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The Basics

The Basics

How Much to Feed and How Often


Horses are grazing animals, and their digestive systems are designed for continuous forage consumption. Of course, not all of us have access to rolling hills, so to mimic natural grazing behaviour – and in doing so, promote optimal digestion – provide a number of small meals throughout the day or use slow-feeders. Feeding this way helps prevent digestive issues such as colic or gastric ulcers.


The non-negotiable part of a horse’s existence is access to clean, fresh water. Horses drink a lot, and inadequate water intake can lead to dehydration, impaction colic, and other health problems. While access to water is a 24/7 necessity, you need to be hyper vigilant about this during hot weather or when exercising. Keep those buckets filled.


In terms of how much to feed: too much, and you increase the risk of obesity, metabolic issues, and other health problems in your horse; too little, and you risk nutrient deficiencies, weight loss, and a compromised immune function.


As a rough guide, horses should eat between 1.5% and 2.5% of their body weight in forage a day. This includes both hay and pasture. So, for example, a 1,000lb (450kg) horse would eat approximately 15lb to 25lb (6.8kg to 11.3kg) of forage a day. In terms of hard feed, it should be limited to a maximum of 0.5% to 1.0% of a horse's body weight per feeding. So, looking again at a 1,000lb (450kg) horse, they would typically receive between 5lb and 10lb (2.3kg to 4.5kg) of hard feed per day, divided into multiple smaller meals. Note: this is the weight before you add water to hard feed.


Horses also need minerals in their diet, such as calcium and phosphorus, to avoid imbalances that can affect bone health. A lack of essential vitamins, such as vitamin E or vitamin B complex, can also lead to deficiencies and associated health issues. Saying that, supplementing without a clear understanding of the ‘why, what and how’ can potentially result in nutrient imbalances, so speak to an equine nutritionist or your vet before supplementing.


Be aware, horses with dental issues may have difficulty chewing long-stemmed forage. In such cases, chopped hay, hay cubes, or soaked hay pellets should ensure adequate fibre intake, but do contact your equine dentist if you haven’t already done so.

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