Deciding what to feed and how much to feed presents the horse owner with a series of challenges. It is often thought that feeding different breeds of horses such as Quarter Horses, Warmbloods, Thoroughbreds and Arabians requires a vastly different dietary program. Instead, it is more accurate to think of horses as individuals rather than simply as a member of a breed. The nutritional requirements we attempt to meet when feeding horses are that of water, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Estimate your horse’s weight
The first step in feeding your horse is to work out how much food he needs. But before you know what they need, you need to work out your horse’s body weight. A weight tape is very useful for this and can usually be found in most feed stores. If you do not have a weight tape you can also use a simple measuring tape. Measure the heart girth, then measure the length of the horse from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock. Use the following equation to estimate body weight:
Heart girth (cm) x Heart girth (cm) x Length (cm) divided by 11900 = Body Weight (kg).
Take the physiological state into account
Now that you know their weight, you need to work out their workload or physiological state. There are several different physiological stages the horse could be in for example; stallion (non-breeding or breeding), pregnancy (early, mid, or late gestation), lactation, or growing (foal, weanling or yearling). These are easily characterized and have specific nutritional requirements.
Defining your horse’s workload
The activity level of the horse is more difficult to discern. Many people overestimate the workload of their horse, and as a result over feed them. Overfeeding is unhealthy for your horse and your wallet! The categories of activity used are maintenance or working (light, moderate, heavy, or very heavy exercise). When evaluating activity level we must look at the amount of work. Most horses that are ridden between 0 and 4 days a week for ½ to 1 hr per ride undergoing walk, trot and some canter would be considered maintenance to light exercise in terms of feeding requirements. Overestimating or underestimating your horse’s activity level results in either fat or thin horses. This practice compromises that amount of necessary nutrients that your horse is receiving. Pick a feed that is intended for the physiologic state or exercise level of your horse and feed appropriate amounts according to product label directions.
The Quarter Horse
Quarter Horses are known generally to be good doers and maintain weight on a fairly low amount of feed. It is important to not over feed your Quarter Horse as they can have a tendency to become overweight easily. Originally the Quarter Horse was a free roaming wild horse from America, known as a hardy breed with simple nutritional requirements.
Safe feeding management
All horses are grazing animals and therefore should not be limited to a specific amount of meals per day. In doing this we have seen an increase in gastric ulcers, colic etc. Horses should have access to hay or pasture all the time. Forage, which includes hay, chaff and pasture, should be the foundation for all equine feeding programs. The feed you select should complement the forage that you have available for your horse. If you have ready access to pasture and good quality hay you will generally have to feed less concentrated feeds to reach the horse’s nutritional requirements.
Energy sources & requirements
Depending on the individual animal and the rider’s needs for that horse we can supply calories or energy in different forms. Energy in the form of sugars and starches (cereal grains) is a more rapid energy and in some horses will cause them to be “hot” with regard to temperament. Energy in the form of fat and fibre is considered a more slow release sustainable energy which does not alter behaviour. That being said any excess energy in the form of sugar, starch, fat or fiber can cause certain horses to become excitable and others to become fat.
The moral of the story is that all horses should be treated as individuals and should be fed according to bodyweight, energy requirements, activity level or physiological stage.