Horse feeding in THREE Easy Steps!

Horse feeding doesn’t have to be difficult...it can be done correctly in three easy steps, though sometimes it feels more overwhelming than that.

The first step in feeding your horse is to figure out how much food he needs. But before you know what he needs, you need to figure out your horse's weight. So, if you haven’t already, skip on over to that page and take a look...I’ll still be here.

Done? OK, back to horse feeding...

Now that we know his weight, we need to figure out his workload. Take this step VERY seriously -- many many many people overestimate the workload of their horse, and as a result overfeed them.

Overfeeding is unhealthy for your horse...AND your wallet!!

Here’s a chart from the 2006 National Research Council's book Nutrient Requirements of Horses: Sixth Revised Edition that shows how to figure out what your horse’s workload is.

Exercise Category Average Heart Rate Description Types of Events
Light 80 beats/minute 1-3 hours/week

40% walk, 50% trot, 10% canter
Recreational Riding
Beginning of Training Program
Show Horses (occasional)
Moderate 90 beats/minute 3-5 hours/week

30% walk, 55% trot, 10% canter

5% gallop, jumping, other skill work
Recreational Riding
School Horses
Beginning of training/breaking
Show Horses (frequent)
Polo
Ranch Work
Heavy 110 beats/minute 4-5 hours/week

20% walk, 50% trot, 15% canter

15% gallop, jumping, other skill work
Ranch Work
Polo
Show Horses (frequent, strenuous events)
Low/medium level eventing
Race Training (middle stages)
Very Heavy 110-150 beats/minute Varies; ranges from 1 hour/week speed work to 6-12 hours/week slow work Racing
Elite 3-day event

Two things to take note of in the table...

  • The average heart rate is the average heart rate for the ENTIRE workout session
  • The time and description of the workout can vary greatly...a horse in light work may work 6 hours a week, if it is just an hour or so of walking every day.

Now that you know your horse’s workload...STOP. Take a look at that chart again, and all the descriptions -- are you SURE you haven’t overestimated his workload? Remember, its only going to hurt him and your wallet if you overestimate his workload (and therefore his feed needs).

OK, now we know his weight and his workload...the two things that you need to know to figure how much of any feed he needs.

The last step is pretty easy...yet its one that many horseowners overlook. Read the feed bag! It will have directions for how much your horse needs based on his weight and workload -- two things you already know.

Now, please read this IMPORTANT NOTE:

You MUST feed the minimum recommended amount of feed the label directs for your horse’s weight and workload to guarantee him the nutrients that the feed is supposed to provide!

Stop and read that again...and again if you’d like.

If the bag says that your horse needs to be fed between 6-10 lbs/day of a feed for his workload, he MUST have at least 6 lbs EVERY day, or you are shortchanging him on nutrients.

This leads us to a VERY common problem of horse feeding...that bag of feed says he needs at least 6 lbs/day -- but he’s more hyper than a pre-schooler on a sugar high if you give him any more than 2 lbs/day. What do you do?

If you find yourself in the above scenario, relax...its easy to remedy believe it or not. You need to find a new feed, one that has fewer calories per pound, or one that is designed to be fed at a lower amount. A feed that fits both of these criteria is even better.

Did I just hear you gasp? (Don’t worry...I get that reaction a lot!) Yes, I just said you need to find a new feed. Before you stop reading and start protesting, take a look at these comments:

“But he’s always done great on this feed!”

“This is what the barn feeds, and its the right feed for him.”

“This is what I feed all my horses, and always have, and I’ve never had a problem!”

The above comments are some of the most common comments I hear most often when I suggest a change of feed...even from people who are currently having nutrition-related problems with their horses!!

Why is it so hard for horse owners to accept that their current horse feeding routine might not be right for their horse? I don’t know...if you ever find the answer, let me know, as it would make my job a lot easier!

Now back to your hyper horse -- if he is too hyper on his current feed, especially when fed below the recommended amount, then that IS NOT the right feed for him. Period. End of discussion.

Doesn’t matter if you’ve always fed it, or its what the barn feeds and all the horses do “great” on it -- if it was the right feed for him, he would not be too hyper.

OK, I’m done with that...back to your choices for a feed that has fewer calories per pound or is fed at lower amounts.

I personally love ration balancers, as they can work for almost any horse feeding situation -- and for most horses you only have to feed 1-2 lbs/day, so they are a lot more inexpensive than other feeds.

Imagine, buying one bag of feed every month or two. I do! And I can tell you, its a GREAT feeling!

If a ration balancer isn’t right for your horse, or you can’t find one in your area, almost all national companies make feeds that are “low-starch” or “lite” -- these are the feeds you are looking for. Or anything marketed towards “easy keepers.”

Remember, whatever you choose, you must feed according to the bag directions, so read them thoroughly! If you don’t know how to read a feed bag, take a look at the reading a feed tag page.

If you would like more help in looking at various feed choices, hop on over to the types of horse feed page.

It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyways: One of the most important parts of horse feeding is ensuring that your feed is properly stored to keep its nutritional value and prevent it being taken over by bugs or pests.

So now that you know horse feeding can be broken into three easy steps...

  • Figure out your horse’s weight.
  • Figure out your horse’s workload.
  • READ AND FEED according to the directions on the bag.

...you are ready to head to the barn and take a look at how you are feeding your horse!


Here is a list of pages that will help you further with horse feeding:

Reading a feed tag - This page will help get rid of the confusion about what is what on a feed tag.

Feed tag conversions - Helps you perform conversions of the information on feed tags to fairly compare two feeds.

Types of horse feed - Explains (and links to more in-depth information) about various types of horse feed.

Horse feed storage - Discusses various ways of storing horse feed and the importance of proper storage.

Determining horse weight - Discusses the importance of knowing your horse's weight and links to step-by-step instructions on how to measure his weight.


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