The 10 Golden Rules of Feeding
1. Forage First
Forage (fibre) should form the basis of any horse’s diet.
• It takes time to eat, chew and digest. As horses’ naturally spend approximately 75% of their time eating, this fulfills an inherent desire to chew!
• Chewing stimulates the production of saliva – important for aiding proper digestion and reducing incidences of choke.
• The fermentation of forage ensures that the microbial populations of the horse’s hindgut are kept stable and healthy.
• Forage fermentation produces heat. This heat increment (HI) can be useful to the horse for maintaining the correct body temperature, especially in winter.
2. Feed Little and Often
Horses have small stomachs, making up less than 10% of total gastro-intestinal tract volume; approximately the size of a rugby ball.
• Feed three or four small meals per day as opposed to one large one (no more than 2 kg per feed, less for ponies weighing under 400kg).
• Dilute cereal feeds with plenty of chaff.
• A half full or three-quarter’s full horse’s stomach works more effectively than a full one.
• Feeding hay before concentrates slows down the passage of food and digestion rates.
3. Do Not Make Sudden Changes to the Diet
Sudden diet changes will damage the fragile balance of the microbial population in the horse’s hindgut and can lead to colic, endotoxaemia or laminitis.
4. Always Provide Fresh, Clean Water
Horses will not eat without having enough to drink.
5. Do Not Work After Feeding
As a general rule, horses should not be worked before one hour has passed after feeding. In addition, feeding straight after exercise can compromise the digestive system.
This, however, does not apply to forage, as this can be given ad-lib.
6. Always Provide a Balanced Diet
Horses require the correct balance of macro and micronutrients, vitamins and minerals.
7. Provide Only High Quality Feeds
Remember – Quality not Quantity!
High quality forage and concentrate feeds are the best sources of protein, lipid and carbohydrate for your horse’s diet.
8. Keep to a Routine
Horses are creatures of habit and like to have a settled routine so feeding at the same time each day for some horses, can help to reduce anxiety.
9. Every Horse is an Individual
There are a number of factors that need to be taken in to consideration when assessing your horse’s performance and diet, such as age, breed, temperament, time of year, etc. No two horses are the same and therefore, a nutritional programme should be tailored to their individual, specific requirements.
10. Do Not Be Afraid to Seek Advice!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Your horse’s diet and nutritional requirements are critical and getting it right is fundamental to its health, happiness and overall well-being.