When you think about feeding your horses it can be a minefield these days. There are a lot of different feeds and all horses are not the same. There are 10 golden rules of feeding that will keep you on the straight and narrow and help you keep your horses and ponies in good shape.
1. Feed according to size, age, body weight, type, temperament, time of year, type of work to be done and the level of rider that will be riding the horse.
If your horse is overfed it can lead to any of the following: obesity, joint and leg problems, digestive disorders, laminitis, behavior problems. We have so much available to the horse owner that some feeds are designed for the owner to like. It is necessary to make sure that all of the above are taken into consideration.
The ability of the rider has to be taken into consideration and a horse kept on livery needs to be quieter for their owner than possibly the professional rider that might school him.
Also, you need to take into consideration a horse that is underfed then it will not be able to perform well and will lose weight. So it is necessary to know the horse’s body weight as well as type and temperament.
2. Feed little and often.
The horse has a small stomach for his size, it is about the size of a rugby ball. The horse is designed to be a trickle feeder (i.e. to eat little and often). This is because he is designed to roam the plans and eat what grasses he can find and move if a predator happens to find them. So, he can gallop off when necessary and be able to move around.
3. Always feed good quality food.
Horses can be fussy feeders and this can cause them to loose weight and therefore, not be able to do their job. Also, feeding poor quality food can lead to digestive and respiratory disorders and can have less feed value.
4. Feed plenty of bulk food.
A horse’s natural feed is grass. This means that its digestive system is used to bulk and without this the digestive system cannot work efficiently and digestive problems can result. The horse’s digestive track works on bulk and when the system is working well it helps to keep the horse warm in winter. Lots of hay, grass and chaff are required and help the system working.
5. Do not make any sudden changes to the type of food being fed.
The bacteria that break down the food in the horse’s digestive system are ‘food specific.’ If you feed a lot of barley and a small amount of sugar beet the horse will have a lot of barley bacteria’ and a small amount of ‘sugar beet bacteria’. If you suddenly change to a large amount of oats there will be insufficient bacteria to break this down adequately. The most likely result will be colic. If you make gradual changes to the feed the bacteria have an opportunity to multiply.
6. Always use clean utensils and bowl.
Horses are notoriously ‘fussy feeders’ and unclean utensils can put the off. You would not want to eat from a dirty plate. Also there is a possibility of spreading disease and if one particular horse has a type of feed or supplement it will not need to be passed on.
7. Feed a hard feed at least an hour and 20 mins before exercise, and longer for demanding work.
A horse’s stomach is located close to its diaphragm. When full, the stomach can restrict the movement of the diaphragm. Also, trying both to digest food and to produce energy for muscular action could overload the body’s systems.
8. Feed regular feeding times daily.
Horses are creatures of habit and thrive best when they have a routine. So, if you need to move feeding times do so slowly and gradually move the times around.
9. Feed something succulent every day.
Apples, carrots and other succulents help keep a stabled horse happy. They add variety to the diet as well as providing extra vitamins.
10. Water before feeding.
This is a must when for any reason a horse has been unable to drink. The rule comes from a time when horses used to be taken to a trough to drink and did not have constant free access to water. A horse would gulp down water rafter feeding and this would push food through his system before it was all digested. Nowadays, we know that horses should have free access to fresh water. We also know due to up to date research that water goes over the feed and that the inlet and outlet valves are high up in the design of the stomach to allow for this.
Taking into consideration all of the above rules will help you feed your horse and keep him/her healthy and hopefully a happy and sensible horse. Always remember that you need to start with roughage and build on that as your horse is designed to process roughage being a herbivore.
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