As time goes on and more people are entering into the world of horses, unfortunately the issue of how much feed does a horse actually need to maintain the proper weight seems to be under estimated. Feeding horses can become quite expensive especially if you delve into feeding high nutritional feed products and supplements. Learning how to feed horses properly is something that takes more than just a few weeks or months to learn. There are guidelines on each bag of feed, but they are basic. Some horses need more food to maintain the proper weight due to a high metabolism or genetics, and some horses need much less food in order to be healthy, hold a good weight and have a normal amount of energy. Every time you look at a horse that is at a healthy weight, you should see an animal that is not showing ribs, no hips sticking out, or pointy shoulders or a neck that looks skinny and smaller than the horses head.
Learning how to feed your horse involves more than just throwing some feed into a feed tub and hoping for the best. Young horses as a general rule are going to need more feed because of their growing needs. Horses bones do not start to harden until the age of four. At the age of five they are considered full mouthed. This means that they have lost all of their baby teeth including their caps and all of their adult teeth have grown in and are in use. They now are considered an adult. The amount of feed necessary for them to hold a healthy weight will more than likely lessen as they mature, unless theey are working very hard. Different breeds require different base amounts of quarts per day. For instance, Thoroughbreds base feed is about eight quarts per day. Quarter Horses probably need about half of that amount. Surprisingly the Draft breed does not require large amounts of feed. Now you also must consider the amount of hay you are feeding, what kind of hay you are feeding and how much pasture comes into play. Feeding alfalfa hay on a regular basis may make a difference on the amount of feed that you give per day. It will be up to you to decide how much feed or how little is necessary. How much hay is necessary and what kind of hay is the best kind for your horse. If you are feeding a considerable amount of feed in the winter and feeding mediocre hay, when the grass comes into play and your horse is grazing either all night or all day you may have to adjust the amount of feed to compensate. If your horse is starting to have his or her ribs showing at a stand still, then you need more feed or more hay or even a much better quality of hay. If you notice that the weight on the back of the horse and their rump (known as the top line of the horse) is dropping off, well time to up their rations. If you take a good look at your horse everyday, you will see all you need to see. If your horses hips and shoulders are starting to become pointed instead of rounded, then your horse is underweight and needs either more feed or more hay. Always keep in mind that a strict worming program and having your horses teeth floated on a regular basis is imperative in keeping a horse in good flesh. A well fed horse should be pleasing to the eye, smooth lines throughout their body, and round on the corners.
Now on the other side of the spectrum, over feeding your horse is a big mistake. Not to mention that you risk colic and laminitis, your horses’ performance will diminish. Allowing a horse to become obese is probably the most unhealthy thing you can do for them. Horses in the wild become fat in the summer months in order for survival in the long winter months and scarcity of food. Horses were not designed to carry large amounts of weight all of the time. If your horse is walking toward you and their stomach is sticking out on both sides and their belly is swaying as they walk then it is time to take action. Cutting back on your horses food intake sometimes is hard especially if he or she gives you that look. Just remember that you are doing it in their best interest. If your horse is overweight, changing feed and maybe going to a hay that is of lesser quality just until your horse has lost the weight is an option. Investigating the fat content in the feed that you are using and going to a lesser amount of fat content is one step to take, as well as cutting back on the amount, is a starting point.
Feeding horses is not rocket science. It is something that you sometimes have to work at in order to get it right. If you have a horse that you cannot get weight on, even with regular worming and dental work being done, you may have to take notes on their daily behavior and if they are very nervous or too active you may want to consider herbs to calm them down or consult your veterinarian and come up with a plan. You may need to have a blood test taken or do a chemistry on them. Could be as simple as a low thyroid. If you are not sure, ask a competent horseman to evaluate your horses condition or go to a quality rated show and study the horses there. Taking the time and making an honest effort to achieve a well rounded and well fed horse is worth every moment. Keeping your horse happy is important because a happy horse is a good horse.