Horses are classified as herbivores, or roughage eaters. They are grazing animals with digestive systems designed for constant consumption of plant food.
With its small, simple stomach and large fiber-digesting hindgut, the horse is designed to eat small portions in a continuous fashion. By design, forages should predominate the horse's diet. Grain, fat, supplemental protein, vitamins and minerals are important, but should make up a smaller portion of the ration. Mature horses consume about 2.5 to 3.0% of their body weight in feed each day. A mature 1000 lb horse will eat about 25 to 30 pounds of feed each day. Ideally, horses should consume a minimum of 1% of their body weight in hay or pasture each day. As a general rule, forages should comprise at least 1/2 of the total weight of daily feed consumption for optimum growth and development. A horse's nutrient requirement varies depending on its activity and function. Generally, nutrient requirements are presented according to the following classifications: maintenance, work, growth, gestation and lactation. A maintenance ration allows a mature, idle horse to maintain its weight and body condition under average climate conditions. Nonworking adult horses can be maintained on high quality forages without grain supplementation. However, the horse's requirement for energy increases 25%, 50% and 100% as its work level increases from light, to moderate, to heavy. Growing, breeding, working and performance horses require grain or concentrate supplementation to meet their additional nutrient requirements. During the last three months of gestation, a mare's requirement for protein, minerals and vitamins increases. As pregnancy moves through the ninth, tenth and eleventh month, the mare's need for energy increases 11%, 13% and 20%, respectively. Lactation also mean additional requirements for protein, minerals and vitamins. Stress conditions associated with a horse's environment may also affect its nutrient requirements. Changes in temperature, moisture and humidity as well as muddy lots with little or no housing are a few examples of situations that can lead to stress. These and other factors can alter the horse's need for various nutrients.
GOOD MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
· Provide plenty of clean fresh water. A horse will drink between 2 - 4 lbs of water for each pound of ration consumed.
· Ensure your horse has enough feed to eat.
· Feed all feeds by weight, not by volume.
· Have the hay analyzed and develop the rest of the ration based on the forage quality. If this is not possible, feed hay that smells clean has fine stems, lots of leaves with minimal seed heads or blossoms and is not damp or weedy.
· Feed at least 1.0 - 1.5 lbs of forage for each 100 lbs of body weight. Total daily feed should be about 2.5 - 3.0 lbs per 100 lbs of body weight.
· Avoid dusty & moldy hays and grains. Dusts & molds can lead to indigestion and respiratory diseases. When needed, feed concentrates at least twice daily.
· Use top quality feeds and choose rations that are balanced to your horse's nutrient requirements.
· Feed horses individually if possible to prevent aggressive horses from overeating and submissive horses from under eating.
· Feed at regular time intervals and make major changes in the ration gradually over several days. Do not increase grain feeding faster than 1/2 lb per day.
· Allow horses one hour after feeding to digest the meal before forced exercise.
· Allow a hot horse to drink frequent small amounts of water after exercise. Never give grain or water to a hot horse in large quantities.
· Watch your horse closely as it eats for changes in appetite. Sudden changes alert you to potential health or feed problems.
· Avoid overfeeding