This post is one of the longest posts I wrote as a lot of research and time went into it. These notes are crucial and may prove to be very useful for those around horses. As the title says, here are the 10 common horse feeding mistakes:
- Wrong Diet
- Poor Forage Quality + Quantity
- Over/Under Feeding
- Not Feeding by Weight
- Overloading on Nutrients/Supplements
- Lack of Salt in Diet
- Lack of Fresh Water 24/7
- Not Feeding Little & Often
- Lack of Feeding Routine
- Overloading on Treats
- Not introducing / Not Changing Feed Gradually
..Continue for more details:
1. Wrong Diet
Every horse should have a diet catered to them specifically, due to the difference in breed, age, workload etc. The type of feed in the diet should vary according to your horses needs. Choosing the right brand for your horse’s feed is crucial too.
A horses diet should always be adjusted according to these factors:
- Health (ulcers, teeth, digestion, insulin resistance etc.)
- Weight (measure your horse)
It took me a few tries to get the appropriate diet for Tofino. I am personally loving Reverdy feed which we started in February. You can contact the very friendly team at Cavalos Equine Care & Supplies for more information on Reverdy. They are very kind and easy to work with, thus, you always feel welcomed which, I love. Tofino is currently on the Adult Specific Energy which has the complete nutritional values he currently needs given the above factors.
2. Poor Forage Quality + Quantity
Hay is a large sum of a horses diet. It is important to note that their diet consists of at least 70% of hay/forage. Therefore, giving your horse the ultimate hay quality is crucial. Poor quality hay has less nutrients and less digestible fiber, which means that a horse has to eat much more to derive the same amount of nutritional value.
The quality of hay depends on the following:
- Smell(Hay should smell fresh and a bit sweet. If smell is pungent, acrid or musty, the hay is probably molded or has other quality deficiencies).
- Texture (Good hay feels soft and pliable, bad hay is coarse and will stab your skin).
- Weight(Good hay bales are lightweight and springy; if you drop one, it should bounce).
- Consistency(no sticks, wire or dead insects/animals or animal droppings within or around).
- Leafiness (the more seed-heads, the better as 90% of plant’s protein in seed-heads).
- Color (light to medium green for grass hays and darker green for alfalfa. Some yellowing is natural if the hay was sun-bleached, but too much yellow likely indicates that the grass was overmature when cut and contains less digestible fiber).
3. Over/Under Feeding
A horse should eat 1.5-3% of their body weight. The majority of that diet should consist of forage. Total % of Body Weight feed for horses vary with different conditions. For example, a horse that’s obese would be in the lower % whereas a horse underweight, or lactating mares, would be on the higher % (not exceeding 3%).
Expected Feed Consumption in Body Weight Percent:
Maintenance: Forage (1.5-2.0%) + Concentrate (0-0.5%) = 1.5-2.0% total
Light work: Forage (1.0-2.0%) + Concentrate (0.5-1.0%) = 1.5-2.5% total
Medium work: Forage (1.0-2.0%) + Concentrate (0.75–1.5%) = 1.75–2.5% total
Intense work: Forage (0.75–1.5%) + Concentrate (1.0–2.0%) = 2.0-3.0% total
Yearling foal (12 mo.): Forage (1.0–1.5%) + Concentrate (1.0–2.0%) = 2.0-3.0% total
Long yearling (18 mo.): Forage (1.0–1.5%) + Concentrate (1.0–1.5%) = 2.0–2.5% total
Young 2yr-old (24 mo.): Forage (1.0–1.5%) + Concentrate (1.0–1.5%) = 1.75–2.5% total
Source: NRC 1989.
To measure a horse’s weight without a scale, you can use the following formula:
In Centimeters & Kilograms: [Girth (cm) × Girth (cm) × Length (cm)] / 11,900 = Weight(kg)
In Inches & Pounds: [Girth (in) x Girth (in) x Length (in)] / 330 = Weight (lb)
Note: Even if your horse is obese, you should NEVER go below 1.5% of body weight per day. You can control their feeding by using slow feeders hay-nets/muzzles. ALWAYS feed little and often.
4. Not Feeding by Weight
Giving your horse feed according to the weight rather than volume is a safer, more accurate way of feeding. This is for both hay and cereal grains. Hay bale and flakes weights vary depending on brand, type, water etc. and the same goes for cereal grains. Therefore, taking the time to place a scale (hanging scale) in your hay storage unit would be handy to not only know how much to give your horse, but also know how much you’re paying for.
