Horse Nutrition: What to Feed Your Horse and How to Create a Balanced Diet

Complete nutrition is important for a horse as it supplies the energy to grow and sustain high activity levels. Also, well-maintained nutrient intake is essential to encourage bone and muscle development in horses which aids in maintaining the high activity levels of the animal.

Moreover, good nutrition is important for digestive health and immune function. A consistent supply of fiber keeps the sensitive digestive system in optimal health and the essential vitamins and minerals ensure that the immune system fends off the many infections horses are susceptible to.

Horses are also highly sensitive and conscious animals and need a healthy diet to avoid nutrient imbalances and deficiencies which might trigger behavioral problems and disrupt mental health.

This blog will teach you the basics of everything you need to know about horse nutrition.

Understanding Horse Nutrition

Horses, on average, require 1.5% of their body weight per day of digestible energy. Carbohydrates provide the greatest share of the daily requirement.

Horses also require an estimated 3% fat and 8% protein in their diet to maintain prime health. The protein supports muscle and tissue development and fortifies the immune system while fat offers concentrated packets of energy for heavy work.

 Also, horses need a good supply of vitamins A, B, D, E, and minerals to support their metabolic system and the development of their skeletal systems.

Horses’ stomachs can only hold 2-4 gallons of food. Their digestive systems are relatively efficient and quick with nutrient absorption. It consists of two parts, the foregut, which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, and the hindgut which comprises the cecum, colon, and rectum.

A horse must also be religiously hydrated. Clean water is necessary for hydration and temperature regulation which is required to maintain their intense activity. Good hydration also aids in effective digestion and sustains electrolytic balance, keeping the overall health of the horse in fine fettle.

Types of Horse Feed

Horses can be fed a variety of feeds that offer different health advantages.

The most common type is Hay, which is made of dried grass and legumes. It has high fiber content and contains essential vitamins and minerals like phosphorus and calcium. It is an organic feed that can provide slow-release energy. However, it can be pricey and the nutrient content can vary greatly.

Grains are also a healthy option providing high amounts of carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein. They provide a high amount of energy quickly but overfeeding can lead to digestive problems like colic and laminitis.

Horses are also fed supplements that act as surplus nutrition but they can quickly prove harmful if not taken in moderation and without the supervision of a professional.

Creating a Balanced Diet for Your Horse

A balanced diet is important for the prime health of a horse. It helps maintaining good metabolism, and muscle and tissue growth. It also helps the horse manage weight, and maintain good reproductive health. Moreover, a balanced diet can help them with age-related issues like dental problems, weight loss, etc.

Also, the graceful appearance of the horse depends greatly on its coat. A diet that lacks good nutrients can cause the horse’s hair to be dull and rough, resulting in a brittle coat.

A balanced diet on the other hand can restore and maintain the luster of the coats and also keep the hoofs of the horse healthy. This all can culminate in a strong physical body of the animal, good overall health, and optimal performance of the horse.

When making a diet plan, consider the age. A young horse might need more protein to sustain activity whereas an old one might need more fiber to fend off age-related problems. Also, consider the amount of activity the horse engages in and pay close attention to the overall health and weight of the horse.

Some tips to end up with the correct amount of feed. Weigh your horse and read the feed labels carefully. Research and understand the recommended daily intake and cross-check it with the feed labels. Remember to also keep a tab on the horse’s health condition at all times.

Hay and Pasture

Two horses grazing grass

Hay and Pasture are the essentials of a horse’s diet. Since they are rich in fibrous content, they help in maintaining an efficiently functioning digestive system and fight gastrointestinal issues.

Also, pastures offer a healthy sociable ambiance for the horse to trickle feed and exercise, which helps maintain prime psychological health and prevent the horse from developing behavioral issues.

There are different types of hays and pastures with different compositions and benefits to feed to your horse. There are grass hays made of grasses like timothy, brome, orchard, ryegrass, bluegrass, Bermuda, and pasture grass. They are usually low on protein which makes them ideal for weight loss.

Different hays include legume hays composed mainly of alfalfa, and clover which can be mixed with a combination of grasses to give mixed hay. They are usually high in protein making them a good choice for lactating or pregnant horses and young horses.

Before selecting the kind of hay and pasture for your horse, understand the nutritional needs of your horse according to engagement, work, age, weight, etc. Ensure the pasture is not overgrazed and is fresh. Also, see that the hay is sweet smelling and mold and dust free.

You must also check the moisture content of the hay. Way too moist hay can be a host for molds and can threaten the horse with a health risk. On the other hand, way too dry hay might not be easily digestible and lead to more serious health concerns.

Lastly and most importantly, inspect the hay and pasture for herbicides and pesticides.

Grains and Supplements

These are used to reinforce the horse’s diet with additional nutrients and calories. They make a smart addition to the diet of a horse that has high-energy engagement such as a performance or racehorse. However, their use must be strictly moderated and must only be used with the natural diet of the horse.

There are many grains and supplements you can choose for your horse. You can opt for oats, which are rich in fiber and protein and an excellent choice for a horse with moderate workloads. For heavy workload horses, or those that must gain weight the starch-rich corn is suitable.

Beet pulp is another good option for the horse, especially for those suffering from colic or impaction. Barley and soybean meals can also be considered for heavy workload horses and synthetic commercial feeds can be considered if a balance of the essential minerals in the diet is intended.

Remember to consult an equine nutritionist before choosing your supplements. If going for formulated mixture, add it gradually to the natural diet to allow the digestive system of the horse to prepare and adjust.

Water and Hydration

Horse drinking water

Since water is directly related to almost every function of the horse such as digestion, metabolism, and temperature regulation, its importance cannot be overstated. Good hydration prevents kidney diseases and colic. It can also help prevent dehydration which can often lead to graver problems.

Hydration is affected by multiple concerning factors. The engagement level of the horse, the intensity of engagement such as heavy or light work, and the weather are some of the basic ones. Moreover, the diet, health, and age of the horse also come into play.

Hydration is also affected by some less obvious factors such as stress, medications, or electrolyte imbalance in the horse. Even access to water or the water temperature might affect hydration as horses often have various preferences for temperature and taste.

To make your horses chug more water, you must keep the water sources clean at all times. Clean the troughs and the buckets regularly. Offer more than one source of clean water. Using an automatic waterer can be considered.

You can also consider feeding wet feed or adding supplements to your water to enhance flavor and encourage the practice of drinking water on your horse.


Horses are magnificent animals that demand quality care. Their activity and engagement often demand that they are well-fed with a nutrient-rich diet. Such a diet can help keep the horses in excellent shape and built.

A balanced diet can keep the metabolic activity up and running which can help the horse digest food quickly and efficiently. This is a necessity for the maintenance of healthy and consistent activity.

Additionally, a carefully supplemented diet can fortify the immune system of the horse and help it fight off diseases and age-related problems. Also, the reproductive cycle of the horse relies heavily on how well the horse eats and drinks.

A balanced diet can ensure that a male horse is fertile and a female horse can sustain a pregnancy. Moreover, a good diet can ensure that your horse maintains a beautiful coat and keeps looking graceful and beautiful.

This all comes together to ensure that your horse lives a healthy and lasting life without a threat of a painful disease that horses are so often susceptible to.