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Feeding Horses
First Posted March 12, 2008
Jul 22, 2010

Feeding Stabled Horses

by Debora Johnson

There is so much to know about horses that often it is overwhelming. What do you feed a horse? How much? Does exercise make a difference? What is your discipline with your horse--competition, endurance, pleasure riding, etc.? What criteria must be considered in the feeding of your horse? What is most important is to meet the nutritional requirements of your horse. Horses are grazing animals by nature so foraging for food is their natural way of life. If a horse is unable to meet those nutritional requirements by pasture grazing, then the type of hay that is used is very important. A good quality of forage is important in all feeding programs, especially if your horse is stabled most of the time. Do not let your horse get fat as this increases the chance of founder and colic, particularly if your horse has little exercise. We tend, often, to overfeed our horses with grain and rich hay. Research has shown that a good quality grass hay is all that is needed for most performance horses that are stabled. Young growing horses, lactating mares, and pregnant mares who are late in pregnancy can have legume hay. Research has also shown that offering more than one variety of hay can reduce stable vices and the tendency to eat bedding. Eating straw can cause colic. Water, trace mineralized salt, and adequate exercise are necessary components in the feeding program for all horses.

  • Most stabled horses need a good-quality grass hay fed at 2 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight.
  • This level of good-quality hay will normally meet the mature pleasure horse's need for energy (carbohydrates and fats), protein and most minerals.
  • Feeding a 2-to-1 calcium-to-phosphorus ratio mineral mix and a properly balanced vitamin supplement should correct any deficiencies in good-quality hay.
  • A mineral mix and a vitamin supplement are needed when a lesser-quality hay is fed, especially for horses with no access to pasture and/or those stabled for long periods of time.
  • Hay waste can amount to 20 percent. Yearlings fed on frozen ground wasted 18.5 percent of the hay fed. If hay is fed on the stall floor, there will also be some waste.
  • One must account for this in determining how much hay to feed. If a 1,200-pound mature pleasure horse needs to consume 24 pounds of hay daily, feed at least 10 percent more hay, or about 27 pounds. If the horse cleans up this amount of hay, feed more if it is needed to maintain or increase body condition. Feed less hay if the horse leaves some.
  • Horses will search through stemmy, poorer-quality hay seeking the leaves and finer stems, thus wasting more hay. Horses with limited access to pasture and fed lower-quality hay may tend to eat the coarser stems which can contribute to impaction colic, especially when the weather is cold and water consumption decreases.
  • Legume hay is often fed to young, growing horses; broodmares; and stallions. Feeding about 1.75 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight will normally provide a similar amount of energy and exceed the amount of protein provided by 2 pounds of grass hay per 100 pounds of body weight.
  • Under most conditions, pleasure horses do not need to be fed a legume hay. These hays are more expensive, the extra protein provided can add to the ammonia problem in stalls, and legume hays may cause diarrhea in some horses.
  • If this situation occurs, the problem can be addressed by reducing the amount of legume hay fed to 1 pound per 100 pounds of body weight and feeding a grass hay to make up the remainder of the hay needed. Considerable leaf wastage will occur if legume hay is fed on the stall floor or in hay nets. Hay nets also can be dangerous, especially if tied low enough for a horse to catch a hoof in the hay net.
  • If stabled for considerable hours per day, horses will probably eat more of a lower-quality hay than they would if fed the same hay along with access to adequate pasture most of the day.
  • It is advisable to feed more hay in the evening (60 percent)and less in the morning (40 percent).
My horse weighs about 1,000 pounds and my husband's horse weights about 1200 pounds. They are fed hay (orchard grass) twice daily. The first feeding is in the morning and the second is in the evening. They consume approximately 20-25 pounds each of hay a day. In the morning they are also given Farrier's Formula for their hooves well-being, a token amount of grain (a ration balancer designed to meet any nutritional shortfalls from being foragers. The idea of this is to add as few calories as possible from the concentrated grain because our horses are easy keepers.) Salt and minerals are available, free choice. (approximately 2 ounces a day each horse)(Red or blue salt not white).

They are turned out on excellent pasture for several hours a day, weather permitting. They are turned out in early morning and evening, not high noon when the starches are at their peak. The increased intake of starch may cause a horse to founder. If it is arctic cold extra hay may be given to supply warmth. We do not increase their grain. In the warmer months they spend more time at pasture with hay provided on a need basis. Their weight is watched. We do not want them to get fat; they are both easy keepers. I prefer for them to be out and not stabled. If there is ice, of course, they are stabled. Otherwise, out! There is a sacrifice area that has trees for shelter and the barn has several overhang areas for cover. If the pasture is wet the horses are in the sacrifice area. There is also an area with hay racks and shelter--but not confining like stalls. The water is an automatic waterer that is cleaned every day.

A mature horse drinks about 6-10 gallons of water per day. They are checked in the morning and in the evening all over for any abnormalities. If I were a horse, I would like to be at Kate's. My husband and I pleasure ride (trail ride) between 15 and 20 hours a week. Our horses have vetting twice a year with wellness checks, sheath cleanings, vaccinations, and teeth floatings. We do a fecal in the Spring to check for parasite loads. They are on a regular worming schedule which is on this web site as is their shot schedule. My wonderful farrier, Don Roof, comes every 5 weeks unless needed earlier for some reason. Both horses are barefoot and doing fine. They have good feet and an excellent farrier. We also apply Keratex to their hooves on a regular basis. It makes their hooves like cement. In the wet months we use White Lightning on their feet to prevent white line disease. We also apply thrush buster.

Feeding Horses