The key to a healthy horse is good nutrition. Feeding a horse is not complicated, but it isn't as simple as giving him a bale of hay either.
Both hay and grass supply your horse with one of the most important components to his diet: roughage. Horses need a certain amount of roughag; grasses, hay, and possibly other high-fiber items such as beet pulp, equal to about 1.5 percent of his body weight daily.
Grasses in the pasture can make up a large part of your horse's diet and keep them busy grazing. There are several types of grasses and legumes you can plant that are good for your horse including timothy, Bermuda grass, brome, fescue, bluegrass, and orchard grass. Alfalfa and clover are legumes that are good for horses as well.
There are several types of hay available, and all have different nutritional values. Alfalfa hay is high in protein, calcium, and calories. Although these attributes make alfalfa a good hay to feed to your horse, but the high protein content can cause digestive problems. Proteins should only make up about 12 percent of your horse's total diet. Hays made of other grasses are lower in both calories and protein. There are also mixed hays available for purchase.
When buying hay look for hay that is green in color. It is best if it has not yet formed seed heads or if it is in early bloom. Avoid hay that smells or looks moldy; that has an excessive amount of dirt, weeds, thorns or other undesirable items. Do not buy hay that has signs of insects; or that is really heavy, indicating that it is too moist and prone to spoiling.
Horses love grains, but it is important not to give them too large of amounts. Grains are high in calories and low in fiber, so they can overload a horse's digestive system and cause problems. Oats have a higher fiber content and are better suited to a horse's digestive system than other grains. Feeding corn, cracked barley, and wheat bran is also acceptable.
Horses do not need a lot of grain in their diet. Depending on the size and condition of your horse and his other food intake, limit the total amount of grain in the diet to 4 to 8 pounds.
You can find pelleted horse feed at many feed stores. These comprise some mix of grains, molasses, vitamins, and minerals. The benefits of these diets are that they are convenient to feed and have a set nutritional value, making it easy for you to know how much of the various nutrients your horse is eating. Most horses seem to like these diets.
It is important to give your horse a salt block so that he can add salt to his diet when he feels that he needs to.
Treats are something we love to give our horse. It is however, easy to give them too many treats and throw their digestive system off balance. For this reason, some experts discourage the use of treats. It is best to give your horse healthy treats like carrots, apples, green beans, watermelon rinds, celery, and whole-grain pastas, to name a few.
The simplest and best way to feed your horse is to let him graze in his pasture and provide a constant supply of fresh and quality hay when he is in his stable. If he needs more calories to maintain a healthy weight, add several small feedings of grain throughout the day.
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