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Ten golden rules of feeding

Ten golden rules of feeding


1- Allow plenty of water: Water is absolutely essential. If a horse cannot drink, he will rapidly stop eating. If he has been deprived of water, he is likely to dehydrate and this will have a serious effect on his performance and health. It is normal for horses to drink small amounts during and immediately after eating (although if the feed has a high water content this is less likely).

Each day you should scrub out the water bucket thoroughly; refill with clean water; and make sure it is secure so that horses cannot kick it over. Keep an eye on how much your horse normally drinks. If you are using automatic drinkers then it is more difficult to monitor intake. Generally horses will drink less water when it is cold so keep an eye on his droppings too to make sure they don’t become too hard.

2-Feed little and often: Horses have small stomachs (about a third of the size of a human’s as a relative proportion of the whole digestive tract). An average 16h.h horse has a stomach the size of a rugby ball and it is, of course, much smaller in ponies. If we feed too large cereal “bucket” feeds food is pushed through the stomach too fast and not digested properly. When it reaches the large intestine the starch in the cereal is fermented by the bacteria contained therein, which causes a change in the gut acidity. This will lead to the “friendly” bacteria dying and a proliferation of “unfriendly” bacteria. This may have serious consequences for the health and performance of the horse.

If you are feeding cereal concentrates, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure proper digestion and avoid overloading the stomach:

  • Feed hay before concentrates to slow down the passage of food
  • Feed three to four small meals a day rather than one or two larger ones
  • Dilute concentrate cereal feeds with plenty of chaff

3-Change your diet slowly over a period of time: Your horse’s gut is full of friendly bacteria that break down the fibre in forage with the horse making use of the by-products. When the diet changes, these bacteria must adapt to the new regime. If they are not given sufficient time to do so, many of the helpful bacteria will die, which may result in poor performance or colic, endotoxaemia and laminitis.

The need to change the diet slowly applies to forage as well as concentrated feeds. Remember that grass is forage, so changes in grazing should be introduced gradually too.

The most common reason for sudden changes in diet is running out of the relevant feed, so plan ahead and monitor supplies to avoid this. If you do have to change the diet, do so over a period of 10-14 days, gradually introducing the new feed while feeding slowly declining amounts of the previous diet.

4-Do not exercise straight after feeding: Exercise causes blood to be diverted away from the digestive system to the heart, lungs and legs. Unless the food has been absorbed before exercise starts, it might not be digested properly. A full stomach will also press on the lungs and compromise performance. Remember though that horses have evolved to run straight from grass and therefore, if meals are small, you can work your horse after one hour. However, all work should start with a warm up and therefore you would not be working your horse fast just after he has eaten.


5- Do not feed straight after exercise, as per rule number 4, wait at least an hour before feeding to avoid problems.

6- More forage, less concentrate: try to feed as much forage as the horse exercise requirements allow. Horses are grazing animals that spend from 15 to 18 hours grazing whne in the wild. allowing plenty of forage helps with boredom thus avoiding behavioural problems and stress, aids digestion and avoids stomach ulcers and helps with the grinding of the horse´s teeth.


7-the key to a healthy horse is to treat him as an individual. Feed according to bodyweight, workload, breed and temperament. Pregnant mares, mares in foal, youngsters and veterans are the ones requiring extra care.


8- Feed by weigh no volume: always weigh the scoop with the desired pellets or grain to avoid feeding too much or too little.


9- Feed something succulent everyday: The best succulent to feed a horse is grass. Grass contains 80-90 percent water and is the natural feed for a horse. In comparison, the food a stabled horse receives – hay and cereals for example – is very dry. Ideally, turn the horse out daily. If you cannot, then carrots, apples, watermelon during the summer and sugar beet all provide water and you can always dampen the hay before feeding.


10- Feed always high quality feedstuffs: To ensure that your horse receives all the nutrients he needs it is worth investing in high quality forages and cereals. Going for the cheaper, lower quality option is often false economy as your horse may lose condition and performance. Low quality feeds are often dusty, which can have serious implications for your horse’s respiratory health.