Seven Rules Of Feeding

1. Provide plenty of roughage

Many horses and ponies don’t need grain: good-quality hay and grazing is sufficient, together with a vitamin & mineral block and salt. If hay isn’t enough, concentrates can be added, but the bulk of a horse’s calories should always come from roughage. Horses are meant to eat roughage, and their digestive system is designed to use the nutrition in grassy stalks. A horse should eat one to two percent of his body weight in roughage every day. Horses are trickle feeders – they need to have some roughage constantly moving through their systems in order to prevent colic or ulcers.

2. Feed concentrates in small amounts and often

If you feed your horse concentrates, feed smaller meals rather than one large one. Small, frequent meals not only are more natural for the horse, but they also allow the horse to better digest and use his food. When a horse is fed too much at once, the food isn't digested as effectively.

3. Feed according to the horse’s needs

Each horse is an individual and has different needs. Two major factors for deciding how much your horse needs to eat are her/his size and the amount of work he does. Stabled horses who don’t get much turnout or aren't on good pasture will need more hay, whether they are inside or out. During winter or drought, supplement pasture grazing with hay. When the grass is thick and lush, you can limit access to pasture to avoid obesity, depending on how much pasture is available.

With concentrates, less is always more, so start with the minimum and adjust it upward if necessary. With a little bit of tweaking, you’ll find the right balance of pasture, hay, and concentrates for your particular horse’s needs. If the amount of work your horse is doing changes, be sure to adjust her food ration.

4. Change feed and feed schedules gradually

Whenever you make a change to your horse’s ration, whether it’s increasing or decreasing the amount or changing to a new kind of feed, make the change incrementally. Sudden differences in the amount or type of feed can lead to colic.

If you’re changing the amount of feed, increase or decrease each meal a little at a time. One method for changing the type of feed is to replace 25 percent of the current food with the new food every two days, so that in six days the horse is eating l00 percent of the new food.

5. Measure feed accurately and feed consistently

Start off measuring your horse’s feed by weight using a kitchen or bathroom scale. Once you figure out how much your horse’s typical ration weighs, measure that portion at feeding time using a scoop. The average 500kg horse who relies on hay for all his forage typically eats seven to ten kgs of hay per day. Aim to feed enough hay so that there is always some left without wasting too much.

6. Don’t feed immediately before or after exercise

Ideally, you should wait an hour or so after your horse has finished a meal before riding him. If you’re going to do something really strenuous, it should be closer to three hours. Having the digestive system full of food gives the horse’s lungs less room to work, and makes strenuous exercise harder on him. In addition, blood flow is diverted away from the digestive organs during periods of exertion, so gut movement slows and colic may be a real danger. You also need to exercise caution when feeding a horse after work. Let the horse cool down completely—his breathing rate should be back to normal, and his skin should not feel hot or sweaty.

7. Stick to a routine

Horses thrive on routine, and their amazingly accurate internal clocks make them much better timekeepers than their human caretakers. Horses should be kept on a consistent feeding schedule, with meals arriving at the same time each day. Most horses aren’t harmed by an abrupt change in schedule, but for horses who are prone to colic, a sudden change in routine can be more than an annoyance and might be enough to trigger a colic episode.