefit from vitamin supplements. Always discuss this with your trusted vet.
- Minerals - Minerals are essential to maintain body structure, muscle contraction, and nerve conduction. Small amounts of calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride, to name a few, are needed on a daily basis.
What happens if your horse doesn’t get the right nutrients?
Not providing enough nutrients and overfeeding your equine may result in poor health, metabolic and dental problems, susceptibility to diseases and infections, and weak riding performance. To be able to steer clear of these struggles, you need to familiarize yourself with the nutritional deficiencies your riding friend may experience such as:
- Weight loss – which indicates problems with caloric intake and poor absorption of the feed
- Slow growth of skeleton in young horses – lack of vitamins
- Vitamin deficiencies and metabolic disorders – which happens when an equine is fed with poor quality hay
- Intestinal disorders – a result of not getting enough nutrients from their diet
What are the best and worst feeds for your horse?
Given the options available, you need to come up with a healthy diet for your equine. While you can always get inputs from a veterinarian, it helps to know which ones are best and what items to avoid. Keeping in mind the basic nutrients they need and how unique their digestive tracts are, horses would happily chew on:
Pasture grass and tender plants
A good pasture doesn’t just contain most of the nutrients your horse needs, it also has silica which comes in handy if you want to ensure dental health.
If a good pasture is out of the equation, quality hay should be on top of your list. Good-quality hay must be sweet-smelling, green in color, and free from mold, dust, and weeds. Don’t feed your horse with damp, musty, and brown hay.
Oats are the best choice given its palatability and high fiber content. However, since oats can be expensive over time, you can also feed them corn as it’s known to provide twice as much digestible energy. If these two aren’t available, go for barley but make sure the hard hulls are properly processed so that your horse can digest it. Barley has moderate and energy content that your riding companion can benefit from.
When selecting the protein content of your horse’s diet, choose between soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and brewer’s grains–all three aren’t just good sources of protein, they all taste good, too.
A mixture of grains, flaxseed, bran, and molasses, concentrates often serve as quick sources of energy for your equine. If you have a mare or working horse, they will enjoy a combination of concentrates and grass or hay.
Who doesn’t enjoy a treat or two? Your four-legged companion will delight in occasional treats such as apples, carrots, handfuls of grains, and hay cubes, to name a few. If these aren’t available, you can also give them celery, strawberries, parsnip, and turnips. Remember that treats must be managed and included in your overall feeding plan to maintain your horse’s weight.
If there are foods your riding pal will enjoy, there are also items that are bad for their health. When working on your equine’s meal plan, remember not to include the following:
- Lawn clippings
- Pitted fruit
- Yogurt and milk products
These things aren’t just toxic, they also cause choking, blockage in the gastrointestinal system, colic, among other things.
Are you ready to finalize your horse’s feeding plan?
You already know the nutrients your equine friend needs, the foods they love, and the nutritional problems to be on the lookout for–are you ready to prep a meal plan?
Before you get started, remember that there are common feeding mistakes that can harm your horse’s health. Be careful and avoid:
- Overfeeding / underfeeding
- Giving them poor hay
- Not providing adequate water
- Giving too many supplements that may lead to mineral imbalances
- Calculating food by volume – keep in mind to compute by weight.
Ready to whip up a treat for your equine?
Using ingredients you can easily purchase, you can prepare a delicious treat for your horse in less than an hour! If you’re ready to test your cooking mettle, take note of the recipes below:
Homemade Equine Treats by Little House Living
What you’ll need:
- 1 large Carrot
- 1 large Apple
- 1 cup Molasses
- 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned Oats
- 2 Tablespoons Oil
- Shred the carrot and the apple into a large bowl.
- Add in the oil, oats, and molasses. Stir to combine well so that all the oats are covered in the molasses.
- Pour the mixture into a greased 9x13 baking dish. Pat the treats down with a spoon or with your fingers so they are flattened into the pan.
- Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes or until they begin to get crispy.
- Remove the treats from the oven and let them cool for a while. The treats will harden slightly as they cool. Once they are hardened you can score into pieces.
Earth Muffins by Michelle Anderson of The Horse Magazine
What you’ll need:
- 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill ground flax seed
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup organic sugar
- 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill oat flour
- 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill oatmeal
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup frozen blackberries
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Soak ground flaxseed in warm water for 10 minutes until it turns a gelatinous consistency.
- In a mixing bowl, combine flax-and-water mixture with sugar.
- Stir in oat flour, oatmeal, salt, and cinnamon until well-combined.
- Pour batter into a greased mini-muffin pan.
- Firmly press one berry thick side down into each muffin.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes.
Keeping your horse happy and healthy is a journey with ups and downs. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – just make sure you learn from them and that you remedy the situation as soon as possible. Understanding what your equine needs will help you care for him or her properly so that you can enjoy more fruitful rides together.