Feeding Your Horse - Basics 101

Written by Kent Wollert


We all want to be sure to feed our horses correctly and provide adequate nutrition through the feeds we provide them. What provides an adequate supply of nutrition and energy to maintain our horses and is affordable and relatively easy to administer? This question can be answered differently for each horse depending on age, use, size, and other factors as well.


Horses are a continuous grazing animal that is built to graze nonstop throughout the day. This can be achieved without any effort if you have a pasture paddock to turn your horse out on. But with the change of our society, a lot of horses are now kept in stalls or pens that do not provide access to pasture grazing. To replace the grass grazing option, we now must supply the diet to our horses for all their needs. We do this through harvested grass or legume hays. Grass hays such as orchard, timothy, and fescue are what is most prevalent in areas suitable to grow these types of grasses. In other areas that are not suited well for grass hays, the common feed source is usually alfalfa. Alfalfa hay usually has a higher nutrition and protein content than do the grasses, but the grasses are easier for the horse to digest. What type of hay you feed usually is determined by the area you live in, what is available, and the most economically suited for your operation.


Horses will require under normal conditions about 1.5% of their body weight as a minimum amount of forage to maintain proper energy and nutrition on a daily basis. This usually will equate to between 15 and 18 pounds of feed per day per horse. This could change depending on the activity and use of your horse. But even under most high-use conditions, high-quality hay fed at 1.5% of the horse’s body weight will be suitable for most. Never feed moldy, dusty, or foul-smelling hay to any horse. This can cause colic amongst other problems for your horse’s digestive tract. It will also cause breathing problems for your horse under heavy activity.


Horses that are used in a competitive setting and burning more calories, may require some additional feed product to maintain good body condition and adequate fuel levels. People usually turn to grain-based concentrates to provide the needed extra energy. Grains such as corn, oats, or barley are found in many horse diets. These grains are a starch-based source of energy. This type of feed is not normal to the digestive system of horses. One must be careful when feeding grains to horses and monitor the amount and frequency of feeding these products. Also, with starch-based products, horses can tend to become “hot” and be difficult if the level of exercise is not adequate to burn off the excess energy created with starch-based grains.


Horses can also receive the additional required energy through feed sources that are high in fat content. Fat is digested more easily in the small intestine and is absorbed as free fatty acids. If you can provide a source of forage that contains 5% or more of fat, you can achieve the level needed to adequately supply your horse with enough energy during high activity. This usually can be achieved through a supplement in addition to the hay forage you are providing your horse. Colorado Mills CURRENTLY has products that will meet this fat level for your horse without providing the starch-based grains which make your horse hot.


We at Colorado Mills have under development a horse feed that is based upon our sunflower meal which will provide fat at or near 9% and will be fortified with a vitamin and mineral pack to adequately cover all your horse’s nutritional needs. The feed will also have a protein level of 18-19 percent. This product will be fiber-based and could be used as a complete feed when on the road, but I would recommend that a forage be fed along with the feed to keep your horse on the same diet it is accustomed to at home. We are excited to fully develop this horse feed and hope to have it ready for testing within the next 30 to 60 days.


If you have any interest in this new feed product, give me, Kent Wollert, a call sometime to discuss your individual needs and determine if this might be something that will fit your program. I am currently feeding the products that we do have with the high protein and fat content and like the results very much. The new feed under development will provide a full mineral and vitamin pack that will enhance our current products for horses. Let’s get together to discuss what we have coming and make sure you are aware of the product’s rollout date.

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