Proper nutrition is essential to good horse health. Unlike other herbivores, such as cattle, horses have only one stomach, and their digestive systems can be delicate, so a nutritious and balanced diet is necessary. Horses cannot vomit, so high-quality food free of mold and toxins is important. Horses are also sensitive to changes in their diet, so a regular feeding schedule will keep them healthy.
OATS – Oats, corn and barley are grains fed to horses, with oats being the most popular. Oats have a high fiber content and are processed in different ways: crimped, rolled and whole. Whole oats require more chewing than processed oats. Horses tolerate oats well because they are easily digestible. Be sure that your horse’s oats are clean, fresh and free of mold, mildew or dust.
FORAGE – Horses naturally graze, and if your pasture has good-quality grasses such as Kentucky Blue, alfalfa and clover, it will provide a good diet. Hay is a dried combination of many of these grasses. It comes in cubed bales, round bales or pellets. Hay is a good nutrient source. If you store hay, keep it dry and free of mold. Don’t confuse hay with straw. Straw is a bedding material that contains no nutritional value.
Supplements – Horses that consume a good, nutritious diet generally have little need for supplements. As your horse ages, however, you may need to include vitamin and mineral supplements in his diet. Soybeans also are a good source of protein and easy to digest. There are many commercial supplements available; select them carefully, based on the needs of your horse.
Water and Salt – Adequate and fresh water is crucial to proper horse health and diet. Horses can become dehydrated very quickly, particularly after a strenuous workout. Do not offer cold water, because it can upset your horse’s delicate digestive system. Fresh, clean water should always be available and offered frequently. Also provide a salt lick. These come in 50-lb. blocks and can be placed in your pasture or near a water source.