Horseback Riding

Selecting the Right Feed

September 19, 2011

A grocery guide for your horse.

Get the right groceries for your horse next time you stop by the feed store. Journal photo.

From AQHA Corporate Partner Nutrena

Browsing through the aisles of your local feed store, it’s likely you have noticed the variety of horse feeds available.

National brands, regional brands and local manufacturers all crowd the shelves, adding to the confusion.

Which feed is right for your horse? Here is a quick guide of what to consider when you are contemplating your feed selection.

Start by assessing your:

  1. Horse’s life stage
  2. Horse’s activity level
  3. Any health issues your horse may have
  4. Feed budget

Most feeds are designed to meet the specific nutrient requirements of life stages and activity levels of horses, and generally will specify on the packaging what they are designed for.

When estimating your horse’s activity level, be reasonable in your classification since over-feeding energy can make him “hot,” and he may gain unwanted weight.

Generally when people see this happening, they tend to reduce the amount fed below the recommended feeding rate instead of changing to a lower-energy feed. This is not advised, as dropping below the recommended feeding rate means your horse is not getting the essential micro-nutrients he needs.

Try switching to a lower-energy feed such as a maintenance ration or balancer. Most maintenance feeds are formulated to provide mid to low energy levels.

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If your horse has a specific health issue that can be influenced by his feed, make sure to seek out the information from the bag, your veterinarian or directly from the manufacturer. For example, horses with a history of feed-related laminitis are often best suited to a diet feed or ration balancer, which provide much-needed minerals and vitamins while keeping starch levels under control.

Finally, consider your budget. The features and benefits of feed typically drive up the cost; so ask yourself, “Can I afford to feed this product at the recommended feeding levels?” Note that feeding rates vary between products, and this can influence the cost to feed your horse per head, per day; it is not enough to consider the price per bag alone. If you are feeding an inexpensive feed but loading it with supplements, it may cost you more than purchasing a commercial complete feed and cutting out the supplements.

Complete feeds are formulated with all the necessary nutrients to meet your horse’s needs in the proper ratios. When feeding a complete feed, be sure to follow feeding directions closely and monitor his weight by assessing his body condition score and calculating his weight periodically.

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This is a very quick guide to help you navigate the increasingly complex decision of how to select the feed that is right for your horse. For more in-depth information, refer to a feed selector or ask a qualified equine nutritionist.

When horse feeds are formulated, they are developed to provide nutrition to all sizes of horses – nutrient needs go up as the size of the horse goes up. The following format is an example of the feeding directions you might find:

Activity Level, Lbs. of feed per 100 lbs of bodyweight

  • Maintenance 0.3-0.5
  • Light Exercise 0.4-0.6

So, how do you figure out how much to feed your horse?

Start by knowing the weight of your horse. Then, divide that weight by 100, and then multiply the result by both of the amounts of feed given in the directions above. The resulting two numbers will tell you the range of how much to feed your horse to give him the nutrition he needs for both his size and activity level.

Example Feeding Directions:

1,200 pound horse, in light exercise.

  1. (1,200 ÷ 100) = 12
  2. (12 × 0.4) = 4.8
  3. (12 × 0.6) = 7.2

In this example, this horse would need to eat between 4.8 and 7.2 lbs per day of this feed to receive the nutrition he needs. Some horses that are easier keepers can fall to the lower end of the range, while harder keepers may need to push the upper limit.

If you do this math for your horse and find that you are feeding outside of the designated range, you should search for a feed that is more suitable to your horses needs.

Hard keepers, for example, may require a feed that is higher in calories per pound, while easier keepers might require a feed with fewer calories and more concentrated levels of vitamins and minerals. Such a feed might cost more per bag, however the ability to pack more punch in a smaller feeding might actually result in a cost saving!