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7 Most Common Feeding Mistakes for Horses

Posted on 25 September 2016

We do our best to feed our horses well—and we generally succeed.

And yet knowing what's best doesn't always mean that we do what's best. Admit it: You realize a green salad is the more healthy meal, but how often do you grab a burger and fries when you're on the run?

Likewise, the way we feed our horses is sometimes influenced more by our need to rush through our busy schedules or financial constraints than  by their nutritional needs.

Other factors influence the way we feed horses, too: the blur  of sometimes contradictory information as well as our own emotional needs. Usually, the consequences of less-than- optimal feeding regimens are relatively minor, costing us extra money perhaps but doing no real harm. But the worst feeding mistakes can have serious consequences: Some deficiencies or excesses pose an actual health threat; others may subtly rob a horse of vitality.

To help you avoid the most common feeding pitfalls, equine nutritionists describe the problems they most often see. If you recognize some of your own practices in this list, take heart: A fix is usually readily accomplished. If, however, you believe significant changes are needed in your horse's ration, consult with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist for advice.


Ideally, the average horse's ration is primarily hay and pasture grass, with modest amounts of concentrates, such as grain, pelleted or sweet feed. Besides providing more nutrients, better-quality hay is also more economical.  For one thing, poor

-quality hay contains less digestible fiber so horses have to eat much more to derive the same amount of nutritional value, yet because it is less palatable, horses tend to leave more of it uneaten.


Grain and sweet feeds are potent sources of energy. They contain many more soluble carbohydrates than most pleasure horses require. Feeding a horse more concentrates than he needs can be harmful to his health and behavior.

Some horses need more calories than they can get from forage alone. For example, horses who undergo an hour or more of daily training and those who compete in the most strenuous sports, require extra rations in the form of grains or other concentrated feeds to maintain weight.


If you hold a coffee can filled with corn in one hand and one containing oats in the other hand, you will notice a significant difference in weight--corn is heavier, and it's also higher in calories than other feeds. Of course, we're all used to scooping out a uniform portion of feed at mealtime, but when it comes to calculating nutrition, it is the weight that matters, not the volume--something to keep in mind whenever you change feeds.

Even pelleted and sweet feeds can vary in density and volume. Two different manufacturers can make feeds that seem similar on the tag in fat, fiber and protein but the density or digest- ibility could be very different. When you're planning to change or adjust your feeds, be sure to read the bag for the nutritional content.


In any feed store today you'll find a variety of bagged feeds labeled for specific types of horses. All are formulated to provide the exact amount of calories and nutrition those animals need, and giving the wrong feed to the wrong horse can result in imbalances that can be harmful.

Once you've determined the amount of concentrates your horse  needs  be  sure  to  choose  a  feed   that  provides     the optimum nutrition in that serving size. The most common mistake is feeding below rate.

If the recommended serving size is five kilos, the horse who is getting only one kilo is getting only a fifth of the added vitamins and minerals. If the minimum serving is too much, it's not the right feed for your horse.


Nutritional supplements are often beneficial and sometimes essential. A common mistake is adding supplements to the horse's diet without first checking to see if the ration is already overloaded with any specific nutrients. To avoid creating harmful           imbalances, calculate the nutrients a   horse is getting from his basic feed ration before adding supplements.

Products formulated to support specific body processes, such as joint repair or hoof growth, are less likely to cause nutrition- al overloads. Be sure to read their labels so you know what you're getting. Some supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronanic acid or biotin are also enhanced with vitamins and minerals.

If you are uncertain about your horse's nutritional needs, consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist.


Sodium and chloride--the components of table salt--are electrolytes essential to many bodily functions. Both are lost in sweat and must be replaced from the diet. These are also the only essential nutrients that are not naturally present in  grasses and grains.

Horses have a natural appetite for salt and consume what they need if given the opportunity. Placing a salt block in your pasture is the easiest way of providing salt.

If you offer loose salt, it's best to keep it in a bucket rather than pouring it over feed.  A horse's need for salt may fluctuate  daily. If you give too little, you can create imbalances; too much, and the feed may become unpalatable.


A variety of "old horsemen's tales" once advised withholding water from horses under particular circumstances. However, researchers now know that offering a cool drink to a hot horse does no harm, and it will help him recover from exertion more quickly.

Make sure that every horse has access to the water you supply.

Feeding is one of the most emotionally gratifying things we do for our horses. Who doesn't enjoy hearing expectant whinnies give way to the sound of contented munching? And yet our very human need to nurture them sometimes conflicts with their very equine need to simply roam and graze. Finding the balance between the horse's natural way of eating and the demands of domesticated life will help ensure that he will remain healthy for years to come.

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