This blog post was prompted by two things: the shocking number of overweight and underworked horses I see on a daily basis and a recent experience at a feed store. While shopping around in our local farm store I overheard a lady and her friend discussing horse grain.
Based on the way the lady was speaking, I assume that the horse she was shopping for was her very first. Her friend was explaining that all horses need grain just like they need hay. The lady inquired, bring up the statement "But <horse's name> last owner said she's an easy keeper."
Who knows the full story behind the above circumstance but it did make me wonder how many people truly believe horses need grain simply because they are horses. I've never grained my past mares, but I likely would have with my APHA if I did higher intensity work with her. I consider graining a supplement to high quality hay, not necessarily a must for all horses.
All Horses Need Grain
I worked at a local stable that focuses on vaulting and general horsemanship. The owner had ALL of her 20+ horses on grain, regardless of their activity level. I would say 3/4 of her horses had never done any amount of work besides walk around in a pasture. Many of them were fat and sassy. The horses that did do work were heavily grained, though only two were worked more than twice a week.
Does anyone else find this very odd? The kicker was that the owner was financially in trouble yet she was throwing hundreds of bags of grain down horses that didn't need it.
All in all, I do NOT agree that the all horses require grain as a part of their diet. That being said, there are plenty of special circumstances such as horses doing high intensity work and senior horses that have a hard time keeping a healthy weight. The average horse, ridden maybe 2 or 3 times a week for a few hours, will probably not need to ever have grain in their diet.
A Word About Hay
One more common misconception about horse feed is what type of hay horses require. Similarly to grain, your average horse will do quite well on high-quality grass hay. Alfalfa is very high in protein, making this type of hay suitable for young horses and nursing mares opposed to your typical adult horse. Alfalfa mixes can be helpful if your horse isn't an easy keeper or needs a little energy. Keep in mind that protein is not an ideal energy booster for horses. It will work in a pinch, but high protein is best suited for nursing mares and adolescents due to its ability to repair structures within the body.
What Do You Feed?
Feel free to share what your horse's diet is and how often he/she is worked in the comments below. I would love to know your views on grain and whether it's a requirement for your average backyard horse.
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