Horse Diet – Feeding Naturally. A natural diet for horses can vary considerably depending on the individual horse and their regular workload. A racehorse’s nutritional requirement differs greatly from a weekend leisure pony for example. The following is provided as a basic guideline and will need to be varied according to your horse’s breed, workload and nutritional needs.
Horses are grazing animals and in the wild, they would travel over great distances to obtain food and water. Wild horses graze for approximately 18-20 hours per day on native grasses which are low in nutrition.
Horses have a fairly small stomach and large hind gut which is perfectly suited to receiving a constant stream of low nutrient dense forage. If the stomach is left empty for prolonged periods (such as with stabled horses or those locked up in small yards overnight) the stomach lining can become damaged. Companionship and movement are two key ingredients for healthy, happy horses also, so please consider this before locking your horses up or keeping them in separate paddocks.
The most appropriate diet to feed to a horse is grass or grass hay on a free choice basis. Unfortunately, due to current farming practices which try to increase the nutritional value of pasture grass, many paddocks are now too rich for safe grazing for horses. (see article www.greenpet.com.au – Could it be the grass? for further reading).
Natural feeds and Supplements
Oaten or wheaten Chaff is ideal as the basis for your feed mix.
Lucerne Chaff may be mixed with oaten chaff but should not form the bulk of ration. Some horses do not tolerate lucerne so use sparingly as it may be too rich for many horses especially those with minimum workloads or those grazing green grass. I prefer to avoid lucerne as it is often too rich for most pleasure horses.
Soaked unsweetened beet pulp is a good source of roughage and can help to provide a good source of bulk without ‘heating’ your horse.
Coconut (coconut meal or oil) Coconut oil may be added to feed or use a high-quality Copra Meal. Coconut oil has a high content of medium chain fatty acids, which provide a ready source of energy for exercise. Coconut oil is also rich in the fatty acid ‘lauric acid’ which possess antibacterial, antifungal and antiprotozoal properties. Copra meal is a cool energy feed and is highly palatable for picky eaters or to hide the taste of supplements.
Flaxseed (linseed) is a rich source of essential fatty acids and can be fed as a ground meal or oil. It should be used in moderation, as it may also have a laxative effect on some horses.
It should be stored in a cool place (fridge) to retain freshness.
Do not feed raw whole linseeds (these must be boiled or ground before feeding).
Cold-pressed flaxseed oil is easily added to feed at the rate of one to two tablespoons daily or
Ground linseed meal – ¼ to ½ cup once or twice daily (start with a small amount and gradually increase) depending on need.
Sea salt or Himalayan salt may be added to feed, especially when horses are eating potassium-rich diets such as during spring (green lush grass) or when sweating heavily in hot weather. Approximate dosage is up to 10g/100kg bodyweight daily (take into account any salt already added to feeds or supplements you are feeding and reduce accordingly).
Black Sunflower Seeds are a good natural source of protein and good fats and vitamin E.
Feed up to 1 handful daily. May heat up some horses so start slowly.
Grains are not easily digested by horses and is not something they would have access to in the wild. But if you do want to feed grains for additional energy then select from the below:
RiceBran is a good source of nutrition, but again, it should be used minimally. Can cause fizziness in some horses but is good for helping with weight gain if needed.
Oats are an excellent grain to provide energy for horses in regular work. They can be fed whole or crushed.
Millet is an extremely nutritious feed high in silica and is alkaline forming and can be fed boiled, soaked or crushed. 1/2 to 1 cup daily.
Barley is not as heating as oats and provides good nutrition, it can be fed boiled or rolled.
Millet & Linseed porridge – this makes a great feed for helping with weight gain. Combine ¼ cup linseed and ½ cup millet with about 800ml water and bring to the boil in a large pot. (Watch carefully as it can boil over) and simmer for 1 hour. Add this daily to your horses feed. Reduce quantity for ponies.
What to AVOID in your Horses Diet if Feeding Naturally
· Highly processed grain, pellets and pollard.
· Never feed sugar lumps to horses. Give small amount of fresh carrot or apple as a treat instead.
· High protein diets or excess grain based diets.
*IMPORTANT* Discard any grains, chaff or hay that is dusty, damp or mouldy, as these can be harmful. All feed should be as fresh as possible from a reputable source.