As for feed, I started using a manual kitchen scale that can read up to 5kg. You can get them for very cheap prices at the supermarket. They range from about 20AED-300AED depending on the level of technology. I use a manual scale (50AED) as it can read more accurately the lightest of things, whereas digital scales read a minimum of 1g.
5. Overloading on Nutrients/Supplements
Over supplementing can cause mineral or vitamin imbalances for horses. There are vitamins and minerals that are toxic if consumed in large quantities. Only use them if necessary and in a short period of time. Make sure you calculate the nutrients your horse is getting from his basic feed ration before adding a vitamin or mineral supplement.
Source: BASF. 2000. Vitamins – One of the Most Important Discoveries of the Century. BASF Documentation DC 0002. Animal Nutrition 6th Edition.
6. Lack of Salt in Diet
Salt consists of Sodium and chloride. These are the only essential nutrients not naturally found in grass. Horses, like humans, lose both elements in sweat, therefore, they must be replaced from the diet. Horses have a natural appetite for salt and consume what they need if given the opportunity.
Horses will lick the salt block when they feel the need to, which is when they are lacking in salt. If they do not use the salt block at all, then place electrolytes in their feed.
You can place a salt block in the paddock if that’s where your horses stay most of the time, or in the stable. Even better if you place two in both areas. I personally use both electrolytes (only a little) and place Himalayan salt blocks just in case. I have previous written about the Importance of Salt in Your Horse’s Diet HERE
7. Lack of Fresh Water 24/7
Fresh water should be provided to horses continuously, whether they are out in the field, in the stable, in a sand paddock, etc. They can drink up to 5-10gallons a day depending on the weather. In the winter months, if the water gets cold, horses will stray away from it and avoid drinking. Therefore, it is recommended to use water heating methods.
There is myth that you should not offer horses water after exercise, however, current studies have indicated that in fact, ensuring that horses have access to fresh, clean water, is one of the best ways to reduce the risks of impaction colic.
8. Not Feeding Little & Often
Horses are grazing animals, used to eating little and often in the wild. Whether your horse is only on a forage diet or a mixed diet, they should have access to food at least every 4 hours. Horses can develop bad habits if not fed continuously (wind sucking, crib biting etc.), and can also develop digestive problems. For grains/cereals, horses are only able to digest a maximum of 2kg per meal, therefore, it is better to fraction their feed off throughout the day.
For example, Tofino is currently on the following schedule
- 04:30am = 1/2 kg of feed
- 06:00am = grass paddock
- 07:30am = 1/2 kg of feed
- 10:30am = 1.5 kg of hay
- 02:00pm = 1.5 kg of hay
- 05:30pm = grass paddock
- 08:30pm = 1/2 kg of feed
- 10:30pm = 3kg hay (in small hole hay-net to keep through the night)
Total = 1.5 kg of feed + 6 kg of hay + grass paddock
9. Lack of Feeding Routine
A horses internal clock is what they thrive on. They are very accurate and should be kept on consistency especially with feeding schedules. Horses are more content with a regular schedule and are less likely to develop bad stall habits, e.g, kicking, pawing, chewing etc. Having a routine will also allow the horse to be more efficient with their feed.
It would be useful to place a big white board in the feed room where you can write all the horses name and the feed they get at a united time. If your barn doesn’t wish to invest in one, then perhaps get a mini sign and stick or hang it on your horses stall with the schedule (e.g, as shown in #8). This makes it easier when grooms rotate and you can also add any medication specified or supplements, etc.
10. Overloading on Treats
Treats should only be given as rewards to your horse and not given in large sums. Always in moderation. Feed your horse treats sparingly, as they are only special when they are not available all the time, if they were available all the time, it defeats the purpose and allows your horse to “work” for it.
There are many commercial horse treat brands that are full of sugars! I would suggest looking into natural sugar free treats, or even DIY recipes that you can follow in order to make sure your horse at least gets healthy treats.
Fruits can also be given as rewards, but be cautious of knowing what to give and what not to give. I have written a previous post on safe vs hazardous fruits and veggies which could be helpful in knowing what to feed.
11. Not Introducing / Not Changing Feed Gradually
With the very delicate digestive system horses have, quick or sudden changes in diet may cause major disturbances in the gut. This could lead to a number of different issues, from diarrhea, to colic, to toxin buildup, and so on. I do have a post already on safely Transitioning / Switching Your Horse’s Feed, which has the necessary information.
Hope this helps! If you have any questions or clarifications, please do not hesitate to contact me 🙂