Some Tips For A Healthy Horse

Nutrition is a very important factor in keeping your horse in peak performance but there are many external factors that can affect the horse’s condition that can be remedied without increasing their daily concentrate ration.  



1.)        Size

2.)        Age

3.)        Work load, gestation, lactation and rate of growth

4.)        Breed

5.)        External Parasites

6.)        Environment

7.)        Internal Parasites

8.)        Sharp teet

9.)        Vices

10.)      Digestion efficiency



Generally speaking, the bigger the horse the more food it will need to maintain its body weight. However, there are always exceptions to the rule and it is better to address your horse’s needs and requirements as an individual.



Unfortunately, as your ‘best friend’ gets older, his energy requirements are likely to increase.  He may lose muscle mass, especially along the top line and hind-quarters and may be more sensitive to external conditions like hot or cold weather and stress.  Maintaining a manageable work load helps keep muscle mass but it is important not to overload him with a heavy workload as he may drop weight quickly. Our Spurwing Senior is the best choice for an older horse as it has the increased protein content (14%) to help build and repair muscle mass and has a high digestible energy to help meet these increased energy requirements. It is a high fat diet so the source of energy is mostly derived from fat, which is better than a diet high in carbohydrates. The ration is milled finer to help the older horse with poor teeth chew efficiently, which helps the digestion process.  Our vitamin and mineral pack is of the highest quality to see to the older horse’s extra needs.  Weight loss in an old horse is difficult to replace so it is very important to monitor your old horse’s weight carefully as it is expensive and difficult to put the weight back on once it is lost.



The energy requirements of each horse differ according to their ‘workload’.  The ‘work load’ is not only pertaining to the amount of exercise they are doing, but also for a broodmare or young horse, includes facts like, rate of growth, gestation and lactation.  The needs of a pregnant mare differ in the first trimester, 2nd trimester and last trimester and the amount of feed during these times will differ. In the first trimester the mare is normally feeding a foal at foot and her energy requirements are high.  She needs nutrients to help produce good quality milk to feed her foal, nutrients to help develop a new foetus and enough energy to maintain her own body at optimum body mass. In her second trimester her needs and the foetus’s needs are not too demanding as she has normally weaned her foal at foot. Nutrition is paramount in developing the growing foetus and it is important not to allow her to drop body mass. 


Did you know that…’ A well-nourished foal will double its birth weight in the first month of life, and then double that weight gain by 6 months of age, but then take 12 months to double that weight again by 18 months of age.’


The rate of growth has a large factor in determining the daily ration as well.  Once the foal has been weaned until yearling and 2-year-old stage the feeding is crucial to achieve optimum growth results.  A growing horse has much higher daily energy requirements than a mature developed horse and is like most children in the house, always hungry.  It is important to feed them correctly and they need extra protein at this stage to help their developing muscles but it is also important if you are unsure to get advice as too much can cause problems such as epiphysitis.   In this stage if not fed correctly the young horse can become stunted for life. 




The daily energy requirements of a thoroughbred differ dramatically to that of a Basuto pony.  Each breed tends to metabolise food differently and some breeds are ‘better doers’ than others.




Mange, ticks and lice sap a horse’s strength and further increase their energy needs.  If the horse has these parasites, it is important to develop a programme of regular dipping to eliminate this problem.  Not only is there a risk of biliary which further increases costs, the horse will utilise their daily feed intake to fight the effects of the ticks, lice or mange. 




This is an important factor in maintaining condition in your horse and probably the one factor MOST overlooked.  When we work out the daily energy requirement it is calculated when the environment is at its optimum conditions.  When Mother Nature wrecks havoc in our lives and presents us days of extreme cold or heat your horse’s energy needs will differ.  In cases of extreme cold the horse will utilise the food given to it to maintain its body temperature.  If you are still riding it as well its daily energy intake may be less than its energy requirements and your horse will lose weight.  It is important to assess these conditions and if it is a cold and miserable day you might need to blanket your horse to help insulate them against the cold and maybe bring them in earlier out the weather.  You will probably find your horse’s appetite will increase and they will be quite hungry at meal times.  As long as the horse has been out or exercised it is not a bad idea to increase their daily ration and include extra roughage to meet these extra energy needs. Horses living out will require more food in the winter months as their daily requirements will increase.  If you cannot blanket or bring your horse out the cold then it is IMPORTANT to increase daily feed to allow them to utilise the feed to keep warm and not use up reserves to do this and thus lose weight.

Increasing roughage is another way of increasing energy without changes to temperament.  A horse’s daily food intake is made up of roughage and concentrate and if you increase the QUALITY of the roughage it will help maintain body condition.  Roughage is also important as it generates heat in the body and is a good way of maintaining body heat in the cold as well.  A good way to do this is to incorporate our Lucerne Conditioner Mix made up of A grade Lucerne, molasses and full fat soya or a slightly less rich alternative of Hay Presto, made up of A grade Oat Hay and molasses.

In extreme heat it is important to make sure the horse has access to shade and ad lib water.  Water will help cool the horse’s body temperature and eliminate dehydration. Don’t forget to add Spurwing Equine Electrolytes in summer to help restore minerals lost through sweating.




A healthy worming programme is very important in maintaining optimum condition.  Horses should be dewormed about every 3 months and it is a good idea to change dewormers each time to eliminate the chance of the worms developing an immunity to them.  Consult with your veterinarian as to what he recommends.  It is vital to deworm foals every month for the first 6 months of their lives as well.  Worms in foals can be fatal.


Did you know that….’Twice weakly removal of manure from yards and small paddocks is 5-10 times more effective in reducing worm burdens than treatment with wormers alone.  Worm levels on uncleaned pasture can be up to 18 times higher than on regularly cleaned pastures.’




The horse needs to have its teeth done at least twice a year and most racing yards do their horse’s teeth every 3 months with the deworming.  Sharp edges cause pain and digestion may be impaired, resulting in weight loss because the food is not efficiently prepared during chewing for small intestine digestion.  Another problem if the teeth are causing the horse pain during riding, (bit interference) is the horse becomes quite stressed when ridden which can increase the incidences of ulcers which can also reduce the appetite and further the chances of weight loss.


Did you know…’Heavy worm burdens and poor teeth are the most common cause of poor condition in well fed horses.’



Weaving, stable walking, wind sucking and crib biting increase the horse’s nutrient requirements.  They use more energy as they do not stand and rest but are active and burn up calories while weaving or stable walking.  They are normally horses prone to stress as well which makes them also susceptible to ulcers.  A crib-biter will wear his teeth down, reducing his ability to nibble at grass. Often a wind-sucker will rather stand and wind-suck in the paddock than graze thus not getting their daily energy requirements in with the correct roughage/concentrate ratio.  They often require more concentrate to keep weight on. 


Did you know….’Many stable vices develop as a result of boredom while a horse is waiting for its feed.  Punctual, regular feeding can increase the digestibility and feeding value of grain  based feeds and help increase the horse’s enjoyment of stabled life.’



Like humans each horse has a different metabolic rate which can also affect their condition.  It is important to treat each horse as an individual and assess their needs.  All horses should not ideally eat more than 2kg of food at one time.  The chances of the food passing through undigested are greater if you give them large quantities of food at a time.  Breaking up the meals into 3-4 smaller meals a day usually helps ENORMOUSLY in putting on weight.  They are able to digest the food taken in and it is converted into energy more efficiently resulting in maintenance of body mass.